Two weeks of outstanding tennis have finally come to a close at the U.S. Open, with Serena Williams and Roger Federer taking the titles in one of the more eventful and entertaining New York fortnights in recent memory. So often Slams are reduced to the eventual champions, but the 2008 U.S. Open showcased the entire ensemble cast of men’s and women’s tennis with a Broadway-worthy display of comedy, biography, drama and melodrama.
Still, the question remains, what was the most memorable of the many memorable moments at this year’s U.S. Open?
#10 – The Foul Odor of Fish
Mardy Fish made the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam for the first time in his career. He even managed to take the first set from Rafael Nadal before being dismissed by the world number one in four sets. I’d love to say that he’s included here for an amazing run in front of his home crowd, but – truth be told – his inclusion in the Open’s top ten acknowledges that Fish was most memorable in a “what the hell?” kind of way. I was in Arthur Ashe Stadium for his snooze-fest of a first round match and I literally fell asleep in my seat, suffering a nasty sunburn in the process that has made it very embarrassing for me to wear shorts during the final weeks of summer. Curse you, Mardy Fish! How you made the quarters, I’ll never know.
#9 – USA Network Ends 25 Years of Broadcasting the Open
Yep. Sports monster ESPN, along with the Tennis Channel, bought the rights to broadcast the U.S. Open starting in 2009. This means that the USA network’s quarter of a century at the Open is over. Sure, having the Open on USA was always something of an anomaly and it was hard to forgive them for bringing Tracy Austin into our living rooms on an annual basis; however, their dedication to the tournament, the matches and the fans will be sorely missed. It’s impossible to count exactly how many late nights we spent with John McEnroe and Ted Robinson, but theirs will be a tough act to follow. With crap programs on around the clock, USA was always happy to preempt their regularly scheduled shows … and we loved them for it! For two weeks at the end of summer, USA always put the U.S. Open at the top of its priority list, ensuring that the tournament was given the coverage it deserved. It won’t be the same without them.
#8 – Ladies, Ladies, You’re Both Pretty!
This year’s Open featured some delicious catfights, but not from the divas of the WTA. Whether it was Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Murray’s obvious dislike of one another, which lead to a flood of Youtube searches for an earlier argument between the two where Del Potro infamously invoked Murray’s mother, Andy Roddick taking pot shots in a press conference at Novak Djokovic’s list of injuries, or Djokovic’s unwise retaliation on the New York crowd in a live post-match interview after dismissing Roddick from the tournament, the men’s event provided tennis with more drama than it’s seen in years. Should this keep up, alleged drug-abusing big mouth Martina Hingis is gonna have to come back to the women’s tour if the WTA has any hopes of competing with the sudden soap opera that is men’s tennis.
#7 – Jelena Jankovic Runs The Gamut
The ladies runner-up was not playing well at the start of the Open, coming close to defeat in her early matches before finding her form and making a very impressive late-round run that ultimately put her in a major final for the first time in her career. She made Serena Williams earn the championship, too, hustling and retrieving like no one women’s tennis has seen since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario’s salad years. Jelena can take heart in the fact that Sanchez-Vicario used similar inexhaustible retrieving skills to bag four Slam titles during her career. Moreover, the outspoken Serbian proved she can run her mouth as easily and endlessly as she runs her legs, from bitching about time violations to watching herself on instant replay to openly asking Mary Carillo how much money she won for her second-place finish during the awards presentation to Serena Williams. Jankovic’s candor is a delight and her game an asset to the tour.
#6 – The Young and the Young At Heart
When generations shift in tennis, there is always a special moment when the young players start to develop their potential while established players find new gears to hold off the changing tide. The U.S. Open offered a tantalizing glimpse into the 2009 season, as up-and-comers like Donald Young, Juan Martin Del Potro, Sam Querry, Andy Murray, Ernests Gulbis, and Gael Monfils enjoyed very successful tournaments while all-too-suddenly veteran players like Andy Roddick, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer fought hard to retain control of the tour.
#5 – Sister Act
2008 has been a renaissance season for the Williams sisters. Venus won Wimbledon at her little sister’s expense and, in a brilliant quarterfinal rematch at the U.S. Open, Serena would take her revenge as she refused to cave and rallied in both the first and second sets of a 7-6, 7-6 dismissal of her older sister. The match was worthy of a final, as both Venus and Serena played the most consistently excellent tennis of the tournament on the women’s side throughout the event. Serena’s triumph was only one match on the road to the title, but it was arguably the best women’s match of the event. It was certainly the most dramatic. If the Williams sisters keep playing so often and so well, there’s no reason to think that they won’t be the top two ranked players in the world again very soon.
#4 – Speaking of Serena …
The younger Williams sister’s title run culminated in an excellent match against second-ranked Jelena Jankovic, a victory which brought her a third U.S. Open title and 9th overall major. The win also elevated Serena to the world’s number one ranking again. After a year of chaos on the WTA Tour, suddenly everything seemed right and in order as we watched Serena celebrate championship point by throwing her racquet into the air and leaping for joy over and over again.
# 3 – Game-Set-Match, Hanna
Tropical Storm Hanna barreled up the East Coast on the second Saturday of the U.S. Open, interrupting the second men’s semifinal and postponing the women’s primetime championship match to Sunday. It was the first time since 1974 that the women’s final was not played on Saturday and the first time since 1987 that the men’s final was rescheduled for Monday, proving that no one on either tour is ranked higher than Mother Nature.
#2 – Andy Murray Arrives
Just when the top of men’s tennis was looking like a three horse race, long-touted Andy Murray enjoyed the best major of his career (so far) and crashed the men’s top four. Murray’s upset of top-ranked Rafael Nadal in the semifinals was as shocking as it was brilliant, an enthralling and lively display of varied shot selection and strategic attacks that made this season’s best player look downright ordinary in defeat. A top four with Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray promises competitive matches and unpredictable results for the remainder of the year and into 2009. Don’t look now, but we’re knee-deep in a golden era for the men’s game and it’s only going to get better.
#1 – Federer Wins Lucky #13
How quickly we were to count out the brilliant Swiss, who had not won a major title this season and, in fact, had not won a single event on hard court leading into the U.S. Open. The victory marked his fifth consecutive win at the U.S. Open and a sweet salvation to what was supposed to be a history-making season. He may have lost his number one ranking to Nadal and chances are good that he will no longer dominate the men’s tour the way he has done for that last several seasons; however, the veteran Federer is now only one Slam title away from tying Pete Sampras’s record mark of fourteen major championships. Federer’s race is with history now. The smile on his face after he matter-of-factly beat Andy Murray in the men’s final was one of pure joy and beautiful to see, making every tennis fan hunger for the day that Federer does finally break the record. And that day is surely coming soon. Here’s to 2009!