Top 10 things we didn't see
NEW YORK -- At the end of another long fortnight, it was the top two seeds on both tours battling for the US Open trophy. Predictable, eh? Perhaps so, but not everything went according to script.
With that, the top 10 things we failed to see in New York:
10. Sharapova play a point
What a turbulent summer it was for Maria Sharapova. After she flamed out at Wimbledon, she decided it was time for a change. So in came Jimmy Connors, a curious, if not astounding, hire. And just as we predicted, his tenure as coach lasted … one match. After Sharapova fell to Sloane Stephens at the Western & Southern Open, Sharapova served Connors with a pink slip. And it all went downhill from there. Sharapova then threatened to change her name to "Sugarpova" to help tout her brand. Oh, and then she pulled out of the US Open. Needless to say, this has been a few months Sharapova would like to forget.
9. James Blake win a five-setterBlake owned one of the more dubious records in tennis when he lost his first nine five-set matches. Three of those losses came here in New York, in fact, including one of the most electrifying bouts we've ever seen. In 2005, in front of 20,000 raucous fans at 1:15 a.m. local time, Blake suffered a heart-breaking fifth-set tiebreaker defeat to the eventual runner-up, Andre Agassi. Fittingly, two days after Blake announced this US Open would be his final tournament, he found himself in, you guessed it, a fifth set against Ivo Karlovic. Blake won the first two sets before succumbing in five. A fairly lifeless end for a guy who imbued plenty of life into this tournament.
8. Stan the Man get his revenge
Earlier this year at the Australian Open, Stanislas Wawrinka found himself in a real dogfight against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. A win would have given Wawrinka a rare spot in a Grand Slam quarterfinal. The two players sparred for five-plus hours, a match that Djokovic would win 12-10 in the fifth set. Needless to say, the Swiss was crushed. So when he found himself in a very familiar position against Djokovic at the US Open, this time in the semifinals, Wawrinka was well aware of the struggle he was in for. As it turns out, this match lasted only 4 hours, 9 minutes, and Djokovic once again prevailed in five sets. After the match, Wawrinka said he was quite tired. That sounds about right.
7. Andy Murray maintain his major aura
The guy who couldn't win a Slam to save his soul suddenly became an Olympic hero, a 2012 US Open prize-winner and … the vaunted Wimbledon champ in front of his hoards of gushing fans. Thus, Murray entered New York with a winning pedigree but left fishing for more answers. Just like so many other times at the final major of the year, a great Swiss foiled Murray's plans. We're talking about Wawrinka, of course, who sent the reigning champ home in three swift sets in the quarterfinals.
6. An American man make the fourth round
When it comes to one dude with the weight of an entire nation on his racket, why not Tim Smyczek? That's right. He was the only American man left by the third round of the US Open. Not John Isner. Not Sam Querrey. Not Jack Sock, Michael Russell or Denis Kudla. Nope, it was the unheralded 104th-ranked Smyczek who was the last hope for Red, White and Blue. But after he won a couple of terrific matches early on, Smyczek dropped a five-setter to Marcel Granollers in the third round. What did this mean for a country already beset by a decade of futility? For the first time in the 133 years of the Open, not a single male Yank reached the fourth round. Home-court advantage? Ha-ha-ha.
5. A changing of the American guard
For the women, obviously. There couldn't be a changing of the guard on the men's side -- unless Smyczek wants to relinquish his exalted status to some 14-year-old we've never heard of. The U.S. has a slew of talented woman who have each made at least one respectable run at a Slam this season. The most notable, Sloane Stephens, stunned Serena Williams at the Aussie earlier this year. So when they met at the US Open, expectations were through the (Arthur Ashe) roof. This one, though, turned out to be a dud. Williams waxed Stephens in less than 90 minutes. Worse news for all the aspiring American wannabe stars: Williams is somehow getting younger with age -- at least her results would suggest that.
4. A Tuesday final
For five straight years entering 2013, the waterlogged grounds pushed the US Open men's final to a Monday, the 15th day of the event. So in a brilliant countermove, the USTA decided not to fight the inevitable rain and instead scheduled the final for Monday. Why not, right? Why not? What if it showered Monday? The tournament would then end on a Tuesday, the 16th day. So would they schedule the event to end on a Tuesday in 2014 and a Wednesday in … well, you get the picture. But it looks like the USTA won this round. The Open was marred by only one major delay for the entire two weeks. Imagine that.
3. A revitalized Venus Williams
Williams hasn't had an easy stretch in recent years. In 2011, she pulled out of the US Open and later revealed she had Sjogren's Disease, an incurable immune system malady that threatened to end her career. After a couple of years of on- and off-the-court doldrums, Williams started auspiciously here two weeks ago with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens. But in the next round, Williams lost a heartbreaker to Zheng Jie, 7-6 in the third. So what now for the seven-time Grand Slam champion, who hasn't advanced to a major quarterfinal in more than three years? When asked if she had any idea when the time would come to put away her racket, she said, "I don't know. Everybody has their own idea when they're ready. That's all I can say about that." Thanks for the insight, Venus.
2. A young gun make a serious run
We already went over the Sloane Stephens saga. She has a valid excuse, considering those draw devils stuck Serena in her quarter. There were a few other young women who strung together decent runs, too. Simona Halep, a blossoming Romanian, played fabulous tennis this summer and ended up making the fourth round in Flushing. Milos Raonic wended his way to the fourth round, but considering what we're expecting from him, that's not really a needle-mover. All in all, it was a rather humdrum tournament for the greenhorns on the blue cement of the US Open. Earlier this year at Wimbledon, 22-year-old Jerzy Janowicz and his cannon of a serve made the Wimbledon semis. With the graying of the tennis circuit the past few years, that was a welcome sight. But now we wait -- again.
1. The epic quarterfinal clash
When Roger Federer's ranking dropped to No. 7 in the world, the overarching question was where he would wind up when the US Open draw came out. He landed in Rafael Nadal's quarter, naturally. But that blockbuster never came to fruition after Federer was flattened by Tommy Robredo in the fourth round. Federer and Nadal have never played in New York, and this seemed like the best shot for the two longtime rivals to finally clash there. The good news for anyone pining to see this matchup is that with Nadal closing in on the No. 1 ranking and Federer freefalling, who knows: They might end up playing in the first round in the next year or two.