The power in men’s tennis could be about to shift firmly towards Andy Murray. The British number one comes into the final major of the 2012 season on the back of an annihilation of Roger Federer in the Olympics final only three weeks ago. For those who question Federer’s desire in that match, I suggest they read any of the Swiss maestro’s interviews from the previous four years – London 2012 was one of his biggest motivations for continuing at the top of the game and his failure to win a Singles Gold medal will undoubtedly rank as one of the bigger disappointments of his glittering career when he finally hangs up his racket. The plain and simple truth is that Murray outplayed Federer with a ruthless display of aggressive tennis, just 48 hours after seeing off Novak Djokovic in straight sets, albeit in a best-of-3-sets match. This, coupled with his run to the Wimbledon final earlier in the summer, has now given Murray the self-belief that he belongs with these guys at the very very top in the greatest era of men’s tennis.
I have been one of Andy Murray’s biggest critics over the years. His rise to the top was filled with missed opportunities and shock defeats in Grand Slams to players that he should never have lost to. There was a stage approximately 18-24 months ago where he looked like his career had already peaked. Djokovic and Nadal were disappearing into the distance, with Federer hanging onto his younger counterparts’ tailcoats. Drastic action was needed by Murray and it came earlier this year in the shock appointment of the dour Czech Ivan Lendl as his coach. Opinion was divided at the time as to whether this was inspired choosing or a desperate lunge to the bar in the last chance saloon. The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two. Lendl knows from his own playing career that patience can be the key; he was the same age as Murray is when he won his first Grand Slam and he went on to win a number. Murray saw something in Lendl which other players haven’t seen – this was the Swede’s first coaching appointment, a full 17 years after he retired from the game. Whilst neither would win a happiness contest, it seems that the dour cocktail is proving a positive one and less people than normal would bet against Murray lifting the US Open trophy in a fortnight’s time. Who knows, if that happens we may even get a smile from the both of them? One smile, not two, let’s not get too carried away.
Nadal’s absence takes away one of the big obstacles in Murray’s way. I put only Djokovic, Federer and Del Potro as other possible winners. Djokovic will aim to sign off a slightly less successful year (only the Australian Open in the bag this year!) by proving he is still the man to beat on the ATP Tour. Del Potro has history here and looks to be almost back to his best and will prove an incredibly tough not to crack on the hard New York courts. Federer has continued his outstanding summer form into the American season and will expect an appearance in the final. However, Murray stands in his way – your time has come, Andy.
The women’s game desperately needs somebody to take Serena out in a giant-killing act. If somebody can raise their game to their maximum level and beat the dominant younger Williams sister, then the field would be blown open. Get a blanket and throw it over about 8 women if Serena loses somewhere along the line. Maria Sharapova has a shot at the slam where she probably has the most support. Vika Azarenka has a shot at reasserting her number 1 ranking. Petra Kvitova has hit good form at just about the right time for a run in the season’s final major. A word for Maria Kirilenko, who will look to cement her finest season of her career by securing another last four spot and maybe go even further. But it is Kim Clijsters who jumps out as the big value bet here. Kim will retire from tennis for a second and surely final time as soon as she hits her final ball in anger or joy in New York. She will put every ounce of effort she has in her to give this one final shot. She will be the crowd favourite, no doubt, and if Serena is ousted somewhere along the line, the support and emotion may be enough to give Kim the edge over the rest and carry over the line. What is encouraging is that with the obvious exception of Rafael Nadal, all the big players in both events are fit and ready to go. It promises to be a glittering two weeks under the lights of Flushing Meadows. I am lucky to be going over there for the first five days, with the first five sessions being on Ashe Stadium court – this should give me a chance to see most of the main runners and riders up close over the next 7 days, and I will no doubt blog further upon my return. But for now, I will leave you with these words; Andy and Kim – you read it here first!