US Open Could Provide Last Hurrah For Federer
There was a point in the mid-2000s where it appeared as though the evolution of tennis had stalled in the era of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, as the sport’s relative glass ceiling was raised to impossible heights. Between 2004 and 2010, the two shared 24 grand slam titles, meeting in the finals of Wimbledon, Roland Garros and the Australian Open on seven occasions – remember that most of those finals rank among the greatest matches ever played, and you can start to understand the depth of the rivalry that consumed men’s tennis over the last decade.
Now, it seems to have broken down. Neither man is the dominant force in men’s tennis, with Novak Djokovic properly interrupting the good thing that we all had going in 2011, as Federer’s form dropped with his ranking and Nadal felt the effects of his unsustainably physical game. In the years since the rivalry began to soften, eras have overlapped at such a rate that the word “era,” fairly impressive though it may be, isn’t really accurate any more. Andy Murray flirted briefly with success, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga threatened without threatening, and Djokovic has emerged as a survivor of the End Times, as Federer moves closer to retirement, and Nadal’s body gives up on him outside of Paris.
So it’s interesting to consider how the three players who have defined the last ten years of men’s tennis have approached this US Open: Djokovic as the favourite, Federer in sepia-tinted form, and Nadal not at all. The champion withdrew with a wrist injury, and while the consensus is that it is Djokovic’s tournament to lose, there’s also a feeling that it’s Federer’s to win.
Novak Djokovic +125
Roger Federer +250
Andy Murray +700
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
The Serbian world no.1 is already in the second round after a straight-sets win on the opening day, and shouldn’t be troubled until the semi finals. Nadal, were he not injured, would be in pretty much the same position, but things are different and we have to put up with another narrative. Djokovic lost in the final at Roland Garros and returned to no.1 with a victory at Wimbledon, and despite losing two of his last four matches, has started at Flushing Meadows as the best competitor in the field that has shown up to play. His robotic consistency stands him in good stead to reach the final despite a difficult draw heavy with perennial nearly-men (an effect of Nadal’s withdrawal and a subsequent shift in seeding) – by the end of the fortnight, we’ll have a much better idea of whether or not Djokovic is the irresistible power that men’s tennis is looking for.
Roger Federer is at, and has been for a few years now, at a strange point in his career where “we will have spent nearly as much time talking about his mostly graceful decline as we did his rise and reign,” in the words of Reeves Wiedeman. With Nadal out, however, this tournament provides Federer with a golden opportunity to prove wrong the friend who laughed at my suggestion that he might win – Federer, he says, like “a post-prime Muhammad Ali, floats like a butterfly and gets stung like Winnie the Pooh.”
It’s a fair assessment of the man who hasn’t won a major final since 2012, an almost isolated Wimbledon victory as his star faded. He’s 33, and only one man, Ken Rosewall in 1970, has won the US Open at an older age than Federer is now. He hasn’t featured in a final at Flushing Meadows since 2009, when he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro, though I guess it’s worth remembering that he won a record five straight US Open titles in the years before. He also reached the Australian Open semi final and the Wimbledon final earlier this year, and has moved up to number three in the ATP rankings. He’s as fit as he’s ever been, which always seems to be the case, and though they go astray more often than they used to, his shot-making is still as effective as it is aesthetic. Damn it, here comes the paragraph 180: Roger Federer can definitely win this tournament.
Should one of Federer or Djokovic run into trouble, then it’s anyone’s game – “anyone” here meaning four or five other men. Andy Murray struggled with cramp in his first round, four set win over Robin Haase, and can be reasonably be expected to reach the semi-finals. Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov would also be happy with places in the semis, while David Ferrer looks set to be happy just to be there. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, says my tennis coach – I can do one-handed backhands now – is also probably a pretty good shot to win, and he knows what he’s talking about when he’s talking about tennis.
In the women’s competition, everything is entirely dependent on whether or not Serena Williams has any interest in winning another major. Li Na isn’t in New York this year, and the American has been in typically dominant form on hard surfaces since failing to reach the quarter-final stage of any of the other grand slams this year, but that’s down to Jehovah sharing things around for once. That said, it’s worth looking at fifth seed Maria Sharapova and eighth seed Ana Ivanovic, simply because the women’s game is the most unpredictable sport on the planet. Sharapova didn’t play the US Open last year and has been unimpressive since her win at Roland Garros, but women’s tennis is the most unpredictable sport on the planet, and she’s already in the second round after roundly beating Maria Kirilenko 6-4 6-0 in the first.
Nadal should be back next year, as should Li Na, and order might return. For now, we can enjoy seedings warped by absence, and a tournament that might finally define an unpredictable 2014 season.
Betting Instinct tip – Roger Federer to win his 18th grand slam at Flushing Meadows is 5/2 with Intertops.eu.
MAX GRIEVE (maxjgri) is Australian, but keep reading. He likes football, rugby union and tennis, though has given up on his dream of being a tri-sport athlete/exciting millionaire. He supports Liverpool, and is ashamed for doing so. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.