Of course, there’s the 18th Grand Slam title in sight for Serena Williams, and of course there is the prospect of a Djokovic vs. Federer finale, but many other things happened during the first ten days of the US Open. Review of an exciting tournament on the ladies side, and a more traditional one on the men's side.
Simona Halep, 3rd round. Li Na forfeit. Petra Kvitova, 3rd round. Agnieszka Radwanska, 2nd round. Maria Sharapova, last 16. Angelique Kerber, 3rd round. Eugenie Bouchard, Last 16. Ana Ivanovic, 2nd round. Jelena Jankovic, Last 16. And that's how only one woman of the world's top ten managed to make it to the quarterfinals of the Grand Slam, which, usually, reflects closely the power relations in the rankings. The survivor is - obviously - Serena Williams. For the rest, the table gives pride to the old guard (Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka), rising stars (Belinda Bencic and Aleksandra Krunic) and a few safe bets of the Top 30 (Shuai Peng, Ekaterina Makarova). But beware: Her Serene Highness intends to lift the trophy on Sunday.
…And no surprises
Eight seeds in the quarterfinals, the youngsters may be making efforts - special mention to Dominic Thiem, the only non-seeded player qualified for the knockout rounds - the men's hierarchy remains locked. Since the 2012 Australian Open, so twelve major tournaments, the rate of fall from a seed in the first round is 18%, or six players on average. The status of "protected players" has never been so true.
Gilles Simon’s bromance with Gaël Monfils
Gilles Simon, one of the most tactically intelligent players on the tour, has put his sense of play in service to others in this US Open. Or at least to one other, his friend Gael Monfils. The two men have been friends since childhood, and Simon has decided to support the progression of his younger pal in New York. Before every match, he gave him tactical advice and support. "When I see this wasted potential it really annoys me, said Simon. I don't know why I do it, as it could turn against me if we ever had to play against each other, but I don’t mind. As far as I remember, Gael and I have always talked a lot and I always felt like he could do better." And the man that Gael Monfils nicknamed "my little Gilou" continues with a smile: "I always thought that if I was coaching him, Gael could win a Grand Slam. "
Swiss army knives
In tennis, Switzerland doesn't do quantity. But it surely produces quality... All tables combined, the Swiss had four representatives in the quarterfinals. Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka in the men's singles, Belinda Bencic in the ladies singles and Martina Hingis in the women's doubles. Yes, Martina is still there. Back to the competition in doubles, the former World No. 1 now aged 33, might this weekend, with Flavia Pennetta, win her first Grand Slam title since the 2002 Australian Open, at the time with Anna Kournikova. The Swiss champion therefore had a front row seat to witness the progress of Belinda Bencic, trained by her mother, Melanie Molitor, youngest quarter-finalist at the US Open... since herself in 1997! After Günthardt, Hlasek, Rosset, Hingis, Federer and Wawrinka, Switzerland and its 50 000 license holders may have found its next star, that could allow them to perpetuate the amazing statistical anomaly represented by 23 Grand Slam titles in singles, 12 in doubles and two Olympic gold medals won over three decades.
Mirjana Lucic, fifteen years later
Mirjana Lucic, a name from the past. In the late 1990s, the Croatian was part of the new wave of young champions alongside Hingis, Kournikova or Dokic. In 1997, at 15, she lifted the trophy for her first tournament on the big tour. A few months later, she became the youngest winner of a Grand Slam after winning the doubles at the Australian Open with Martina Hingis. And in 1999, at 17, she was semi-finalist in singles, at Wimbledon. The future looked bright... and then nothing. Many injuries, especially unbearable stories in which she revealed that her father (and coach) had been beating her since childhood. Considered lost for tennis, the now married lady decided to go back to professional tennis in 2010. After winning against Simona Halep, World No. 2, at the US Open, she made it to the 2nd week of a Grand Slam for the first time since Wimbledon 1999. Back after such a long time, nothing scares anymore: at 32 she never gave up "the dream of winning a Grand Slam one day."
A smart set on the bench
In the quarterfinals, there was still some upper crust on the courts of the men's draw... but also in the stands. Among the seven coaches (excluding Gael Monfils, officially without a coach) who passed the milestone of the first week with their protégé, you could count five Grand Slam winners (Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Amélie Mauresmo, Goran Ivanisevic and Michael Chang) as well as a finalist (Magnus Norman). The weak link? Tomas Krupa, Tomas Berdych's coach, 'only' 278th at his best.
Kei Nishikori, say 33
Tirelessly, Kei Nishikori dusts off the record books of Japanese tennis. At the US Open, Michael Chang's protégé became the first player from his country to compete in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament since Jiro Sato in 1933. That said, times have changed: raised the hard way in sunny Bradenton rather than under the cherry trees of Kyoto, the little samurai played the GI tennis dear to Nick Bollettieri and admits to feel "at home at the US Open. I live in the United States and this tournament is a little like home." It definitely would be if Kei could find a way to stop in the next round the series of another New Yorker of adoption, according to his results at least: Novak Djokovic, who aims for a fifth consecutive final at Flushing Meadows.
Patience is key, timing is everything
Here’s one man that truly knew how to be patient: Victor Estrella Burgos waited until his 33rd birthday to finally compete in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament. A tribute to the perseverance of a player who played his first matches on the Tour in 2000, but due to insufficient funds, had to play Futures tournaments and go back home to teach tennis. His tenacity (21 titles to his name in futures tournament) has paid in recent months: after becoming in March the oldest player to enter the Top 100 for the first time, he also became the oldest player in the Open era to discover Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open. In New York, he finally passed a round, then two, before standing up to the world number 6, Milos Raonic, during 3 tiebreaks.
2014, the Super 8’s year
Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova at the Australian Open, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep at Roland Garros, Petra Kvitova and Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon, and.... none of them at the US Open! In 2014, eight different players have been in the final of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Such a scenario is rare in the WTA at ATP: we had to go back to 1977 to find a season with eight different Grand Slam finalists on the ladies tour, while it actually happened three times on the men's side: 1998, 2001 and 2002.
« CiCi » Bellis steals the show
The 1208th player in the world defeating the 13th in the first round of a Grand Slam, in terms of rankings at least, the victory of Catherine Cartan Bellis on Dominika Cibulkova is a surprise. But when you add the fact that she's only 15 or the youngest player to win a game in New York since Kournikova in 1996, it didn’t take long for American women's tennis to imagine "CiCi" as a star in the making. A new status obviously hard to live up to: in the junior table, the top seed was also eliminated from the second round...