Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Finals create history with little contest

Unfortunately the two singles finals in the 2014 US Open were no more than exhibitions by Serena Williams and Marin Cilic.  Luckily the tennis from these two champions was of a high enough calibre, not only in the finale, but in preceding matches to warrant the trophies and prodigious amounts of money headed their way.

Serena, a "mere" five time winner this year prior to Flushing Meadows, and a poor performer at each of the majors, spared her good friend Caroline Wozniacki any torture by slamming her with brutal winners on the back of brilliant serving to secure her sixth New York Grand Slam tournament success - the last half of them in successive years.  She now sits atop any player, man or woman, in the game today, with eighteen major single titles from 56 attempts, an astonishing 10 from the last 22, and she has the desire to improve and win more.  Once she reaches a final, who can seriously stop her?

A word on Caroline Wozniacki.  The former world ranked number one has revived her career in no uncertain terms, and has proven to be second only to Serena on the North American hard courts this season.  Her turn to win a Grand Slam title may yet come, and soon.  One of those times that Serena isn't hell bent on squashing the hopes of 127 others in the draw.  The win over Sharapova is especially something to savour from these past two weeks,  and Caro has flown back into the top ten with fire.

The unexpected men's final gave us the fourth different winner of a major this calendar year, and two of them newbies.  Marin Cilic now has to prove he can mix it on a regular basis with the Novaks and Rafas of the world, something that Del Potro hasn't managed since his 2009 triumph (injuries have not helped) and Wawrinka is yet to do since Melbourne this year.

Cilic has the firepower to trouble the very best, and maybe he will take a greater level of confidence into matches with the US Open crown his.  Kei Nishikori, while disappointed at being outclassed in straight sets in the final, must use his wins over Raonic, Wawrinka and especially Djokovic to advantage as he forges a path forward possibly into the worlds top five by the end of 2014.  

Both the finalists, together with Dimitrov and Raonic, and possibly Tsonga, must capitalise on the diminishing effect of Federer (his ranking in the world belies the fact that he does not make finals at Grand Slam level much these days - Wimbledon this year was the first in two years), the injury prone Nadal, the question marks over Murray, and a lesser return from Djokovic.

If they don't cash in while they can, we will revert to what we have seen over the past five years:

Fourteen Grand Slam titles won by the top tier of Nadal and Djokovic and four by the next level of Federer and Murray.  

2014 has been different with Stan and Marin breaking through and that is the trend we want to see into 2015 and beyond.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Serena the constant as we welcome surprise finalists

Well after a fortnight of upsets, it appeared that things were back on track with Serena Williams cruising through to yet another Flushing Meadows final, and Djokovic and Federer with seemingly straightforward tasks to be completed on men's semi final day.

Nothing could prepare us for what was to occur.

Yes Serena had provided Ekaterina Makarova with confirmation of her dominance by taking only an hour of her time to dismiss the Russian 6-1 6-3.  Makarova should be rapt with her performance over the whole tournament, and the final match is not indicative of her rise in the game this past year or so.

Earlier, Caroline Wozniacki prevailed in circumstances no one wanted, when Peng Shuai, after courageously battling the punishing heat, collapsed on the court and eventually had to retire.  The tenth seed Wozniacki had fought back from a break down to win the first set tie breaker and was serving at 3-4 when the match finished prematurely.

The two highest remaining seeds in the women's draw would now be battling each other for the title.

Not so with the men.

Firstly, Kei Nishikori, with his damaging forehand causing the top seed all sorts of trouble, broke twice in the opening set to win it 6-4.  Shock waves reverberated around Queens and Japanese fans wondered if the impossible could happen.  Novak retaliated immediately, dominating from the baseline and hardly making a mistake as he raced through set 2 for the loss of only a single game.
At a set each, bookies were feeling much more comfortable.
However, the form that saw him dispatch Raonic and Wawrinka came back to Nishikori in the third set, and he outgunned the Serbian star at his own game, eventually breaking in the eighth game, earning the right to serve for the set.

