The US Open is upon us but it feels a little different this time, coming as it does close on the heels of the Rio Olympics.
This means the players have had a less than normal warm-up for the last Grand Slam of the year.
The years 2016 seems to have been a bit of a change-of-guard type of year for men’s tennis. With Roger Federer missing out on Paris and New York and Rafael Nadal also grappling with fitness issues, the Big Four of tennis seems to have been reduced to the Big Two with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray really developing a great rivalry.
In fact, Murray has had a tremendous run since Paris, and is a very close and competitive second to Djokovic, especially in the last few months.
I really can’t put a finger on what has changed for Murray as he always had a complete game and some amazing strengths as far as his groundstrokes are concerned. I also feel that Amelie Mauresmo was a good coach for him, even though it’s also great to see my old friend Ivan Lendl back in Murray’s corner.
What I think has changed for Murray is that a maturity and stability has come into his life. The first big watershed was the London Olympics followed by the US Open win in 2012. However, he has not won as many Grand Slams as he would have liked since 2013. This Wimbledon and Olympic gold shows that he is now less pressured and more in control of the mental side of things.
I see him really challenging Djokovic’s supremacy in the next few Grand Slams. And yes, while it might sound like a cliché I also feel that like Djokovic, Murray, too, has benefited from marriage and parenthood. It simply settles you and gives perspective when you are in the rough and tumble of sport.
Coming to Djokovic, the early exit at Wimbledon hurt, but the first round loss to Juan Martin Del Potro hurt more. It’s hard when you disappoint your country’s hopes for a medal. Del Potro was his first round opponent thanks to the latter being seeded low, but anyone who underestimates the Argentine does so out of ignorance.
It is quite inspiring to see him come out of injury to play with such freedom and confidence. He was exemplary against Nadal and also really challenged Murray in the finals. The power is back, and if anything, Del Potro is moving around the court a lot better than he used to. He will be coming on the back of a great performance at Rio, so I would say that he is one of the players to watch out for.
The other player who has been under the radar is Milos Raonic. The booming serve is back in business thanks to this tall Canadian, and it’s good to see him make good his promise as a youngster. True, he might be happier on grass, but he is a significant contender at the US Open as well. He is a calm and mentally strong player, and while his serve is his main weapon, he also has an array of powerful groundstrokes.
Therefore, it’s a couple of players who are not rookies but have been on the circuit who will really challenge the Big Two. Djokovic has had an amazing year with the crowning moment being at the French Open which he won to become the defending champion in all four Grand Slams.
He has now admitted to be carrying a wrist strain at Wimbledon. He was unwilling to bring it up since he was beaten fair and square there, but the wrist did trouble him there and is still a problem for him. However, he is the favourite and the defending champion so he is training hard to protect his silverware.