The scores change, the matches change, the years change, even the players change, yet tennis just continues on and on and on. No time to stop to admire Marion Bartoli’s career whose pinnacle came right at the denouement. It was 12 months ago that the sport bade farewell to two Slam champions in Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick whose bodies finally gave out on them and gave in to the sport. How many passing thoughts have been given to those two in 2013? My point exactly. The wheel trundles on. So let me bask for just a second in the fact that for the first time in 35 years a British player goes into a Grand Slam as the defending champion, as “the hunted” according to John McEnroe. Add into that mix that we have a woman as a seed for the first time since 1988, and it’s nice to be looking forward to a Slam with excitement rather than trepidation. But off come the red, white and blue sunglasses for now.
Who are the form horses coming into the final slam of 2013? Where is the smart money going? It is difficult to look too far beyond Andy Murray, even without British bias. Good memories will be all around him all fortnight. New York is the place he broke through, the place where he won his first Slam by defeating the World Number One in five tough sets. In addition to that, he has appeared in the final of every Slam he’s competed in since and thrashed Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. I don’t think you can say enough about how much that can do for a person’s game and belief. Okay, he isn’t in fantastic form coming into the event but once he strolls out onto Arthur Ashe Stadium court, I think that will rectify itself pretty quickly. His potential path to the semi-finals is pretty straight-forward and things will hot up at that stage. The winner of the Novak Djokovic v Juan-Martin Del Potro quarter-final tie will pose a hard-hitting threat. I’m taking Del Potro to edge that quarter if he carries his Wimbledon form into the Slam he won four years ago.
Rafael Nadal will be a relieved man to be in the bottom half of the draw. He will fancy his chances in a potential quarter-final clash with Roger Federer (the Swiss maestro will be back to Last 8 form here in my opinion) and will find little trouble waiting for him in the form of compatriot and old friend David Ferrer at the penultimate stage. Nadal’s hard-court record this season is second to none and he will almost certainly feature on Finals day. If Del Potro has managed to beat Djokovic and Murray back-to-back, then Rafael Nadal will be a bridge too far and will pick him off without too many worries in the final. If it’s Murray who comes through from the top half, expect the Scot to get his first major final W against the Spaniard and give himself every chance of finishing the year as the world’s top player.
The women’s draw is depleted by the absence of Maria Sug….errrr Sharapova. The cynic in me wonders why she came to New York at all, and at that I shall leave it. All her absence does in my mind is solidify the expected repeat of last year’s final when Victoria Azarenka pushed Serena Williams to the very limit. And this year, I expect the Belarussian to avenge that particular defeat. She knew that she could live with Serena after that balmy New York night in 2012, and her fighting qualities saw her become a multi-major winner earlier this year in Melbourne. A victory in another of the majors will only reinforce her position as one of the best two players in the world. Her path to the final is easier than Serena’s, much easier. Serena starts off against former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. Whilst the Italian’s best years are well behind her now, her game of slice and backhands has the potential to upset Serena right from the off. Her route further in could involve match-ups against the up-and-coming stars of the game, the likes of Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, who both know what knocking out Serena in New York could do for their careers.
Vika has an easier route through; I would imagine she will have one small scare along the way, possibly against Alize Cornet as she did in Paris but I would be flabbergasted if she wasn’t in the Final in two weeks’ time. After a comparably easier fortnight, I think Azarenka will lift the third major title of her career.
As for the losing semi-finalists, I expect Agnieszka Radwanksa to take her decent Wimbledon form into the final slam of 2013 and get by the likes of Na Li, who in turn should have enough about her to see off a not-100% Laura Robson in Round 3 and thus extinguish any painful memories she has of said player from last year. And the big prediction from the bottom half of the draw is that I see Simona Halep dragging her amazing summer form into a Slam and taking advantage of a kind draw to cement her place in the Top 20. The Romanian has won four titles since June and being in the same quarter as Elena Vesnina, Sara Errani and Maria Kirilenko presents her with an opportunity she really cannot afford to turn down.
Let’s hope that we have a relatively dry US Open, although not too dry that the USTA goes back on their decision to install a roof on Ashe Stadium court! Kudos to them for finally dragging the tournament into the 21st century. In reading former players’ autobiographies, it beggars belief how much more innovative Wimbledon is these days compared with the US Open. Nobody would ever have imagined Wimbledon to be the more forward-thinking of the two. Let’s further hope that at the end of the fortnight, we have two deserving champions after two weeks of superb tennis. Two champions who believe that they belong at the very top. Andy and Victoria, your times are now. Time to seize, before the sport trundles on, passes you by and picks the next champions.