Well, there it is: the US Open ended, and with it the 2015 Grand Slam season. Three Major tournament titles in a year for one player, an almost Grand Slam considered as a failure, thirtysomethings seizing their last opportunities, some not, some splendid harvests but also sometimes unnoticed in doubles and always a lot of emotions... The five points to remember after this last major tournament of the year, and what they actually mean.
The « calendar » Grand Slam will have to wait
For the first time since 1988, a player came to New York in position to complete the calendar Grand Slam, only achieved by, chronologically, Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Rod Laver, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf. But Serena Williams who, on the tennis point of view had done the hardest part by winning Roland Garros, the most difficult to win because the more different, bent under the weight of the event at the US Open. For if one always needs favourable circumstances in order to claim the four majors in the same year - as Graf took advantage of a generational low in 1988, Serena Williams has been evolving for at least two years on a tour lacking of perennial forces emerging - the American was facing an opponent that continues to grow in size at each match for a new calendar Grand Slam contender: pressure. The pressure of media, much more ubiquitous than in the twentieth century and that of a sports history more identified and better known by its actors and the public. This tension ate away Serena Williams throughout the summer - from Wimbledon, when she told the press, exasperated, that she no longer wanted address the issue! And it consumed her throughout the US Open. In the semi-finals against Roberta Vinci, she seemed exhausted, sometimes distraught on the court, lacking of lucidity in her game as in her "Come on" as angry as unwelcome when occurring over an adverse direct fault... Until that last game, during which she seemed to have stopped fighting, waiting without moving, for the last winning shot of the Italian. Resigned. "It's hard to fight against history," she said in her press conference after the match. Between Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Williams or Henin, in recent years many people have seemed to have this "calendar " in the racquet. None succeeded. The privileged quintet who managed the feat should remain frozen for a few decades more.
« Welcome to the club, Fla!" Welcome Flavia Pennetta, congratulated by her compatriot Francesca Schiavone. Until recently, Italy had never triumphed in a Grand Slam in women's singles. And then "Cesca" at the French Open five years ago, and "Fla" at this US Open, managed a feat, achieving to make of this generation of good friends, who have known each other for most since junior categories, the most beautiful ever seen in the land of Nicola Pietrangeli and Adriano Panatta. With these two cups in Grand Slam tournaments, the finals of Sara Errani (Roland Garros 2012) and Roberta Vinci (US Open 2015), the five major victories in doubles of the duo Errani-Vinci, the world’s best pair in the discipline in the first half of the 2010s and finally their four victories in Fed Cup by BNP Paribas (2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013), the quartet gave Italy a golden decade in women's tennis. But amongst all these trophies, the one on Saturday night was probably the most emotional on the collective level. For the heroines are now mostly in their thirties, and this firework of the first 100% Italian final in New York very much looked like a grand finale.
Three Major tournament titles in a year, this triviality
In modern tennis, we want to say - to be a little provocative, of course - that if by age 28 you haven’t won three Major tournament titles in a year you failed, if not your life, at least your career. Rarity since the start of the Open era, succeeded less than once per decade (Wash on the road of the calendar Grand Slam in 1969, Connors in 1974, Wilander in 1988 and no one in the 90s) this sequence of three victories in Grand Slam tournaments in the same year has almost become a commonplace over the past decade: Roger Federer did it three times (2004, 2006, 2007), Rafael Nadal once (2010), Novak Djokovic twice (2011, 2015). So six players won three Major titles in a year in 12 years. Six for three champions: this is exactly the proportion of seasons when, in the 1990s, a player "only" won two Majors in the year at the most (four times Sampras, Agassi once and Courier once). Explanations for this situation have already been developed, an exceptional generation of champions to standardized playing conditions favouring the total control of the elite in place and reducing the risk of accidents or surprise, for the greatest pleasure of both advertisers and sponsors. Remains the consequence, that if you compare the eras, this little game adored by the fans, becomes biased as the rules of the game changed in an extremely short period of time.
Federer, so close yet so far…
Unclear whether on the morning of his third defeat in Grand Slam final in just over a year, Roger Federer is seeing the glass half empty or half full. At 34, the Swiss is still World No. 2 still contender for major victories with a consistency that can only be matched in the Open era by Ken Rosewall for a man in his thirties. For a little over a year, one player has been regularly beating Roger Federer. The problem is that it’s the omnipotent world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the man who's never missing an important final (Grand Slam tournaments, Masters, Masters 1000) since Shanghai in 2014. Wimbledon 2014 and 2015, US Open 2015, Masters 2014, Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open 2014 and 2015, Rome 2015: as many finals of the Swiss, as many times he collided against the defensive wall built by Novak Djokovic. Only the fastest surfaces (Dubai, Cincinnati or Shanghai) still smile to the record holder of victories in Grand Slam. But since they are marginal... In the final of the 2005 US Open, Roger Federer, then tyrannical world No. 1 deprived of his personal apotheosis the aging legend Andre Agassi. Ten years later, the Swiss passed on the other side of the mirror. And, as Agassi came up against him for months in his quest for a last major title, Federer has been stumbling repeatedly on Djokovic. New York in 2005 was the swan song of the Kid of Las Vegas. What about Roger?
The doubles, this world apart
More and more, singles and doubles have been forming two distinct worlds, the prize lists, records and (beautiful) human stories written in pairs only having a very limited echo if not to say a certain disinterest. Synthesis of what the roll of honour of the 2015 Grand Slam had in stock:
- A former No. 1 in singles, former great rival of the Williams sisters, stacking as many as five titles in these satellite disciplines (Three Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles, only the French Open escaping her - a habit - and titles at Wimbledon and the US Open in women's doubles) which allowed Martina Hingis to bring to 24 her total number of successes in Grand Slam. Yes, the pain in the neck that you loved to hate in the late 90s still knows how to play great tennis.
- An American fan of knee High Socks and colourful outfits squatting the prize lists of the first two Grand Slams of the year (in women's doubles at the Australian Open and in women's doubles and mixed doubles at the French Open): Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
- The Bryan brothers are now 37: for the first time since 2004, the American twins completed a season without winning any major title. And it’s not the French Open in mixed doubles won with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, that will console Mike Bryan.
- And at the end of the day, singles event players continuing to take seriously the discipline, starting with Lucie Safarova. The fifth player in the world, finalist at the French Open in singles, triumphed in Paris and Melbourne in women's doubles. Respect also to Fabio Fognini, who showed the way for his sweet Flavia by winning the Australian Open in doubles with Simone Bolelli. Honours to the French pair Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert: good singles players, both have greatly sacrificed their solo practice in 2015 to achieve what was their goal this season: raise a cup in doubles. Done deal at the US Open. Marshal's staff for Mahut, birth certificate among the elite of the discipline for Herbert.
By Guillaume Willecoq