Everyone’s talking about Roger Federer being the co-favorite (along with Novak Djokovic) for the upcoming US Open, on the back of his win in Cincinnati and having reached 4 finals in a row. No doubt, I am one of his biggest fans and nothing would give me greater joy than to see him add a 6th title in New York. However, I do feel that tennis observers’ analyses are a bit superficial in anointing him as the man to beat in New York.
As Federer has shown in recent times, it’s one thing to reach a final and and another thing to win the tournament against someone who is invariably younger and more motivated. Let’s face it, lots of lower ranked players just play out of their skin these days when presented the prospect of adding Federer’s scalp to their resume. How else to explain how Fed could have lost to Lleyton Hewitt, J W Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka in finals this year, when these players have otherwise had a fairly uneventful year (not counting Wawrinka’s early season success at the AO against an injured Nadal).
On top of that, one has to consider the effects of a 2 week, best-of-five tournament on a 33-year-old body. In Wimbledon, Federer benefited from the middle Sunday off, but in New York, he will have to deal with that highly compressed 2nd weekend, which would require him to win two best-of-five matches back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday to lift the trophy.
The statistics show that Federer’s 5th set performances haven’t been particularly impressive over his career. There are those two 5-set matches “he should have won, but lost” early in his career to Marat Safin (AO semi-finals 2005) and David Nalbandian (Masters Cup Finals 2005). More recently, he has succumbed in the 5th set to Nadal (Wimbledon 2008 and AO 2009), to Del Potro (US Open 2009), to Djokovic 2 years in a row in the US Open semi-finals (2010 and 2011, after saving match points) and to Tsonga (Wimbledon 2011).
Given his 5 year run of US Open titles from 2004-08, it is interesting that the next 5 years have seen progressively declining performances from him; the finals loss to Delpo in 2009, the two consecutive semi-final losses to Djokovic in 2010-11, then a quarter-final loss to Berdych in 2012 and last year, the unbelievable 3 set loss to Tommy Robredo in the 4th round. In three of these years, Federer had won the Cincinnati Masters coming into the US Open (2009-10 and 2012) and had been similarly hyped up as a potential USO winner by the tennis press. So, I’m not really sure that winning in Cincinnati this year is a strong enough reason to consider him a favorite again.
More likely, it is the absence of Nadal and the relatively poor ‘post-marital’ form of Djokovic that has given tennis pundits cause for optimism. No doubt, Nadal’s absence will have a huge positive psychological effect on Federer, who seems to play better just knowing that the Spaniard is not in the draw. But Djokovic is another matter altogether and much like Wimbledon, he will come in eager to prove a point.
While I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for Federer, I will be equally interested in watching out for the young guns. Dimitrov and Raonic seem to have at least one Slam as part of their destiny. There’s also a whole bunch of teenagers and early 20’s players who could cause early round upsets – Nick Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jack Sock, Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev, Jiri Vezely and Dominic Thiem…although I haven’t checked if all these guys are through to the main draw.
Any which way, it should be an interesting fortnight in New York!