Thoughts On The 2017 US Open
Some words on champions Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens, Kevin Anderson, Madison Keys and a lot more
By Stephen Higgins | 12 September 2017
The final grand slam of 2017 finished with a champion we've come accustomed to, while the other was a refreshing surprise.
The 137th US Open saw Rafael Nadal claim the 16th grand slam of his career and third trophy at Flushing Meadows thanks to a 6-3 6-3 6-4 defeat of Kevin Anderson.
While in the women's draw, Sloane Stephens, playing in just her fifth tournament of the season after an 11-month injury lay-off, beat good friend Madison Keys 6-3 6-0 in the final to add a first major to her trophy cabinet.
Here are my thoughts on some of the fortnight's storylines:
We should give up writing off champions. They are just a different species to the rest of us.
Over the past couple of years, many pundits - this writer included - questioned whether Rafael Nadal had the capacity to lift another grand slam on clay, let alone the other surfaces. The reasons were many; the knees, the lack of confidence, the shorter and shorter forehand etc.
Nine months into 2017, the Majorcan has two majors, the world no.1 ranking, three other titles and three final appearances to his credit.
Having failed to make the last eight in Flushing Meadows for a few years, the Majorcan surged through the draw this time around and I think was most impressive in the closing sets of his semi-final with Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine was fading but Nadal sped up the process with some devious forehands, net rushes and that unparalleled focus.
Nadal could have been troubled in the final by Kevin Anderson's arsenal but we should have known better. Over the past five years, the Spaniard has only lost to two men in grand slam finals. Stan Wawrinka bludgeoned his way through an injured Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open final and then, three years later, we know what happened in that magnificent clash with Federer.
Given the form he has shown throughout the season, I wonder if Nadal can finally win the one significant trophy lacking from his cabinet - the World Tour Finals.
How brilliant is Sloane Stephens? Everyone will cover her incredible rehabilitation from injury, the almost laughable rankings rise from 957, and her close relationship with finalist Madison Keys. I'd like to talk about her tennis though.
We should start with the athleticism. This daughter of an NFL running back and an All-American swimmer is a spectacular mover with nimble footwork. On a slightly slower than normal Arthur Ashe court, Madison Keys found it almost impossible to hit through the Floridian.
Stephens has received acclaim for her retrieval skills but that diminishes her. What separated her in the final from someone like Caroline Wozniacki, was her ability to cause enormous damage with her forehand when she desired. The 24-year-old has plenty of power but chose to use it judiciously. Her serve is also excellent and difficult to attack.
The most exciting question is where to from here Sloane? She has all the tools to win more majors as long as she can stay fit. In 2018 we might see what she can really do.
What a fantastic tournament for Kevin Anderson. Someone had to take advantage of the draw and on this occasion it was the tall South African. It's great to see consistent, hard-working operators get their moment in the sun every now and again. Anderson couldn't compete with Nadal's level in the final but very few can. The important thing is, against quite a number of odds, he got there and showed that the margins in the top 100 are much finer than you may think.
The 2017 US Open will clearly be a huge breakthrough for Madison Keys but that final will really sting. The American's shoot-from-the-hip approach serves her well when the shots go in but what if they don't? And what if your opponent can handle those shots when they do? That's what we saw last Saturday as Sloane Stephens handled Keys quite comfortably in the end. As with all big-hitters, you wonder if Madison can rein in the shots when she needs to, or simply make more of those shots. There are worse issues to have at 22.
The most encouraging thing about Juan Martin del Potro was how he managed to hit through his backhand against Federer and Nadal. It's still hard to gauge how much of that wing's limitation is down to confidence and/or pain, but it was wonderful to see him still have the capacity to do it. Another point about the Argentine is the difference with how he approaches the big matches compared to his peers. He never looks cowed against the game's greats. Even early in his comeback at the Olympics last year, del Potro knew that he had the tools to beat the big guys and believed that he could. Since his return in 2016, Delpo has beaten Roger, Rafa, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.
It was a disappointing tournament for three of the women's favourites; Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina.
2016 finalist and world no.1 Karolina Pliskova might have expected to at least repeat the achievement but will not be disgusted with a quarter-final showing.
Garbine Muguruza lost to the tremendous Petra Kvitova, which is far from a disgrace, but I expected a lot from her after Wimbledon and her dominant display in Cincinnati. The US Open remains the one major that the Spaniard has not made the last eight of.
Elina Svitolina has had her strongest season to date with five titles and an improved showing at the majors. The 22-year-old, who made the fourth round, is a wonderful athlete who possesses a great attitude, but does she have the weapons to nab the biggest titles?
It was a great tournament for Americans, women in particular. There were five home favourites in the fourth round, with Stephens and Keys making it to the final. The other three were the ageless Venus Williams, who got so close to knocking out Stephens in the semis, the improving-by-the-tournament Coco Vandeweghe, and 22-year-old Jennifer Brady.
2017 has been excellent to another American, Sam Querrey, as he sits at a career high of 16. The Californian has two titles (Los Cabos and Acapulco) on his mantle, a semi-final run at Wimbledon and a surge to the last eight in his home slam. Impressive.
Lucie Safarova is back. The all-round talent made the fourth round at Flushing Meadows where she lost a tight two-setter to Coco Vandeweghe 6-4 7-6. Now at 33 in the rankings and back to full health, the Czech should really get back to the top 20 in near future.
Finally, I'll try not get too carried away with Denis Shapovalov's talent but it is considerable. What a game he has potentially. All the tools are there so let's hope that he can stay focused in the coming years and make the most of it.