Five days after the U.S. Open officially ended, I just couldn’t get the fortnight out of my mind. So I invited Changeover contributor Andrew Eccles to come and help me rehash all of the events.
Apparently we had a lot to say. How soon until the Australian Open?
Favorite Upset (Men):
Andrew: It has to be Kei Nishikori’s against-all-odds victory over Novak Djokovic. It wasn’t so much the match itself that was impressive–I didn’t think Djokovic played it well at all, and I think on that day there are several players who could have beaten him. What was impressive was the very fact that it was Nishikori, who we all know gets horribly injured more often than most of us buy milk. The context made it stunning–the Japanese player had battled past Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round and quarterfinal, each match a tough five-set battle against a top-class opponent, and somehow his body and mind were present to take on one of the game’s great fighters, albeit on a bad day. It wasn’t incredible tennis, but for on-paper shocks I think it was the one that most threw me.
Lindsay: It’s hard to disagree with you there, Andrew. Nishikori’s upset over Djokovic was shocking, and certainly set the day for what was one of the most surprising “Super Saturday” (RIP) on record. But for me the match he played against Stan in the quarterfinals was more surprising if only because it came so soon after his late-night marathon victory over Raonic. To beat Raonic in five sets in that fashion was one thing, but to come back about 36 hours later in completely different conditions–the sweltering midday sun on Ashe Stadium (Was it Kei’s first time on Ashe? I think so.)–and take out an in-form Wawrinka in yet another five-setter, well, for me it set the tone for everything that was to come and changed my opinion of Nishikori for good.
Favorite Upset (Women):
Andrew: Lucic-Baroni’s 7-6(6) 6-2 victory over Halep was a moment to enjoy. It may have been a tough loss for Halep to swallow, but the world number 2 will have plenty of chances for Grand Slam glory in the future as she looks set to stick around at the top of the game. I can’t help but get invested in a good narrative, and I think a lot of tennis fans were really drawn to this match as it felt like a victory for determination and perseverance. It’s great to see Lucic-Baroni on a big stage taking big scalps, and her reward is a jump up the rankings from No. 151 to No. 80–certainly not the worst souvenir that was on offer in New York.
Lindsay: Yes, Lucic-Baroni was incredible and emotional, but Aleksandra Krunic absolutely captured my heart during the first week. Her 6-4, 6-4 victory over Petra Kvitova in the third round was so fun to watch because for once, it was a Petra loss that wasn’t all about Petra playing poorly. Krunic got to ever ball and generated an alarming amount of power and somehow took the match off of Petra’s racket. Was Petra in Wimbledon form? Of course not. But Krunic won this match, not the other way around.
Most Disappointing Player (Men):
Andrew: Going into the tournament I half expected disappointing showings from Murray, Djokovic, Wawrinka and Dimitrov, but all things considered they each made a respectable appearance in the draw. Yes, Djokovic is world number one and didn’t reach the final, but after his terrible form of late a semi-final defeat at the hands of at the hands of Nishikori was a big upset, but perhaps not a huge surprise all things considering. Murray, Wawrinka and even Berdych made their way to the QFs when they could all easily have missed out on a second week push based on recent performances. And Dimitrov? The rust is showing, sure, but losing to Monfils is no shame. Sorry Lindsay, I abstain from voting in this category!
Lindsay: LOL. Well, I mean, I think that pretty much everyone you mentioned above was a disappointment, except for maybe Wawrinka and Murray. But I’d have to say that I just can’t get past how Federer and Djokovic played in the semis. Yes, Cilic was impeccable and Nishikori was solid, but neither one of them had a Plan B on court with them. With Nadal out and Murray still a bit meh, it was a huge missed opportunity for both.
I also think that, all things considered, Dimitrov and Raonic missed out on a golden shot to back up their big talk.
If I had to pick just one, I think I’d go with Raonic. He had chances to close Nishikori out, and couldn’t get it done. His serve actually let him down.
