Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Novak makes it a 2011 Triple

The final Grand Slam tournament for 2011 in terms of Mens Singles produced its share of upsets along the way - Ferrero's epic triumph over the 7th seed Monfils and Donald Young's wins, including that over 14th seed Wawrinka, propelling him into the second week to the loud approval of American fans.  The same fans in high spirits as both John Isner and Andy Roddick strode into the quarter finals, Roddick erasing some of the memories of a lousy year dogged by injury and erratic form.

However, in the wash up, we had a repeat of the Roland Garros semi final line-up - the top 4 seeds again displaying the significant gap between them and the rest of mens tennis.  Again like in Paris, it was the Novak and Roger semi that would capture the world's attention and for all the right reasons.  At the French, Federer performed at a level unseen (even from the great man himself) in mens tennis for many a Grand Slam tournament, and it took that level to be able to overcome Djokovic.

In New York this year, it appeared that Roger would thwart the Serbian's attempt to win his third major in 2011 after capturing the opening 2 sets in vintage style.  One of many changes to the Djokovic game has been his resiliance, and instead of accepting the trend of the match, he used his skill and tenacity to reshape the match and take it to another level, turning pressure straight back to the Swiss star.  Very quickly, this semi final had been tied up at 2 sets apiece and momentum clearly with Novak.

Roger came again and should have won the match - he had a break of serve and was leading 5-3 and 40-15 on serve.  One magical forehand blast from Djokovic to save a match point swung everything around once more, and this was the last momentum shift - Federer could give no more.  Novak had found a way home, and into the US Open final again.

Nadal meanwhile had a relatively straightforward ride into the big one after proving yet again that his game is more complete than an improved Andy Murray.

And so the world's top 2 ranked players fought out the final, as they had at Wimbledon a couple of months earlier.  Although the scoreline suggests a similar domination by Djokovic, this final was anything but dominated from game to game.  The 2 sets to love advantage was obtained through managing to outlast the Spaniard in the important points, but the competition for the points was intense and far tighter than on the grass at Wimbledon.

That Nadal fought back to win the third set tie breaker, after Djokovic had failed to serve out the match leading 6-5, was credit to the fighter within him, and also reward to the crowd who deserved a great final, considering the rain interruptions that the tournament had experienced.

Djokovic sustained a back injury that didn't seem to hamper his court movement but clearly impacted his serve - in days gone by he may have retired in a match given similar circumstances, but this year he worked within the constraints, slowed his serve markedly but placed it well enough to retain it as a strength - Nadal began to miss the lines and Djokovic continued to hit winners.  A four set winner, 3 majors for the year, and 10 titles altogether, including 6 finals wins over Nadal in the process.

The season from heaven may not have finished in calendar terms but the top players often assess their years following the US Open, and Novak could stop right here and claim his year to be one of the all time best.  Only the team glory of Davis Cup means as much to Djokovic, but individually he has proved to be the dominant force in the mens game for 2011. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

My European Curse

Yes my recent tennis trip abroad has just now felt it's impact in the most negative manner at Flushing Meadows - at least for the successful female winners of the tournaments I attended.

Kvitova & Bartoli - finalists at Eastbourne
 but making early exits from US Open
I had the pleasure of witnessing Li Na triumphing at Roland Garros, and at the US Open she fell in the first round, a straight sets victim of Romania's Simona Halep, and a continuation of her poor form since the French Open.

Eastbourne was a grass court delight for France's Marion Bartoli, but the eighth seed was turned into French toast in round two by American Christina McHale, who is making a habit of taking top ranked players to the cleaners. (just ask the world's number one). Again the result achieved in the minimum required number of sets.

After Eastbourne it was more grass court action to provide my tennis fix at the All England Club, and one of the highest of highs came with the Wimbledon victory achieved by Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic.  New York did her no favours either, with another Romanian, Alexandra Dulgheru dispatching her without any bother in the first round shock of shocks.

However, the biggest surprise of all has been the fact that New York managed to host the US Open at all, and on time, considering Hurricane Irene had just belted the place.

Some things stay the same though, and Serena continues to shine in Arthur Ashe stadium.  As too does Federer, Nadal and the dominant player of the year Novak Djokovic.  Andy Murray is flexing his tennis muscle very early in proceedings, and home town hero, the other Andy, even won a match. Roddick has had a lousy year, and his position as American number one male player, previously without contention, has been lost to a resurgent Mardy Fish.  Fish opened the tournament and did it emphatically with a straight sets mauling of unfortunate German Tobias Kamke, leaking only 5 games in the process.

As much as I'd love to be in New York at the moment, I am enjoying the extensive coverage in the early hours in Australia, damaging though it tends to be to my sleeping pattern.  Speaking of Australians, we currently have one through to the second round of mens singles, Bernard Tomic, the youngest player in the draw.  Three women are still standing - 9th seed Samantha Stosur already into the third round, and Jarmila Gajdosova and Jelena Dokic with second round matches hoping to join her there.

The last Grand Slam tournament is alive and well, tempered by the absence through injury of defending champion and 3 time winner Kim Clijsters, and the withdrawal through illness of Robin Soderling and Venus Williams from the mens and womens draws respectively.