US Open 2011: Hurricanes, records and new champions

Marianne Bevis takes a look back at the final Grand Slam of the year in New York

novak djokovic us open 2011
Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal to win his maiden US Open title in New York Photo: Marianne Bevis

novak djokovic us open 2011

The last Grand Slam of the year is always an event to remember: louder and brighter, bigger and bolder than all the rest.

And it poses, perhaps, the ultimate challenge to the players. It comes nine months into the non-stop battle for titles, prizes and rankings, and is the culmination of what the US Open Series proudly proclaims to be “Six weeks, 10 tournaments, $40m.”

Little wonder, perhaps, that the first record to be broken at Flushing Meadows was in the number of retirements and withdrawals.

Fallen by the wayside: injury

It may be nothing to boast about, but the number of players dropping out of competition even warranted a press release at the conclusion of week one, proclaiming 14 withdrawals in the singles events alone””and that took no account of those who had pulled out before the Open began, notably men’s No6 seed, Robin Soderling. He has since revealed that he has glandular fever.

In the end, there were 11 men, five women and five doubles matches affected by injury. Noteworthy amongst these was the shock withdrawal of Venus Williams with the autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s Syndrome.

Fallen by the wayside: shock exits

The women’s draw always had the potential for upsets once defending champion Kim Clijsters had pulled out, particularly as the favourite for the title, Serena Williams, was seeded 28 due to her own absence for 12 months with injury and illness. She accounted for the third-round loss of No4 seed, Victoria Azarenka. It was harder to explain the first-round loss of two 2011 Grand Slam champions, Na Li and Petra Kvitova.

By the end of the second round, six more seeds had gone but the biggest shock was Maria Sharapova’s loss to Flavia Pennetta in the third in a storm of 60 unforced errors and 12 double faults.

Amongst the men, three top-20 players fell in the first round and in the second No7 Gael Monfils fell victim to a stunning performance by the 31-year-old Juan Carlos Ferrero in four and three-quarter hours. The Spaniard had already played a first-round five-setter and finally lost in four sets in the fourth round.

In doubles, American hearts sank with the exit of the Bryan brothers in their opening match.

The weather takes centre stage

New York thought it had seen everything when an earthquake was followed by Hurricane Irene in the preparatory days of the Open. Arthur Ashe Kids day was cancelled and the opening day of play got off to a late start.

In the event, it was Tropical Storm Lee that brought the tournament to standstill. Second Tuesday and Wednesday were lost completely, while intermittent showers, water blisters and a growing rebellion by the players threw out the remaining schedule.

Louis Armstrong court was taken out of commission, so Andy Roddick and David Ferrer, followed by Caroline Wozniacki and Andrea Petkovic, debunked to Court 13, and one of the women’s semi-finals was forced onto Grandstand while all the other semis were played on Arthur Ashe.

roger federer us open 2011

Roger Federer, president of the men’s Players Council, was not impressed at seeing the final in New York pushed back to a Monday again

It might only have been rain, and it may have forced an extra Monday into the schedule for the fourth successive year, but the players look set to ensure this never happens again. President and Vice-President of the men’s Players Council, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal””along with many other high-profile colleagues””are looking for change. This may be the last Super Saturday at Flushing Meadows.

It all comes down to this: the new champions

Novak Djokovic reached the final of the US Open once before, in 2007. He lost to Federer, as he did again in the semis in 2008 and 2009. They again met in the semis last year and this year. In 2010, Djokovic overcame two match points to win in five sets, but went on to lose to Nadal in the final.

This year, the scenario was near-identical: a five-setter, two match points to Federer but Djokovic won and advanced to a final against Nadal. This Djokovic, however, was a different prospect.

He was by now the No1 player, the holder of nine titles, and had beaten Nadal in their last five meetings, all in finals, across all surfaces. This Djokovic became the 2011 US Open champion, too, in what will go down as perhaps the finest contest in their 29 meetings.

If the men’s title was won by the favourite, the women’s was won by a new and popular name who thoroughly outplayed the favourite. Serena Williams had won back-to-back US Series titles ahead of New York and dropped not a set in taking out the No1, 4, 16 and 17 seeds. But she lost her cool when deprived of a chance to pull back a Stosur who had taken the first set, 6-2.

The Australian, with just one Grand Slam final to her name, proved just how much work she has put into transforming herself from one of the best doubles players in the world, via serious illness, to becoming one of the strongest, smartest singles players in the world.

Already with two records in the last week””the longest US Open women’s match and the longest tie-break in a Major, she rose above Williams and the jeering crowds to take the second set in style. It made her the first woman from Australia since Margaret Court in 1973 to win the US title. It could not have happened to a nicer person.

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