Most Disappointing Player (Women):
Andrew: I can’t look much further than Ana Ivanovic for this title. Earlier this summer she was one of the players to watch, but I have to wonder if some fatigue had set in ahead of her arrival at the US Open. After a year back among the top challengers on the tour, a second round loss to Karolina Pliskova in straight sets was an all too ignominious death for the former world number one. As we move towards the last stages of the race to Singapore, I will be interested to see if she can secure her space in the top eight. She’s currently sitting at No. 8, with the resurgent Wozniacki breathing down her neck at No. 9.
Lindsay: Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams, go join Ivanovic in the penalty box. You too Jelena Jankovic. Make some room for Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep as well. Basically, it was just a disappointing tournament for many of the top stars on the WTA who have played well this year. Radwanska gets my nod as the most disappointing, though. Peng played very well but a top-five player needs to have answers.
Best Matches (Men):
Andrew: There was something cruel but beautiful about Marin Cilic’s destruction of Roger Federer in the semi-final 6-3 6-4 6-4. Federer has been on something of a quest for glory this year, and I don’t feel that he’s underachieved for 2014 by any means, which is quite something to say about a year for the Swiss which doesn’t involve Grand Slam victory. I don’t think Roger feels like such a faded great anymore, instead he feels like a resurgent one and much more of a promising prospect for 2015 than he was back in January this year. That said, it was enthralling to watch Cilic so easily overcome his opponent with clean winners and brutal serving that would see him go on to win the title. It was a match you watched with a dropped chair and nods of disbelieving respect. Had the semi-finals been reversed, I think Cilic would have defeated Novak just as easily. It was flawless play, and for me it was the moment that defined the men’s tournament.
(I didn’t pick this as my favourite upset earlier because…well, from quite early on it didn’t even feel like an upset. It was a dominant display.)
Lindsay: I agree that the most impressive tennis rightly came from Cilic from the quarters on, but the most dramatic and fun match was absolutely the Federer/Monfils quarterfinal where Fed saved two match points and came back from two sets down to win. A disappointing fifth set took away some of the luster, but for four sets it was a blast.
Best Matches (Women):
Andrew: I had a lot of time for the tussle between Madison Keys and Aleksandra Krunic in the second round, which will feature again in a later category. Keys had all the power and Krunic had all the wiles, and I always think this makes for a fascinating match up. Krunic came through as the victor with a scoreline of 7-6(4) 2-6 7-5, her footspeed getting the better of a panicking Keys in the last couple of games. Emotions ran high during this match, which ended with a tossed racket and a swift exit from the court by the American, who must have found it hard to reconcile losing in front of her home crowd against a player nobody expected to make a run in New York. Maybe now, looking back at Krunic’s subsequent defeat of Kvitova, Keys feels a little less frustrated by her loss.
Andrea Petkovic and Monica Puig played a very entertaining match in the second round, the much loved German eventually taking the win 3-6 6-3 7-6(5). Puig is not one to hide her feelings during play, which always makes the Puerto Rican a dramatic addition to a draw, and you had to feel for her as the match slipped off of her racket. Petkovic would go on to be defeated niftily by Caroline Wozniacki in the next round, but her short lived appearance in the draw was certainly memorable and I’m sure she’ll be welcomed back to New York warmly next year.
I agree with all of the above, and raise you a Wozniacki/Sharapova. It wasn’t always the prettiest tennis, but Wozniacki’s 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 victory over Sharapova in the fourth round was so much fun to watch, and the drama and tension was high until the end.
Weirdest Happening (Men):
Andrew: Marin Cilic won the US Open.
Lindsay: Yes. What you said.
Weirdest Happening (Women):
Andrew:The bottom half of the draw contained a lot of strange occurrences, even though Wozniacki coming through to reach the final was really the logical result based on form over the summer. Looking at the draw now, the weirdest thing that jumps out at me is the run of Swiss youngster Belinda Bencic. Now, Bencic played one of my favourite matches of the year back in Charleston against Jana Cepelova, but that was Charleston against Cepelova. And she lost. In the US Open 2014, Bencic defeated Wickmayer, Nara, Kerber, and Jankovic in straight sets before losing a QF to Peng. Maybe I just have Grand Slam fatigue (real condition) but…I don’t even really remember these results happening or being reported. I hope Bencic continues to get good results in the future, she’s another player with a ferociously wonderful backhand.
