Wherever Nick Kyrgios goes, controversy follows. Even when he’s not the one causing it.
The story on everyone’s lips on Thursday at the open, chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani’s decision to intervene with Kyrgios down a set and a break to Pierre-Hugues Herbert and give him a face-to-face “pep talk” has unsurprisingly not gone down well.
Roundly criticised by fans, media, and even Roger Federer, there’s no doubt Lahyani put into question his own place as an impartial official, but at least as far as this writer is concerned, it’s being more than a little overblown.
Setting aside the question of whether Lahyani actually had any effect (and if he did, Kyrgios should hire him, considering he’d be the first person to ever get through to him)… Should he have done it? Going by the book, no, and the option of issuing a warning for tanking is available for exactly this sort of scenario, but realistically it does make sense. There is no universe in which someone of Kyrgios’ temperament reacts well to such a warning, and considering the time and/or money invested in the match by the fans watching in-person and on TV, it’s not unreasonable to find a solution that gives us an actual contest, even if it isn’t exactly the “right” one.
Furthermore, we only have to go back to the Wimbledon second round for the last time an umpire “helped” Kyrgios, and there was certainly no such outcry when James Keothavong got out of his chair to demonstrate to the Australian why he was foot-faulting. If we’re going by the letter of the law, he probably shouldn’t have done that either.
Phew! I feel like we haven’t heard the last of this yet – but hey, it’s all fun, it’s only tennis. In any case, the tournament goes on, here’s your three to see on day 5 in NYC:
Sloane Stephens (USA)  v Victoria Azarenka (BLR) – First on Arthur Ashe (12:00pm start)
From wanting what she had, Sloane Stephens now finds herself in the unfamiliar position of defending what she’s got against fellow major champion Victoria Azarenka. A rivalry that is very much a tale of two halves, Azarenka was perfect against Stephens in their first three meetings through 2015, but has only managed to take a single set off her in their two meetings since (both in 2018). Can Azarenka get back to her old ways here? Certainly she’s still capable of dropping the occasional bomb off either wing, but what makes Stephens such a tough out these days is that she’s as likely to weather the barrage as she is to worm her way out of it. Still, Azarenka has looked good in her first two matches, and there’s every reason to believe she can at least test the reigning champion here.
Denis Shapovalov (CAN)  v Kevin Anderson (RSA)  – Fourth on Louis Armstrong
The first significant test of Kev Anderson’s quest to repeat his finals run of last year, he’ll have to give as good as he gets against the high-flying Shapovalov. The first career meeting between the two, it should be a very interesting matchup, as while Shapovalov will naturally have to deal with the relentless nature of Anderson’s serve, Anderson will have his own hands full dealing with the relentlessness of Shapovalov’s offense, and that’s a puzzle he might struggle to solve. Expect this at least one tiebreak in this very hard-fought affair, and while it’s no guarantee to go five, it’ll certainly provide enough action for your money’s worth.
Serena Williams (USA)  v Venus Williams (USA)  – First Match, Night Session on Arthur Ashe (7:00pm start)
Yup. Here we go again. Serena. Venus. US Open. Episode VI. Undisputedly the biggest match of the first week, Ashe is sure to be rocking for this one. Leading the head-to-head 17-12 – including 8 of the last 10 – Serena enters as the favourite, but having taken their most recent meeting this year in Miami, and with two much more impressive victories in the first two rounds (Svetlana Kuznetsova, Camila Giorgi), there’s every reason to believe Venus can make this interesting. Obviously at this point in their careers there’s little need for feeling-out between the two, and that means this is liable to be an exhibition in first-strike tennis from start to finish. Maybe the last time we see these two go at it in Flushing, if there’s only one match you can watch today, make it this one.