US Open Catch-Up
The 2023 US Open was always going to be chaotic, but in truth, it proved more predictable than some of its recent iterations. A lottery of late, it always manages to find an upset, and always produces an unexpected result. Though the women’s side experienced early losses of top seeds such as Iga Swiatek, Elena Rybakina and Jessica Pegula, the final two were no surprise. Coco Gauff, the prodigal American sixth seed, had enjoyed a richly successful hard court swing and entered New York in the best form of her career so far.
Motivated by an expectant home crowd, Gauff built on her titles in Washington and Cincinnati to emerge victorious at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, winning her first grand slam title at the age of 19. She joins the company of Emma Raducanu in winning the US Open before the age of 20, but this victory had an altogether different quality from Raducanu, whose victory is looking increasingly like a flash in the pan. Gauff was no outsider on a Cinderella run. She was a top seed who has been steadily and visibly improving since her breakout performance, where she defeated Venus Williams on the grass courts of Wimbledon. Three years have passed since then, and the wide-eyed 16 year old has matured into a champion. She remains precocious and far from complete, but few would bet on Coco Gauff being a one-time thing.
Her unfortunate victim in the final? Aryna Sabalenka, the Belarussian big-hitter whose stature on the tour has only grown this season, having also won her maiden grand slam at the Australian Open. Propelled by her powerful serving and ferocious winners, Sabalenka has the power game to blast anyone off the court. The mental game is always where she has struggled — the possibility of a ‘choke’ is always on the table, and though Gauff won the game on her own terms, the final was there to win for Sabalenka. Gauff’s athleticism and defensive skills kept her in the final, exposing some tactical inflexibility from the Belarussian. Her A-game is effective enough to beat 99% of plays on the WTA Tour, but when she faces a truly elite opponent, on the biggest stages in tennis, Sabalenka’s only Plan B is to hit it harder. Unforced errors crept into her game, and Gauff accepted them gratefully.
The male side of the draw, as has been the case for the entire year, was characterised by the favourites performing extremely well. Novak Djokovic has won 24 grand slams as of this US Open, the most of any male player in history. He is statistically the greatest of all time, and no one can dispute this fact anymore. Nonetheless, his burgeoning rivalry with Carlos Alcaraz, who defeated him in a historic Wimbledon final earlier this year, had left some observers wondering if Djokovic’s time was almost up. His answer? An emphatic no.
There remain some unanswered questions. For starters, he didn’t have to face Carlos Alcaraz in the final. Instead, he met Daniil Medvedev, avenging his loss to the Russian in the 2021 edition of the US Open. Medvedev had produced one of the best performances of his career to defeat Alcaraz in the semi-final, but simply didn’t perform well enough to beat the two top seeds back to back. Not even a colossal effort in the astonishing 104-minute second set could hold back the inimitable Serb. Djokovic continually exposed his opponent’s deep court position with serve and volley, a tactic which Medvedev has shown he has little answer to.
For men’s tennis, the prospect of next year is already a thrilling one. We have a trio of extremely dominant players at the top of the sport in Djokovic, Medvedev and Alcaraz, all hailing from different generations. But can Alcaraz or Medvedev prise the most important trophies out of Djokovic’s fingers? That remains to be seen. As for Gauff, she has the women’s side of tennis in the palm of her hands. She has all the physical skills to become the long-touted successor to Serena Williams. This was the start of one dynasty, and the continuation of another. The year-end ATP Finals, and the Australian Open beyond that, cannot come soon enough.
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