Lindsay: I have to say everything about Shuai Peng, from her out-of-nowhere run to the semis to her retirement in the semis due to heat-related illness. It was incredible and then it was tragic but it was always a bit confusing.
Where Marin Goes From Here:
Andrew: Where did Cilic come from is my question! This result is so bewildering to me that I can’t even fathom the idea of the future Marin Cilic. I suppose, with the gloss of the Big Four having somewhat degraded over the course of 2014, which Cilic himself attributed to Wawrinka’s surprise win at the Australian Open, the future is extremely open right now. Somebody has to step up and make the most of it, and if Cilic maintains the form he displayed then he’d absolutely deserve more slam victories. Does he get them though? Honestly, I can’t see it. 2014 is a bridge, I think, and the likes of Cilic and Wawrinka have thrived on the bridge. I don’t know that the territory awaiting them on the other side will be so hospitable.
Lindsay: I have no idea where Cilic goes from here, though I do think he’ll hang around the top 10 for a while now. And if he can play his peak tennis again, he can certainly win another Slam.
Honestly, I hope he does because we need more of this in our lives:
Where Serena Goes From Here:
Andrew: I feel like this question demands a number, now that Serena has matched the 18 singles slams of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. I’m not sure how I feel about her chances of hitting the 24 slams of Margaret Court, although the neat freak in me thinks that 25 would be a nice tidy way for Serena to wrap up her career. That said, I don’t think Graf’s 22 is unattainable, provided Serena’s body doesn’t start to give up on her the way that we’ve seen Venus’ in recent years, and provided she snaps up as many slams as possible next year. If I had to guess, I’d say she matches Graf’s slam count.
Lindsay: Four more Slams is a lot to ask from a 33-year-old, but it’s hard to count Serena out ever. I can see her playing for another couple of years, and then I think if she’s close to the record she gives it a bit of a push. I say she does it. Ties Steffi at 22. Or not. PREDICTIONS ARE HARD.
Where Nishikori Goes From Here:
Andrew: Does this change anything for Nishikori? No, I don’t think so. He’s still the same prospect he was before the tournament began: brilliant, but fragile. Lotus flowers are famously a symbol of hope in Japanese culture, and I see Nishikori as something of a Lotus. I’ve commented in the past that I think his career might end up a tragic series of almosts and so-closes, and while I must admit that now I feel those comments could prove to be untrue, it all very much depends on whether his body ever grows into his talent. We saw Andy Murray go through a similar transformation. Is he as good as Andy Murray? No. Are his contemporaries as good as Murray’s have been? Not yet. So, the Lotus may yet live up to our hopes.
Lindsay: I feel like Nishikori will win a Slam, but not in the next couple of years. Injuries will continue to be a factor, but when he’s healthy he’s as tough and as talented as anyone outside of the Big Four.
Where Wozniacki Goes From Here:
Andrew: Caroline goes back up into the top 10 where she belongs, for a start. We’ve watched the Dane flail for a long enough time, it’s good to see her proving she still belongs in the big leagues. That forehand is still going to cause her problems, always, but we’ve at least seen her add a little bit of pace and aggression to it in recent months. The backhand is beginning to work it’s magic again, too. Brit-commentator Sam Smith always used to call her Miss Backhand when she first came on the scene and that not-particularly-creative nickname has stuck in my head ever since. It really is a shot to behold, from anywhere on the court. The nifty slice she’s added to her repertoire on that wing is yielding some results too. Keep training for marathons, Caroline, and I think you’ll be a Grand Slam champion yet.
Lindsay: I agree with Andrew. So there.
