2013 US Open Tennis: Final Report Card for the Top Stars at Flushing Meadows

Jake CurtisFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2013

2013 US Open Tennis: Final Report Card for the Top Stars at Flushing Meadows

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    The final Grand Slam tournament of the year is in the books, providing an opportunity to submit a final report card for the top stars at the U.S. Open.

    Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal captured their second major titles of 2013 by winning the singles crowns at Flushing Meadows. They got the highest grades, but 10 other players were issued report cards on their U.S. Open showing.

    Flavia Pennetta was a surprise semifinalist, but since she is still ranked outside the Top 30, she does not rate "star" status and was not given a report card.

    Grades are based primarily on the players' results at the Open, but whether they exceeded expectations or failed to live up to their potential was also considered.

     

Roger Federer

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations

    Based on his mediocre results in 2013, especially in the Grand Slam events, Roger Federer was not expected to win the U.S. Open. But with his history of success at the Open, including five straight titles from 2004 through 2008, Federer figured to get to the quarterfinals for the 10th straight year.

     

    The Reality  

    Federer failed to reach the quarterfinals, losing in the fourth round to No. 19-seeded Tommy Robredo in straight sets. He won his first three matches without the loss of a set, but was handily beaten by Robredo. It represented a continuation of Federer's decline as an elite player.

    He has reached the final in just two of his 13 tournaments this year and won only one. His last three Grand Slam events have been particularly troubling. He lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets in the French Open quarterfinals, to 116th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round at Wimbledon and to Robredo in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open.

    Federer's ranking had slipped to No. 7 before the U.S. Open, and he may drop out of the top 10 before long. He's probably not even the best player in his own country anymore, with Swiss countryman Stanislas Wawrinka taking over that distinction.

     

    Defining Moment 

    The 32-year-old Federer had a 10-0 record against Robredo before they met in the U.S. Open fourth round. But this time, Robredo swept Federer away in straight sets on hard courts, which may be Federer's best surface. Robredo is 31 and seems to be past his prime. Once ranked No. 5, he has seen his ranking slip to No. 22 and had done nothing of note in the hard-court tuneup events leading up to the Open.

    After dominating Federer, Robredo was blown off the court in the next round by Rafael Nadal, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2. Losing to players ranked outside the Top 20 in consecutive majors suggests Federer is simply not the same player he was while winning a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles.

     

    Grade: C-

Agnieszka Radwanska

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations  

    Agnieszka Radwanska has never won a Grand Slam event, and with Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams in the draw, she was not expected to win the U.S. Open either.

    However, based on her favorable results in her previous 2013 Grand Slam events (semifinals at Wimbledon, quarterfinals at the Australian Open and French Open) and strong showings in the hard-court events leading up to the U.S. Open, she figured to reach the quarterfinals and, perhaps, the semifinals. 

     

    The Reality

    Radwanska's struggles at the U.S. Open continued.

    She had never gone past the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows and was eliminated in the fourth round again this year. After squeezing past No. 32-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-4, 7-6, in the third round, Radwanska lost to No. 24-seeded Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets.

    Though seeded No. 3 at the U.S. Open and ranked No. 4 in the world, the 24-year-old Radwanska has reached the semifinals of a major only twice, both at Wimbledon.

     

    Defining Moment 

    Radwanska had a 3-0 record against Makarova when the two met in the fourth round, and Radwanska ran out to a 4-0 lead in the first set. At that point, Radwanska faltered, and Makarova controlled the rest of the match, winning 6-4, 6-4. Collapsing like that in a major event against a player she should beat is not a good sign.

     

    Grade: C+

Andy Murray

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations 

    Andy Murray was one of the three favorites to win the U.S. Open, along with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He was the defending U.S. Open champion and was coming off a milestone victory at Wimbledon.

    Murray had reached the final of the last four majors he had entered and won two of them. However, he had not played particularly well in the hard-court tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open, and there were questions whether he would have a letdown after his emotional win at Wimbledon.

     

    The Reality

    Murray failed to reach the semifinals for only the second time his last 10 Grand Slam tournaments. Murray played well in his first-round match while beating Michael Llodra in straight sets.

    But he struggled after that, suggesting the massive attention he received for being the first British male in 77 years to win Wimbledon may have taken its toll. He played poorly while being upset in the quarterfinals by No. 9-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who not only beat Murray, but also dominated him, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

     

    Defining Moment 

    The 10th game of the first set of the Murray-Wawrinka match epitomized the match and defined Murray's tournament. Murray was serving at 5-4, and, despite not playing well, Murray managed to save five set points in the long game.