Djokovic proved again that he is best at extracting himself from desperate situations, and broke back.  A tiebreak was required, and once more the Japanese hotshot put the pressure on, opening up a 4-0 lead.  He had two serves at 5-2 to win the set, but Novak won both to give his fans hope as points were back on serve.
There was no stopping the irresistible surge from Nishikori, though, and he won the remaining points to  establish a two sets to one lead 6-4 1-6 7-6.

Djokovic appeared tired, and Kei Nishikori, running on adrenalin and the knowledge that his tennis was the better this match, pushed for and achieved an immediate break to lead 2-0 at the start of what would be the final set.  Serving at 5-4 for the match, Nishikori found his opponent had little more to give, and an appearance in the US Open final, his first major final, was reward for his sensational upset of the best hard court player in the world. 

With Nadal out injured, and Ferrer, Dimitrov, Berdych and Djokovic all beaten, it looked like the dream run for Roger Federer would result in him winning a sixth US Open.  Marin Cilic was not informed of this plan and proceeded to serve the Swiss ace off the court for two scintillating sets of tennis 6-3 6-4. Cilic was winning almost 100% of points on his first serve and more than half on his second delivery.  He hit twice as many winners as Federer in sets 1 and 2, and despite Roger not playing badly, the Croatian game just overwhelmed the former number one.  

When Federer broke serve in the third, murmurs of a comeback like that against Monfils did the rounds, in hope more than anything.  Once Marin broke back, the sense of inevitability of result returned.  Federer pushed hard, but at 3-3 he stumbled again, and was broken for the final time to trail 4-3.  
Serving for glory at 5-4, Cilic began with two aces to effectively put beyond doubt the result.
Cilic won 6-3 6-4 6-4 and the US Open final for 2014 will be contested between players not including Federer, Nadal or Djokovic - the first such Grand Slam tournament final since the 2005 Australian Open.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Debut Semi Finalists join old hands

2014 has been more of the same for Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic as the respective number one seeds have claimed semi final spots in the US Open for the fourth straight year (Serena) and eighth straight (Novak).  Serena has actually made the semis for the last six years she has played at Flushing Meadows, having been unavailable in 2010.  

Novak has converted those semis into five finals, winning in 2011, while Serena has made the final for the past three years winning the last two.

So much for the reliable top seeds.  The support acts amongst the top ten have taken a fearful battering this past week or so, especially the women.  We lost seeds 2 through 9 before the quarter finals, and two players will feature in their first semi finals at Grand Slam level.  

Ekaterina Makarova has continued a wonderful season, and the 17th seed is rewarded with a match against Serena Williams after dispensing with the runner up from the last two years Vika Azarenka in one quarter final.

Peng Shuai will enjoy her battle with 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki in the other semi final after the unseeded Chinese player successfully accounted for surprise packet Belinda Bencic in another quarter final.

Sara Errani will hopefully be remembered for her four quality victories at this years event and not her inglorious exit, thrashed by Wozniacki who seems set to meet Williams in the final - a repeat of their recent clashes in Montreal and Cincinnati.

Not to be outdone, the men's draw has seen Kei Nishikori sneak by without too much fanfare until his victories over 5th seed Milos Raonic in the fourth round, and in another tough five setter over 3rd seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarters.

On the other side, the exciting 20th seed Gael Monfils has put together one of his best majors, winning a quarter final spot without dropping a set, and taking out countryman and 12th seed Gasquet in the third round before dumping Wimbledon semi finalist and seventh seed Dimitrov in the fourth round.

Normally, a win against his next opponent Roger Federer would be deemed highly unlikely but the chances are reasonable this time, and the match should be one of the best to watch in the tournament thus far.

The remaining quarter final features sixth seed Tomas Berdych, who has gained form and confidence with each match.  He will try and prevent Marin Cilic, the 14th seed, from gaining his second semi final appearance at a Grand Slam tournament.