It’s the last Grand Slam of the year, and we’re in for a fascinating time. The United States Open 2012, played at Flushing Meadows in New York, has the potential to be the most defining tennis tournament of the year.
2012 has been an extremely important year in a historical context. The year marked the premature end of one of the most dominant streaks in men’s tennis. The year will also be remembered, so far, for the comeback of arguably the greatest player of all time, all above the rip young age of 30. 2012 could also be remembered as the year that probably broke the camel’s back, as far as the physical condition of one of tennis’s greatest gladiators goes. It is also, and potentially could be, a bigger breakout year for one of the best young players never to have won a Major so far.
Federer 16:12 Djokovic
In short, 2012 has been the year Tennis needed, after a rather unusual 2011. Parity has been restored, and things have been put into perspective. Federer’s greatness has been underlined by the fact that neither Djokovic or Nadal, at their peak, could extend their streak of utter dominance for more than 18 months at a time. Federer did it from 2004-2007, four years of sublime tennis that made the world forget that this was a sport dominated in a more thorough manner than Michael Schumacher did in F1, and Team Australia did in Cricket. The only difference is- he left us wanting more.
And more came.
The end isn’t near, after all. It is also one of the only years in recent memory, where the first 3 slams of the year have been shared by the top 3 ranked players. Djokovic, the world no. 1 in January, won the Australian Open and continued his inhuman run into the new year. Until, of course, the clay season- where Nadal awoke, won his usual 2 Masters titles and then Roland Garros. Sadly, that was to be it for the former No. 1, and we might not see him anytime soon- after he put his body on the line to overcome the challenge of Novak Djokovic.
All along, though, it has been Federer who has been winning consistently. 3 Masters1000 titles, 1 Grand Slam, 6 titles overall. Only in 2005 had he won 6 titles by the US Open. Turning back the clock has been one thing, but Federer is also the only player this year to have won titles on all surfaces. Indoor, Outdoor, turf, clay (blue), grass, you name it. He’d win if he had to play on concrete right now, because he’s looking THAT good.
The US Open, normally the toughest Slam for most of the top players, will begin on Aug. 27th. Things have changed since US Open 2011. A lot of things, actually. A lot of players start losing steam towards the end of a season, and the US Open marks the beginning of that end. The inclusion of the Olympics into an already packed schedule seems to have already done its damage to many dreams, bodies and ambitions. Djokovic, for one, was expected to sweep a Golden Slam, including a medal this year.
He came close, but so did Federer. It hasn’t been trademark dominance by any one of the players, but it has been captivating enough to keep most viewers enthralled- especially when the top 4 keep facing eachother in the final 4 of almost every tournament.
Apart from Nadal not participating, an unfortunate event has made this final Slam a little less competitive, the favorites remain the same. The contenders, too, remain the same.
Murray 0:34 (Fed, Djok, Nadal)
Roger Federer (1)
The biggest change over the last few US Opens has been this. Federer is seeded 1, by a comfortable margin and is expected to be handed a draw that could see him waltz his way into the Final. There’s no Nadal, and Djokovic is expected to battle it out with Murray, who will be seeded 3- in the semis. The luck of the draw has never really favored Federer over the last 5-6 Slams, which saw him continuously crashing out to either Nadal or Djokovic in the final 4. He finally fought his way through Djokovic at Wimbledon, and as his reward, he is on top of the world, quite literally. His only challenge, once again, will be that of 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro, who is expected to be on his side of the draw. But the Argentine seems to have his wrist injury acting up again, and though he usually takes Roger to 5 tough sets, it could be a little different this time around.
Also, Federer is invariably the freshest at this time of the year, and the way he played at Cincinnati indicates that he is only getting warmed up. The memory of that heartbreaking 2011 Semi-final loss to Djokovic, after holding two match points, will probably spur him on to be tougher- as it already has, so far, in one of his most successful years so far.
Novak Djokovic (2)
He had an opportunity to displace Federer from the top of the rankings at Cincinnati. But unfortunately for him, Federer had other ideas, and not only reached the final- but blew him away to take the crown and a healthy lead in the ATP rankings list. The Serb will want to end the year on a high, and this is usually a time where he gives it his all, and tapers off for the next 3-4 tournaments. He beat Nadal in a very physical Final last year, but will face an all-new challenge- of having to beat in form Murray in the semis, and then might have to contend with a single-handed, more decorated version of the Scot- Federer himself. Finishing off the year with 2 slams looks far off right now, and with Novak, the absence of Nadal seems to have taken away the superhuman mental strength and the grit in him.
Andy Murray (3)
Murray will get yet another tough draw, but will be more than happy to not have to face Nadal this time. He has beaten Djokovic this year on Grass at the Olympics, and has beaten Federer two days after that. He is usually the most dependable hard court specialist, but his preparations took a hit when he lost in his 3rd round at Cincinnati. Nevertheless, the Scot will look to ride his Gold medal victory and reach yet another Grand Slam Final, and yet another shot at an annoyingly elusive ultimate prize.
He will have to beat Djokovic and Federer, back to back, once again. And probably Wawrinka, Ferrer, Cilic and Raonic before that.
Jo Wilfred Tsonga (5)
The mercurial Frenchman can never be counted out of any slam, on any surface. He held match points against Djokovic at the French Open, and reached the Semis of Wimbledon, losing to him again. He is likely to be more lethal on the faster hard courts here, and could probably knock out most other contenders, clearing the path for the top 3. He will have to beat atleast 2 of the top 3, to win his first Slam- an achievement that could put him on par with unpredictable
geniuses like Safin and Ivanesevic.
Prediction: Semi Finals.
The other contenders, in no particular order, will be Milos Raonic (still looking for a Slam breakthrough), Marion Cilic, Wawrinka, Tomic, Ferrer (who has surprised us all this year) and Gasquet.
Jokers in the Pack
I could be fired for this, but personally, I still think that Andy Roddick has one final push in him, 9 years after winning his one and only slam here. A final push, in his case, could be a Quarter final appearance- and a loss to one of the younger, fitter and more skillful players. Like the top 5.