In this the 45th anniversary of the first US Open, we face some intriguing prospects over the coming fortnight. History often has a knack of repeating itself.
In the very first Open in 1968, then played at the West Side Club at Forest Hills and on grass, the men’s singles was won by Arthur Ashe and the women’s by Britain’s Virginia Wade. Forty five years on, there is a degree of symmetry with 1968. This year’s number one women’s seed, Serena Williams, is a player who has reaped the benefits of Arthur Ashe’s legacy to the game in his promotion of greater equality and inclusiveness. Indeed, Ashe himself is accorded the ultimate accolade at Flushing Meadow in having the main show court named in his honour. As in 1968, a Briton is again very much in contention in the shape of Andy Murray, last year’s winner. Also as in 1968, three different men have won the first three previous ‘majors’ of the year, making for an interesting US Open.
This year’s draws make for some interesting prospects. All of the talk has been about the men’s singles draw and in particular, the 7th seeding of Roger Federer. Having been among the top four seeds for each of the last ten years and his current standing in the game, many were shocked (not least Federer himself), at the news.
While on balance the seeding of Djokovic, Nadal and Murray respectively are about right (although some might have said Murray on the back of last year’s win might have deserved a higher seeding), Federer has grounds for feeling aggrieved. While acknowledging their undoubted skills and talents, seeing Ferrer, Berdych and del Potro ahead of him cannot have made him a ‘happy camper’. Being the champion he is, however, this will probably act as a spur to galvanise him into vigorous form. That said, Federer faces the prospect of a quarters encounter with a sharp and in form Nadal, a contest in which it will take all his strengths for him to prevail.
For Murray, the positioning of Berdych and Wawrinka in his part of the draw could prove challenging, while Djokovic faces players of the calibre of del Potro, Paire, Hewitt and Melzer to insure against any complacency.
Raonic and Gasquet are the main threats to third-seeded Ferrer in his part of the draw, on paper at least, the easiest draw among the four top seeds.
Serena Williams predictably takes the No. 1 seeding in the women’s draw. Azarenka is No.2, Radwanska No. 3 and Errani No.4. Serena’s progress is considerably assisted by the withdrawal through injury of Maria Sharapova and the surprise retirement of Marion Bartoli. Li Na and Wozniacki are also among the higher seeds, both capable of progressing far during the fortnight. All the indications are, however, that Azarenka is Serena’s chief threat and the only one likely on past form to topple the American.
All major tournaments throw up the occasional upset, particularly in the gruelling schedule of a fortnight-long Grand Slam event. While the women’s event looks more easily predicted than the men’s, as this year’s Wimbledon showed, top seeds can fall like skittles and totally upset the dynamics of an event. The US Open has its own particular dynamic in which the role of the crowd and the late summer heat and humidity both play a part. As the final ‘major’ of the year, it will, as always, be hotly contested.