Long Grand Slam season wraps up at US Open
Champion at Wimbledon in both singles and doubles. Winner again
at the All England Club in both events, four weeks later at the
Nobody would blame Serena Williams if she felt worn down by this
year’s jam-packed tennis calendar. She doesn’t see it that way,
though – even with the grind of the U.S. Open looming.
”I look forward to this,” Williams said. ”It’s almost like a
launching pad for what I want to do for the rest of the hard-court
In a way, yes, Monday’s start of the year’s last Grand Slam
actually marks something of a new beginning – the kickoff of a
six-month stretch on the hard courts that winds down at the 2013
Call it mental gymnastics, a creative way of looking at things
or whatever else might apply. What can’t be denied is that in an
Olympic year, the U.S. Open – considered the toughest test in
tennis even under normal circumstances – is essentially the
season’s fifth major.
”A lot of them,” Jim Courier said, ”are running on
Indeed, many top players have had to double down on their
fitness and find new, creative ways of organizing their schedules
to get ready for what they hope will be a two-week grind in the
fishbowl that is Flushing Meadows.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic barely took any time off
following his fourth-place finish at the Olympics. He traveled to
Toronto for a hard-court tuneup, played six matches and won the
Then, he flew to Cincinnati, played six more matches but lost to
Roger Federer in the final. No shame there, though that loss to
Federer did include an uncharacteristic 6-0 whitewashing in the
”Mentally, I wasn’t there, wasn’t fresh,” Djokovic said. ”It
had been a very busy time starting at the Olympic Games, and maybe
that caught up with me at the end.”
No big deal in Cincinnati. But a half-hour mental lapse in New
York could mean the end of Djokovic’s quest to win what has,
essentially, shaped up as the tiebreaker major for 2012.
Second-seeded Djokovic won the Australian Open. Rafael Nadal won
the French Open. Top-seeded Federer won Wimbledon. Just for good
measure, third-seeded Andy Murray won the Olympics, meaning the
U.S. Open could essentially determine the player of the year in
Some combination of Nadal – absent this year because of a knee
injury – and the other three have occupied every spot in the finals
of the past eight Grand Slam tournaments.
Who has the most to gain over this fort night? John McEnroe
thinks it’s Murray, who has the Olympic gold, but is still in
search of his first Grand Slam title.
”The way it pans out, it’s conceivable that Murray could make
an argument were he to win this … that you could say he’s the
best player in the world this year,” McEnroe said. ”To me, that’s
an unbelievable upside.”
Murray opens Monday in Arthur Ashe Stadium against Alex
Bogomolov Jr., of Russia.
Federer, back at the top of the rankings after 25 1/2 months
during which Nadal and Djokovic took the spot from him, has a night
match Monday against American Donald Young, who is 3-21 this
Federer says there’s a difference between how he feels now and
last year, when he had two match points in the semifinals against
Djokovic, but lost both and closed out his first full season since
2002 without a Grand Slam title.
”I think I felt good last year, but probably felt that maybe,
at times, the matches were not always on my racket,” he said.
”Whereas maybe this time around, I feel like if I’m playing well,
I can dictate who’s going to win or lose.”
Though the women’s game has been more in flux than the men’s of
late – seven different winners over the past seven Grand Slams –
the math is essentially the same in 2012: Three of the top four
women – No. 1 Victoria Azarenka (Australia), No. 3 Maria Sharapova
(France) and No. 4 Williams (Wimbledon) – have major titles this
year and all need this one to break the tie.
Where things differ is in the way Williams has been playing of
late. She lost a total of 17 games over six matches in the
Olympics, punctuating it with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Sharapova in
the final – the kind of drubbing that would have to come to mind if
the two should meet in the U.S. Open final on Sept. 8.
Sharapova had two hard-court tune-up tournaments on her
schedule, but pulled out of both with a stomach virus.
”I think it was a sign my body just needed to slow down,” she
said. ”It was a lot of travel, a lot of playing. I had a hectic
summer. So, I decided to shut it down until here, because we still
have a lot to play towards the end of the year.”
Kim Clijsters, on the other hand, doesn’t have to save any
energy for down the road. Win or lose, she says the U.S. Open will
be it for her.
”Here,” she said, while pointing to her heart. ”You feel when
Clijsters has won her past 21 matches at Flushing Meadows. In
2005, she won the tournament. She didn’t return again until 2009,
after she had gotten married and had a daughter, Jada. With
virtually no tournament play under her belt in 2009, Clijsters won
seven matches to become the first unseeded woman to capture the
Because of how busy 2012 has been, she’ll do the same as
Sharapova – come into the U.S. Open not having played a competitive
match since the Olympics.
Is this any way to prepare for her farewell?
”I remember 2009, I didn’t have many matches, either,”
Clijsters said. ”So I don’t worry about that.”