Newly crowned Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic recaptured the world's No. 1 ranking from rival Rafael Nadal.
© Getty Images
Defending US Open champion Serena Williams will look to improve upon a disappointing 2014 Grand Slam season thus far with a successful title defense.
© Steve Bardens/Getty Images
By Nicholas J. Walz, USOpen.org
In six months’ time, tennis fans have watched three Grand Slam tournaments and have seen six different champions crowned. A Top 5 Swiss player won the Australian Open, but it was Stan Wawrinka, not Roger Federer. Non-household names such as Dominika Cibulkova and Simona Halep came up one set short of titles in their respective finals appearances at the Australian and French Opens, while young Grigor Dimitrov knocked out defending Wimbledon champion Andy Murray at the All England Club and put a scare into new champion Novak Djokovic, six months after nearly knocking out Nadal in Melbourne.
Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, a 20-year-old who had just three main draw appearances at the Slams coming into the year, is the only player in the world – man or woman – who has reached the semifinals at all the majors. And world No. 1 Serena Williams, perhaps the most dominant player in tennis in recent years, did not make it past the round of 16 in any of the three.
Taking it all in and trying to determine potential 2014 US Open outcomes will be difficult, yet here are a few things learned during this unpredictable first half of 2014:
Novak No. 1: Djokovic regained the world No. 1 designation after his memorable 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Federer on Sunday, ending the 41-week reign of Rafael Nadal atop the men’s ranks. Nadal, who beat Djokovic in last year’s US Open final and who once more toppled the Serb to earn his ninth French Open title last month, will be defending the maximum number of rankings points between now and New York. That means Djokovic will likely arrive in New York as this year’s top seed for the third time in four years (2011, 2013-14, with Federer earning top billing in 2012).
The 27-year-old has once more emerged as the steadiest hand in the men’s game. He lost to eventual champion Wawrinka in the Aussie quarters and to clay king Nadal in the Roland Garros final. But having finally beaten the legendary Federer in a Slam final, on Federer’s preferred surface, ought to have rebuilt any confidence lost during those early-season defeats – and pending the outcome of the upcoming Emirates Airline US Open Series, Djokovic heads into this year’s Open as a slight favorite over Nadal as he pursues a fifth consecutive US Open final and an elusive second title.
Where’s Serena?: Tabbing Nadal, the defending men’s singles champion, as one of the US Open favorites comes with very little thought: The Spaniard remains firmly in his prime and has had a successful start to 2014. His female counterpart will likely be the No. 1 seed once again, but with greater vulnerability than in years past.
Williams, at age 32, comes into the summer with questions about her up-and-down performances and overall health. Her 6-2, 6-2 loss to promising up-and-comer Garbine Muguruza in the second round of the French Open was the most lopsided major setback in her 19 years as a professional. She then fell to No. 25 seed Alize Cornet at Wimbledon in three sets.
The 26-5 record she’ll bring back to the U.S. for the summer would represent a successful for nearly every other women’s player, and there have been some strong performances – Masters wins in Miami and Rome come to mind – among the disappointments. Any high-profile loss at this stage in her career beckons questions of slipping performance and possible retirement, yet it’s just as likely for Williams to sail into second week and quiet the criticism.
Fed Far From Done: Roger Federer fell short in his bid to become the oldest Wimbledon champion. But the loss was arguably the biggest win the soon-to-be 33-year-old has had, career-wise, since winning Wimbledon in 2012.
Wawrinka supplanted Federer early this season as the top-ranked Swiss player, after Federer held that distinction for more than a decade. They’ve now flipped, with Federer at No. 3 and Wawrinka at No. 4 in the world. Federer gained a measure of revenge against the man who knocked him out of last year’s US Open, Tommy Robredo, eliminating him in the fourth round at the All England Club before beating Wawrinka in his next match en route to his ninth Wimbledon final. He’ll play this summer looking to return to the US Open final for the first time since 2009.
Young and Restless: From Bouchard to Dimitrov to Halep to Muguruza to Milos Raonic, it’s been a banner campaign for players in their early 20s. Add to that 19-year-old Aussie Nick Kyrgios shocking all with his upset of Nadal on Centre Court at Wimbledon, and it appears as if there will be a crop of precocious players that fans can rally behind at this year’s Open, including Americans like Madison Keys, Lauren Davis, Alison Riske and Wimbledon men’s doubles champion Jack Sock.
Part of the American Slam’s allure has always been the Cinderella ride of underdogs, and it’s been many years since an Open has felt this ripe for an upset champion. It should be a sizzling summer on the hard courts.