The Grand Slam calendar of Tennis came to a very spectacular and glamorous close at the city of New York,,which hosts the annual U.S. Open. This year, too, the show went on with an added spectacle, in celebration of the fortieth year of the Open era..
This year’s pageantry began with a parade of the former U.S. Open champions in a ceremony which marked the fortieth anniversary of the professional age of the sport. This era has seen the sport climb up the entertainment and mass appeal ladder and tennis is now no longer viewed as a ‘rich man’s sport’.
This tournament marks the first time since 2004 when a Grand Slam has seen a different men’s seed number one. There was a certain degree of surprise when Rafael Nadal headed the draw sheet in place of Roger Federer. But then always, one climbs up while the other slides down. This is an eternal principle of life and sport. The women’s draw was led by the effervescent Serb Anna Ivanovic though Maria Sharapova was sorely missed. Indian representation was limited to the men’s doubles and mixed doubles, represented by Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati.
The men’s draw saw the best come through to the second week. The matches became spectacular as the first week progressed. Novak Djokovic, the affable third seeded Serb, countered the eight seeded American Andy Roddick in the quarter finals. The match was undoubtedly the highlight of that stage. The Serb triumphed in three sets and was followed into the semi final stage by the top seed Nadal, second seeded Federer and the sixth seed, Briton Andy Murray.
The biggest upset in the men’s draw was by far the defeat of Rafael Nadal by the Brit. In a two day contest spanning four sets, Andy Murray bet Nadal 6-2 7-5 4-6 6-4. He thus advanced to his first Grand Slam final. Roger Federer beat demons and Novak Djokovic, in a delightfully error prone semi final in four sets. That set the tone for the unlikely final contest. People hoped for a Rafa-Federer show down Part III, but were slightly disappointed with the top seed not advancing to the final. Nevertheless, this was the Spaniard’s best showing at Flushing Meadows till date.
The final between Federer and Murray was a one-sided classroom session for the Brit. Federer, coming from difficult losses at the semi final of the Australian Open and final losses at the French Open and Wimbledon, had to salvage his year by winning this match. Earlier he had lost his number one status along with the previous match to Andy Murray at Dubai in three sets. With his sublime touch back, his forehand menacing as always and his foot speed back to being bright, the Swiss won his fifth consecutive U.S. Open. His feat earned him to be the only player to win two different Grand Slams five times in a row, and also the second man after Bill Tilden in the 1920’s to win five consecutive U.S. Open Crowns.
With the women’s seeds tumbling, the field grew open with each passing day. Already mourning the absence of the charismatic and sensational Maria Sharapova, the top seed and third seeded Serb Ana Ivanovic and Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova could not survive the first week. Five women were awarded the opportunity to gain the summit of the WTA Rankings if they won the U.S. Open. They were Serb Jelena Jankovic, seeded second, the William’s sisters- Serena and Venus, Russian and newly crowned Olympic Champion Elena Dememtieva and in red hot form Russian Dinara Safina.
The match of the tournament was the quarter final clash between the two Williams sisters who shared the spotlight with equal ease but brutally flashed winners to seize the match. Ultimately the younger sibling, Serena prevailed in two tight tie breakers but Venus had many opportunities lost. The other semi finalists included, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Elena Demetieva.
The Serb Jankovic reached her first Grand Slam final in the U.S. Open and was to meet the former champion Serena Williams. The number one spot in the rankings was guaranteed to the winner of the match. There head to head meetings stood at three matches a piece and a prediction could not be made. Riding on the confidence of her red dress and her form, Serena beat the Serb 6-3 7-5 to win her third U.S. Open Championship and her first in six years. With the win she surpassed Martina Navratilova in career earnings and stood a little distance from the leader, Steffi Graf. As for the Jelena, more such opportunities will come and surely she is the next great champion on the horizon for the WTA which celebrated its thirty fifth year in existence.
Leander Paes provided a stable of joy for the Indian Tricolour at the U.S. Open. With a great doubles season in the Grand Slam circuit which saw him finish at the Quarter finals at the French Open and the semi finals of the Wimbledon with a new partner, Czech Peter Dlouhy, the year got even better when he reached the doubles final in great fashion. Unfortunately, a pair of tight tie breakers blew his dreams of another crown when they lost to the Bryan Brother, Mike and Bob, in the finals.
He was not to return disappointed, as he won the mixed doubles crown in the company of one of the world’s best women’s doubles player, Cara Black. They beat Liezel Huber, Cara’s regular women’s doubes partner, and Jamie Murray, Andy Murray’s brother in two sets to win the crown. He came very close to repeating the double feat he had achieved at Wimbledon in 1999. He had won the doubles with Mahesh Bhupati and the mixed doubles with Lisa Raymond. Cara Black and Liezel Huber won the women’s doubles event, thus attesting their number one position in the doubles ranking.
All in all, the U.S. Open ended with many dreams achieved, many new created and many visions of ones to be achieved. Next stop is the Australian Open in 2009, where we look forward to new matches, new fashion styles and fresher athletes!
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