Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks ahead to the latest in tennis. Today, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews day 5 of the 2021 US Open.
Can you win by losing? Especially in a sport as cruel as tennis?
Well it turns out that you can, yes. Because in the first round of this year’s US Open, Carla Suarez Navarro accomplished precisely that when she lost against American Danielle Collins by the score of 6-2 and 6-4. The final outcome left little doubt to anyone watching, but anyone watching was likely simply happy to see the Spaniard competing at all.
Because it’s been, as they say, a year for Suarez Navarro. Let’s look back at last year around this time because there’s a reason why the 32-year-old says that, “the last year has been a gift.” A year ago, Suarez Navarro was announcing to the tennis community that she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her career prospects were, erm, grim but truly the only thing that mattered was her health. Earlier in the spring, she came back to the WTA in April, playing at the French Open, Wimbledon, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics before the US Open.
Above all, let Suarez Navarro’s playing career stand as a triumph and inspiration for anyone experiencing the grind of daily life, or worse. She’s one of the most genuine players we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing and, on the court, she retires with $11+ million won in prize money, two singles titles, a career-high of No. 6 in the world, and with seven Grand Slam quarterfinals to her name.
Most importantly, she retires cancer-free.
Day 5 Preview
As always, here are the three matches we’ve chosen to highlight from the day 5’s slate. Please have a look at the full schedule here if you disagree with our choices. (Just don’t let us know about it.)
Arthur Ashe Stadium: Victoria Azarenka  vs Garbine Muguruza  (First match of the day)
Possibly the single best third round match on both singles draws? Of course, this all hinges on the fact that both players are motivated and playing well. That’s no small ask, as Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza’s careers have been marred by inconsistent play and results. But they’re both playing well for the time being and, if they’re both at their peak, this one should be quite the start to day 5.
Louis Armstrong Stadium: Roberto Bautista Agut  vs Felix Auger-Aliassime  (First match of the evening)
When he steps on Louis Armstrong Stadium for this third round match, Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime might as well be looking into a mirror. Oh sure, he’s got about four inches on Roberto Bautista Agut, who in turn has got 12 years on him. But stylistically, both of their games are fairly similar: they play sound, contained and reliable tennis. And more often than not, they’ll win precisely the matches they should win, and lose those they should lose.
Here’s the part where you laugh in our face and wonder why we’re being so disrespectful toward the 21-year-old Canadian. But last we checked, only one of them had made a Grand Slam semifinal. And only one of them had won one, let alone nine, singles titles.
Louis Armstrong Stadium: Danielle Collins  vs Aryna Sabalenka  (Second match of the evening)
In years past, this type of match is precisely the kind that would have given Aryna Sabalenka trouble just as everything seemed to be going right: on the sport’s biggest stage and against a veteran and tricky opponent. The Belarusian is probably overseeded a little here at the 2021 US Open, but that doesn’t matter at this point. Now she needs to prove that her 2021 Wimbledon semifinal was exactly what it seemed like: her big breakthrough.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG