Friday night in New York City; on the eve of the final Grand Slam of the year, the former ATP #1s gathered for a night of celebration, remembrance and reverence. Amongst endless tedious soundbites and much champagne-bottle-popping, you could however detect an air of anticipation for the upcoming tournament, centred around three particular gentlemen – Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer.
Prominent among attendees was the much missed and recently retired Andy Roddick. The US Open, back in 2003, was the site of his only major triumph. With three consecutive aces, the enormously popular American clinched his place in tennis immortality. That’s what winning the US Open, in front of the lights and an adoring public, does – he was hailed as ‘the great new hope for tennis’. Unfortunately a certain Swiss turned up around the same time. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are back again in Flushing Meadows, having engineered an unsurpassed stranglehold on the sport since 2008. Yet, with Federer’s recent struggles – could we be speaking of the Big Four as one for the last time?
So, once more unto the breach – we can examine their draws. Djokovic has been drawn in Murray’s half, and David Ferrer with countryman Nadal. Federer has meandered down the rankings to #7, and lurks in wait for Nadal in the quarters. Djokovic is ruling the roost at the top of the draw, having occupied the #1 ranking for the past 44 weeks. Yet, the time has come to ask – how long will it last? He plays the tricky talent Berankis in the first round, and faces potential meetings with Dimitrov, Del Potro and Murray before he can hope to play the final.
Murray, too, has a rocky road. To face the serve and volleying Michael Llodra in the first round will be no walk in the park, and he will likely face the talented but tempestuous players Stanislas Wawrinka or Tomas Berdych in the quarters. Ferrer’s draw is difficult by default, bless him, because his 4-34 record against Federer and Nadal means he will not be reaching the final. As for Nadal, the only person who could trouble him before he would meet Federer would be the big serving American, John Isner; and then, when he gets to the quarters, will Federer even pose a real threat? Federer’s recent form, and experimentation with a new racket in the last few months, have made him seem lost, and even desperate. Were to beat Nadal, it would possibly be the greatest victory of his career, given that so few would have expected it.
Ideally, an unheralded player ought to break through and make their mark in the next two weeks. Unfortunately, the current generation of young talents is so woefully behind their predecessors at the same age that it is beginning to look increasingly unlikely that any of them will achieve anything of equal note at all. If anyone is to do it, look to the fourteenth-ranked Janowicz, who made Murray fans bite their nails at Wimbledon after he took the first set in their semi-final. The Other Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka, is also interestingly poised to make a move in Berdych’s quarter – a player against whom he has a favourable record.
So, which of these will ultimately clutch the trophy in two weeks’ time? Del Potro suffered a gut-wrenchingly epic loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon. Yet, at the US Open four years ago, he beat Federer and Nadal back to back to claim the trophy. In Arthur Ashe Stadium, he may well regain his old fervour, make amends for Wimbledon and take out Djokovic in five heartpounding sets to reach the semi-finals. Murray will then gripe and grouch his way through a few difficult matches to reach the semis, and then the final.
Nadal will breeze into the quarters, whilst Federer will labour there, but that match should happen. Expect Federer to win the first set gallantly, be poised to win the second – then wilt, to be denounced as done, one more time. He won’t be – but that’s for another tournament. Nadal will meet Janowicz, who will have conquered the floundering Ferrer to reach the second Slam semi-final of his career. The Spaniard will win. Nadal and Murray have not played for two years – but I predict they will do so again to end this tournament, and Murray will not be defending his title.
The US Open has often felt particularly distant to all residents of the UK. The glorious night sessions usually take place at approximately 3am our time, and watching these matches sprawled sideways on the sofa, with occasional breaks for drooling and snoring, nullifies some of the thrill. However, that should not stop us. In the city where dreams are made, one more will come true in two weeks.