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By Ajay Tyagi
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As we draw close to the end of the 2009 Grand Slam season, we set our eyes on the final Grand Slam of the year- the US Open. The year started with Rafael Nadal of Spain wiping away the honours at the Australian Open thumping his competitor Roger Federer. From there on, it has been Federer all the way, lifting the trophies in Paris and London. King Roger made the most of Rafa’s exit from the French Open, an occurence that is likely to go down in history books as one of the biggest upsets the game of tennis has ever seen.
Nadal has undoubtedly earned his road to the crest. He has been a true champion in the making. The effort he induces in his game and the never-say-die spirit has taken the man to the summit. On the other hand, it has been Roger Federer at the Flushing Meadows since 2004 i.e. five years in succession. Now the question that arises here is- Will the Nadal saga continue as he returns after an injury layoff or will Roger Federer continue his onslaught over his opponents tearing them apart, without pity.
Nonetheless, the men's game is about more than just the two of them. The third and the most exciting angle comes in the form of Scot Andy Murray, who will make an attempt to better his 2008 result. The 2009 US Open can be considered special in many ways as it will most likely showcase a historic triumph. As for the reasoning, here are our fact sheets -
CAREER GRAND SLAM GLORY FOR NADAL -
The 2009 US Open comes as a long yearned dream for the former world number one Rafael Nadal, who has been trying his luck since his debut in 2004. A semifinal finish on two occasions (including 2008) is the Spaniard's personal best. The equations, as well as the exectations, changed when Rafa lifted this year's Australian Open trophy for the first time in his career. With US Open the only Grand Slam to have eluded the Spaniard, Nadal's focus is undivided in New York.
Technically speaking, Nadal's game plan does not match with the fast paced courts of Flushing Meadows. The biggest testimony to this hard fact is the Spaniard's dismal performance through the years. With an exception of the Toronto Masters and Beijing Olympics last year, Nadal has been on the receiver's end on the fast paced hard courts. Such courts are best suited to either serve and volleyers or hard-hitting baseliners who spend little time in rallies. A long injury-layoff has only added to the Mallorcan's problems. If Nadal wins the championship this year, it will be the first time in the history that two players would have completed a career grand slam in the same calendar year.
HISTORY BOOKS REGULAR -
There is just so much that can be said about the 'ultimate Swiss connection' with the lively courts of the USTA Tennis Center. Not once or twice, but a five time defending champion Roger Federer will start his campaign as the clear favourite to win this year's title. The most impressive part about Federer's contendorship is that he has provided the critics with almost all the supporting evidence to boost his chances this year, and to name a few - French Open, Wimbledon and finally Cincinnati Masters. Can it get any better...? If it's too good to be true, it probably is....! So is the case with 'Papa-Federer' who has had one of the most successful summers anyone can ever dream of.
There is a major drawback in Federer stakes at the title though - the onset of the challenger brigade. Federer raced to an invincible lead in the decider against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before succumbing to defeat in Montreal, which was an aberration. But then upsets do not discriminate with the venues, they can happen anytime, anywhere and with anybody, and our dear Swiss maestro is NO EXCEPTION....!
SCOTTISH DREAMS -
Andy Murray has been the story of the circuit ever since his final finish at the US Open last year. Although he fared miserably in the first two Grand Slam events this year, he found his solace at the green grass of Wimbledon, before finally giving way to Roddick's resurgence.
Murray's resumee' boasts of two Masters series triumphs in the 2009 season, both on the hard courts of Miami and Montreal, which is a clear indication that the North American weather brings the best out of the Scot. He is also one of the handful of players to have registered wins over both Federer and Nadal. After replacing Nadal for the No.2 spot in the South African Airways ATP singles rankings, Murray proved his ranking by lifting the Montreal Masters trophy. With such impressive win-loss record, Murray has emerged as one of the contendors for the crown. If Murray wins this year, he will become the first Briton since the great Fred Perry to win a Grand Slam event.
THE BIG AMERICAN HOPE -
This one comes with a dash of emotions. Home fans are all set to embrace their beloved champion Andy Roddick, who hit the headlines for the second time in his career when he reached the final of the 2009 Wimbledon, losing a marathon final to the 'Man of the moment- Roger Federer'.
Although Roddick managed to win just one title this year in Memphis, he looked pretty impressive during the US Open series events including a final finish to Juan Martin Del Potro in Washington.
However, all these achievements just manage to sum up to a fraction of his biggest win of the season - the semifinal triumph against Andy Murray at Wimbledon. Roddick never looked better and sharper in his serve and volley game that got him a place in the finals, where he finally gave way to Federer's historic triumph after a gallant fight. Interestingly, the last American to win the US Open crown is Roddick himself, who achieved the feat in 2003.
THE CHALLENGER BRIGADE -
If there is one factor that decreases the expectancy of another Swiss triumph in New York, then it's the arrival of the challenger brigade. Federer's domination has been unchallenged at Flushing Meadows since 2004 and no top player has been able to surpass the Swiss' brilliance here. Although, a small ray of hope has emerged in the form of this so-called brigade that features powerhouse players like - Juan Martin Del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Sam Querrey.
Juan Martin Del Potro led Roger Federer on several occasions during their classic semifinal at Roland Garros, but destined as he was, the Swiss star managed to pull a thriller. The tall Argentine has been one of the most consistent players on the circuit this year with two titles already under his belt. The most impressive we saw from the lanky Argentine was at the Miami quarterfinal where he outmuscled an in-form Nadal in three tight sets. This is the kind of form that makes him one of the strongest players in the draw.
Muhammed Ali look-alike Jo-Wilfried Tsonga enjoyed the biggest win of his career in Montreal where he beat Roger Federer from the brink of defeat. The Frenchman also gave an emphatic start to the 2009 season with titles in Johannesburg and Marseille. Although, expecting a title run from him would be unreasonable, a couple of upsets are most definitely on cards.
The 2009 Olympus US Open series winner Sam Querrey has emerged as one of the most improved players of the year. His title triumph in Los Angeles came at a time when he most needed it. Subsequently, impressive runs in Montreal and Cincinnati made him the American No.2 and a real crowd favourite. A major upset can very well be expected from Querrey, who is enjoying the best form of his career.
Many of you must be wondering as to why the list of contendors and challengers does not feature the mighty Serbian Novak Djokovic. After all, the man reached the final two years ago, has been consistent throughout the season and is the current Masters Cup champion as well. All said and done, this is probably Djokovic's biggest strength and weakness. Consistency aside, Djokovic has failed to deliver when the expectations were genuine. Djokovic has been in the finals of four masters series events this year and has been unable to lift the winner's trophy in as many as five chances. These figures do not constitute for a champion's status, infact the Serbian's inability to convert such opportunities make him trail behind his contemporaries.
Now, 5 finals and two title triumphs ( Belgrade & Dubai ) also don't call for a challenger status. So this justifies his absence from our list of contendors and challengers. Altough Djokovic has the game to beat the best in the business, he is just having difficulties implementing it correctly to yield the desired results.
No matter who emerges triumphant in New York at the end of the exciting fortnight, history is bound to be created. Let's just wait and watch who makes it all happen, here on TennisEarth.com....!
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