|Something Old Something New – Rafa’s reign continues, Sloane’s begins|
I would normally hold my hands up and beg for forgiveness for the lack of any sort of update during a major tournament, but the small matter of a honeymoon means I’m all out of apologies.
The fact that I spent said holiday in The Big Apple makes it even more justifiable – yes we visited Flushing Meadows on that opening Monday and yes there will be a reminiscing write up soon enough.
Flushing Meadows 2017 – a damp squib?
What of the 2017 Open then? A tournament that – at first glance – could justifiably be remembered overall as a diluted non-event; a lot of big names either didn’t turn up through well-documented and alarmingly commonplace injury or other minor life events as motherhood!
What’s more, those that did turn up didn’t always deliver on either the hype or the years of experience and pedigree.
Amidst the absences of Murray, Djokovic, Nishikori, Serena and Azarenka, the big names that then fell early on is exhaustive: Halep, Kerber, Sharapova, Wozniacki, Kuzzy, Konta and Ostapenko and for the men Cilic, Zverev, Kyrgios, Ferrer, Tsonga and Dimitrov.
A lot of promise in those young names there, with the women’s draw truly wide-open and with 2017’s form players on the men’s side showing chinks in their armour too, this was supposed to be the stage for the next-gen to dominate.
What we saw instead was actually more rewarding.
The women’s game continues along it’s path of being completely opposite to that of the men’s; no Big Four here, instead a forever-changing merry-go-round for that number one spot at the rankings (not necessarily a bad thing you understand) and a wonderful spread of talent across the top 20 players or so.
After Maria edged out many people’s pick for the win – poor Simona Halep – in that pick of the first round matches, the Russian was in hot contention according to many, especially after the totally unsurprising surrender of her crown by the sorry Kerber. Fleeting world number one Pliskova again flattered to deceive and didn’t get anywhere near her 2016 finalist performance. Wozniacki, Kuznetsova and Ostapenko all fell with minimal fuss too. Instead we were treated to a mini-comeback by the slowly recovering Kvitova who dumped out the then favourite and new number one Muguruza.
Nope, the story on the women’s side was that the Americans may well be back to dominate once more; with Serena very much ready to say her farewells, her countrywomen – on this evidence – seem ready to establish themselves with some consistency and stay afloat of this most deep of talent pools.
Coco Vandeweghe and Venus – at different ends of their careers – sparkled en route to two very different semi-final performances but were ultimately undone by the two starlets of the ladies tournament.
Madison Keyes had a fantastic fortnight and looked every inch the exciting future of U.S tennis up until that horror show of a final. Controlled aggression and an infectious smile – it was an irresistible combination, exemplified in that ruthless dispatch of Vandeweghe.
But this was Keyes’ close friend Sloane Stephens’ moment, and the once darling of the game took her chance with aplomb.
Mixing stellar defence, athleticism and – when needed – devastating shot-making all tournament, the 24 year old crucially kept the steadiest of heads come that final hurdle. It was an anti-climax yes, but in signifying the possible future of women’s tennis where personalities and different playing styles regularly clash then it represented an exciting bookmark.
A little bit of deja-vu then as we had a similar story here as in Paris back in June. The women’s game was welcoming a fresh and fearless new face into the history books from the lower reaches of the top 100, and the men’s game saw the number one player reign supreme.
Unlike on the Parisian dirt, where Rafa remains unplayable and unchallenged – and will do so for years to come – here Nadal’s cakewalk was simply down to the aforementioned lack of a stellar roster of opponents.
Take nothing away from the Spaniard’s title here, he was low on confidence despite that new world ranking and hadn’t won here since 2013. I maintain that only a fully-fit and reinvigorated Djokovic could’ve lived with Rafa in this form.
Elsewhere? Well many had ear-marked a Federer-Nadal semi final but thanks to the other story of the tournament in the comeback of Juan-Martin Del Potro – the elder statesmen still have not yet faced each other in New York.
Federer never looked convincing after that back injury in Montreal – perhaps he may have silenced Del-Pot if he had taken that 3rdset tiebreak, but as the Swiss himself attested, he was likely no match for Rafa anyway.
As a Federer disciple, I was disappointed of course, but after his 2017 record, it was easy enough to dismiss. Helpful too no doubt that it was the ever-likeable and awe-inspiring Argentine gentle giant who inflicted the blow.
Finalist Kevin Anderson and his semi-final victim Pablo Carreno Busta were the brightest stars in a severely weakened bottom half of the draw. Again likeable chaps but sadly this was a unique opportunity for their ilk.
It has been a crazy year in the Grand Slams; four different female major champions, plucked from the old guard, the established current generation and an exciting and unpredictable future crop of fearless hitters. The men’s game has seen the return of the two undisputed greats of all time conquering all before them and gorging on the game’s richest spoils. Rafa’s victory here opened up the slightly tiresome and increasingly counter-productive Greatest Of All Time debate – a non-existent contest that with the Spaniard’s 5 year age advantage and now undisputed throne at the summit – will see him triumph. Roger’s age has seemingly caught up with him and Rafa shows no signs of weakness, he will go on to dominate next year.
Image from US Open official site