Daniel Elahi Galán gave a post-Serena show to the US Open

FLUSHING, NY — Even from little brother, Louis Armstrong Stadium, Arthur Ashe could be heard erupting in cheers as Serena Williams earned the right to another singles match at the US Open, beating Danka Kovinić 6-3, 6-3 in what was then felt like perhaps the most anticipated opening-round performance in tennis history. When they showed the final on the scoreboard at the other stadium, Serena even got a standing ovation in absentia from the smaller crowd who missed the blessing of seeing her live. With record-breaking viewership and plenty of celebs nearby, everything and everyone on the premises revolved around their historic day.

Indeed, when Serena played her final point at around 9:15pm ET, the Armstrong match had a rather unexpected outcome. I was there from the start because Bill Clinton and Dr. Ruth mugged me and my friend and took our Ashe tickets as soon as we got off the train. As a result, I could see Daniel Elahi Galán in 94th, who utterly overtook fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-0, 6-1 in a shocking first two sets. Tsitsipas looked sick or drunk or like his eyes were lying to him about the location of such simple objects as the net and out-lines and as a result he made a series of stupid mistakes that took away any aura of intimidation from the favorite and fulfilled left the venue with stunned disgust at the abject failure on display, as if all attendees bit into a $50 steak at the same time and realized it had been well cooked. (To be fair, a recurrence Tsitsipas’ chronic elbow problems could have something to do with his struggles.)

As stunningly successful as he was while Serena was in the adjacent court, Galán might have been able to count on little more than a set or two on one’s day if only he had managed to beat Tsitsipas when the other found play still taking place. While Serena added the finishing touches to her win, the legitimate Tsitsipas emerged with a secured third set 6-3 that seemed to comfortably restore his dominance on the pitch. The 3-2 lead he held in the fourth set when the main event was over continued to push Galán to somehow gain a foothold in a match he only technically won. Tsitsipas’ five-set win seemed like the safest bet, with those first two non-appearances the result of either lazy preparation or an uncomfortable flare-up of injury. But it was still, by default, the second best thing to watch after Serena’s day was done.

In doing so, she rendered an important service. It seemed like so many tennis fans wanted to keep the hustle and bustle going at Ashe’s after such an emotional match, and their eyes soon settled on this odd excitement alert. Armstrong became more crowded. It, in turn, grew louder and more prone to sudden outbursts of surprise and joy. And with a significant portion of that laser focus on Serena now shifting to that action, what followed was an incredible, heartbreaking fourth set that tied a clean sweep into a long-forgotten night.

Galán went down 4-2 in the set before finding serve a little under control and capitalizing on even more mistakes from Tsitsipas to win the next three games in a row. I’ll spoil the wildest statistic: Galán had nine Match points before eventually pulling out the upset win. Nine! Literally eight different times he was one point away from the greatest moment of his career, and eight different times he kind of fumbled it away. The sheer number of chances Tsitsipas gave Galán was simply unimaginable and quickly became an absurd cycle. Galán would get a match point, then lose, then I’d be like, “OK, This is the one he will regret,” he would play into another, only to miss that opportunity as well. Each time it happened, the atmosphere got weirder and weirder – increasingly encouraging, nervous, and then ever more intrigued by the possibility of a wild Tsitsipas comeback. Here’s the fifth, after which the mood seemed to change from “Wow, he does that!” to “Good God, he’ll never do that!”

However, whenever it wasn’t a game-ending situation, Galán continued to avoid the mistakes Tsitsipas couldn’t resist and even after wasting five match points in the 5-4 set, Galán came back to take the next one win game to come to 6-5. It still wasn’t easy, and even with the decisive score of 15:40, Tsitsipas made Galán the debut. But finally Tsitsipas’ escape actions came to an end. As Galán scored his win with a Tsitsipas shot that just missed the line, it looked like it took a few seconds for the moment to actually seep in, as if he’d forgotten the match point meant they might might soon stop playing.

Eventually, however, emotions kicked in and despite the support many of the early-comers in the crowd had for Tsitsipas, they were delighted at Galán’s shock success and filled some of the awkwardness of his post-match interview with rousing cheers. This was a competition no one actually came to Queens to see, and its spot on the schedule guaranteed it would be swallowed up by the bigger action next door. But thanks to great timing and nerves of steel despite repeated disappointments, Galán kept the party going at the Open just a little longer than originally planned, making himself a hero.

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