Two themes — the revamp and the reunion — have dominated the run up to the US Open. Earlier in the week, the new-look Louis Armstrong Stadium was unveiled as the final feature of a $600m five-year renovation plan of United States Tennis Association's Billie Jean King Tennis Centre, which plays host to the year's last Grand Slam. Monday onwards, the focus will shift on the 'Big 4' in men's tennis — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — as all of them are competing at a Major for the first time together this year.
With Murray suffering from a hip injury last year and eventually undergoing surgery early in 2018, he missed the last four Grand Slams. Since returning to the tour in June at Queen's Club Championships, he has compiled a win-loss record of 4-3 and retired mid-way through the Citi Open in Washington this month. He hasn't yet weaved any illusions of a grand comeback similar to those of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, but the tennis world will be glad to see him back.
"You know, it feels slightly different, this one because for the last 10 years or so I've been coming and trying to prepare to win the event, whereas I don't feel that's realistic for me this year," said Murray, who has dropped down to 378 in the rankings.
"I'm happy that I'm able to be back competing again here. It was tough missing it last year. I was pretty upset at the time. "Really, really pleased to be back. I'll try to enjoy it as much as I can. My expectations are to give my best effort in the matches. Take each match at a time. It's kind of difficult to predict how you're going to do and say how far you're going to go in the event," he said on Friday. Murray starts his US Open campaign against Australia's James Duckworth, the only one in the 128-player main draw ranked below the Scot.
Federer has also excused himself, saying he's 'not the favourite' at the Open. "Rafa and Novak (are), in my opinion," the Swiss world No 2 said after losing the finals of the Cincinnati Open to Djokovic. Federer has not won a title at the US Open since his run of five successive titles during 2004-2008 and, sure, he hasn't had the same dazzling results as 2017 to back him up this time around. But as a Wimbledon commentator said last year, "Federer will stop winning Grand Slams when he stops playing in Grand Slams."
He was unexpectedly bundled out of Wimbledon, despite having a two-set lead and a match point in the third set, by a defiant Kevin Anderson. Federer is looking to make amends in New York, but his path is riddled with obstacles. The Swiss landed in the same half as Djokovic (potential clash in quarters), Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic.
The top seed and defending champion, Nadal undoubtedly does start as the favourite. However, his long-time rival Djokovic has risen from the ruins this summer emerging as a surprise winner at Wimbledon and then confirming his resurgence by winning the Cincinnati Masters. Thus, the Serb has become the first man to capture all nine Masters events.
It will also be interesting to see how Nadal and Djokovic handle the serve clock, which makes its major debut at the Open. The two have, in the past, been guilty of taking too much time between points and are not fans of the innovation. The serve clock, which will be displayed in the stadium, will countdown from 25 seconds giving players only that much time between the points. If either the server or the receiver is not ready when the clock shows zero, he/she will be warned. If the offence is repeated, they will receive a point penalty.
"I do think it's a good thing," said Murray. "It's one of those things in tennis that is so stupid: The players were sort of expected to be counting to 25 in their head. ... How are you supposed to know how much time you’re actually taking?"
The top favourites at the Open, however, may have more worries than the ticking serve clock. Nadal won the US Open last year without having to face a top-25 player. But most of the big names are back and firing this time around. While Stan Wawrinka (who will once again face Grigor Dimitrov in the opening round) and Kei Nishikori have recovered enough to go deep in the tournament, there’s an ever-lurking threat from Juan Martin Del Potro and Cilic, both of whom have won titles at the Open.
Alexander Zverev, who once again leads the charge of the next generation, hasn’t had the impressive results in Grand Slam to back him up. However, he arrives in New York with a handy weapon - coach Ivan Lendl. The legendary Czech had helped Murray deliver on his great Slam expectations. In Zverev, he has a ward eager and ready, but could do with some of that famous Lendl resolve.
With Zverev or any of his peers, raring to ring in a new era in tennis and the old guard staying strong, the US Open is shaping up to be the most competitive Slam of the year.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Aug 26, 2018 09:55:19 IST