One year ago, Roger Federer was being urged by critics and fans to retire. The Maestro’s subpar performance at Wimbledon was still fresh in everyone’s minds, and Federer’s hard court form seemed less than average, producing only a quarterfinals billet at the Cincinnati Open. His prospects looked bleak heading into the US Open. Ultimately, the Swiss fell in the fourth round of the Open to low-ranked Tommy Robredo, ending a month of poor results and disappointing tennis.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal was scooping up titles like candy, winning both the Rogers Cup in Canada and the Cincinnati Open back to back in preparation for what would be a historic run to the top at the US Open. Novak Djokovic had been playing some great tennis as well, but his game was largely overshadowed by Nadal’s “Summer Conquest,” and the Serbian had fallen prey to Nadal’s unique brand of tennis multiple times during the year. These two faced off in the US Open final, and though Djokovic forced the match to four sets, Nadal lifted the trophy yet again.
Fast forward a year. Here, at the cusp of the 2014 US Open, all roles seem reversed. Federer is now the favorite at the Open, Djokovic is under pressure due to multiple losses at the hands of lesser ranked players, and Nadal has dropped out of the Open to tend to his right wrist injury. A number of upcoming contenders have garnered their share of the limelight, most notably Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. With a week of rest now in effect for the highest-ranked players, the courts of Flushing Meadows are prepared for what can only be a fascinating US Open.
It takes a lot of skill to beat a Top Ten tennis player. It also takes a lot of skill to beat one who has won Grand Slams on that particular surface. It takes a completely different set of skill entirely to beat three such Grand Slam-winning Top Ten players, all while marching on the road to a Masters 1000 title.
Meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman is not exactly a household name, but he has had some degree of success in the past, contesting the final of the 2008 Australian Open as well as making showings in the semifinals of Wimbledon and the French Open. He holds a career 11 titles, including two Masters 1000 titles, and spent the better part of 2013 within the lower levels of the Top Ten.
His 2014 season prior to Montreal, however, has been less than satisfactory. He failed to win a single title, and produced sub-par fourth round showings in the first three Grand Slams of the year. As a result, Tsonga dropped down to World No. 15, finally falling out of the Top Ten for the first time in nearly a season.
Wimbledon and the Big Four
If Wimbledon 2014 has proven anything, it has shown that the Big Four are still a powerful entity in tennis. Though none have doubted the impact that these players have had upon the sport, some critics have prophesied that their end may be close at hand. Federer had his unsuccessful 2013 season, Djokovic had his 17 month Grand Slam drought, Nadal battled injuries and Murray’s mental consistency often faltered.
However, though the four men aren’t getting any younger, they continue to dominate the sport. In fact, Stan Wawrinka’s unprecedented victory over Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open was the first time a player outside of the Big Four had won a major since Juan Martín del Potro’s victory over Federer in the 2009 US Open.
The Gentlemen’s Singles final at Wimbledon further reinforced the notion that these men are the top athletes in the sport. Djokovic and Federer, meeting head-to-head in a Grand Slam singles final for the first time since the 2007 US Open, battled it out upon the grass of Centre Court for five sets in spectacular fashion.
Second week in review
The Wimbledon ryegrass has been the stomping ground of a number of dark horse contenders this week at the Championships, as the venue has played host to a variety of upsets and unexpected appearances by players outside of the ubiquitous “Big Four.” While many usual suspects booked their spots in the quarterfinals lineup without much of an issue, the crowds were stunned by the unexpected upset of World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, courtesy of 19-year-old Australian wonder boy, Nick Krygios. Seeded into the tournament as a wild card entry, the World No. 144 made ripples earlier in the Championships with a brilliant performance against Richard Gasquet in the second round, defeating the Frenchman in five sets despite dropping the first two sets. Against Nadal in the fourth round, Krygios worked magic, defeating his beleaguered opponent in four brutal sets. Continue reading