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And That's a Wrap: US Open Men's Tournament in Review

Sep 9th 2013

Tennis View concludes its US Open coverage with a look back across the most memorable moments of the men’s tournament, some surprising and some not.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic

Rafael Nadal:  About a year ago, many of us wondered whether Nadal ever would win a hard-court major again.  In fact, it seemed reasonable to wonder whether he could recapture his best tennis at all.  While Nadal already answered that question this spring, his undefeated surge on hard courts through three Masters 1000 tournaments and the US Open proved that he could win on all surfaces once more.  Crucial to that achievement was an impressive serve that faltered only once in New York, during the second and third sets of the final.  In command of his rivalries with Novak Djokovic and the fading Roger Federer, Nadal moves within one major title of Pete Sampras for second place all-time.  His renewed ability to win majors on surfaces other than his beloved clay positions him much more promisingly to catch Federer for the record if his body stays healthy.  Nadal likely will finish the year at No. 1 barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances.  A+

Novak Djokovic:  The world No. 1 has reached the final at seven straight hard-court majors and four straight US Opens, a streak that few could have imagined him producing a few years ago.  A marvelous five-set semifinal showcased his stamina and competitive desire for a second straight major.  Yet Djokovic has spent much of his season positioning himself for the marquee contests against his archrivals, only to fall short when he reaches them.  Similar to the Wimbledon final, Djokovic donated too many routine errors in the US Open final (over 50) and slipped too easily into the fatalistic body language that recalled his former self.  He has lost three straight matches to Nadal, surrendering the initiative in a rivalry that he had commanded.  Still, Djokovic created plenty of chances for himself in the final against a dominant Nadal as he stood within a point of serving for a two-sets-to-one lead.  It is time for him to step back and rethink but not to panic.  A

Big Three deputies:  A new Swiss sheriff may have arrived in town to reinforce the declining Roger Federer.  No man outside the top two has won more matches against top-10 opponents this year (seven) than Stanislas Wawrinka.  Now positioned to make his debut in the year-end championships this fall, the man long in Federer’s shadow reached his first major semifinal with consecutive upsets over Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray.  Wawrinka especially impressed in the latter of those matches, during which he never faced a break point against one of the best returners in the ATP.  While neither Berdych nor Murray produced their best tennis in those matches, their conqueror showed courage reminiscent of his epic battle against Djokovic at the Australian Open by keeping them on their heels throughout.  Nor did the sequel disappoint, mirroring the match in Melbourne almost exactly. 

No reinforcements were required for Nadal and Djokovic, but the Spanish and Serbian No. 2s acquitted themselves well in New York.  David Ferrer arrived at the season’s final major in dismal form after early losses in both Canada and Cincinnati.  Still able to come within a set of defending his 2012 semifinal points, Ferrer played his way into the tournament and capitalized on a weak draw riddled with upsets.  Among his victims was Janko Tipsarevic, who had thrust Ferrer to the brink of defeat in a quarterfinal last year.  The two men battled through four tense sets, all of which Tipsarevic had chances to win.  Having struggled to string together any wins at all since the US Open, he will have gained confidence from standing toe to toe with a top-five opponent in the second week of a major.  Serbia will feel especially encouraged with Tipsarevic due to compete in a Davis Cup semifinal next weekend.   A

Richard Gasquet:  In the absence of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France still could raise a glass of champagne to its achievements in New York.  The reason?  None other than the perenially intriguing, perenially disappointing Gasquet, who seemed to have made a specialty of losing five-set matches in the most painful ways imaginable.  At this US Open, Gasquet flipped the script by winning consecutive five-setters to reach his first semifinal at a hard-court major.  Perhaps inspired by new mentor Sebastien Grosjean, he saved match point in the round of 16 en route to winning the longest match of the tournament.  The Gasquet whom we all know and love to lampoon seemed to return in the quarterfinals when he led a two-set lead escape against the famously fit David Ferrer.  To our astonishment, the Frenchman buckled down in the final set to score a bit of revenge against a long-time nemesis.   A

Lleyton Hewitt

Bracket busters:  At first glance, two quarterfinal matchups jumped out from the men’s draw:  Djokovic against Juan Martin Del Potro and Nadal against Roger Federer.  Lleyton Hewitt forestalled the first, while Tommy Robredo scotched the second.  Hewitt’s five-set upset of Del Potro showed how far heart can continue to carry the Australian former champion even as injuries and age turn him into a shadow of his former self.  The best night match on Arthur Ashe this year, its serpentine sprawl contrasted with Robredo’s routine victory over Federer. 

Winless in 10 previous meetings against the Swiss superstar, the Spanish veteran set the tone by breaking serve in the first game of the match and closing the first-set tiebreak with an ace.  On match point, as a packed stadium held its breath, Robredo thumped a service winner down the T.  The triumph must have tasted especially sweet considering the serious injuries from which he returned this year.  A-

Russians:  One of the flavors of the summer, Dmitry Tursunov had compiled a strong sequence of successes on North American hard courts.  The sequence proved too long for his own good as an injury forced him to retire in the fourth set against Gasquet at the US Open.  Tursunov may have peaked too soon, but a more familiar compatriot did not.  Twice a US Open semifinalist before, Mikhail Youzhny made steely tenacity count for more than hard-court preparation.  After he had upset Tommy Haas in four sets, Youzhny rallied from large deficits in both the fourth and fifth sets against Lleyton Hewitt to punch a ticket to the quarterfinals.  He even won a set from Djokovic there, the second time that Youzhny did that in 2013.   B+

