August 23, 2015

A Quick Recovery

As the last big event before the start of the 2015 U.S. Open wound down, you couldn't help but think we might have been give a glimpse of what to expect at the final Major of the year. We certainly saw a couple upsets throughout the week in Cincinnati, but ultimately it was the top two seeds -- the top two ranked athletes, as it turned out -- left playing for the titles. And while the eventual champions were pushed to their limit, they both proved they've got more than enough fight in them to keep their streaks going for much longer.

In the men's draw, where eight of the sport's top ten players were vying for the title, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer dispatched each threat they faced -- the world #1 easily dismissing Stan Wawrinka, the man who'd foiled his best chance yet to complete the career Grand Slam, and the defending champion never even allowing Montreal titleist Andy Murray a chance to break during their semifinal meeting. So Nole and Roger set up their forty-first career match-up, having evenly split their previous forty, but with Djokovic winning the last three, momentum certainly seemed to be on his side. But he'd been tested a bit more during the week, dropping sets to both David Goffin and Alexandr Dolgopolov at the Western & Southern Open, while Fed had gotten to the final with four straight-set wins. And he stayed strong through Sunday's match too -- after a tight opening set where he again didn't allow his opponent a chance to break, he ran off with the tiebreak and then got an early lead in the second. After that, Federer didn't look back -- in just over ninety minutes he'd claimed his seventh crown in Cincinnati and shown he can not only still compete with the sport's best, but beat them definitively too. And while the pressure will certainly be turned up more once he hits the courts in the Big Apple, he might just have the hunger he needs to finally break a three-year dry spell at the Slams.

Serena Williams, meanwhile, is looking to make her own history at the U.S. Open, and her performance in Cincinnati showed she's not going to let a stumble or two along the way derail her plans. The twenty-one time Major winner seemed to rebound immediately from her surprising loss in the Toronto semis just last week, sailing past Tsvetana Pironkova in her opener and handing a spunky Karin Knapp a bagel in their first set. She struggled a little against a rejuvenated Ana Ivanovic on Friday, losing the first set and finding herself down a break in the second, but as she so often does, Williams was able to rally for the win. Meanwhile Simona Halep, who had to retire during the third set of last weekend's final, seemed more than recovered herself, surviving early tests from Kristina Mladenovic and Andrea Petkovic before finally reaching Sunday's championship match and securing a return to the #2 ranking. She even grabbed an early lead in the final, breaking Serena to start, but the heavily-decorated champion fought back to take the first set, and, even after ceding a lead in the second, was able to push the young Halep to a tiebreak. Serena kept her cool then too, and despite some gutsy play from her opponent -- the Romanian never seemed to count herself out of the match -- Williams was able to capitalize for the win, picking up her fifth title of the year. And as she makes the trip to Flushing Meadows to try to complete her calendar year Grand Slam, it seems she's far from allowing any pressure to slow her down.

Of course, there are only eight days left before action starts in New York, and all of these guys will need to make sure they don't run out of steam too early. Still with their dominating performances over the last week show none of them are willing to lie down easily -- and the way they've been playing, there's no reason to believe they won't come out swinging right from the start.

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