Like a roadside circus, US Open tennis rolled into Flushing Meadows, entertaining the masses with an array of acts both predictable and unexpected, while leaving them wanting more upon its departure. Marin Cilic and Serena Williams were not the only winners during this spectacular and heated fortnight; some players distinguished themselves from the rank and file while others failed to impress.
The “big tent” at the BJK National Tennis Center has folded along with some of the games top seeds. Several had met their match while others merely wilted in the blazing sun and late August humidity, producing notable winners and losers. Several players made their mark though I suspect their accomplishments might go unnoticed.
Alexandra Krunic, outplaying and maneuvering the reigning Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova and taking the two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka to three sets in the following round, did not fail to impress. Though petite in stature, the Russian born Serbian wields a huge game and even larger, though seemingly subdued personality. Aleksandra Krunic generated enormous power and precision while gliding like a gazelle over the scorchingly hot deco-turf of both Louis Armstrong and Arthur Ashe stadium.
The 21-year-old’s quiet resolve and steely focus bring to mind the 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer. Krunic, coming through the qualies, remained calm and poised throughout her victory over Kvitova and during her ultimate defeat at the hands of Azarenka. Like Roger Federer, she is serene and graceful under pressure while lethal on the offensive.
Kei Nishikori, with his explosive baseline play defeating the 1st, 3rd and 5th seeds on his way to his first Grand Slam final at the age of 24, previously had been a player to watch but recurrent injuries derailed his steady rise in the rankings. It would now appear that with Michael Chang on his team, Nishikori will maintain his current trajectory.
Marin Cilic, like Nishikori, had impressed me several years ago. Along with Juan Martin Del Portro, Gilles Simon and Milos Raonic, Cilic was touted to break through the Big Four’s strangle hold on Grand Slam titles. His ascent seemed a foregone conclusion having teamed up with Bob Brett who previously had worked with Boris Becker and Goran Ivanesevic.
In 2013, during his four month suspension for a banned substance, Cilic began training exclusively with four-time Wimbledon finalist and 2001 champion Goran Ivanisevic. Ivanisevic encouraged Cilic to play more aggressively and freely and in the process, retooled his service motion. Over the course of a fortnight at Flushing Meadows, Cilic dismantled Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Nishikori in straight sets to capture at age 25, his first Grand Slam title.
Serena Williams may have won her sixth US Open title, third in a row and her 18th grand slam title, but her victory does not bode well for the WTA . Williams is by far the most powerful and intimidating player on tour and consequently, until she retires, the remaining players must endure second place finishes.
Her impenetrable dominance forestalls the evolution of viable and captivating rivalries, thus exacerbating the lack of depth on the WTA tour. The media alleged Azarenka would surmount and perhaps surpass Serena but her mental fragility more than her physical ailments have prevented her ascension.
Maria Sharapova undoubtedly has maximized her potential and yet has not been able to defeat Serena since 2004. Inevitably, there will be a perpetual reshuffling of the players ranked below her on the WTA tour but for the foreseeable future, Serena remains firmly ensconced at the top.
Invariably, the critics are once again predicting the imminent decline of the ATP’s big four since the top two seeds failed to advance to the final. While Federer and Novak Djokovic remain healthy, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have been battling and recovering from chronic injuries. Inarguably, the physicality of the sport and length of season do little to mitigate their impact.
Djokovic is both reigning Wimbledon champion and current World Number One therefore, it’s illogical to deduce that a semi-final showing at the Open portends inescapable doom for the stoic Serb. Roger Federer, a Wimbledon finalist in addition to claiming three titles in 2014, is the only player on tour that has beaten Djokovic twice this year – hardly the season of a player in free-fall.
As summer in NY reluctantly comes to a close, the US Open packs its bags and leaves town, there is much to ponder; crisp autumn air, the fall indoor season and the knowledge that in tennis, as in life – the future remains a mystery – and one I wholeheartedly embrace.
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