|Familiar feelings and new beginnings – Serena and Andy savour contrasting victories.
Trust the Yanks to deliver us drama! Well more accurately, one American, a Serb, a Belarussian and not least of all a Brit who in the final two matches of what has been a memorable Slam for so many reasons delivered so much on court and in the wider scheme.
Let’s start with Murray then, seemingly destined to become ‘the greatest to never win a major’ such was the era he found himself in. But for those in the know that label was already quickly becoming irrelevant. after a great if not overly spectacular first half of the season – culminating in the quarter-final exit at Roland Garros to Ferrer, it was with the grass-court season (that Queens defeat to tricky Mahut aside) that signalled to all that the fruits of Murray and Lendl’s labour were really ripening.
The historic run to the final and oh so near triumph at Wimbledon itself was a huge turning point, Murray had reached Slam finals before of course, but here the draw didn’t open up for him and for the first time he didn’t seem overawed come the final. All this whilst dealing with the obligatory home-nation pressure that is heaped ever further during that fortnight.
What followed is likely to be remembered as the most important tournament of Murrays career – not the US Open, but the Olympics where the cocktail for success was so perfect for the Scot.
Wimbledon hurt, but it had endeared the Scot to thousands who for so long had failed to warm to his frosty at times dour demeanor and on-court tantrums when the going got tough – a far cry from the plummy likeable Henman. Now Murray could thrive on this new found admiration from the British populace and it was at the Olympics – with its all-encompassing spirit, enhanced further by the amazing feats of Team GB, where he could feed off of positivity for the first time.
He was peerless, yes against a comparatively weaker draw and a still distant Djokovic, but the dismantling of a tired Federer allowed that last mental box to be ticked. A significant tournament (akin to the Tour Finals in stature) conquered and two of the Big Three vanquished.
Come the US Open and that belief which had been brewing all year and brought to boiling point with his Gold Medal triumph made Murray a different animal.
More than ever Murray was playing with a confidence that allowed him to match his natural defensive abilities with an aggressive gameplan that he so often failed to consistently produce against the big three.
Djokovic himself had had a thoroughly impressive tournament, not since Melbourne had we really seen the Serb’s devastating 2011 form, but in New York it was very much back on the menu. The wide eyes, the hunger and the confidence were abundant throughout the fortnight with the Serb dropping his first set against the evergreen Ferrer in the semi’s.
The final was reminiscent of Australia in January this year where Djokovic and Nadal put on a showcase of athleticism, displaying the new heights in fitness and elasticity that the sport now seems to require.
In New York, a tight first set with amazing shot-making proved especially crucial, if Murray had lost it you feel things would’ve been very different. But he simply played far too well to lose, the forehand was electric and at times unplayable in its Federer-esque concoction of power and precision.
Novak’s head dropped in the second set – as Murray’s would have done too undoubtedly. When the Serb’s inevitable comeback did arrive however it was again a chance tyo savour the new Andy Murray, his form which had dipped to allow the improved Novak back in then came flooding back and the door was shut on Djokovic. At two sets to love down it looked impossible for Djokovic, Murray had an answer for everything. The only remaining factor – as with Nadal in Australia would be fitness. When Murray did tire, and boy did he! It was soon all square, once again the Murray of old failed to threaten the Scot’s chances and he found a second/third/fourth wind and his very best tennis to outclass the equally spent Serb.
Expect many more majors for both, indeed the biggest spoils may be shared exclusively from these two as Federer’s increasing age and Rafa’s wilting fitness prove ever more significant.
Onto the ladies, and it was another case of Olympic momentum proving the difference as Serena swept aside all pretenders. There exist bigger major title hauls in the women’s game throughout history, but as with Federer, Serena’s is all the more impressive when achieved amongst such a strong spread of foes over the years.
Fifteen major singles titles now for the player who looked to have abandoned the sport a few years back in favour of the glitz and glamour of other pursuits.
Yet Williams ominously looks more determined than ever to continue this amazing run of form, I was there when she last lost a match at Roland Garros in the first round to home fave and journeywoman Virginie Razzano. In Azarenka, Sharapova et al we have a likeable and capable set of top players who are giving more credit to the womens game since the days where the likes of Safina, Ivanovic, Jankovic and to an extent Wozniacki were failing to fill the hole left by the Americans and Belgians of the previous generation.
One such Belgian, a certain Kim Clijsters provided one half of the ‘other’ story of Flushing Meadows 2012, that of two pillars of our generation leaving the sport for good.
Both Kim and A-Rod had been in decline for some time, the increasingly fragile Clijsters enduring a particularly poor 2012. For Roddick, it was the right time to hang up the racket (and no doubt pick up a microphone), his brand of tennis belonging to a different generation.
Roddick has never really had the complete package now required to keep up with the top guys, his serve and booming forehand have never been complimented with a confident backhand capable of both variation and unpredictability. Yet his 32 titles should have included more than just that one standalone US Open triumph in 2003, the year which also saw A-Rod become World Number One.
Persona’s like theirs will be missed for sure, Roddick’s victim in that 2003 final Juan Carlos Ferrero looks set to follow suit and we can only assume that the few remaining members of that generation won’t be far away – Lleyton and Venus I’m reluctantly looking at you.
US Open Heroes
The perfect tournament for the Scot capping off an amazing sporting year for Great Britain
Her best year yet? With all the factors considered it must be in contention. Another breathtaking feat from this living legend
Arguably the player of the tournament, graceful in defeat, Novak will be hungry for that top spot in the rankings after finding his best form here
So long to the sweaty one! That service action and for a time-world beating power, humility and wit will be greatly missed
A superb year for the comparative old timer
Continues to be one of the best ambassadors of the game, and her tennis was nothing less than stunning at times, desperately unlucky in the final
A brilliant run showing the kind of form and list of scalps we were all told she was capable of
Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani
Another great run for Errani and an excellent result for Vinci – clearly Italians peak later than most.
US Open Zeroes
The future of the men’s game needs to find some form.
Help! Less time on the golf course with a certain Mr Garcia and more time practising that serve! Sacking coach is a good start
Arguably underestimated Robson, but still too erratic this year