September 11, 2012
Every year, the US Open marks the beginning of the end of the annual tennis season. This is the last of the four Grand Slam championships and the final opportunity for the top players to make a success of their season.
Coming into the two week tournament, each of the top four men in the world had won a significant tournament already this year. Novak Djokovic took the Australian Open, back in January beating Rafael Nadal in the final. The next Grand Slam in France saw a reverse of the Australian final with Djokovic losing to the Spanish clay court specialist in the final. Wimbledon saw Roger Federer beat Andy Murray in the final to regain the World No 1 ranking and equal the record for the most wins at this historic tournament.
Less than one month after Wimbledon the same two players met on the same court in the final of the London Olympics tennis tournament and this time Andy Murray walked away with the Gold Medal. That result meant that each of the top four ranked players in the world had won a big tournament this year with just one Grand Slam left to play.
These four players – Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal – are far and away the best players in the world, and the level of competition between them is taking men’s tennis to new highs. Each of these players can win any tournament they play in.
Absent Through Injury
Unfortunately, the season ended early for Rafael Nadal due to a knee injury after a poor performance at Wimbledon. His loss in the second round was his worst result there since 2005. The injury did not clear up in time for him to defend his Olympic title or play at the US Open, and he has said that he will only return to tennis when he is fully fit.
The relatively poor performance in the second half of the year means that Nadal will drop down to 4th on the world rankings list. This is his lowest position since 2010.
The Swiss world number 1 was the top seed for the US Open and came into the tournament in fine form. With five victories already at Flushing Meadows, Federer was always in with a good chance to add to his incredible tournament record. When play started, the fans favorite made his way through to the quarterfinals where he slipped to a surprise defeat to the number 6 seed Tomas Berdych.
The second seed and world number two has not quite reached the heights of 2011, where he won three of the four Grand Slams. This included his first victory in the US Open where he beat Rafael Nadal in the final. This good form continued with steady progress through to the final losing only three sets en route.
The other member of the top four and third seed also had a great tournament and won through to the final by also dropping only three sets. As the only one of the top four players still to win a Grand Slam, the pressure is on Murray but his performance at the Olympics and other majors this season will give him confidence for his second Grand Slam final of the year.
In January, Murray and Djokovic played one of the greatest tennis games of all time in the semi-final of the Australian Open. The result was in doubt for nearly five hours until Djokovic was finally triumphant. Murray was devastated by that defeat, but has worked hard with new coach Ivan Lendl to improve his mental and physical strength.
Surprisingly, the final started with both players breaking the others serve. Djokovic then lost his third service game, but broke Murray in the eighth game to level the scores. Both players then won with serve until the set went into a tie-break. Both players traded points until Murray eventually took the first blood and the set 12-10 after 90 minutes of play.
The second set followed the same pattern as the first, with breaks of serve being a common feature of many games. Murray stormed into a 4-0 lead, before losing break on two service games. Djokovic pulled the score back to 5-5 before Murray took his service game and then broke Djokovic to take a two set lead.
Facing a two set deficit, most other opponents would have rolled over gifting Murray an easy win, but Djokovic is a great champion and it takes more than that to beat him. It is not the first time that Murray has had a lead in the final of a Grand Slam, but every time he has buckled under the pressure and the third set followed that pattern.
A double-fault in the third game gifts Djokovic an early break of serve and he followed this up in the next Murray service game to race into a 5-2 lead. From here the set is only going one way and Djokovic took his service game to pull one set back 6-2.
The fourth set followed the same pattern as the third with Murray losing an early service game. Frustration was starting to show with Murray and his opponent was in the ascendency taking the fourth set 6-3 to set up a nail biting final set.
At two sets each, it looked like Murray’s confidence had gone and the match was heading towards his Serbian opponent. In previous finals this was certainly the case, but his coach has worked on Murray’s mental strength. This was shown in the first game when he broke the Djokovic serve to take an early lead.
After a match of this length, mental and physical strength are important and it suddenly looked like Djokovic was fading. Murray held his service game then broke again to make the advantage 3-0. The next two games went the other way and the advantage was suddenly down to 3-2.
The match was now in the balance, but Murray took his next service game to love before breaking Djokovic to extend the lead back out to 5-2 leaving him to serve for the championship. With his opponent struggling with a thigh injury and needing attention from his trainer, Murray needed no further invitation to take the final service game and finish the year with his first Grand Slam title. Not only was this Murray’s first major title, but the first British victory in a Grand Slam for 76 years, since the great Fred Perry won the US Open back in 1936.
The future of Tennis
This victory represents a fantastic result for Murray personally, but it also leaves the tennis world in a healthy position. Each of the top four players is more than capable of winning a Grand Slam and the rivalry between them is the stuff of dreams for tennis fans everywhere. Federer and Nadal are two of the greatest players of all time, and Djokovic and Murray are both capable of challenging for any tournament they enter. All of these players can win a Grand Slam next year and it would not be a surprise if they all did.