Serena Williams reflects on beating Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets to win her sixth US Open and 18th Grand Slam title.
“I don’t know what’s going on…”
Kei Nishikori’s first words after he stunned Novak Djokovic in the US Open semi-finals became even more apt by the end of the day when Marin Cilic had disposed of Roger Federer in straight sets.
For the first time in over nine years, a grand slam final lineup will not include Djokovic, Federer or Rafael Nadal.
That’s 38 majors. Some players have had careers that are shorter than that!
What started as a regular Semi-finals Saturday in New York quickly turned into Stupefying Saturday as Nishikori and Cilic combined to deliver a knockout punch that interrupted almost a decade of ‘Big Four’ dominance at majors.
Granted, Stan Wawrinka’s win at the Australian Open earlier this season was arguably the catalyst for all this but to many, there was always going to be a small asterisk next to the Swiss’ achievement because of Nadal’s back problem during that Melbourne final.
Saturday’s semis at the Open however require no asterisk. Nishikori and Cilic have emerged as worthy contenders for the crown at Flushing Meadows.
In hot and humid conditions, Nishikori, who was coming off back-to-back four-hour five-set encounters, beat Djokovic at his very own game.
If you can take the ball early, I can take it earlier. If you can crush your double-handed backhand hard, I can crush it harder. If you’ve gone gluten-free and are now miraculously immune to fatigue, I can still last longer.
Those were the kind of statements Nishikori was making with his tennis on court.
The gulf in experience at this stage was supposed to translate into more nerves from Nishikori than Djokovic. But it was the Japanese world No11 who was ice cold at the crucial moments.
With both players having a legend-coach in their corner, it was Michael Chang who proved more vital than Boris Becker. Chang has managed to bolster Nishikori’s mental strength while pushing his student to get past his physical fragileness.
The fact that Nishikori was close to skipping the US Open having removed a cyst from his foot barely three weeks from kick-off makes his New York run even more remarkable.
Meanwhile, Becker hasn’t been able to tap into Djokovic’s psyche in the same way. The German was meant to help the Serb avoid grand slam blips but barring Wimbledon, there has been little evidence of Becker’s impact on his pupil.
Like Chang, Goran Ivanisevic has also instilled confidence in his protégée, Cilic. Stepping on court after witnessing that kind of upset, the Croat came out blasting against Federer.
The way Cilic served out the match, hitting three aces and a down-the-line backhand winner sum up the world No16’s three-set victory. He out-bossed the boss!
To say this is the end of the ‘Big Four’ would be an unwise overreaction. This is no changing of the guard nor the end of an era. But it is huge nonetheless and has breathed new life into the men’s competition.
By tonight, Asia – a continent that holds 60 per cent of the world population – could have its first-ever male grand slam singles champion should Nishikori win. Croatia could have its first since Ivanisevic won Wimbledon in 2001. And we’ll witness the first final between two non-top-10 players in 12 years.
World number one Serena Williams won her 18th Grand Slam title at last, overpowering Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-3 on Sunday to capture her sixth US Open crown. The world number one, shut out in the first three majors of the year, ended a year of waiting as she joined Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on 18 majors — trailing only the 22 of Steffi Graf on the Open era list and six behind the all-time record held by Margaret Court.
Williams, who turns 33 later this month, said the goal of an 18th Grand Slam had hung over her "because I was joining Chrissy and Martina, someone I never thought me, Serena Williams, would be in that name group.
"Who am I?" said Williams, who grinned with delight as Evert and Navratilova presented her with a gold bracelet bearing an "18" charm.
"I never thought you would mention my name with such greats and legends."
Williams lifted the trophy at Flushing Meadows for the third straight year, joining Evert as the only woman in the Open era to win three titles in a row and matching Evert's six US Open triumphs. She also offered words of encouragement to her beaten foe, her friend and confidant as both endured difficult months this year.
"Congratulations to Caroline, she knows the struggles I have had," Williams said, adding to her friend: "You will win a Grand Slam title soon."
But former world number one Wozniacki, owner of 22 WTA titles, still has that gaping hole on her resume. The Dane was just 19 when she lost to Kim Clijsters in the 2009 US Open final, and she hadn't returned to a Grand Slam title match until Sunday.
With so much on the line for each woman, the first set was a tense affair with few fireworks. After saving a break point in the first game with an ace, Williams made Wozniacki pay for a tight first service game, in which the Dane double faulted twice. Williams seized the break and a 2-0 lead with a pair of stinging service returns.
"I was a little nervous going out there," said Wozniacki, who found the noise in Arthur Ashe Stadium "overwhelming."
"I just wanted to get a good start. I knew that against Serena, you have to have a good start, otherwise she starts going in and being even more aggressive. You know, you're kind of done."
Williams didn't run off with it right away, but a run of five service breaks ended with the American holding for a 5-2 lead, heaping the pressure on Wozniacki to hold for the first time. She did, fending off one break point to force Williams to serve it out.
With a set in hand, Williams was moving more freely. Even luck wasn't going Wozniacki's way, as a net cord bounce in Williams' favor ended a 20-shot rally to give the American a break chance in the first game of the second — which she promptly converted.
Wozniacki's vaunted defensive skills were on full display in the second set as she doggedly ran down balls, but she couldn't match Williams' power and ability to conjure winners from all areas of the court. Williams finished with 29 winners to Wozniacki's four, belting a forehand to give herself match point.
That was the first moment she felt sure of victory, Williams said.
"Other than that I was really tight and nervous the whole match," said Williams, who didn't drop a set in the tournament.