Favorite First-Week Storyline (Men):
Andrew: I very much enjoyed Dominic Thiem’s round 2 defeat of buddy and training partner Ernests Gulbis in five sets, and subsequent victory over Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Thiem’s an interesting talent on the court and a fascinating and endearing character off the court – definitely a young player the ATP will want to see going deep into tournaments on more occasions in the future. If you’re yet to tune in for the young Austrian’s match summaries on facebook, please do so as soon as you can. Win or lose, his post-match thoughts are not to be missed. He is, in a word, mega.
Lindsay: Without a doubt, Victor Estrella Burgos. Not only was he the first man from the Dominican Republic into the top 100, but, at 34, he became the oldest man to make his main-draw Grand Slam debut. He won two matches in front of raucous support by Dominicans, and then fell in a tight match to Raonic on a show court. Fabulous showcase for a fabulous story.
Favorite First-Week Storyline (Women):
Andrew: It has to be the run of Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic. Her match against Madison Keys, the powerful young American who should be going deep into slams before long, was simply wonderful. It was a titanic battle of wills which Krunic clung onto as if her very life depended on it. Keys was the aggressor, but Krunic had the consistency and the footspeed. It was a deserved win, and to back it up with victory over Petra Kvitova in straight sets was extremely impressive, not to mention giving Victoria Azarenka quite the scare in the fourth round. Krunic has an air of Chakvetadze about her: she is slight of frame, looks younger than her years, and could easily be mistaken for a fragile addition to the cast of characters on the WTA…in reality, she proved to be a fierce competitor. Let’s see if she can back it up.
Lindsay: We’ve already talked about her, but you can’t beat Lucic-Baroni’s story.
Andrew: Ekaterina Makarova had an extremely good tournament, and I’m glad that after her semi-final drubbing by Serena Williams in the singles, she was able to pick herself back up and win the title alongside partner Elena “AHHH-YAAA” Vesnina. Makarova was certainly the star player in the final, once she gets rolling she’s a pretty terrifying prospect for anyone across the net. And although much was said about Flavia Pennetta’s nerves in the final stages of the match costing her and veteran partner Martina Hingis the title, I didn’t think much to Hingis’ efforts when the going got tough either. A well deserving victory for the Russian duo.
Lindsay: No. 100. Enough said. The Bryans are just incredible.
Andrew: Shout out to Victoria Azarenka for really fighting to maintain as many points as possible. She’s tumbled down the rankings to number 24, but it could have been a lot worse. It’s taking a little bit of time, but the recovery process is definitely starting to yield fruit for the Belorussian, and her return to the top couldn’t come soon enough. A top 5 with Serena, Azarenka, Sharapova, Halep and Kvitova performing at their best would be…well, just incredibly entertaining.
I’ve barely mentioned Serena, and I feel it would be remiss of me not to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible dominance she displayed this year. No player won more than 3 games in a set against her the whole two weeks – she played very much like the predator she was dressed as: quick, and deadly. Where has this Serena been all year? I guess sometimes you need to glimpse the words “slamless number 1” to really kick you into gear.
I don’t know about you Lindsay, but this tournament was a lot less Canadian than I have become accustomed to. Eugenie Bouchard fell to Makarova in the fourth round, and Milos Raonic fell to Nishikori at the same stage. Even during their presence in the tournament, the hype was considerably lesser than what we’d usually expect. Now, I’m not saying the hype, particularly Eugenie’s, is always a good thing, but it’s strange how suddenly a nation can feel like a familiar stronghold in this sport. After a year of consistently good performances from the Canadian contingent, I have to say I missed the Maple a little bit in week 2. And I really do believe in the sleeve…
Lindsay: Haha, I agree, Andrew. Things weren’t nearly as maple-leafy as they should have been in the second week.
I have to give a demerit to the Americans not named Bryan or Serena. From Sloane Stephens to Donald Young, Madison Keys to John Isner, there were plenty of players who should have lasted longer than they did.
Also, I haven’t mentioned her, but all credit to Ekaterina Makarova who had a fantastic run in singles and doubles. I hope she makes a big push for the top 10.