US Open 2012 preview
Ostensibly the Australian and US opens offer the same prestige as their European grand slam counterparts, Wimbledon and the French Open. The four combined make up the most important events of the tennis calendar, and winning any one of them can be the highlight of a player’s career.
Nonetheless, the latter two, having existed since the 19th century as well as being played on the slightly more unpredictable surfaces of grass and clay, have firmly cemented themselves in the imagination of tennis enthusiasts the world over.
Their younger counterparts, both played on hard courts, lack the same legacy and mythology. They must therefore hope to compete purely in excitement stakes, meaning quality of tennis and diversity of winners. In this second regard, the US Open can at least claim parity, if not superiority over other grand slams.
The last 5 years have seen eight different winners across the men and women’s singles competitions: the men’s saw the first and only time in the past seven years where the Nadal/Djokovic/Federer hegemony was disrupted when Juan Martin del Potro won in 2009; the women’s, meanwhile was the scene of Kim Clijsters triumphant return from retirement when, after two years out of the sport, she came back to become the first woman to win back to back titles in 2009 and 2010.
The build up to 2012 suggests that this year’s open can match its predecessors, with no standout favourites amongst the men or women. For the first time in some years the dominating trio of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic don’t look quite so invulnerable.
Nadal, having sat out Wimbledon with a knee problem has withdrawn from the US open; Federer, who overcame a spirited display from perennial Scottish challenger Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final, seemed to be feeling the effects of a long and tiring year when he lost in straight sets against Murray in the Olympics final later that month.
The Swiss, who is a 5 time champion at Flushing Meadows, bounced back to win the Cincinnati Open, but critics remain unconvinced that he has enough left to sustain a serious challenge this year.
Djokovic meanwhile followed his spectacular 2011 with a slightly more low-key 2012, winning the Australian open before falling at the final hurdle in France, and losing in the semis at Wimbledon. I feel physically stronger and better prepared than I did last year,” Djokovic told reporters on Saturday. “Mentally I had some ups and downs throughout the season, but I think that was maybe expected in a way. It’s normal to have ups and downs.” His current trend suggests he’ll exit in the quarters, but the Serbian seems convinced he can end the year on a high.
In terms of British hopes, Andy Murray knows that is his perhaps his best chance to win his first grand slam. With his top competitors either injured, fatigued or out of sorts, the Scot will hope to go one better than 2008 when he was a beaten finalist, losing in straight sets to Wimbledon nemesis Roger Federer. The nature of the draw means that the two men will meet again in the semi final if they both progress that far, before facing a potential final against Djokovic.
In the women’s, few would bet against Serena Williams following up her Wimbledon success in New York; however the American hasn’t won at the US Open since 2008, and can be her own worst enemy at times, letting weaker opponents beat her mentally on the court.
Her route to the final seems simple enough however, as she faces a potential quarter final tie against Caroline Wozniacki or Ana Ivanovic, neither of who have given her much trouble in the past.
One potential opponent in the final is Maria Sharapova, who hasn’t competed since she was beaten 6-0 6-1 in the Olympic final by Williams. The Russian will first have to defeat one of Azarenka, Clijsters or last year’s winner Stosur in the semi final however.
Stosur was confident when interviewed during the tournament build-up: “You walk back in here, and you only have good memories,” she said of returning to the US Open. “Hopefully I can have another good two weeks. I am feeling good. It has been a year of a few ups and downs, but (I feel good) being on hard courts again and at a tournament and conditions that suit my game.”
Whoever wins, the Open is sure to throw up a number of surprises: play begins with the Croatian Petra Martic vs the defending champion Samantha Stosur at 11 am tomorrow.
Theo Chiles, Tennis correspondent