    When Murray sent a forehand long on the sixth set point, giving Wawrinka the first set, Murray smashed his racket on the court in frustration. Wawrinka controlled the rest of the match against an unfocused Murray.

     

    Grade: C+

David Ferrer

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations

    David Ferrer was not among the favorites to win the U.S. Open, despite his No. 4 world ranking. He has never won a Grand Slam event, and his results on hard courts in the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open did not suggest he would contend for the title on that surface.

    However, a favorable draw and the fact that he had reached the U.S. Open semifinals in 2012 indicated a berth in the semifinals was within reach.

     

    The Reality 

    Ferrer, 31, continued his consistency in the majors, getting to at least the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam event for the eighth straight time. However, he demonstrated, again, that he simply does not have the weapons to beat elite players consistently on hard courts.

    His 7-6, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, third-round victory over Janko Tipsarevic showed Ferrer's dogged determination, but he could not finish off a comeback against Richard Gasquet in the quarterfinals, losing 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3.

     

    Defining Moment 

    An uncharacteristic Ferrer double fault in the sixth game of the final set against Gasquet ruined what could have been a significant comeback victory. After being dominated in the first two sets, Ferrer won the next two sets convincingly.

    He had all the momentum going into the final set against Gasquet, who had a history of blowing big leads in five-setters and owned a 1-8 record against Ferrer. But while serving at 2-3 of the fifth set, Ferrer played a loose game and double-faulted at break point, giving Gasquet the only service break he needed.

     

    Grade: B

Li Na

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations 

    Despite her struggles in past U.S. Opens, No. 6-ranked Li Na appeared to have a reasonable chance to get to the quarterfinals. And when she received a favorable draw, a berth in the semifinals seemed within reach.

    Li had reached the final of the year's other hard-court Grand Slam event at the Australian Open and got to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Plus, Li got to the semifinals of both hard-court tuneup events for the U.S. Open. The fact that she had never gone past the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open was the only reason to doubt her.

     

    The Reality 

    The 31-year-old Li got to the semifinals of the U.S. Open for the first time, ending a mysterious run of disappointments at the event. Despite a game that seemed suited to hard courts, Li had lost in the first round of the U.S. Open in 2010 and 2011 and in the third round 2012.

    But she blew through her first five opponents, benefiting from the fact that she did not have to beat a Top 10 player to get to the semifinals. Her straight-set, third-round victory over rising British player Laura Robson was significant because Robson had beaten Li in last year's U.S. Open.

    Li's 6-0, 6-3 victory over No. 9-seeded Jelena Jankovic in the fourth was even more impressive. Li then beat No. 24-seeded Ekaterina Makarova in three sets before being overwhelmed by Serena Williams, 6-0, 6-3, in the semifinals.

     

    Defining Moment 

    Li had not advanced past the third round at the U.S. Open in four years, and she had lost her past four matches against fourth-round opponent Jelena Jankovic, a former No. 1 player. But Li thoroughy dominated Jankovic in this match. Li hit 20 winners in a 6-0, 6-3 victory that lasted only 57 minutes.  

    Getting to the quarterfinals matched Li's best U.S. Open performance and ended a three-year run of disappointments at Flushing Meadows. She had lost in the first round to players ranked outside the Top 50 in 2010 and 2011 and lost to 89th-ranked Robson in the third round last year.

     

    Grade: B+

Richard Gasquet

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    Pre-US Open Expectations

    Based on his lack of success in majors and his penchant for collapsing at critical moments, Richard Gasquet figured to get no further than the round of 16 at the U.S. Open. However, a favorable draw opened up the possibility of reaching quarterfinals, perhaps the semifinals.

    Gasquet was ranked No. 9 in the world and had demonstrated considerable skill, but he had gone past the round of 16 in a Grand Slam tournament only once, and that was six years ago when he got to the semifinals at Wimbledon. He had done nothing in the hard-court warmup events for the U.S. Open to suggest that trend would change.

     

    The Reality

    Gasquet reached the semifinals for the first time at the U.S. Open and for the second time at a Grand Slam event. He benefited from being placed in the same quarterfinal bracket as David Ferrer, clearly the weakest of the top four seeds. Nonetheless, Gasquet beat two players ranked among the top 11 players in the world.

    The fact that he beat both No. 10-seeded Milos Raonic and No. 4-seeded Ferrer in five sets was particularly significant for Gasquet, who had lost his last six five-set matches in Grand Slam events. Gasquet was outclassed by Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, losing in straight sets.

