One only had to look to Canada, specifically the Canadian Open, in determining who would enjoy success at this year’s US Open. That, and also pay attention to the summer hard court swing that featured one player showing up in every single final. This year’s final major in New York saw several breakthrough performances, but it also highlighted that the pro game on both tours is undergoing a major shift from the current hierarchy of stars to the future.
Rafael Nadal claimed his 19th major title and fourth US Open. But he had to do it the hard way after losing a two sets to love lead over Russia’s Daniil Medvedev. Nadal eventually won in five sets in a grueling and entertaining five hour battle. And it’s a victory that is not only satisfying but also puts him one major title away from tying Roger Federer’s own career mark of holding 20 major singles titles.
Yet Medvedev, who had an incredible summer that included reaching four consecutive finals (winning Cincinnati), proved that the next generation is getting closer to disrupting the “Big Three” in Nadal, Federer, and current No. 1 Novak Djokovic. That’s not to say that anyone in “next gen” will be winning a major next year, or the year before. At some point that shift will likely take early in the next decade. Meanwhile, expect Djokovic and Nadal to probably dominate 2020 while Federer will likely have to hope he can shine again at Wimbledon. But could we see a new player emerge the winner at a major – probably.
On the women’s side, it’s rare that a player making her main draw debut at a major is considered a huge favorite to win it all. But that was exactly the case with 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu from Canada who burst onto the WTA scene this year with title runs in Indian Wells and Toronto.
On the other side of the net, and that story, was Serena Williams, still in search of her record tying 24th major singles title. Williams, in the early rounds, looked like she might just win her seventh US Open title. But in the final Andreescu, despite blowing a huge lead in the second set, matched Williams and then some to win, confirming all the expectations that she could be a force on tour for years to come.
While Andreescu now can celebrate her breakthrough win, there’s still a lot of lingering questions for Williams who has now lost her last four major finals since coming back to the tour after giving birth to her daughter.
Why hasn’t Serena won a major title, given that she was so dominant in finals before? Some of that has to do with the opponents she’s faced. Each of them Angie Kerber (Wimbledon 2018), Naomi Osaka (US Open 2018), Simona Halep (Wimbledon 2019) and Andreescu, were the players to beat at those events. Williams has struggled with nerves in some of those earlier finals last year, this recent final with Andreescu seemed more about Williams just facing a player at her best, with Williams’ best, just not good enough to win on that day.
It poses an interesting dilemma for Williams heading into 2020.
While Williams at her best can still beat basically 99% of the tour, it’s that one percent, or in this case one player in a major final, that poses the biggest hurdle for Williams. Does she need to win 25 majors to prove she is the “GOAT”? No, not at all, but it would certainly close the door on any lingering debate. If there is a silver lining for Williams is that she has remained consistent over the last two years in reaching multiple major finals, a consistency that will serve her well if she hopes to reach another major final, and perhaps win yet another one, or as she hopes at least two more.
For Williams, and the “Big Three” on the men’s side, time is running out to win more majors. That doesn’t mean 2020 will be a drought for any of them, but it’s safe to say the next generation is catching up sooner and sooner. And if the these four players who have defined the last twenty years of tennis want to secure their legacy with as many major titles as possible, the clock is definitely ticking to add any final numbers to their legacies before the game, as it always does, transitions fully to the next generation.