Serbia’s Novak Djokovic has underlined his resurgence as a force to be reckoned with, winning his third US Open trophy at Flushing Meadows on Sunday. Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka has created history becoming the first player, man or woman, from Japan to win a Grand Slam title.
Djokovic started with steady tennis against Juan Martin del Potro to take the first set with great play and characteristic impeccable court coverage. The second lasted 90 minutes and went to the wire, tied at 6-6 and calling for a tense tiebreak. The Argentinian, winner in New York in 2009, managed to get a mini-break early on, but the Wimbledon champion slogged his way back to take the tiebreak as well as the second set. It would be an uphill climb from there in for Del Potro - one that he found to be insurmountable. Djokovic proved too strong and consistent taking the third set for a 6-3 7-6(4) 6-3 win over the Argentinean #1. As in the women’s final, tears were in abundance as Del Potro was overcome with emotion and could not contain himself. Djokovic, winning hearts by comforting his opponent, now equals Pete Sampras’ haul of 14 Grand Slam wins and inches closer to Rafa Nadal’s total of 17 majors. The Serb will also leapfrog his vanquished opponent, rising to number three in the rankings.
Osaka, the affable 20-year-old from the city of the same name, had her game face on from the outset and clearly dominated Serena Williams in the first set. Serena, the sentimental and crowd favourite, was again vying for a shot at Grand Slam title number 24 but could not find the answers to Osaka’s pace, consistency and miserly amount of unforced errors. Not even William’s histrionics with officials could phase Osaka, as she handled some tense moments like a seasoned pro, while it was Williams who seemed to crack under pressure and expectation. A warm embrace at the net after the 6-2 6-4 win and gracious words from her idol upon defeat, have set up Osaka to be a contender for more big titles with as she now breaks into the top ten for the first time. “This is her moment. She played an amazing match and deserved to win,” proclaimed Williams. Osaka is the first non-European Slam winner in 2018 and her victory also means that the last 8 majors have gone to eight different women.
2016 European 14 & Under Championships silver medallist Lorenzo Musetti of Italy made his mark at the Open, taking on Brazil’s Thiago Seyboth Wild in the final. In a tough three-set encounter, the win ultimately went to the Brazilian 6-1 2-6 6-2. China’s Xiyu Wang took the girls’ singles trophy, fighting off France’s Clara Burel for a 7-6 6-2 victory.
Prior to the final, there was plenty of hope for some big names from the Tennis Europe Junior Tour, however, the draw in New York was tough and jam packed with plenty of talent, eager to make a mark. This year’s 18&U European champion, Czech Jonas Forejtek, fell in the second round to American Jenson Brooksby. His compatriot, and Musetti’s conqueror in the 14&U EJC final in 2016, Dalibor Svrcina also fell at the same stage. Timofey Skatov, last year’s 16&U European Junior Championships winner and now playing for Kazakhstan, also lost in the second round to Italy’s Giulio Zeppieri. Russian Oksana Selekhmeteva, the 2017 14&U EJC runner-up, fell to Cori Gauff (USA) in the third round, setting up a clash between Mouratoglou Tennis Academy buddies Gauff and Dasha Lopatetskya in the quarterfinals. The Ukrainian had earlier taken out Denmark’s Clara Tauson, this year’s European 18 & Under Championships winner, 7-5 in the third set. In arguably the surprise of the tournament, Loptateskaya, last year’s European 14 & Under Championships and Petits As winner, defeated her friend and reigning French Open junior champ Gauff in three sets before falling to Wang in the semifinals.
European players had more luck in the boys’ doubles, where Adrian Andreev (BUL) & Anton Matusevich (GBR) won the title with a 6-4 2-6 10-8 victory over the American pairing of Emilio Nava and Axel Nefve. In an All-American girls’ doubles final, Gauff & Catherine McNally easily beat Hailey Baptiste & Dalayna Hewitt 6-3 6-2.
It was another disappointing loss, and perhaps another tough break, for eighth seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. He probably could not believe his misfortune when he was again drawn to play 2016 champion Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round, as was the case at Wimbledon. The Swiss player again got the better of him, this time with an easy straight sets win. Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champ, fared better before falling to Kei Nishikori (JPN) in a quarterfinal rematch of their final four years ago. Rafael Nadal had made fantastic progress through the draw and then defeated Dominic Thiem of Austria in what was arguably the match of the tournament in the quarterfinals. Many commentators pointed to the five-set thriller, full of long, powerful exchanges and marked by relatively few unforced errors as perhaps one of the greatest matches in U.S. Open history. Unfortunately, the Spaniard had to retire due to injury in his next match against Del Potro while down two sets to love. The other big upset of the tournament was that of second seed Roger Federer. He was sent home in a tight four set encounter against Australia's John Millman meaning that, as with the women, just four of the last eight players were European.
Despite Europe boasting nine of the top ten players, the only European player to reach the last four was seventeenth seed Anastasija Sevastova, who went one round better than last year and was the first ever Latvian to make it to a US Open semi-final, ousting defending champion Sloane Stephens along the way. Unseeded Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko was another surprise story, beating Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki on the way to a first Grand Slam quarterfinal. She was joined in the last eight by three other Europeans - the aforementioned Sevastova, Karolina Pliskova (CZE) and Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, who had stunned Maria Sharapova in straight sets in the fourth round. The rest of the last eight was made up of three Americans - last year’s finalists Stephens and Madison Keys - as well as Serena and the eventual champion Osaka.
Other top players, including this year’s three Grand Slam holders will be disappointed with their early losses. World #1 and French Open champ Simona Halep was sent home in the first round for the second year in a row, this time by Estonian Kaia Kanepi, while Wimbledon champ Angelique Kerber made it to round three where she lost to Dominika Cibulkova (SVK).
In another amazing comeback story, Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) has recovered from a horrific injury sustained at Wimbledon in 2017 to return to the winners’ circle. Playing with Brit Jamie Murray they won their eighth and sixth Slam titles respectively. The pair beat Alicja Rosolska (POL) & Nikola Mektic (CRO) 2-6 6-2 11-9 to claim the mixed doubles title. The men’s doubles champions were local favourites and 2018 Wimbledon winners Mike Bryan & Jack Sock. They were too strong in the final, defeating Lukasz Kubot (POL) & Marcelo Melo (BRA) 6-3 6-1. The women’s doubles trophy was won by Ashleigh Barty & Coco Vandeweghe in a thrilling final. Coming from a set down and saving three match points, the American Vandeweghe and her Australian partner thrilled local crowds as they earned a stunning 3-6 7-6(2) 7-6(6) win over top seeds Timea Babos (HUN) & Kristina Mladenovic (FRA).
With this year’s Grand Slams now complete, the stage is set for an exciting end of the season as the tours move to Asia and back on to European soil. Nadal and Djokovic will surely fight for the year-end #1 ranking, with Roger Federer on their tail. Meanwhile, Serena continues to rediscover her dominant form tournament-by-tournament, and Osaka joins a women’s Top Ten crowded with championship contenders at every event.