     

    Defining Moment 

    Gasquet's 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Ferrer represented a major breakthrough for the Frenchman. Not only did he beat a higher-ranked player to get to the semifinals, but he also avoided the kind of collapse that has plagued his career.  

    In his run of six straight losses in five-set matches heading into the U.S. Open, Gasquet had won the first two sets in four of them. He seemed headed for a similar crash against Ferrer, a relentless baseliner who had beaten Gasquet five straight times. But Gasquet showed the kind of heart he had not displayed previously in halting Ferrer's momentum and winning the fifth set.

     

    Grade: B+

Sloane Stephens

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations

    Sloane Stephens' strong results in Grand Slam tournaments suggested she might fare well. She was not among the favorites, but after getting to the semifinals of the Australian Open, the round of 16 at the French Open and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the 20-year-old Stephens seemed ready to emerge at the U.S. Open.

    When the draw showed she would have to get past Serena Williams to get to the quarterfinals, expectations decreased, even though she had beaten Williams at the Australian Open.

     

    The Reality

    Stephens played well, fostering the belief that she may win a Grand Slam event some day. But an unfortunate draw doomed Stephens to a fourth-round exit. Sloane nearly lost a nervous first-round match against Mandy Minella, but she played well in her next three matches.

    She dispatched No. 23-seeded Jamie Hampton, 6-1, 6-3, and held her own in a 6-4, 6-1 loss to No. 1-seeded Serena Williams. Had Stephens been in the fourth-round bracket with anyone other than Williams, she might well have advanced further.

     

    Defining Moment

    Although the solid first set Stephens played against Serena Williams demonstrated she is on the verge of greatness, Stephens' defining moment came in the first round, when she averted disaster. She appeared nervous in that opening match against Minella, who is ranked 110th.

    Minella held a 4-2 lead in the third set and had a 3-1 advantage in the final-set tiebreaker. But Stephens did just enough to pull out a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 win. Instead of suffering an upset that would have seriously hurt her ascent, she showed she could rally to win close matches when she's not playing her best.

     

    Grade: B+

Novak Djokovic

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations

    Novak Djokovic was one of the three favorites, along with Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. He was not playing his best tennis heading into the Open, having failed to win any of his six previous tournaments and reaching the final of only one of them.

    But he was still ranked No. 1 and had reached at least the semifinals of 13 straight Grand Slam events, winning six of them, including the 2011 U.S. Open. Djokovic was expected to reach the U.S. Open final and, perhaps, win it.

     

    The Reality 

    Djokovic was not as sharp as he had been a few months earlier, but he still found a way to get to the final for the 10th time in the last 13 Grand Slam events. Djokovic benefited from the fact that Murray and Juan Martin del Potro both lost before he would have to face them.

    Djokovic used all his experience and guile to overcome a 2-1 deficit in sets to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals. However, Djokovic could not counter the varied arsenal and mental toughness of Nadal in the final. Djokovic faltered in the third set and lost, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

     

    Defining Moment 

    Djokovic seemed to be in control of the pivotal third set against Nadal, but somehow, he let it slip away.

    After winning the second set, Djokovic held a 3-1 lead in the third. Djokovic was in command of most of the points in that set and had a chance for a crucial break of serve in the ninth game with Nadal serving at 4-4, 0-40. However, Djokovic could not close out that game, starting a run of five straight games he lost. 

     

    Grade: B+

Victoria Azarenka

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations 

    Victoria Azarenka was rated as the second favorite at the U.S. Open, behind Serena Williams. Azarenka was ranked No. 2 in the world and had lost only one hard-court match all year.

    She had won the Australian Open on hard courts in January and had beaten Williams in the final hard-court tuneup before the U.S. Open. Azarenka was expected to reach the final and would have been favored against anyone, other than Williams, in the title match.

     

    The Reality

    Azarenka did not play her best tennis at the U.S. Open, but her will and match toughness carried her to the final. She lost the first set to Alize Cornet in the third round and to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round. But she managed to win both on sheer grittiness.

    She made more mistakes than usual in her semifinal match against unseeded Flavia Pennetta, but still won that one in straight sets. Her competitiveness was best displayed in the final, when she trailed Williams, 4-1, in the second set after dropping the first.

    Azarenka fought back to win the second set in a long tiebreaker, but was overwhelmed in the third in a 7-6, 6-7, 6-1 loss. It was the second straight year she lost to Williams in a three-set U.S. Open final.

     

    Defining Moment

    Former No. 1 player Ana Ivanovic hit 17 winners to just four for Azarenka in a first set won by Ivanovic in the fourth round. Azarenka was in trouble and never found her rhythm. But she dug deep to get through with a victory, despite serving nine double faults.

