WHAT HAPPENED: Three-time Grand Slam champ Stan Wawrinka fought off a stern challenge from the youngest man in the ATP's Top 300 in Louis Armstrong Stadium. In the Day 1 evening-session opener, the Swiss outlasted 18-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner, 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, to begin his New York campaign.
Wawrinka's down-the-line backhand was the standout shot in the early going, as he clocked two clean winners to set the tone for the first-round encounter. After the Swiss closed out the first set with a one-break advantage, he gained some early separation in the second, going up 3-1.
But Sinner reeled off three straight games for 4-3, squashing the veteran's hopes of an early finish. Wawrinka would take the second in a tiebreak, 7-4, with the help of two forehand winners—one, a delicate half-volley, and another, ripped inside-in from the baseline—on consecutive points.
Sinner was aggressive on the return throughout the two-hour, 48-minute match. Though he did miss his fair share, especially early on, when he found the court he often put his opponent on the back foot. In set three, he found the winning formula to steal two early breaks as Wawrinka waned.
The Swiss reasserted himself immediately in set four, holding to love and then breaking the Italian to start the stanza. The break, which came on a successful challenge of a would-be Sinner winner, could have been a deflating moment, as the youngster missed a sitter. Instead, he charged on and he was rewarded with an immediate break back—his fourth on 14 break-point chances on the night.
Both men continued to live dangerously on serve in a fourth set that featured 13 combined break points. But after Wawrinka cashed in on his seventh opportunity of the set, he was able to serve out for a place in Round 2.
WHAT IT MEANS: Wawrinka, playing in his 55th major, used veteran poise to outlast Sinner in what was his first career best-of-five match. The last man outside the ATP's Big 3 to win a major, the Swiss rarely shifted his calm demeanour, save for a few roars of "C'mon!" after crucial late-set points.
With just three ATP wins (and five losses) to his name, Sinner added some shine to his fledgling professional resume at this US Open. After saving match points to come through qualifying, the youngster more than held his own against one of the game's modern greats. One day soon, Sinner will start beating the game's top players. To the relief of Wawrinka, it just wasn't to be on this occasion.
MATCH POINT: Age and wisdom beat youth and exuberance on Day 1. According to the ATP, Wawrinka is the oldest US Open champion since Ken Rosewall (35) in 1970. The now 34-year-old defeated Novak Djokovic in the 2016 US Open final at age 31. Sinner, meanwhile, is the youngest man in the ATP's Top 300. Currently ranked No. 137, he recently hit a career high of No. 130.