As we head down the homestretch of another tennis season – we have just 2 months left – I’ve put together a few post-US Open thoughts.
1. Cilic Cometh
I’m not going to get carried away and predict multiple majors for Marin Cilic, I need to see more from the lanky Croat first. That said, I’ve always thought he had a lot of game and plenty of potential, but for whatever reasons he never fulfilled that until his last three matches in New York where he shocked Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori all in straight sets. That kind of run is called one thing and one thing only: Being in the zone! Against the much-smaller Nishikori, Cilic continued to do what he did against Federer, crush serves and pound winners off both sides from the center of the court last Monday.
At the very least, with a 6-foot-6 frame he’ll be a factor – I hope – for a long time to come. And while the US Open may be his only Slam win, he instantly joins the growing list of Slam contenders.
Looking back at the start of the year when Stan Wawrinka broke through in Australia, with Stan you could see some signs of such a run. Stan had reached the US Open semis and his play had been improving – he had just won Chennai. But Cilic’s run really did come from nowhere.
Give a lot of credit to Marin and a lot of credit to his coach Goran Ivanisevic. It’s even more amazing when you consider the guy was completely banned from the sport a year ago.
2. Serena’s Circuit
After shockingly bad Slam season, Serena Williams turned things around in a big way in New York. Not only did she win No. 18 (and her 6th US Open title), she did so by destroying everyone who tried to stand in her way. For all the talk entering the tournament of parity and depth on the WTA, in the end I don’t even think anyone got to four games in any single set off Serena. That’s not parity, that’s total domination.
As she closes in on 33 in a few weeks, she’s now just four Slams (or a year) away from tying Steffi Graf. If her body allows and she avoids all the distractions that seem to swirl around her, then why not?
3. The Big Four’s Fall?
I read a lot last week of the end of the Big Four. Well, not so fast. Yes, there was Stan, yes there was Cilic. But Djokovic is still No. 1. Federer and Rafael Nadal still right behind and Andy Murray lurking, though now out of the Top 10.
That said, the Fab Four are having problems.
As I said going into the US Open, Federer is old and he’s only going to get older. Djokovic will soon have other priorities, namely a baby in a few months. Nadal seemingly can no longer get through a full season (this is the third straight year he missed at least one Slam) and Murray’s still looking like someone who’s past his prime.
But Cilic’s win might serve as a spark, especially for Djokovic and Nadal who may realize with some tumult at the top Slams are there for the taking.
4. Federer’s Future
Roger Federer talks about how he can quickly forget those tough losses. But he had two very tough ones this summer. Especially the Wimbledon final where he was a set from the title and the US Open where his path to 18 took him through, on paper, a relatively dreamy draw with Cilic and Nishikori.
Honestly, if he can’t get through Cilic in that situation, knowing Nishikori awaits in the final, I don’t see how he’s going to get through such a test in the future.
This was it. I cannot see a draw opening up any better for Roger than what he had in New York. Next year Rafa will be back, I expect Murray to be a little sharper and the young guys like Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic to have improved. So to me unless there’s an outbreak of injuries at the top I think his Slam winning days are sadly over.
Fortunately this fall he does have something left to look forward to and that’s an elusive Davis Cup title.
5. Nishikori’s Promise
A 5-set win over Milos Raonic that ended at 2:26am. Then a 5-set win less than 48 hours over Australian Open champion and part-time bulldog Stan Wawrinka in the heat. Then a 4-set dominant display against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic again in heat? That’s a near impossible road for anyone, but for a guy who’s been as frail as Nishikori it’s simply speechless, and arguably the most surprising 3-match stretch of the year.
Kei still got beat up in the final, but that o-kei, I think the US Open proved that he’ll be a Top 5 player for the next 3-4 years, and I think he’ll get a Slam or two at some point.
Kei’s big question mark is his body. If he can stay healthy – and Michael Chang seems to be helping in that department – then down the road I think he’ll contend for the No. 1 ranking once the Big Four finally fade out.
He may not have the weapons of a Raonic, the grace of Dimitrov, the flair of Nick Kyrgios, but he’s rock solid.
6. Generation Next
Speaking of Dimitrov and Raonic and the others like Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, Pablo Carreno Busta, Nick Kyrgios, Jiri Vesely, they all need some more seasoning. But they’ll get there. Might there be a new Big Three or Big Four among that group?
7. US Open Scheduling
With CBS’s run as the official broadcaster of the US Open over after 47 years, ESPN will completely takeover in 2015, and with it the end, I hope, to the men’s Monday finals and 3-day first rounds. Next year the event I believe will return to the Sunday men’s final with a new Friday men’s semifinals. A welcome change for all.
8. American Tennis
Nobody does hype better than America. We saw that again at the US Open when 15-year-old CiCi Bellis lit up the tournament stunning Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova. Following the win the press coverage was intense. ESPN even showed her next match against Diyas over Andy Murray’s match on Ashe – quite an accomplishment for someone few had even heard of when the tournament began!
But such is the poor state of American tennis right now. We’ll take anyone and everyone because the cupboard’s quite bare, especially for the men. Bellis, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Taylor Townsend all appear to have very bright futures, but do you see anyone of them winning multiple Slams or becoming the next Serena or Lindsay?
As for the men, with the Isner/Querrey lost generation nearing an end, and Donald Young and Ryan Harrison not living up to expectations, it’s going to be on Francis Tiafoe, Noah Rubin, Jared Donaldson and Stefan Kozlov to carry the flag. Maybe Tiafoe will be the guy? Time will tell, but American tennis needs a lot of help.
9. New WTA Faces
I mentioned the next wave of American women, but in addition there’s a whole crop of young talent from other countries on the WTA Tour. We know Simona Halep, but there’s also Karolina Pliskova (beat Ivanovic), Zarina Diyas, 17-year-old quarterfinalist Belinda Bencic along with Elina Svitolina and Donna Vekic. So the men aren’t the only tour with new faces busting through.
10. The No. 1 Race
For those of you who like a good old-fashioned race to the finish for the No. 1 ranking, you can thank Novak Djokovic. The Serb could have wrapped up the top spot in New York, but his failure leaves to the door open for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
And Djokovic’s baby might really impact his schedule and the race. That’s the “X” factor. So if that baby comes early and/or Federer or Nadal win Shanghai then this is going to be a heck of a finish. And remember, Federer often saves his best tennis for last and Nadal should return fresh and hungry and eager for wins.
So this really could be a fun fall in the tennis word.
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