Sunday, August 26, 2012

Showdown In The Big Apple...

Chilling Out: At 31 years of age, Roger is allowed to relax a little! 

Federer, Djokovic & Murray look to claim US crown; Serena is the main women’s contender

The last week of August is upon us and the time is ripe for the final Grand Slam event of the year, the US Open held at Flushing Meadows in New York. Played on fast-paced hard courts, this tournament, known simply as ‘the Open’ among players, is notorious for its distractions. From boisterous crowds, to ‘hot dog’ sellers in the stands, to loud music at changeovers, the US Open has it all!

The men’s event marks the return of the great Roger Federer to the world No 1 position for the first time in two years. The 31-year-old Swiss played a remarkable Wimbledon, outgunning both No 2 Novak Djokovic in the semifinal and No 4 Andy Murray in the final to annex a record 17th major crown. He also added a silver medal to his resume at the London Olympics. The speedy courts at the Open suit his game perfectly and his hunger doesn’t seem to have diminished.

Defending champion Djokovic, the Australian Open winner, seems to have lost some of his appetite from last year where he won 3 Grand Slams. The Serb has had a solid year but failure to win an Olympic medal stung him hard. He relishes playing at the Open and the only true balm for a painful defeat is a Grand Slam title.

Great Britain's Murray endeared himself to his nation by first playing a wonderful Wimbledon final that he lost and then winning the Olympic gold medal in a sublime display. That both those finals were against Federer at the All England Club was just icing on the cake. Named the third seed because of world No 3 Rafael Nadal's unfortunate withdrawal, Murray has always maintained that New York's hard courts are his favourite.

The tenacious David Ferrer, No 5 in the world, leads ‘the dark horse group’ that includes No 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No 7 Tomas Berdych, No 10 John Isner and No 16 Milos Raonic, all of whom are capable of causing seismic upsets. Plus former champion and world No 8 Juan Martin del Potro (the Olympic bronze-medallist) who outslugged the top stars to win in 2009 seems to have regained his confidence and is a definite threat.

In the women’s section, the world revolves around No 4 Serena Williams. She has proved that no matter how many injuries or distractions come her way, when she is focussed, no other player can compete with her. Now 30 years of age, she won Wimbledon in utterly dominant fashion to clinch her 14th Grand Slam title and then dismantled world No 3 Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 in the Olympic final!

It’s not that the other girls are pushovers... world No 1 Victoria Azarenka, the Australian Open champion and Olympic bronze-medallist had a great start to the year. No 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, reached the Wimbledon final this year. Sharapova, the French Open winner and Olympic silver-medallist, comes closest to matching Serena in terms of raw power. But all of them have failed to find a way past the American on the grandest of stages, which is testament to her character as much as her longevity.

World No 5 Petra Kvitova, No 6 Samantha Stosur (defending champion), No 9 Li Na, No 12 Ana Ivanovic and retiring former champion Kim Clijsters have all won Slams, but they would have to overcome their inconsistencies to go all the way.

It is a wonderful time for tennis as a whole with the present narrative being the established youngsters versus the older legends of the game. And what better place to have this play out than at the Celebration that is the US Open!

(Published in The Sunday Standard and The New Indian Express with some minor alterations)