The dog days of August mean one thing to tennis fans across the world: the start of the U.S. Open. It’s the final grand slam of every tennis season, and this summer the culmination of a spectacular year was full of riveting drama.
Just a few years ago, tennis fans and analysts alike thought the sport’s future was written in stone. Roger Federer, arguably the greatest player ever, would gracefully descend from his throne and pass the torch to Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who has persistently challenged Federer for many years.
Well, things have changed drastically since then. At the start of this year’s U.S. Open, Federer had regained his number one ranking and returned to form. Rafael Nadal, however, was confined to the sidelines; his chronic injuries are beginning to take a toll on his promising career. Serbian Novak Djokovic, the tournament’s defending champion, emerged as one of the games elite competitors. British favorite Andy Murray, once consistently inconsistent, finally seemed prime to win his first grand slam.
This year, the field flaunted some familiar faces, some of whom had potential to go deep into the second week. Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 champion, was considered a formidable opponent. Andy Roddick, another former U.S. Open champion, enjoyed the spotlight after announcing he would retire from tennis after the tournament, win or lose. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych all made great strides in 2012 and were considered threats to defeat top players as the tournament progressed.
As the second week began, some story lines emerged while others faded. We saw Andy Roddick fight back tears as he thanked his loyal fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium after his last professional tennis match. We saw Federer, a man of timeless talent and pure class, get outlasted by the heavy-hitting Berdych. And in the end, on a breezy Monday afternoon in Flushing Meadows, NY, we saw Djokovic battle Murray in the tournament’s final.
The passionate and entertaining Serbian sought his sixth career Grand Slam title, while Murray sought to win his first. Murray, who has played with a renewed sense of purpose after reaching the Wimbledon final and winning the Olympic gold medal in London, jumped out to an early lead. After winning the first two sets, Murray narrowly avoided a heartbreaker when he won the fifth set, 6-2.
Murray’s journey has been long and, at times, painful, but it has significantly impacted men’s tennis. Players like Murray and the U.S. Open’s runner-up, Djokovic, have taken an eraser to the sport’s scripted future. They have risen to the challenge of excellence, improved exponentially and produced unexpected results. Surely they will continue to do so in the coming years. With Federer tending to his family and Nadal nursing his injuries, it only makes sense that Djokovic and Murray, both young and healthy, will dominate the future of tennis.
A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 11 print edition. Nishaad Ruparel is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]