For about eighteen months now, people have predicted that the days of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the top of men’s tennis were numbered. Eventually, they were always going to be proven correct. Has that day finally come? How many Grand Slam titles will Serena win if she fancies it? These were the two big questions left in my head at the end of another cracking tournament, albeit one that was a little lop-sided on the WTA side. My biggest rant will, once again, be directed at the organisers of the tournament, something of an annual tradition!
Saturday could well prove to be a pivotal moment in the changing of the guard, but I don’t think it necessarily announces that the changing has already taken place. Kei Nishikori had an amazing fortnight; to take out Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Djokovic in successive rounds will do wonders for his confidence. It’s such a shame that he suffered from nerves in the final, and be in no doubt about that – Kei got tight and it ruined his shot at this title. However, his dismantling of Djokovic’s game in the final two sets of their semi-final suggests that the pack have caught up with Djokovic, on their best day. But therein is the key for the moment; Djokovic will still beat the rest of the field on his best day regardless of what they do. He looked lethargic in the latter stages of his semi-final, and Nishikori just ground him down before dismantling the game, something which his coach would be mightily proud of.
Marin Cilic played exemplary tennis in the second week of the season’s last major, a surprising breakthrough but not wholly illogical. Boris Becker stated during the final that Djokovic had knocked the big Croat out of the last two Slams but in really tough battles, and that they’d both felt that Marin was beginning to knock louder on the door of the tennis dynasty. Cilic has pushed them close before in the past but his game was prone to imploding in moments of pressure. His liaison with Goran Ivanisevic seems to have righted that wrong. The former Wimbledon winner looks to have had the same effect on his compatriot as Ivan Lendl had on Andy Murray’s game two years ago. Perhaps Cilic’s moment in the sun will be a fleeting one, but after the way he tore through the quarters, semis and final in New York there is hope that he can genuinely challenge in majors from herein. The newest Grand Slam champion has everything in his game, the depth he achieves off the ground is unreal and coupled with the booming serve (not dissimilar to his or Djokovic’s coaches), he has everything he needs to mount an assault on the top of the rankings.
Roger Federer is in a different place to Novak Djokovic in that his best is no longer always good enough to beat the likes of Cilic’s best. Sure, he is still a contender and I still make him, at this point, one of if not the favourite to win Wimbledon in 2015 but on other surfaces his A-game is not always going to beat the A-game of a Monfils, a Dimitrov, a Cilic. Weirdly enough, his record of 17 Slams looks more secure now than it did a fortnight ago. The breakthroughs this year of Wawrinka and now Nishikori and Cilic mean that it will be tougher for Rafael Nadal to inch closer to Federer’s total, but this small crumb of comfort will not seem too palatable for the ever-competitive Swiss number 1.
The women’s tournament lacked a quality match in the second week. It’s becoming a depressing pattern; first weeks full of promise and high-quality tussles which then fizzle out in the second week, the popcorn week. The casual viewer of women’s tennis probably tunes into the latter stages and wishes they hadn’t bothered. It’s not the participants’ faults of course, just Sod’s Law but I remain glad that I follow the first week as much as I do the latter stages. There’s still depth there in the women’s game, highlighted by the eight different Grand Slam finalists this year but there’s no getting away from the fact that if Serena Williams really goes after a title then it’s her whose name will be on the trophy at the end of the fortnight. I find it a little frustrating to see Serena on ONLY 18 majors, because if she had given it her all throughout the career, her total would be closer to, if not greater than, Steffi Graf’s Open-era record of 22 Slams. Chrissie Evert and Martina Navratilova achieved their 18 majors in direct competition with each other. Since Venus went past her peak, Serena has had no serious competition to speak of and she has failed to capitalise, particularly this year. I know it’s churlish to criticise the woman who just decimated the field, losing no more than three games in any set during the fortnight, but it really hit home to me what she hasn’t done. I’ve been her biggest fan but she could have taken the major records to untouchable heights. Her impact on tennis will live forever, but she could have been truly immortal if she had channelled correctly at all times.
My annual US Open rant is based again on the scheduling and pretty shoddy display by fans on final day. Luckily, we are going back to a Sunday final next year which should take away the ridiculous image of starting a major final in a stadium that was less than half full. Having a final on a workday is ludicrous, but to have it start at 5pm is downright crazy. The minute that we knew the final was between two new names on the block, it was evident that tennis tourists would not leave work early to get there. I won’t hold too many of them to account, but what I found disgustingly disrespectful was the fact that only 50% of the crowd stuck around for the presentation. This doesn’t happen in the other majors, what was so pressing at 7pm on a weekday evening that 14,000 people had to do a runner the minute Cilic entered the Grand Slam club? Such a shame. But a scenario not helped by the Monday final scheduling.
All in all, a great fortnight of tennis. Caroline Wozniacki returned to prominence and relevance, the trio of Shuai Peng, Kate Makarova and Kei Nishikori all made major breakthroughs and Croatia has a new sporting superstar. The Grand Slam year ended as it had begun, with a new name being able to forever call himself a Grand Slam champion. Pa učinio Marin!