Wednesday, September 11, 2013

US Open '13 - Victories and their Implications!

With the US Open the Grand Slam drama is over for the year. Though the tennis season still goes on for some more prestigious prizes to bag, but the stage will only be a bit lesser as compared. Even amidst quite straightforward and predictable results over the fortnight, the US Open leaves us with a lot to ponder. 

Most of the tennis pundits predicted Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams for the title and both of them did not disappoint. Unlike in Wimbledon '13, where both Rafa and Serena fail to meet the expectations of wise men and lost early. Of course, predicting isn't rocket science - everybody just goes with a bit of history and flow of current form and thankfully for the pundits, tennis champions are generally very consistent these days. 

Rafa & Serena - Heating up the Greatest of All Time Debate!

Serena Williams is dominating the women's tour like anything. Yet, the first two slams of the year somehow slipped her grasp under inspired challengers. She wanted this second slam and badly. She run through the first six rounds with minimum fuss to meet Vika in the final. Serena was the favourite but she had to really get into a dogfight before clinching the trophy. Victoria Azarenka is no Serena Williams. Her arsenal is not so wide and lethal. But she is a fierce competitor and moreover, she is not afraid of Serena. Vika has a heart of a lion and when everybody (including Williams) thought that she is done, she fought her way back in that final. By just not going away no matter what, she made Serena suffer, berate herself, even cry and eventually bring out her best to win. All credit to Williams for fending off this fightback and win 7-5, 6-7(6), 6-1.

Unlike Sharapova, who despite being in the top 3 consistently cannot hold a candle to Serena in their encounters and just fades away without a fight, Azarenka brings her best against Serena. Till now, it has not been enough to topple Serena in Grand Slams but it can now be said that the only WTA player who can consistently challenge (if not defeat) Serena is Azarenka. Like Vika said in her post-match conference, "I can't wait to face her again"; well neither can we.

When Rafael Nadal missed 7 months from injury, people said he will not win another slam outside his beloved clay. When he won back to back titles in Montreal and Cincinnati before US Open, people made him the favourite to win the slam. No wonder, everybody goes with the flow. Like Serena, Nadal also wasn't really challenged en route to the final. The anticipated and expectedly tough Quarter Final against Roger Federer never happened, as Federer faltered his end of bargain to reach there. Yet, when Novak Djokovic stood across the net in the final everybody knew it wouldn't be easy for Rafa. But Nole is nowhere close to his 2011 form and he looked not so confident in the entire match. Nadal was the more determined, more consistent and more hungry player of the two and he came out on top in four sets. The 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 scoreline had only the third set which could have gone both ways. The rest did not have that great a drama. Minus the purple patch of form that Djokovic hit in the late second and early third set, it was all Rafael Nadal's day. Djokovic still remains world no.1 but only...just. Most likely, by the year end the World No. 1 ranking would have Nadal's name written against it.

Things aren't so rosy beneath the top two's of the world on the ATP tour. Andy Murray's meek loss can be easily attributed to an inspired Stan Wawrinka but Murray needs to revisit his hunger after winning US Open and Wimbledon titles. He doesn't seem as desperate as he was and the field is so tough that any slight lack in motivation could be a lethal blow in fighting for big prizes. Roger Federer surely doesn't lack motivation like Andy. In fact, it seems that's the only thing he has as of now. He is lacking in confidence and at 32 age of course is not helping. He got steam rolled by Tommy Robredo who has never won against him in 10 previous meetings. With the current rank being 6, it will take a massive effort from Federer to bounce back at the top of the table. Yet, it's not wise to count against him like experts did after 2009 Aussie Open and a major-less 2011 season.

And more disappointingly, none of the younger lot like Raonic, Janowicz, Del Potro, Gulbis or anybody for that matter showed any promising signs to break the stranglehold of few people at the top. Not yet!

Interestingly, the winning of Serena and Rafa has heated up the debate of the Greatest of All Time once more. They both surely are already One of the Greatest and will go down in history. But somehow this non-objective, superficial debate has many participants in both spectators and experts. Serena Williams at 17 Grand Slam titles is sure to get ahead of Chris Evert & Martina Navaratilova at 18 Slams and might even challenge Steffi Graf's 22. Rafael Nadal with 13 Grand Slams is breathing right at Sampras' neck and even Federer's 17 seem very much gettable. More so, with Roger Federer in no seeming possibility of adding on to his current tally, Nadal will definitely make a run at it hoping his knees to last.

As of now, both Champions of US Open '13 will go down as all time greats but whether they'll be the Greatest in the Grand Slam tally is what we'll see. What we learned till now is - Serena Williams is undoubtedly the most dominant player at the WTA tour and Rafael Nadal just doesn't know how to give up; and he definitely is among the greatest fighters in the history of tennis.

Additional Note: In the not so popular doubles matches, the Bryan Brother's Bob and Mike were coming of wins at all previous slams this year and were gunning for a calendar grand slam. Unfortunately, they couldn't get over Paes and Stepanek in the semi's and lost a rare opportunity. Yet, Bryan Brothers are surely one of the best Doubles pair the world of tennis has seen. Also, India's Leander Paes at 40 years won his 14th Doubles Slam and is now widely regarded as a doubles legend in his own right.

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