The 2016 US Open opened with a new roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium and closed two weeks later with two new singles champions. With neither top seed claiming the title, and with at least one Number One ranking changing hands, the question remains if this is the start of a new era, or merely a brief time out in what has been almost near domination by two of the sport’s biggest stars.
Both top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams entered the US Open with injury concerns. They both left without the titles and still with lingering questions about the state of their individual games.
On the women’s side, it was Angelique Kerber who not only claimed her second major title of the year, but also, at last, the coveted No. 1 ranking that Williams had held for over three years. Kerber solidified her “player of the year” status on the women’s tour after defeating a somewhat surprise finalist in Czech Karolina Pliskova in the final who had never reached even the second week of a major before in her career.
For Kerber, the big question is now “What’s Next?”. We’ve seen in the past several marquee names rise to No. 1 only to suffer precipitous falls after not being able to live up to expectations and pressure. But for Kerber, it doesn’t feel like she will let that happen, at least in the short term, especially with her rock solid lefty backcourt game that mixes defense with potent offense.
Instead, larger questions remain for the soon to be 35-year-old Williams who left New York again a semifinalist and with potentially a problematic knee injury. Williams, if she gets fully healthy again, certainly is a strong threat to Kerber to retake the top ranking, especially if Williams chooses to play even a fraction more next year than she did this season. That if she wants to. Williams, still chasing more Grand Slam glory, may again play a limited schedule to keep her body fresh for the biggest events. But Williams, who really, really likes being No. 1, just might have a hard time not staying away from smaller events in order to chase Kerber for that ranking.
On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka again proved the ultimate foil once again to Djokovic who, for a time, looked almost fated to win yet another US Open. That was due to the World No.1 having an easier path to the final after several opponents withdrew and/or retired early in his early round.
Still, he had to face the mercurial, yet hard-hitting Wawrinka in that final. Wawrinka may never be No. 1 himself due to his lack of consistency year-round, but we can no longer call him an underachiever. Wawrinka has now won his last 11 finals, three of them at the majors.
Wawrinka may himself not consider himself a part of the “Big Four” or even the “Big Five”, but he now has as many major titles as Andy Murray, who is an official member of that famous quartet. Could a Wimbledon title for Wawrinka, that would complete a career Grand Slam, be out of reach? As Wawrinka has proven, when you least expect it, wait for him to surprise us once again.
The rest of the US Open was filled with several great highlights and lowlights.
While many questioned Djokovic’s use of multiple medical time outs in the men’s final, the whole event had players on both sides taking various time outs in many matches calling into question when, if ever, officials will really find a way to determine if a timeout is truly for a legitimate health issue, or just a stall tactic.
Many enjoyed the runs of Caroline Wozniacki and Juan Martin del Potro who added some needed star power at the event. Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios, delighted and disappointed many, but perhaps none more so than John McEnroe who railed publicly against both players in what he viewed as unprofessional final performances from him each (Monfils for his “unique” tactics against Djokovic in their semifinal, and Kyrgios for retiring due to a hip injury in his third round match.” Many viewers felt like McEnroe crossed the line with his comments, but it’s highly likely that he will be back in the commentary booth for many years to come.
And finally the roof itself on Ashe Stadium did get put to good use several times. While it proved to be a welcome addition to keep matches on schedule, many players complained that it caused crowd noise to seem even louder on court.
New York remains the toughest tournament in terms of distractions and the unexpected moments (did Andy Murray really lose his chance at another major title because of a loud “gong” during his quarterfinal with Kei Nishikori?) that players have to contend with over the two weeks if they want to be the champion.
After all, if you can make it there, well, you know how the rest of the song goes.