Jonathan Newman and James Rogers are the hosts of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. In the The Body Serve Diary, Jonathan and James write conversationally about the various happenings in the wild world of tennis.
JN: We are two days out from Nadal’s 16th Slam title and three from Sloane’s unexpected run to a maiden title, let’s have a chat about some of the moments from this year’s U.S. Open that remain fresh in our memories. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
JR: The rich and entertaining women’s draw, without hesitation. Between the comeback stories (Petra, Sloane, Madison, Kanepi, and others) and the many high quality matches, this was a banner event in women’s tennis. It’s a damn shame that the final was so lopsided. Madison played a near classic against Svitolina, with both women showing exactly why they’re shooting toward the top of the game.
JN: I’ll start with Sloane. Back-to-back semis leading into the Open was still NOT an indicator that this was in the cards. Just a month ago, she was sitting in press at the Citi Open saying that she’s going to win one of these matches eventually...ONE of these matches...she hadn’t won a match in over a year, let alone winning the whole damn U.S. Open. Would she be fit enough or match ready enough to win seven matches? Just crazy. And even more impressive is the way she went about doing it; I’ve never seen anybody look like they had as much time on court as she did. I will never in my life forget those last three games against Venus in the semis, and how poised she was during and after that final.
JR: Let’s be real: Sloane was being a little dramatic when she mused that she’d eventually win a match. She had been back from a huge surgery for, what, two tournaments? But there was nothing dramatic about how she went about winning this U.S. Open. She had patience, poise, court smarts, sporadic power, just everything. I was absolutely stunned at how she played in the final. Watching her win did kind of take the sting out of the previous match against Venus; I was heartbroken for Venus, but no one can say that Sloane didn’t earn this title.
JN: Nope. Venus came at her in that semifinal (not always with her best stuff), but Sloane had the improbable answers time and again at the end of that third set. We watched her evolve in real time the last fortnight. Spare a thought for Madison Keys. Prior to to the final, she was the more accomplished player; she was probably the favourite to win the title against Sloane. Yet, she could barely find any rhythm, this after playing the match of her life in the semis to blitz CoCo. Shall we talk about El Decimosexto?
JR: Wow, is that how you say it? Rafa wasn’t looking too hot over the summer or indeed in his first 3 rounds here. I did not have high hopes. But starting against Dolgopolov, his confidence and his game started clicking, and it was relatively uneventful from then on. It’s remarkable that we’ve arrived here, with Rafa winning a fourth hardcourt major. Last year, he was dealing with injuries and searching high and low for that forehand. Now, even when the forehand isn’t working how he wants it to, he has the backhand crosscourt, volleying, court sense, and speed to fall back on.
JN: All those things are true. The thing that impressed me most with Rafa this time around was how poised he was in the final, especially in the first few games. He had a game plan, especially on return, and stuck with it even when he didn’t get the breaks of serve right away. He didn’t allow himself to show frustration; he didn’t change course and play overly aggressively. Rafa stayed the course and played an impeccable match on serve, picked his spots to be aggressive, and thwarted everything Kevin Anderson threw his way. When Rafa is at the peak of his powers, his game is less kill shot, than it is sucker punches until you have nothing left to give. Now, he has an almost 2,000 point lead at world #1, and he still has a few more events to cap a truly remarkable season.
JR: It’s interesting to think of a returner being aggressive while standing 10 feet behind the baseline, but that’s exactly what Rafa did. The commentators were laughing at his positioning, but Rafa had an opening in nearly every Anderson service game. I like what you said about Rafa’s sucker punches; it was clear in how he wore down Del Potro so heartlessly in the previous round. How about Delpo’s run?
JN: Delpo had the herculean task of beating Thiem from two sets down, then Federer, and then Nadal...just to get to the final. That he was able to even get to the semis to face Rafa must be seen as a big win by Delpo and his team. He thrilled the crowds, played spoiler, belted his forehand all over the grounds, became a Thor GIF with his forehand the hammer. We were reminded of just how much Delpo adds to men’s tennis. We keep hearing that his backhand is horrible and he’s not who he used to be, but his forehand most definitely is the same, if not better. And, he still has the enormous heart on court that can swing almost any match in his favour.
JR: And how about Petra Kvitova? She stormed back in the spring winning Birmingham, but had an underwhelming summer. Then there she is in New York dominating the most in-form player and new no. 1, Garbine Muguruza. Sure, Garbine’s forehand misfired a lot, but we witnessed Peak Petra bossing around the woman who’s been doing most of the bossing. Even in small doses, Peak Petra is sublime and stunning. She almost brought her to the match against Venus, too, but Venus’ great ball striking and composure got it done in three sets. For Petra to do all this during her lightning fast recovery from a horrifying attack, that’s just otherworldly.
JN: That match was my absolute favourite moment from the tournament. Every time those two play each other, we get something truly special. When they played in the third round of Wimbledon in 2014, it was one of the matches of the year, and this was no different. Except, this match felt like it had so much more riding on it: Petra coming back from that possible career-ending injury to play near her best, and 37-year-old Venus rising to the occasion yet again on the Grand Slam stage in 2017. What a show for both women and what an exhibition for women’s tennis. As you said earlier, this was but one layer of a women’s event that delivered on so many levels. Brava all around.
So much of what was written and said about the men’s event centred on the lack of big names in the field and the decimated bottom half of the draw. All we could hear about was the potential -- at long last -- of a Fedal semifinal. We didn’t get that after del Potro beat Federer, but there were other players who took advantage of the gaps in the draw, and even created some of those gaps themselves. Chief of these, was Kevin Anderson. What a tournament for the big man, and what a match he played to oust Querrey, when the American was coming off a statistical magic show of a fourth round match to beat Mischa Zverev.
JR: That win over Mischa was scary; I thought Querrey would be in the final, and be a formidable opponent for Rafa, given their history and Rafa’s vulnerability to big servers. Anderson deserves tons of credit for handling Querrey and getting through that bottom half. It was a missed opportunity for Sascha Zverev, Marin Cilic, John Isner, and especially Dominic Thiem. I don’t know how you begin to get past that loss to a germ-infested Del Potro after leading two sets to love.
JN: No question, that was a gutting loss for Thiem to del Potro. But, it’s not like he was on the bottom half of the draw; he still would have had to beat Federer to get to Nadal in the semis, before there was any real light at the end of that tunnel. Zverev is the one who really missed out on a great opportunity, especially after playing so well this summer to win D.C. and Montreal. Grigor Dimitrov was the other shocker for me on the men’s side. He was drawn to possibly face Nadal in the quarterfinals, a potential rematch of their Australian Open epic, was coming off the biggest win of his career just prior to the U.S. Open in Cincinnati, yet he goes out in straight sets to Rublev in the second round. Like Thiem, he would have had to move mountains to win the tournament, but this could have been (at long last) his big coming out party. I think the best way to sum up the tournament is that it was one of opportunities seized by the women, and opportunities squandered by the men. Except for Denis Shapovalov, Canadian wunderkind!
JR: Wow, go off. Some of these children will have many more chances (Sascha) and some won’t (Jo Tsonga!). Shap-stick has announced himself as an exciting prospect. Now why don’t we save something for the podcast and sign off! Farewell to the 2017 Grand Slam season - it’s been a wild one.
JN: Tune in to our soon-to-be-released U.S. Open wrap episode of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast for more tennis chit chat!