Can the big names bounce back at the US Open?
Roger Federer is back to his winning ways on the ATP Tour. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
After what has been the worst performance collectively by some of the biggest names at this year’s Wimbledon, the big question that needs to be raised is whether they can bounce back at the US Open.
Nobody expected Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka to fail to reach the quarter-finals at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.
Also add to that the early exits of former World No. 1′s and Grand Slam champions Francesca Schiavone, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Samantha Stosur, and there was a mass exodus of Grand Slam success in the first week.
This year’s Wimbledon Championships saw the worst ever collective performance by Federer and Nadal at a Grand Slam tournament, as neither man even made it out of the second round, and the worst collective performance by Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka since the 2008 French Open.
The early departures of Federer and Nadal was the biggest surprise to come out of this year’s Championships, as the two had combined to win nine of the last 10 Wimbledon titles between them.
More to the point, at least one of them reached the final every year since Federer won his first Grand Slam title there a decade ago.
Nadal was the first domino to fall, when he crashed out in straight sets to unheralded Belgian Steve Darcis on the first day.
This was the first time in which he fell in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament, and this came exactly a decade since he made his Grand Slam debut at these Championships in 2003, defeating Mario Ancic in the first round.
Ancic had famously beaten a then-inexperienced Roger Federer in the first round of the 2002 Championships. Federer had, until now, not lost this early at Wimbledon.
Two days after Nadal’s demise, Federer crashed out in four sets to Ukraine’s Serhiy Stakhovsky – thus ending a streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals dating back to these Championships in 2004.
The pair’s demise appears to vindicate that the once-great Federer-Nadal era could be coming to a close, in favour of the current two-man act that is Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who during that era had been playing second fiddle to Federer and Nadal.
Now, these two same-age rivals appear to be taking centre stage at the top of men’s tennis, as the Championships concluded with the expected showdown between the Serb and the Scot.
Federer has now fallen to World No. 5, his lowest ranking in more than a decade, whilst Nadal, despite his first round loss, rose up to No. 4 as he had less points to defend (Federer’s 2000 to Nadal’s 45).
The beneficiary of Federer’s downfall is David Ferrer, who rises to a new career-high world ranking of No. 3, despite having only contested one Grand Slam final (last month’s loss to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros) and having also matched his run to the quarter-finals at the Championships this year.
The early departures of the three women was the second biggest surprise to come out of this year’s Championships, as at least one of them featured in the last eight Grand Slam finals, and had combined to win the last six Grand Slam titles (from last year’s Australian Open through to this year’s French Open).
Their gradual departures allowed for a new champion to be crowned outside of those three, with four of the eight quarter-finalists having Grand Slam final experience – Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na, Marion Bartoli and Petra Kvitova.
Only Li and Kvitova had experience in winning a Grand Slam title, with both coming two years ago – Li Na’s breakthrough in Paris preceding Petra Kvitova’s own breakthrough at the All England Club merely four weeks later.
But their quarter-final exits guaranteed a brand new Grand Slam champion, and many saw Bartoli and Radwanska as the favourites given they had previous Grand Slam final experience at Wimbledon, where they lost to Serena and Venus Williams last year and in 2007 respectively.
Radwanska blew the biggest chance to go one better this year, losing a thrilling semi-final to Sabine Lisicki after Marion Bartoli earlier went through by virtue of a straight sets thrashing of Kirsten Flipkens in the first semi-final.
The stakes had been high for the Pole to take the title – she was the highest seed remaining, and has a 7-0 record against Bartoli (with fourteen straight sets won dating back to their very first set contested against each other, a bagel served by Bartoli at Stuttgart in 2007).
Eventually, it was Bartoli who, with the help of the last Frenchwoman to triumph here, Amelie Mauresmo in 2006, captured the title with a straight sets romp over German Lisicki.
Fans will be hoping that Bartoli’s Wimbledon title doesn’t end the dominance of the Big Three of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka in future Grand Slam tournaments.
The three will be favoured to bounce back at Flushing Meadows, where last year Williams and Azarenka contested a high-quality, three-set final in which Williams came back from 3-5 down in the final set to win her fourth title at her native Grand Slam tournament.
That followed Azarenka’s equally-as-thrilling three-set, semi-final victory over Sharapova.
The performances of former World No. 1′s Wozniacki, Ivanovic and Jankovic were disappointing to some kind of extent, with all three losing to players ranked outside the Top 60 on Black Wednesday.
Wozniacki crashed out to the Czech Republic’s Petra Cetkovska, who this time was seeded last year but had seen her ranking drop to almost outside the Top 200 due to a serious ankle injury.
The Dane has now not reached the quarter-finals of any Grand Slam tournament since losing her World No. 1 ranking in January last year, and her performances over the last 12 months have been nothing short of disappointing.
Ivanovic fell foul to last year’s junior champion, Eugenie Bouchard, in a match that had to be relocated to Centre Court due to Victoria Azarenka’s pre-match withdrawal from the Championships.
This marks another Grand Slam tournament in which the former French Open champion has fallen to a former junior Grand Slam champion, having gone down to the likes of Amelie Mauresmo, Nadia Petrova, Victoria Azarenka, Justine Henin, Agnieszka Radwanska, Kateryna Bondarenko and Shahar Pe’er.
As a result of this early loss, Ivanovic has now dropped to World No. 17 and has sacked her coach, Nigel Sears, after two years of frustration and a real lack of progress.
Jankovic crashed out to Russian-turned-compatriot, Vesna Dolonc.
Both the Serbian women didn’t suffer any genuine injuries, so realistically there is no excuses for their straight-sets dismissals.
Their exits continue a trend of disappointing results at Grand Slam tournaments since 2008.
The two had been anticipated to build a dominance and rivalry that was based on that of Belgium’s Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, but not only has their rivalry turned out to be one-sided (Ivanovic leads Jankovic 8-3 in head-to-head), they have also only reached a collective three Grand Slam quarter-finals between them.
Jankovic reached the semi-finals of the 2010 French Open and the quarter-finals of this year’s French Open, whilst Ivanovic reached last year’s US Open quarter-finals to complete her own set of having reached that stage at all four Grand Slam tournaments.
Jankovic remains without a singles quarter-final at Wimbledon, though she did reach that stage in the doubles with Croat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni this year, and also won the mixed doubles with Jamie Murray (Andy’s brother) in 2007.
Additionally, they have only won seven titles between them since the beginning of 2009. Comparing this to 17 titles between them before the end of 2008, it really is a disappointing effort from both women.
What must be remembered is that both these two women created their own success on the back of that of Novak Djokovic’s in 2007.
Ivanovic was the first Serb of either sex to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final (and Grand Slam final, at the 2005 and 2007 French Opens respectively), whilst Jankovic was the first to reach a Grand Slam semi-final (at the 2006 US Open).
Djokovic went one better than both and became the first Serb to win a Grand Slam title at the 2008 Australian Open, whilst Ivanovic would follow suit at the French Open later that year.
Like the rest of the big names, this Serbian pair will be praying for some much needed luck as the US Open series gets underway at the end of this month.
In the meantime, it might be left to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to lead at the top of the ATP rankings, whilst the top three women (Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka) will attempt to restore their dominance at the top of the WTA rankings.