Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, or Andy Murray? The final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open, gets underway at Flushing Meadows in New York on Monday, and it seems likely that the title will go to one of the three aforementioned names – the three best players in the world.
Unsurprisingly, it is the world number one Djokovic who heads the betting. The Serb is bidding for a third Grand Slam title of the year following his success at the Australian Open in January, and at Wimbledon last month. Although an impressive effort, he has already won three majors in a year before, doing so in his magical and dominant 2011, and he is looking to add to his solitary US Open triumph, which came four years ago at the expense of Rafael Nadal.
2015 is building up to compete with 2011 as Djokovic’s greatest year, and victory in New York could play a significant role in helping beat it.
And you can guarantee that Djokovic will be there, or thereabouts, come the end of the tournament. He has reached at least the semi-final in 19 of the last 20 Grand Slam events; the only blot coming at the Australian Open in 2013, where he lost an epic in the quarter-finals to eventual winner Stan Wawrinka. This year alone he has played 11 events, reached ten finals, and won six of them. These events are the biggest on the calendar. Alongside his two Grand Slam victories, he’s won 4 of the Masters 1000 events, triumphing in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, and Rome. 2015 is building up to compete with 2011 as Djokovic’s greatest year, and victory in New York could play a significant role in helping beat it.
However, there may be some concern amongst Djokovic fans because, in the last two Masters finals, he lost out to nearest rivals Murray and Federer. Murray ended an eight match losing streak to the Serb by winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal, while Federer picked up a seventh Cincinnati title last week, preventing Djokovic from becoming the first man to complete the set of all 9 Masters titles. Although this may be a worry, that’s his first defeat to Murray all year, and only his second to Federer, and both may have been due to mental fatigue after winning Wimbledon. It’s not majorly alarming, and Djokovic’s Grand Slam record against these two in recent weeks will cast any lingering doubts aside. He hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match to Murray since the Scot’s historic Wimbledon triumph in 2013, and it was that tournament a year before when he last succumbed to Federer. In little over two years, it’s played five, won five for the Serb, and he will once again be the man to beat in New York, as he seeks a tenth Grand Slam title which would put him seventh on the all-time greats list.
The great Swiss is serving and moving as well as ever, even at the age of 34. The way he served and struck Murray off the court at Wimbledon was a sight to behold.
Topping that list is Federer, the 17 time Grand Slam champion. The Swiss, who dominated the Arthur Ashe court from 2004 to 2008 to win his four US Open titles, is chasing his first major title since winning his seventh Wimbledon title in 2012. And there’s no reason to suggest that the wait will go on much longer. Federer has picked up five titles this year, three of these on a hard court, the last of which was in Cincinnati last week. His hard court record is 21-2 this season, the fewest defeats on tour, and both of his victories over Djokovic have been on a hard court, in Dubai and Cincinnati. He has also won ten straight sets against Murray, who finds himself in Federer’s half of the draw, equating to five consecutive victories over the Scot. In fact, the Swiss maestro has only lost once in a Grand Slam to the British number one, and that was over two and half years ago in Australia.
Yet, for all the positivity, the world number two’s major record in recent years is a slight concern. He has not reached a hard court Grand Slam final since winning the Australian Open in 2010, and you have to go back another year for his last final in New York. In 22 major starts since his fourth title in Australia, Federer has won just one Grand Slam and reached three other finals. He has also not beaten Djokovic in New York since 2009, although he has taken him to five sets in both meetings since then. However, the great Swiss is serving and moving as well as ever, even at the age of 34. The way he served and struck Murray off the court at Wimbledon was a sight to behold, and he will continue his remarkable run of appearing at every Grand Slam since the turn of the millennium next week. It looks like his game is coming together at exactly the right time to add to his already incredible major tally.
Murray, seeded three, returns to the sight of his first Grand Slam triumph knowing he has the game to succeed once again in the Big Apple. The 2012 champion has had a much improved year after a tricky 2014, where the Scot struggled to regain top form after undergoing back surgery at the end of 2013. He won his first clay court title this season by triumphing in Munich and, six days later, he added another one, by defeating Nadal for the first time on the dirt to lift the Madrid Masters. In 2014, the furthest he got in a Grand Slam was the semi-final at the French Open. This year, he has reached two semi-finals and the final in Australia, although he became a four-time runner-up after losing out to Djokovic. In fact, in three of the last four majors, he has run into Djokovic.
Murray will likely have to beat both of these two to win in New York, something he has never done before in a Grand Slam, but if Murray can produce the type of form he has done at times this season, he has every chance of lifting a second US Open title.
However, ending that eight-match losing streak to the Serb in Canada is a huge psychological boost for the Scot; it was also his first hard court Masters title in almost two and a half years. It’s the fifth time Murray has won two Masters 1000 titles in a year and, apart from withdrawing in Rome due to fatigue in the third round, he has reached at least the semi-final in all the Masters events. Although the consistency that Murray has struggled for in recent years has been addressed this year, what will concern Murray going into New York is his recent record against his two main rivals for the title. He trails Federer 5-1 in Grand Slams, although they have not met at the US Open since 2008, and has won just two of eight meetings against Djokovic in majors.
The main concern is the Federer match-up. The Swiss has won five consecutive meetings for the loss of just one set against the Scot. If these two do indeed meet in the semi-final, Murray will have to change his game plan, especially when returning, and implement it as well as ever to overcome Federer. Murray will likely have to beat both of these two to win in New York, something he has never done before in a Grand Slam, but if Murray can produce the type of form he has done at times this season, he has every chance of lifting a second US Open title.
Although these three are the overwhelming favourites, there are some men who could go deep and cause them problems in New York. The French Open champion Wawrinka stunned many by ending Djokovic’s Grand Slam hopes in Paris earlier this year to lift his second major title, and has caused the Serb problems in the past at Flushing Meadows. He has reached at the least the quarter-finals in the last five Grand Slams, and has the game to unsettle the top three.
Last year’s champion Marin Cilic has little form to speak of since his shock success a year ago, although he did reach the quarter-final at Wimbledon only last month. There are also question marks over the fitness of the man he beat in the showpiece last year, Kei Nishikori. The Japanese star, seeded fourth, was visibly struggling at the back end of the tournament in Montreal, before withdrawing from Cincinnati last week. However, he has tasted success during the American hard court season thus far, winning the tournament in Washington at the start of August, and knows what it takes to go deep in a Grand Slam.
And what of 14 time Grand Slam champion Nadal. The Spaniard has had a wretched year and now finds himself eighth in the world rankings. Without a Grand Slam or Masters title this year, losing for only the second time at Roland Garros (to Djokovic), and another early exit from Wimbledon, there are serious question marks about whether Nadal, twice a US Open champion, will ever rediscover the form that took him to 14 Grand Slams. The eighth seed has won at least one Grand Slam title every year since 2005, but it would be a major surprise if he were to extend that run by winning in New York.
It’s all set up to be a classic two weeks in New York. The seeds have been announced, the draw has been made, and it’s now just a case of watching the fourth Grand Slam of the year unfold on Monday.
Marcus Oades (@RFCOadesey)
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