Sunday, September 15, 2013

2013 US OPEN: Tournament Review

Now that the 2013 US Open has been concluded and some time has passed I would like to take some time to review the tournament as a whole. The winners were Rafael Nadal (men's single title) and Serena Williams (women's singles title). The two have a lot in common, since they both also won the French Open this year (in a strange quirk, they each defeated the reigning Australian Open champion in their respective championship matches) and they are leading their tours in matches won and titles claimed. They each won several warm-up tournaments going into the US Open, and thus earned an extra $1 million bonus check for leading the US Open Series. Williams, 32, now has 17 major titles (21 finals) and she is being acknowledged as the greatest of all-time (G.O.A.T.), while Nadal, 27, with 13 major titles (18 finals) is being mentioned more frequently in that context as the current G.O.A.T. Roger Federer's abilities appear to be slowly diminishing with age.

However, here are my Top 5 Memorable Moments from the 2013 US Open:
5. Carla Suarez Navarro Outlasts Angelique Kerber In A Tough 4th Round 3-Set Match. On the middle Sunday of the tournament I attended the US Open in person and was treated to a surprisingly thrilling women's match between World #8 Angelique Kerber and Carla Suarez Navarro on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Although it was scheduled at the same time as the most hyped match of the tournament (the rematch between the two top Americans Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams) was going on it ended up being the more compelling contest. The Suarez Navarro-Kerber match was a slug fest with ricocheting momentum shifts over nearly three hours, culminating in a final set tiebreak that was eventually won by the more fearless, aggressive player, which (and this was the main surprise) was the lower ranked Spaniard, not the higher ranked German.
4. Richard Gasquet beats Milos Raonic and David Ferrer to reach his second major semifinal.Frenchman Richard Gasquet is not known for his steely competitive spirit despite his excessive talent. He has long been heralded as the future of tennis (on the cover of tennis magazine well before puberty!) and his lack of major success at the major events is a major disappointment for French tennis. But more recently Gasquet has been showing a lot more resolve of late, and his ascendance into the Top 10 of men's tennis is the result. But even with that background, no one would have expected Gasquet to win back-to-back 5-set matches against two players he had 1 win against out of 10 matches (huge-serving Milos Raonic of Canada and fatigue-inducing David Ferrer). But Gasquet showed that he is fit enough to stay out on court long enough with anybody and has the firepower on both wings (including the too hastily dismissed one-handed backhand) to trouble most residents of the Top 10.
3. Stanislas Wawrinka takes out Andy Murray and throws a scare into Novak Djokovic.The player who had the most impact on the men's side of the draw, besides the eventual champion Rafael Nadal was the Swiss #2 Stanislas Wawrinka. Wawrinka ended the run of World #5 Tomas Berdych in the 4th round despite the fact that the Czech champ was playing excellent tennis. He followed up that improbable result by handily dismissing the defending champion and World #3 Andy Murray in straight sets in the very next round. Then, most improbably, he took on World #1 Novak Djokovic and showed that he truly believed he could win that match, and was up 2 sets to 1 at one point before he succumbed in the end. We know now that there was basically no one who could have defeated Nadal the way he was playing, but in some respects I would have liked to have seen Wawrinka give it a try!
2. Tommy Robredo confirms the diminution of Roger Federer by handing him a straight sets 4th round loss.This was the most heartbreaking moment of the tournament for me. It was the best of times, because I was able to finally see Roger Federer compete on a big stage, close up. It was the worst of times, because Federer proceeded to lose in straight sets to an opponent he had beaten ten consecutive times before. This was the match that confirmed for most people that the end of the "Federer era" had indeed been reached, and that the Swiss Great's best tennis was clearly in his past and not his future. This was not only a moment that impacted this major, but its significance will reverberate through every major played for the next few years in which Federer appears.
1. Serena Williams wins her 2nd major final of the year despite blowing huge lead in 2nd set.In some respects the women's side of the draw was uninteresting because from the very beginning of the tournament everyone expected the top 2 seeds to be playing in the final and that is precisely what happened. And then, despite horrific playing conditions, we ended up getting one of the most dramatic women's finals ever, even more dramatic than last year's final, but with a similar result: Serena Williams settling down and reeling off a consecutive string of games to win the set and the championship match. Last year Serena was down 3-5 when she was able to win 4 games in a row and win 7-5 in the 3rd while this year she won the last 5 games of the match, running away with it after 1-all in the 3rd set. This happened despite the fact that she was up a set and 4-1 (double break!) and had somehow managed to blow a huge lead and actually lose the second set by having her serve broken twice in succession. When Serena lost the 2nd set tiebreaker I was convinced that she would not be able to win the match if Azarenka was able to keep the match close like she had in the first two sets. However, it turned out that Azarenka was unable to maintain her high level of play and this helped Serena be disrupted out of her low level of play, which ultimately resulted in her winning her 17th major title.
Now that the major tennis tournaments of the year are completed the only important question is who will be the year-end #1 players on the tour and in both cases it is clear that that will be Nadal and Serena as well. However, the rest of the year is also an opportunity for other players to make their moves up the rankings to set themselves up for increased success in 2014 and beyond.

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