As the 2015 U.S. Open approached, there were two questions that tennis fans wanted answered: Would Serena Williams achieve the first Calendar-Year Grand Slam in 27 years, and who would challenge Novak Djokovic for the men’s title? The tournament gave us the answers in some very unexpected ways.
Embracing the Role of the Villain. Djokovic came into this year’s tournament as the frontrunner, but after losing the Montreal and Cincinnati Masters titles to his two closest rivals, he looked a bit more vulnerable than in recent Majors. He was rarely challenged before the final, and his demolition of last year’s champion Marin Cilic was brutal. In the final against crowd-favorite Roger Federer, he was clearly the villain, the top dog that everyone wanted to see defeated. It is a testament to Djokovic’s mental strength how he handled the adversity from the stands and the threat of Federer’s new “SABR” attack. He fought off repeated attempts to be broken, refusing to let Federer take the match from him. Everyone loves a veteran champion — and Djokovic may be in Federer’s position someday — but for now he will have to wait to be embraced by the public. With this U.S. Open title, Djokovic now has 10 Grand Slam titles, a mark only seven others have achieved in the history of tennis. And he isn’t done yet.
The Dream of a Calendar-Year Grand Slam Vanishes. The pressure on Serena must have been immense. So close to tennis immortality. The first Calendar-Year Grand Slam in 27 years. After she got through a brief challenge from Bethany Mattek-Sands, she fought off Madison Keys and Venus Williams to advance to the semifinals. Two matches away. And with so many rivals falling by the wayside in earlier rounds, it looked almost inevitable that Serena would be lifting her fourth consecutive (and seventh overall) U.S. Open trophy on Saturday. And then Roberta Vinci happened. No one, not even Vinci herself, expected the veteran Italian to pull off the upset. There is no doubt that Serena played tight and was clearly mentally stressed in the semifinal, but Vinci played the best tennis of her career, pulling off one of the greatest upsets in tennis history. Vinci said it best during the interview. When asked, “When did you believe that you could beat Serena?”, Vinci’s responded, “No.”
Mamma Mia! No one — not a single person on earth — predicted an all-Italian women’s final. It still doesn’t sound right, but that’s what we got with the 26th seed Flavia Pennetta and the unseeded Vinci. After Serena lost, tickets for the women’s final dropped in value by over 80%. Fans were expecting to see history made; instead, they were treated to two women playing in the first Grand Slam final of their careers. After a few nervous games and a first set tiebreak, Pennetta asserted herself and won her first Grand Slam title. And then she shocked everyone by announcing that she would “say goodbye to tennis” at the end of the season. Mamma Mia, indeed.
The Lack of a True Rival. Who is going to step up to challenge Djokovic for the Grand Slam titles next year? This year, we saw Stan Wawrinka take the French Open, but so far he has failed to follow it up in any of the other Majors or Masters. Roger Federer and Andy Murray seemed ready to make a challenge, but Murray didn’t even make the fourth round in New York, while Federer again seemed to be outmatched by Djokovic in another major final. Nadal failed even to make the final four of a single Slam this year. It looks like the Djokovic era will continue for another couple of years until one of the younger players steps up.
Five-Set Matches Are tough! The number of retirements in the men’s draw was ridiculous. There were 14 before the quarterfinals. A lot of factors were involved but there were even retirements by players who were winning when they had to drop out. The humidity certainly played a factor, but this could add some momentum to the debate about changing the men’s Majors to best-of-three set matches like the women. Mamma Mia.
Wanted: A New Female Star. As this tournament proved, there is a big flux after Serena. She was so dominant and winning everything that is was hard to notice, but the performances by the Top 10 women were abysmal. Seven of the Top 10 were gone after the second round. Petra Kvitova ran out of gas against Pennetta in the quarters, and Simona Halep was blown off the court by Pennetta in the semis. New rising stars Garbine Muguruza and Belinda Bencic were gone by the third round. Here’s to hoping that someone will rise up and be more than a one-time wonder in 2016.
Doubles Dominance. Martina Hingis’s collection of doubles titles in 2015 is truly impressive. After getting warmed up with a mixed doubles title with Leander Paes at the Australian Open, she then teamed up with Sania Mirza and took the two doubles titles at Wimbledon and did the same thing again at the U.S. Open. She now has 20 Grand Slam titles and doesn’t look like she’ll retire again any time soon. On a side note, the French team of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, seeded a lowly 12th, took home the men’s doubles title. It’s always nice to see two players who have come so close in the past finally win a big one.
A Final Look Across the Frontier… So the final Slam of the year is over. We saw a No. 1 reassert his dominance and enter the top-level of greats, we saw the dream of a Calendar-Year Grand Slam destroyed by a perky Italian nobody gave a chance of winning, we saw a Hall-of-Fame member take all the doubles titles, we saw a pair of unheralded Frenchmen take home a Grand Slam title, and we saw the final rain delay at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The Australian Open is only four months away!
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): kulitat