    Azarenka let two match points slip away while serving at 5-3 of the third set. She finally won on her fourth match point, winning a match on guts rather than skill.

     

    Grade: B+

Stanislas Wawrinka

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations

    No. 10-ranked Stanislas Wawrinka had shown potential, but he was not considered a contender for the U.S. Open title in 2013. With a draw that had Andy Murray in his quarterfinal bracket and Novak Djokovic in his semifinal bracket, a berth in the quarterfinals seemed to be the best Wawrinka could hope for.

    Considering he had never reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam event and had won only one match in his two hard-court tuneup events combined, even a quarterfinal berth seemed a lofty goal.

     

    The Reality

    Wawrinka was the surprise of the tournament. Not only did he get to the semifinals of a Grand Slam event for the first time, but he also beat Murray convincingly and nearly beat No. 1-ranked Djokovic. He showed his straight-set victory over Murray in the quarterfinals was no fluke by winning two of the first three sets against Djokovic in the semifinals.

    An upper-leg injury sustained midway through the match may have prevented Wawrinka from upsetting Djokovic, who survived, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. The flurry of backcourt winners the 28-year-old, No. 10-ranked Wawrinka fired at Murray and Djokovic indicated he is a player to watch.

     

    Defining Moment

    Wawrinka did not just upset Murray in the quarterfinals, he dominated the defending U.S. Open champion and reigning Wimbledon titlist. Certainly, Murray did not play his best, but no one expected Wawrinka to blow by a player who had reached the final of the last four Grand Slam events he had entered.

    Wawrinka had beaten Murray, 6-1, 6-2, in their only previous 2013 meeting, but that was on clay in Monte Carlo. Wawrinka's 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the U.S. Open was in the quarterfinals of a major on hard courts, probably Murray's best surface. Wawrinka did not face a single break point against Murray, who owns one of the best returns of serve in the world.

     

    Grade: A-

Serena Williams

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations

    Serena Williams was the favorite to win the U.S. Open. She was ranked No. 1 and had lost only two matches in her nine tournaments since February. Hard courts are probably the best surface for Williams, who had won the U.S. Open four times and was the defending champion.

     

    The Reality 

    Williams won her fifth U.S. Open title and her second Grand Slam crown of the year. It was the 17th Grand Slam title of her career, leaving her seven shy of Margaret Court's record. It also was her fourth title in the last six majors since she lost in the first round of the 2012 French Open.

    She breezed through her first six matches in the U.S. Open, losing no more than five games in any of those contests. She received a challenge from No. 2-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the final, but was dominant in the deciding set of a 7-6, 6-7, 6-1 victory. Williams won the title 18 days shy of her 32nd birthday, making her the oldest woman in the Open Era to win the U.S. title. 

     

    Defining Moment

    Although Williams' 6-0, 6-0 victory over No. 18-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarterfinals represented her most impressive U.S. Open performance, the defining moment came after she dropped the second-set tiebreaker against Azarenka.

    Frustrated by the wind and her inability to finish off the match after leading 4-1 and serving at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set, Williams nonetheless regained her composure and dominated the final set. 

     

    Grade: A

Rafael Nadal

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    Pre-U.S. Open Expectations: 

    Rafael Nadal was lumped with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic as the pre-tournament favorites. Nadal's 16-0 record on hard courts in 2013 and his triumphs in both hard-court tuneup events leading up to the Open probably made him the top pick to win it.

    He had lost only three matches all year, and the knee troubles that had surfaced at Wimbledon had disappeared. Plus, he had a favorable draw, with Murray and Djokovic both in the opposite half.

     

    Reality:

    Nadal won his second U.S. Open title and his 13th major crown, leaving him one Grand Slam title behind Pete Sampras and four behind Roger Federer, who holds the record among men with 17.

    Nadal was dominant en route to a berth in the final, losing only one set in his first six matches and losing his serve only once in that span. He was pushed by Djokovic in the final, but Nadal dominated the final set of a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.

    Nadal won two of the three Grand Slam events he entered in 2013 and is unbeaten since his inexplicable loss to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon.

     

    Defining Moment: 

    Nadal turned the final in his favor with a display of toughness in the ninth game of the third set. With the match tied at a set apiece and Nadal serving at 4-4, 0-40, Nadal hit a winner to thwart the first break-point chance, then aced Djokovic at 30-40.

    Nadal eventually won that game, broke serve to take the third set and won the first three games of the fourth set to take command of the match.

     

    Grade: A