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2015 US Open: Ten talking points

September 14, 2015 3:58 AM
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From Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray's exits to the New York heat wave and an unexpected all-Italian women's final and more, here's a look back at the 135th edition of the US Open.

Unstoppable. Djokovic defeated Feliciano Lopez in four sets in a match that dipped into Wednesday morning to advance to the US Open semi-finals for a ninth consecutive year. Then he thrashed Marin Cilic to book a date with Federer. It was the final people expected, and the result went Djokovic's way to earn him this third Grand Slam of 2015. The crowd didn't show him much love, but in the end everyone had to marvel at Djokovic's nerves of steel and mental strength.

"I'm enjoying this year more than I did any previous one because I'm a husband and a father and that makes it sweeter. I love this sport and all these results and achievements are incentive for me to keep on going. I am going to try to enjoy this victory as much as I can," said Djokovic after beating Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. The Serbian now has ten Slams, level with Bill Tilden and one behind Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver. Cue the discussions: where does this win put Djokovic in hierarchy of tennis greats?

Djokovic celebrates after defeating Federer during their men's singles final. (AFP Photo)

In the end, Arthur Ashe Stadium did not prove a happy hunting ground for Roger Federer, but by reaching his first final at Flushing Meadows in six years, the five-time US Open champion proved once again that age is not slowing him down. The world No 2 strolled through his opening rounds, knocked aside Phillip Kohlschreiber and then overcame the towering John Isner's devastating serve in the final 16. And he did it in style, playing with sweet rhythm and a graceful ferocity that was simply enthralling. At 34, making a bid to add to his all-time total of 17 Grand Slam singles title in itself represented a huge challenge for Federer. He had won his most recent encounter with Djokovic, ranked No 1 in the world, last month in Cincinnati in three sets; Djokovic had lost four of his US Open finals. The final of the men's singles event ended in Djokovic's favour in what was a match of missed opportunities for Federea - a devastating way to exit. With defeat, Federer slipped to 5-8 in major finals since 2008 after winning 12 of his first 14. And yet one was compelled to applaud his resilience yet again.

Federer follows through on a backhand to Djokovic during their singles final. (Reuters Photo)

Looking at a barely consolable World No 1 Serena Williams after her shock loss to Italian Roberta Vinci in the women's singles semi-final told a story. Serena had advanced into the last four with her 33rd successive Grand Slim win over sister Venus and was staring down the first calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988. Here was a champion tennis player, perhaps the finest in the history of the women's game, at a loss for words after losing to a 32-year-old doubles specialist ranked 43 in the world and rated a 300-1 chance by bookmakers to defeat Serena. It was an upset that few could have seen coming.

Serena's press conference afterwards was short and terse. "I don't want to answer any questions about how disappointing it was for me. If you have any other questions ..."

Such emotions were understandable from someone who stood on the doorstep of joining Graf in the record books. Serena failed in her bid to match Graf, but will it not be incorrect to term her the greatest women's tennis player of all time?

Williams waves to the crowd as she leaves the court after losing to Vinci. (USA TODAY Sports Photo)

Roberta Vinci versus Flavia Pennetta in the women's singles final was not on the cards when the US Open began, but it made for a compelling sports story. It was, after all, the first all-Italian decider of the Open era and carried with it the chimes of fairytales. Vinci had beaten the defending champion and world No 1 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in an extraordinary two-hour match; the 26th seed Pennetta, 33, had fought back in the searing New York heat to make the semi-finals, and then beat world No 2 Simona Halep in under an hour. Come the summit, and Pennetta beat Vince in straight sets and announced, in halting English, that she was retiring. It was a surreal and unexpected end to a stage which promised to be won by Serena. But who was complaining?

Flavia Pennetta poses with the winner's trophy at Rockefeller Center. (AFP Photo)

Defending US Open champion Marin Cilic isn't the most recognisable name, but he is well respected. Cilic, the No 9 seed, made it to the semi-finals of the men's singles competition while carrying an ankle injury before losing to Novak Djokovic - a run of form that won him plaudits and firmly squashed any false notions that he had been undervalued or overlooked at the event.

Coming off a punishing five-setter with Mikhail Kukushkin in a third-round match that lasted four hours, the 26-year-old Croatian entered the final four after a thrilling, five-set marathon 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4 quarter-final win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Up against the world's top-ranked player, he was thrashed 6-0-, 6-1, 6-2 but Cilic can look at having taken 24 games off Djokovic in 14 consecutive losses as a achievement. Cilic's exit from the tournament was limp, but overall this was a solid US Open from the Croat.

Federer's resurgence is proof that Rafael Nadal can return to form, but that this was the first time since 2004 that the Spaniard didn't win at least one major title in a season is reason to ponder his future. After leading by two sets and a break of serve in the third, Nadal lost 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to Fabio Fognini. Nadal was 151-0 in Grand Slams when winning the first two sets, but his perfect record ended by a man who had been 0-7 on hard courts this season before the US Open started.

Publicly, the 29-year-old Nadal remains bullish when anyone implies that he could be the first of the Big Four to fade away. Sample this retort to a reporter who reminded him that he will finish 2015 without a Slam title for the first time in 11 years: "The only thing that means is I played worse than the last 10 years. ... For me, was amazing. ... You can imagine how difficult it is to make that happen."

Strong words, but there is no denying that the 14-time major winner is no longer displaying his trademark powers of recovery.

Nadal rests during the change over after losing a game to Fognini. (AP Photo)

This season it was hot in New York. So hot, in fact, that 16 players had to retire because of soaring temperatures, with 12 of those coming in the first round to break the previous record of nine, set during the 2011 US Open. But looking beyond above-average temperatures and high humidity was five-time US Open champion Federer, who commented: "I think everybody should be well-prepared. We've been here in North America for some time. It was more on the warmer side, but it's not impossible, to be honest." Nothing's too hot to handle for Federer, apparently.

Andy Murray's Grand Slam season ended with a whimper, as the No 3 seed was ousted in a tough fourth-round match by hard-serving South African Kevin Anderson 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (0) - and the longest match of the tournament at 4 hours, 18 minutes. It was only the second time in his career that Murray lost a tie-breaker 7-0. It meant that Murray's streak of reaching the quarter-finals of Grand Slams ended at 18; his last failure came at Flushing Meadows in 2010 when he lost to Marin Cilic in the third round.

Hingis and Sania hold their trophy after winning women's doubles title. (Reuters Photo)

Briton Johanna Konta had a remarkable run at the US Open until she lost to fifth seed Petra Kvitova in the fourth round, ending a streak of 16 matches that stretched back to the first round of Wimbledon. In getting that far, Konta admitted she had fulfilled a childhood dream; she had traveled to Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2007 at the junior level and told her mother back then that she hoped to return as a professional. The 24-year-old had won just a solitary Grand Slam main draw match before arriving in New York, but moved from a ranking of 97 to inside the world's top 60 after her success, just behind British No 1 Heather Watson. Playing the best tournament of her life, Konta's performances at the US Open left the strong impression that consistency has become her hallmark, which augurs well for the women's game.

With Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis winning the women's doubles title, Leander Paes also teaming up with Hingis to win the mixed title and teenager Sumit Nagal winning the boys doubles, India enjoyed a memorable Wimbledon fortnight earlier this summer. The US Open extended that Indian summer and took the country's tally to a record five Grand Slams in 2015 - better than the haul of four in 1999. On Saturday, Paes scripted history by sealing the US Open mixed doubles title with Hingis to become the format's most successful male player in the Open era and 24 hours later, Hingis and Sania won the women's doubles title. It is, by all considerations, a superb season for Sania and Leander.


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