The 2017 US Open ended last Sunday, crowing Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens as the new men’s and women’s champions respectively. It was a tournament of upsets, breakthroughs and big comebacks. To ease the pain of not having another Grand Slam until the 2018 Australian Open, here are the 10 most memorable moments that defined the 2017 US Open for me.
10. The men’s draw feeling empty
The men’s draw felt empty this year, with so many top players withdrawing due to injuries. 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka didn’t have a chance to defend his title, due to a left knee surgery. Novak Djokovic was battling an elbow injury. Andy Murray withdrew after the draw was announced, due to a hip injury. Kei Nishikori suffered a wrist injury and so did Milos Raonic. As a result, the bottom half of the draw allowed players like Kevin Anderson and Pablo Carreno Busta to advance to the semis.
9. Denis Shapovalov’s rise
The young Canadian leftie, Denis Shapovalov rose to fame after the Rogers Cup in Montreal, but his performances at the US Open established that he is a rising star and not a one-hit-wonder. Fearless on the big stages and with an exciting playing style, Shapovalov is definitely a Next Gen player to watch.
8. Federer’s match against Youzhny
Roger Federer was knocked out of the US Open by Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals. It was obvious much earlier though that the maestro was not his normal self. I won’t forget one of the most bizarre matches I’ve ever watched, when Federer faced Mikhail Youzhny. Federer made 68 unforced errors against the –literally- limping Russian, who was fighting cramps and a mind-boggling record of 16 straight losses against the Swiss. Federer managed to win the match in 5 sets, but you’d have to see some of his unforced errors in this match to believe it was Roger who made them.
7. CoCo Vandeweghe’s solid performances
Even before the 2017 US Open, it was hard not to notice that when CoCo Vandeweghe is on her good day, she can blow any opponent off the court. She showed as much when she beat defending champion Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open earlier this year. After teaming up with Pat Cash, CoCo seems more composed even when things don’t go her way during a match. Even when she is not having her best day on court. That is how she managed to put on some solid performances during this US Open. Performances that allowed her to beat her nemesis, Agnieszka Radwanska, and (then) World number 1 Karolina Pliskova, to advance to the semi finals for the first time in her career. If Vandeweghe keeps working on her weaknesses and improving at the same rate, she will soon be able to also beat her friend Madison Keys, who has hurt her time and again this year.
6. Rafael Nadal’s 16th Grand Slam
In spite of his relatively easy way to the US Open trophy, Nadal put on some of his best performances in the recent years during this tournament. We didn’t get to see another FeDal, which would have been the first one in New York. But we did see Nadal establish his big comeback to the top of the tennis world and win his first title on a hard court since 2014. The King of Clay isn’t just looking forward to the next Roland Garros any more and neither are his fans. His next big bet is to be the year end world number 1 and he will definitely try to surpass Roger Federer’s 19 Grand Slam titles in the near future.
5. Sharapova vs. Halep first round match
In what shouldn’t have been a first round match of a Grand Slam, Maria Sharapova managed to beat Simona Halep in 3 sets. Having watched most of the women’s matches in the tournament, the intensity of this early clash remained unmatched until the very end. We’ve said before that whenever the stakes are as high, Simona Halep finds it hard to harness the tremendous energy and she ends up yielding under the pressure more often than not. Sharapova’s steely performance allowed her to walk out victorious, past her 64 unforced errors that night. Her emotional reaction after the end of the match was the only thing that revealed just how tough it actually was. A US Open upset that wasn’t really an upset.
4. Del Potro’s incredible come-back against Thiem
Juan Martin Del Potro was down 2 sets to love against Dominique Thiem, when I decided to switch off the TV. Del Potro seemed sick and it looked like it was a matter of time before he’d retire. It was a few hours later, when I was watching the match on replay, that I realized I had just missed one of the most epic comebacks of all time. The fact that I didn’t stick around to see it happen live has made it even greater in my mind. And there’s no doubt this will be a painful, but valuable lesson for the talented Dominique Thiem. As much as it has been a moment of glory for Del Potro.
3. Sloane Stephens winning her first Grand Slam
When Sloane Stephens beat reigning tennis queen Serena Williams in the 2013 Australian Open, the tennis world was talking about the promising newbie who had just made a big statement. It took Stephens 4 years and a fall to the WTA rankings’ floor to actually deliver on that promise. What is even more remarkable about Sloane Stephens’ victory at the US Open is how she managed to go from this:
Hi guys, It’s been a while since I’ve had an update for you. As you all know, I got a little boo boo in my left foot last summer. Unfortunately, this resulted in foot surgery that will have me sidelined for the next few months. The good news is that surgery was successful and I have already started rehab! Shooting for a summer ’17 return! Wish me luck and please root me on, I can’t wait to get back on court! I appreciate all of your love, it means the world to me
…in a few months’ time.
2. Petra Kvitova establishing she is made of steel
Right before Christmas last year, the tennis world was shocked by the knife attack Petra Kvitova suffered in her own home and the severe injury she sustained on her left hand. If you’re not faint-hearted, you can have a look at what her playing hand looked like before she went into surgery last December. Ever since, Kvitova has won a title in Birmingham, participated in the 2017 Wimbledon and made a great run at the US Open, before losing a thrilling match to Venus Williams. There can’t be many stories more inspiring than this one. Petra Kvitova deserves a fairytale more than anyone, along with our utmost respect.
1. The embrace Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys shared after the US Open final
In tennis, pro players take the same flights to visit the same places and play at the same tournaments year after year. They start when they are juniors and -if they’re lucky and good enough- they move onto adulthood, facing the same opponents on the same courts over and over again. They win or they lose, but they inevitably form relationships -be it friendships or enmities- that last throughout their lives. Aside from the big wins, the upsets, the exciting matches and the tearful losses, there are more things about tennis that make it the best sport there is. And the good friends, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, just gave us another reason to (remember why we) love tennis just a little bit more.