What happened today?
It apparently gave King and Shvedova, the Wimbledon women’s doubles champions, the opportunity to refocus and come back out on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court. Consider it their “thunderstorm” moment like a certain football team from my current hometown enjoyed earlier in the weekend on their visit to Neyland Stadium, if you will, because just like the Ducks they came out and took right over the contest once they’d had time to recollect their composure.
King and Shvedova held to return the match to 5-5, and then a couple of service holds sent it to a tiebreak to decide the championship. After clawing their way back, there was no way the underdogs were going to let their opportunity at a second straight Grand Slam title pass them by. A 7-4 decision in the tiebreak handed the title over to King and Shvedova, who are quickly becoming the new version of Liezel Huber’s former partnership with Cara Black — the most dangerous partnership at the moment in women’s doubles.
King and Shvedova staged a late comeback to win their second straight Grand Slam title...
They’ve been partnering since just June, when they went to the final of the Wimbledon warm-up in the Netherlands in their first tournament together. They immediately arrived at Wimbledon and plowed through the draw, winning the final over Russians Elena Vesnina and Vera Zvonareva. Now they’ve added a hard-court title to their mutual repertoire. They are now 2-for-2 in Grand Slam tournaments played together. If there is any justice in the world, the 23-year-old Kazakh and 21-year-old American will be playing together for a long time moving forward — hell, they might even have a chance at breaking the record number of championships by a women’s doubles team, currently set at 20 by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver.
Crazy thought? Maybe… but on a day when we were left to ponder “greatest-ever” status in the main event, it was also fitting that their run from 1981 to 1989 ended with Navratilova at 33 years old and Shriver at 28. King and Shvedova are already 10% of the way there… a lot is dependent on their desire to remain partnered, something we saw derail Black and Huber’s run in that direction. Serena and Venus Williams are obviously the closest to reaching Shriver and Navratilova, but given the injury problems of the former and the fact that both are right there on the far edge of their primes (especially Venus) getting eight more Slams is going to be tough.
It will be really tough given that they will have King and Shvedova standing in their way the whole time. This almost feels like the torch being passed down from the Williams sisters to King and her Kazakh partner, the way that they’ve bookended the season. Watch out for the new queens of doubles tennis when they will surely partner up again in January to take on the field once more in Melbourne…
And then came the headliners onto the same court following the trophy presentation. While so much of the tennis world and the greater sports mediascape was up in arms about another missed opportunity to see Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer duel at the U.S. Open, it was nevertheless great to see two competitors who have had an interesting run over the past couple of seasons back at the peak of their match fitness and contesting the final in Flushing Meadows. Nadal made his way through the draw; it was merely Federer who found himself overmatched in the end – by his own fraying nerves, by the conditions in Queens, and most of all by a superb Serb named Novak Djokovic.
Novak Djokovic played like a champion on Monday, but had the misfortune of coming up against the tide of history...
It’s funny how often Djokovic has been pilloried in the press, whether for his frequent medical dilemmas popping up or his inconsistent game or his goofy well-performed aping of the other players on the tennis tour. But the fact remains that, had he been born a decade earlier or a decade later, we might just be talking about the Serbian in the discussion amongst the best players ever to grace the courts. Just look at the fact that he’s the youngest-ever player to reach the final four at all four Grand Slams. Since reaching the semifinals at the 2007 French Open (where he ran into Nadal), he’s only missed reaching at least the quarterfinals twice — at Wimbledon in 2008 and the French Open in 2009. He has made nine semifinal appearances, losing six: 3 to Nadal, 2 to Federer and just one to another player, Tomas Berdych in this year’s Wimbledon tournament. The two finals he reached before this year’s U.S. Open were losses to Federer (2007 U.S. Open) and his lone Grand Slam title, in Australia in 2008 against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Take the top two players not just of his generation but perhaps in the entire history of the sport out of the equation and he could easily be staring at four, five… maybe even more Grand Slam titles in his trophy case. But just like a mid-major team in college football, you can only play the competition you have available… and this lifetime saw Djokovic get dealt a tough hand with two sharks on either side of him at the table counting their chips.
It was much the same way this time around. The rain delays at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center postponed for the third straight season the men’s final, raising the volume on calls for a retractable roof over the stadium once more. After all, with Roland Garros in the works on their own covered arena in the next few years it will now fall to the U.S. Open to have the distinction as the only Grand Slam event that can’t at least keep some matches playing when the weather goes inclement. And with the concerns about the wind tunnel they’ve created in the architecture of Arthur Ashe Stadium rising anew as well, it is probably high time that the USTA do something to either refurbish their existing structure or plan a new one sooner rather than later.
The delays couldn’t hamper the brand of high-quality tennis Nadal brought to the court on Monday, though. Several delays cut into the match, making it choppy in its nature, but both men brought their best-possible game to Ashe for what proved to be a classic final. Nadal was being outserved by Djokovic, the big Serb able to blast in three aces to go with his 76% accuracy on first serves. But it was the Spaniard whose return game was playing so well that he got two breaks out of Djokovic as compared to the one conversion going the other direction, and Nadal won the first set 6-4 in 50 minutes of hard-fought tennis. The second set would be an even heavier grind, the two pitted against one another for over an hour on either side of another two-hour rain delay.
Nadal completed his career Grand Slam and marked off another "first-ever" for his future biographers to note...
Djokovic would prevail 7-5 to level the match at a set apiece when they returned from their break in the locker room, but it would be as far as he would get toward claiming his second Grand Slam title. Instead it was Nadal notching number nine, playing decent enough tennis to emerge victorious over his counterpart and claim his first U.S. Open championship. Nadal earned three service breaks in the final two sets (but needed sixteen break-point opportunities to do so), winning through 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2. Djokovic showed the heart of a champion in fending off so many of the chances Nadal had to make this match a blowout, but ultimately it was the Spaniard who prevailed to give his country a third Grand Slam title to go with its other sporting achievements of 2010.
It was a moment steeped in history, as the Spaniard completed his career Grand Slam and became the first male player since Rod Laver to win three consecutive Grand Slam singles titles in a calendar year… but also set a record of his own. You see, Laver played in the nascent years of the Open era, when grass was the dominant surface of the sport and neither the Australian Open nor U.S. Open were yet played on composite surfaces. Never before had a male turned around during the course of a season and won three consecutive Grand Slam titles on three separate types of court — no one, that is, until Nadal pulled out the four-setter against Djokovic. Now he has the potential to keep his streak going… were the Australian Open still played in December instead of January, for instance, his chance at a calendar-year Grand Slam would still be alive. But while it would not be a “natural” calendar Grand Slam, if Nadal can recreate the magic he brought to Melbourne Park in 2009 his achievement will nevertheless be worthy of the Grand distinction…