Young American men:  While the two most notable American men crashed and burned, some of their lower-ranked compatriots produced solid results.  None of them reached the second week, granted, but most of them had not shown second-week talent either.  Having struggled to string together wins all year, Jack Sock reached the third round for the second straight Open.  Denis Kudla stretched a befuddled Tomas Berdych to two tiebreaks, while Bradley Klahn and Donald Young recorded minor upsets of their own.  And, most implausibly, a second-week berth eluded Tim Smyczek by the narrowest of margins as he lost a heartbreaker on the Grandstand to Marcel Granollers.  Smyczek had won a five-setter of his own in the previous round, an experience on which he can build.  Less able to build on his US Open experience was Ryan Harrison, who drew—gulp—Rafael Nadal in the first round.  B

Tomas Berdych


Czechs:  In his debut as a top-five man at a major, Tomas Berdych neither particularly impressed nor fell flat on his face.  He survived the first week without dropping a set against overmatched opponents, only to succumb rather meekly when a worthier foe confronted him in Wawrinka.  Berdych had a solid but unremarkable 2013 campaign at majors, suggesting stagnation despite the improved ranking.  On the other hand, compatriot Radek Stepanek combined with long-time doubles partner Leander Paes to halt the 28-match winning streak at majors of Bob and Mike Bryan.  That three-set semifinal win catapulted Stepanek and Paes toward their second major title together.  B

Brits:  Defending champion Andy Murray never looked himself even before Wawrinka demolished him in straight sets.  Dropping sets to two of his earlier opponents, Murray resembled less his evolved 2012-13 self than the overly passive, easily disheartened version that preceded it.  He may have fallen victim to a perfect storm of circumstances:  a hangover from the elation of conquering Wimbledon, the pressure of defending his first major title, and a fearless underdog in torrid form.

A small ray of optimism shone through the Murray-induced gloom for British fans.  Qualifier Daniel Evans is no superstar in the making, but he upste No. 12 seed Kei Nishikori and Australian talent Bernard Tomic in the main draw.  While the pressure of expectations still rests entirely on Murray, it was good to see British tennis become at least a little more than a one-man show.  B-

American giants:  Trimmed down to size in the first week, John Isner and Sam Querrey both fell to lower-ranked opponents.  Isner’s defeat came as the far more surprising of the two, for he had impressed throughout the US Open Series with his improved movement and baseline consistency.  Those traits did not appear in a second straight loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber at his home major.  The top-ranked American felt irritated that many fans supported his opponent (Gael Monfils) in his previous match, so perhaps those emotions contributed to his limp loss.  C+

Rogers Cup stand-outs:  Now that Gasquet has cracked the fourth-round code at majors, perhaps Milos Raonic can solve it too.  The Canadian had reached the final at his home Masters 1000 tournament in Montreal, and expectations rose when he landed in the weakest section of the men’s draw.  Raonic did come within a point of the quarterfinals, but 39 aces and 102 winners were not enough to carry him through a winnable match agaisnt Gasquet. 

More embarrassing exits befell Rogers Cup semifinalist Vasek Pospisil and quarterfinalist Ernests Gulbis, both gone in the first round.  Pospisil twice served for his match in the third set, held match points in the third-set tiebreak, and held more match points in the fifth-set tiebreak, so his memory of New York will sting for some time.  C+

Roger Federer

Roger Federer:  Few expected the five-time US Open champion to advance past Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, the round where Federer had lost to Berdych last year.  Still fewer expected him to collapse in straight sets against Tommy Robredo, an opponent whom he had owned throughout his career.  On the heels of a second-round upset at Wimbledon, this loss struck a devastating blow to what remains of Federer’s credibility as a contender for majors.  For the first year since 2002, he failed to reach a major final.  Nobody should be so foolish as to count him out for good, but blood is in the water, and even the lesser ATP sharks are circling.  C

Wimbledon surprise stories:  The state north of Jersey was not kind to Jerzy.  Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz failed to win a set in the first round from a man who had not won an ATP main-draw match since 2011.  Also unable to pass his initial test, Fernando Verdasco won the same number of sets from Ivan Dodig (two) that he had from Murray in a Wimbledon quarterfinal.  But at least Janowicz and Verdasco appeared in the main draw.  Another Wimbledon quarterfinalist, Lukas Kubot, fell in the qualifying in an ignominious descent from riches to rags.  C-

Juan Martin Del Potro:  One must wonder whether the 2009 US Open champion ever will regain his health long enough to win a second major title.  Del Potro unleashed spectacular form at Wimbledon, where he took Djokovic to the brink in a five-set semifinal that ranks among the best matches of the year.  Just two tournaments later, his momentum began to ebb as injuries resurfaced, and he crumbled late in his loss to Hewitt.  Del Potro is a sterling competitor who represents the sport exceptionally well.  But he won three total matches at hard-court majors this year.  There is only one grade for someone of his talents who does that.  F

James Blake:  Announcing his retirement almost a year to the day after compatriot Andy Roddick, this explosive shot-maker ended his carer in a fifth-set tiebreak on Louis Armstrong Stadium.  More compelling than that match against Ivo Karlovic were the press conferences delivered by Blake during the tournament.  He has grown into a convincing spokesman for causes outside the game, so his life after tennis should produce plenty of meaningful contributions.  Perhaps Blake will pursue a career in the commentary booth as well.  Honorary Degree