Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Some Thoughts Following the US Open

Serena's upset for the ages:  No matter how good you are it's natural to have a bad day here or there. Serena did a great job of overcoming some bad days on her way to the US Open, but eventually having so many close calls is going to catch up to you.  Losing to Roberta Vinci may be shocking on its own, but every great player loses the occasional match to a solid if not spectacular pro.  That said, Serena sure let an incredible opportunity slip away.  None of the other top seeds remained by the tournaments latter stages, and she wasn't able to capitalize.  Maybe nerves got to her, maybe she had a mental let down following a dramatic win over her sister, or maybe it was just one of those days where she was a bit off and ran into a tricky opponent.  Serena's year is still phenomenal despite the loss, but it will be hard for her not to think about what could have been when she looks back on her 2015. 

Djokovic confirms what we all knew:  Heading into the US Open Roger Federer may not have technically been the favorite, but he was the popular pick to steal the title from the world number one.  Federer had just beaten Djokovic and Murray in Cincinnati, and undeniably was in great form.  Everyone seemed to forget that Federer had also been in great form heading into nearly every grand slam for the last few years yet failed to capture the title every time  (This isn't meant to knock Federer, who at 34 is still playing at an unbelievably high level, but at some point tennis fans and analysts have to wake up and realize we've seen this show before).  Djokovic is number one in the world for a reason, and a loss to Federer in Cincinatti when he was fatigued from Canada should have never been given so much emphasis.  Djokovic's defense and depth made Federer force the issue a bit more than he wanted, and it was clear from the beginning that we weren't seeing the same Federer we had seen during his previous 6 matches.  Djokovic now has 10 grand slams and counting, and what was once a Big Four appears to have dwindled to a Big One. 

Flavia Pennetta's stunning victory:  Heading into the US Open Flavia Pennetta was 2-5 in her last 7 matches.  Naturally, she left New York holding one of the most prestigious trophies in the sport.  There have been plenty of surprise major winners before, but Pennetta's US Open title is right up there with the best of them.  She's had a long and relatively successful career, but there was simply no indication this was coming.  Regardless, Pennetta picked the best possible time to go on a hot streak, and because of it she completely changed how her career will be remembered. 

Who's satisfied, and who's kicking themselves:  They may not have won the tournament, but Donald Young, Benoit Paire, Kevin Anderson, Roberta Vinci, and Venus Williams all have to be feeling pretty good about their runs in New York.  Vinci scored one of the biggest upsets in recent memory in her take down of Serena, and Venus looked good during her run to the quarters.  Young and Paire each showed more mental and physical toughness than we've come to expect from them, and Anderson managed to knock out Murray with his overwhelming power.  On the other hand, Azarenka and Halep must be furious about losing before the finals given that Serena didn't end up being there.  On the men's side, while it never would have been easy for Murray to beat Federer and Djokovic back to back, he has to feel like he blew another opportunity at a slam.  He had just beaten Djokovic in Canada, and must have thought he had a chance to take the title heading in.  Instead, Murray remains stuck on two major titles while all the other members of the Big Four are now in double digits.   

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Early US Open Reflections

The first round is just about complete, so here are some early thoughts from the US Open:

Benoit Paire and Donald Young came to play:  26 year olds Paire and Young have received plenty of hype over the years, and neither is lacking for talent.  What they lack is consistency, as they're two of the more up and down players on tour.  However, both knocked out seeds in extremely impressive fashion in round one.  Paire took down the 4th seed Kei Nishikori in five sets (who in fairness was coming off a leg injury), and Young came from two sets down to defeat 11th seeded Gilles Simon.  Both have good draws going forward, and could be around through the middle of the tournament.

Serena's draw opened up:  Serena's draw could have been brutal, but it didn't take long for things to open up.  Sharapova withdrew before the tournament started, and Sloane Stephens and 8th seeded Karolina Pliskova fell in round one.  This isn't to say it will be easy going forward, but it looks like some of her rounds may not be as difficult as they could have been.  A Serena vs. Madison Keys match up would be an enticing fourth rounder, and could be her first real test. 

Men's tennis is still an old man's game:  A few youngsters did get nice wins, as Hyeon Chung and Yoshihito Nishioka both made it through to round two against manageable opponents.  Most of the other youngsters on the men's side fell, as Coric, Zverev, Rublev, Kokkinakis, Tiafoe, Donaldson and Paul were unable to make it out of the first round.  Many of them received tough draws, but tennis fans looking forward to seeing the next generation break through were hoping some of them could pull an upset.  Ultimately, their losses will have little effect on their extremely bright futures, though it takes some excitement out of the men's tournament.  If nothing else, they got a taste of the fitness that's required to compete at the top level, and should all be back better next year. 

A mixed bag for Americans:  Overall, it looks like the American women performed a bit better than their male counterparts, but there were some disappointing (and pleasantly surprising) results on both sides.  Lots of American women won in the top half, including Anna Tatishvili who knocked out the 8th seed.  However, Alison Riske can't be happy about losing to a struggling Eugenie Bouchard, and local favorite Christina McHale also fell.  On the men's side Mardy Fish showed he's still got something left in his last tournament, and Donald Young was the first round's big winner.  Austin Krajicek also had a nice win, as he battled past Santiago Giraldo.  However, Steve Johnson couldn't get past Fognini, Denis Kudla lost a winnable match to Jurgen Melzer and Sam Querrey fell in straights to Nicolas Mahut.  Most of the others did what they were supposed to do, and it will be interesting to see who besides Serena may be in for a deep run.