In any grandslam, whatever the seedings of the big four be, all eyes are on them. As the quarter final matches at the US Open begin playing out, here’s a look at what we know, and what we don’t know, about the big four.
Djokovic is still the man to beat. Fans of Nadal might point out to Nadal’s unbeaten streak on hardcourts. But peer closer at the slams this year and you will see that Djokovic is the one who won the Australian Open, lost in the final of Wimbledon to homeboy Murray and in French Open to the king of clay. What this shows is that the Serb brings his best game to the slams where his consistency and fitness make him a formidable opponent in the ‘best of 5 sets’ format. After all, it took a home favorite to beat him at Wimbledon and the greatest ever on clay to beat him on clay. So don’t be fooled by what we saw in the Masters tournaments (witness, for example, how Rafa recovered from the Monte Carlo loss to Djokovic to beat him where it counted, at the French Open). Djokovic’s second round demolition of Benjamin Becker and 4th round domination of Marcel Granollers tell us why he is the favorite. Smart money is on the Serb winning the US Open for the second time in his career. Haas was expected to be his toughest opponent, till a possible semifinal meeting with Murray. But Mikhail Youzhny’s quarterfinal run meant that Djokovic has a revised challenge to encounter. One really doesn’t see Djokovic having to break much sweat in that QF match. If the semi with Murray materializes, Djokovic should win it given the ease with which he beat Murray in the Australian Open and almost came back from two sets to love down last US Open. If the Serb starts strong, he should beat Murray in straight sets or 4 sets.
Among the top 4, Murray is the one against whose name the maximum number of question marks appear. Post Wimbledon, he has been all over the place with his tennis. Losing to Gulbis and Berdych in the two Masters leading to the US Open is not the way you want to head into Flushing Meadows. Perhaps, he was still drained from the monumental achievement of winning Wimbledon. Or maybe he is still out of touch not having played a lot of tennis in the past few weeks. Either way, Murray has not appeared all that comfortable at the slam where he is, ironically, the defending champion. Unlike 2012, where he caught Djokovic on an off day, he might have to beat Djokovic and possibly Nadal in the semi and final to win the tournament this time around. While this isn’t beyond the Scot, nothing in terms of current form suggests that this scenario will pan out. He will probably bow out in the semis losing to Djokovic or will huff and puff past the Serb into the final only to find himself running out of steam in the final and losing to Nadal.
If one looks purely at the numbers, Nadal appears to be the favorite having won the last 3 hard court Masters series he has played in. For a player who has not been as comfortable on hard courts as he has been on clay throughout his career, it is a surprising achievement late in his career. Nadal has been in tremendous form at the US Open, but he has hardly played anyone with a game good enough to challenge him. Also, his wins at Montreal and Cincinatti involved close matches with Djokovic and Federer respectively, two players who he will almost certainly have to beat to win the title. Federer’s fans might have hoped for him to maintain the tempo with which he started the Cincinatti match, but as it turned out Federer left his fans disappointed post his “self-destruction”. Even if Nadal makes the final, Djokovic would have to be the favorite in a match between the two. The memories of Djokovic’s wins at US Open 2011 and Australian Open 2012 will be fresh in the memory of both players. Djokovic has won 3 out of the last 4 hard court slams and reached the final in the fourth one. Given these circumstances, one would have put Nadal as second to Djokovic in spite of what the recent hard court numbers say.
PS: Nadal’s fans are hereby warned to not be drawn too much into Djokovic’s recent take on Nadal’s second shot, touting it as the ‘BEST’. It’s a ‘GAME OF SHADOWS’ friends!
It has not been a great year for Federer as we all know. A seeding of 7, a very strange sight for anyone watching tennis in the last decade, tells the story. But there were signs that the Federer’s game was getting back to somewhere near its best. After a disastrous Wimbledon, Federer played well at Cincinatti and had the beating of Nadal till he ran out of steam towards the latter stages of the quarter final there. Considering his turbulence in the last few months, where his back was definitely a hampering factor, Federer did exceptionally well to translate himself into a man oozing confidence, post his R3 match at USO. Had Federer beaten Nadal in the quarterfinals, it could have been yet another redefining moment in his illustrious career. But, it was not to be! A friend of mine quotes – ‘there is always a first time for anything’. As his career enters twilight zone, Federer is getting to relate to this quote more than ever. Tommy Haas…Lleyton Hewitt…and now, Tommy Robredo! Man who had never triumphed over Federer in his past meetings springs a surprise. It might have tremendously benefited Federer to play Nadal in the QF at Flushing Meadows, where he will be seen as an underdog, rather than in the high pressure atmosphere of a final. Tommy Robredo acknowledged! Talking in the terms of Cricket, he had played the ‘night-watchman’ to protect the wicket of Rafael Nadal and he was successful in doing so. 6-0 6-2 6-2, a customary knockout followed in a lopsided and customary Quarterfinal encounter. Its time again for critics to raise their concerns over aging Federer. But, as his greatest nemesis Nadal famously asserted, “NEVER say that Federer isn’t a fighter!”.