By Matt McGladrigan
As we say goodbye to the Grand Slams for another year, two players remain standing after fifteen electrifying days of the finest tennis in New York. Two players that have done all this before. Who have both been in the form of their life this season and won most of the titles on offer. Who both won the French Open prior to Flushing Meadows. Who both went away with a check for $3.6 million. Two champions. As Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams steal the limelight once again, what have those fifteen days told us?
Rafa is on Fire
The Spaniard remains undefeated on hard courts in 2013, after battling past world number one Novak Djokovic in four sets to take his second US Open crown. And, really, does anyone look like beating him in this form? That was number 13 in terms of Grand Slams for Nadal and, at the young age of 27, Roger Federer’s total of 17 is surely within touching distance (especially with a good few titles at Roland Garros almost guaranteed). The knee problems of this time last year seem to be a distant memory now for Rafa.
Djokovic Struggling in the Biggest Matches
It was defeat in the New York final again for the Serbian top seed. Since his triumph in Australia right back in January, Djokovic has been defeated in a tight semi-final in Paris and then on Centre Court in July, in the final to Andy Murray. He seems to have lost that extra 5% that made him climb to the top of the rankings; the top guys can play him now, unlike in 2011. In the US Open final, apart from a set and a half, his groundstroke consistency let him down. He was missing backhands (particularly down the line) that he can’t miss, and wouldn’t have missed months ago. He wasn’t hitting the ball deep enough to pin Nadal back behind the baseline. The more tough losses the Serb faces, the lower his confidence when he comes out on the biggest stage. It looks like he’ll lose his number one ranking to Nadal at the end of the year and not even Novak can argue with that.
Serena and Azarenka – the Next Big Women’s Rivalry?
Over on the women’s side, these two are a long way ahead of the rest. The Belarusian is the only player that seems to match up at all against the American world number one. Again, she made her fight to take another US Open title. Ultimately, though, Serena was in about third gear and still managed to outlast Azarenka, who was playing close to her best. But the world’s top two look set to duel in many more major finals in the next few seasons, with there being no one else really to challenge. Sharapova has a terrible record against the 17-time Grand Slam champion and even Li Na, who was seemingly playing some fine tennis in the Big Apple, was brutally brushed aside by Williams. Azarenka needs to continue to work on her variety, on her movement and on her serve and she might well get even closer to the current queen of tennis.
Murray Won’t Be Allowed to Dominate
Djokovic dominated in 2011, 2012 was pretty equal with the four Grand Slams won by the ‘top four’ and 2013 has been mostly about Rafael Nadal, with Murray’s Wimbledon triumph sandwiched in between. Just when you think the Briton might be able to win a few majors in a row, back come Nadal or Djokovic. It’s been said many times before, but this is an exciting era for the ATP Tour, with those three jostling for position on the different surfaces. Wimbledon drained the energy out of Murray, as he looked weary at times in New York. After the last few events are done, he’ll head off to train and revitalize himself in Miami. Even now in September, you sense that winning in Melbourne might be in his thoughts already.
Wawrinka and Gasquet Have Stepped Up
Stanislas Wawrinka had an outstanding tournament. He stunningly dismantled the third seed Murray in straight sets with some powerful baseline play and great variety, volleying to great effect. Then, he pushed the eventual runner-up Djokovic all the way in the semi-finals, boosting his chances of making the World Tour Finals in London. Frenchman Richard Gasquet also made the semi-finals, beating David Ferrer in five sets, before Nadal was a step too far. He too, though, looked confident on court and showed his nerve in regrouping from squandering a two-set lead against Ferrer. Watch out for those two at the majors in 2014.
With the four major championships done and dusted, two pivotal Masters events remain on the calendar for the men. Shanghai and Paris (again) will welcome the world’s best with crucial ranking points up for grabs. Then, the top eight will go back to London, to descend upon the O2 Arena at the ATP World Tour Finals. The main question is: will Roger get there?
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