Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Five Major Highlights from US Open 2014

US Open, the slam that used to be Federer's turf for 5 years from 2004 to 2008 in which period he defeated five different opponents to claim the title, suddenly got a lot unpredictable seeing 4 different winners in the next 4 years. Rafa Nadal was about to restore order in 2013 but this year's edition takes the cake for unpredictability in the men's draw over which a lot would have lost money on bets and very few would have gained huge rewards. They deserved to, if they had backed Kei Nishikori & Marin Cilic - two from the Lost Boys generation of tennis - to be the lone men standing on the third monday at Flushing Meadows.

A quick summary of five key takeaways from this year's US Open here:
Child's Play for Serena!
Child's Play for Serena

1. Serena is Serena, no matter what!The women's draw saw a number of upsets which were no shockers given the characteristic inconsistency seen & expected off a number of top-10 players. Simona, Aga, Ana, Masha, Kerber & a struggling Vika were all shown the doors in matches they were expected to win. There was one player in the mix who certainly was not expected to bow out despite the fact that she had not reached Quarters in any of the slams this year - Serena Williams. Serena was on quest for her 18th Major to tie her with legends like Navratilova & Chris Evert in terms of slam count and she was unwavering in that quest - She won the title without dropping a set, and not dropping more than 3 games in any of the 14 sets she played! In tennis terms, that is 'God Level' of play. She is all set to chase the Stefanie target. I won't place any bets against her doing that,even if she is 4 slams away from it.

2. Some New girls, Some Old girls

Take Serena out of the picture and there were a few delightful stories from the women's draw. There is a young Swiss who is making rapid progress this season - Belinda Bencic. She made some giant killing on her way to the Quarters but was tamed by a veteran Chinese who had a breakthrough of sorts. Props to Shuai Peng, the doubles specialist for making a deep run. It was a pity the girl who had a heart surgery as a kid had to suffer heat cramps and retire in the first semi-final of her career against Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane was the protagonist of another sweet story at the US Open with her inspiring run to the final after she was unceremoniously thrown off her relationship by the Golfing champ Rory McIlroy. She has chosen a wonderful means to divert her attention and that seems to be playing hard & playing better. Kudos!

3. Brothers, Legends!

Win - a Hundred times over!
Few partnerships have been as mind-boggling as that of Mike & Bob Bryan! The duo had not won a slam this season & were stranded at 99 titles together for quite some time. The way they played this tournament makes one think they delayed the inevitable, as if on purpose, just to choose the most grand of stages, the biggest of courts to get to Title No.100! They did that in style. The fact that the 2nd best partnership (61 titles of Woodbridge/Woodforde) is light-years away from their tally underlines the weight of this achievement of the left/right twin pair.

4. Curtains on the Fab Four Era?

It has been the first slam since the Australian Open of 2005 to not have at least one of Roger, Rafa and Novak in the final. It is also the first major since French 2005 to have two first-time finalists. It is the first year since 2003 that we have had two first-time slam winners. It is also the second time in three years that we have had 4 different winners for the 4 slams. Does the combination of all these stats mean the Fab Four era is inching closer to its end?! Inasmuch as I am tempted to say 'Yes', it still seems early days for any such bold statements. They have still won 2 off 4 slams and 5 off the 7 Masters titles this year! The year may have set the ball rolling for the Lost Boys and the 90s generation to step up and be counted but the big guns are still dominating the sport with as much intent as they have in the past. The rest of the year and the World Tour final will provide a better answer to that looming question. Having said that, Don't be surprised if the Big 3 dominate the reminder of the season. They are going nowhere. At least for the moment.

5. Boom, The Cilic Clinic!

Marin Cilic would not have featured beyond the Quarters in most (if not all) of the projections of the men's draw but his season and his Wimbledon run in particular had all signs that nobody cared to see. He stretched Novak to five sets there. After serving a 4 month ban for alleged drug intake, Cilic seems to have set the time up to take the rust off his game, use Goran's inputs to start enjoying the game and he came in to week-2, scraped through a tough 5-setter against Gilles Simon & then literally set up a clinic on Arthur Ashe and showed how professionally one can lay hands on the trophy coveted and longed by the ATP pros. In his straight-sets wins over Berdych, Federer & Kei with unbelievable serving, aggressive approach in hugging the baseline, power-packed shots off both wings, he has played the best tennis we have seen from anyone in week 2 of any slam in the last few years. It is one thing to say Kei was nervous, lacked the energy to match Cilic but is quite another to appreciate his getting over the emotions he must have run through the last year or so and get the Win playing clean tennis on his own terms.
Idemo Chillaaa!
Idemo Chilaa!
The best bit of the tournament was this quote from Cilic:
“For all the other players that are working hard, this is a big sign, a big hope, that if you’re working hard, things are going to pay off.” 

It won't be incorrect to say this bit from his winner's speech was more classy and inspiring than the clinical display he put forth in the business end of the tournament. That is saying something!

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