Monday, August 18, 2014
U.S. Open: Top ATP Players Out of Form
The two Masters 1000 tournaments that take place Canada and Cincinnati often give a solid indication of what is likely to take place in the U.S. Open, which starts one week often the end of the Cincinnati tournament. For example, last year, Rafael Nadal went on to win both tournaments, in Montréal and Cincinnati, and kept rolling through the U.S. Open all the way to his 13th Slam title.
If that trend holds true, in other words, if these two tournaments signal what is to come in New York, one message is clear: the top 10 players in the ATP are out of form, and it may just be the perfect opportunity for an outsider to earn his spot as a big-time champion. Stanislas Wawrinka did in the Australian Open, but he had to go through two of the world's best — Novak Djokovic and Nadal — in order to hold the Slam trophy.
Djokovic has had the most miserable two-week period of his career in a long time. He played close to terrible tennis, often looking like a novice on the court, missing silly balls and looking afraid to hit the ball. He played four matches, and he did not play above-average tennis in any of them. He admitted himself that the two weeks did nothing for his confidence and that he is heading into the U.S. Open without enough match play in the hard courts.
Rafael Nadal, due to his left-wrist injury, has not practiced in full capacity, nor has he played any hard court matches this summer. He still has not announced his decision to play the U.S. Open or not. Roger Federer is no doubt the most consistent top player on the tour this summer, however, as good as his results have looked during these two weeks, his tennis has been up and down. Even as he won in Cincinnati, he only played one great match from beginning to end, his semifinal win against Milos Raonic.
Stan Wawrinka did not make the semifinals in either tournament. After his win against Cilic in the third round of the Cincinnati tournament, he responded to a media member's question by saying, "I am glad I won, but I have to play much better to go further." He did not, and he was eliminated by Julien Bennetteau in the quarterfinals. Thomas Berdych is in a virtual free-fall since Roland Garros and risks being left out of the top 10 by the end of the year unless he recuperates quickly.
Andy Murray, meanwhile, still does not have a win against a top-10 player since Wimbledon 2012. Milos Raonic has been more consistent than other top-10 players, but still not playing at the level that got him to the semifinal round of Wimbledon. Another newcomer to the scene and the other semifinalist in Wimbledon, Grigor Dimitrov, made it to the semis in Toronto, but played dismal against Jerzy Janowicz in his early-round exit in Cincinnati. As for David Ferrer, although he did reach the final in Cincinnati, by his standards, he is having his most inconsistent year on the tour since, well, ages ago. If one considers that Kei Nishikori, Richard Gasquet, and Juan Martin del Potro have all pulled out of the U.S. Open, we can extend this list of out of form attribute to the players ranked in the top 15. Ernests Gulbis (13) and John Isner (14) are not exactly burning the barn, either.
Once the U.S. Open begins next week, it will naturally be hard to pick anyone outside the top 15 to win the tournament or even to get to the semifinals. Yet, if the players ranked in the 15-to-40 range closely consider the field with a cool head, they should be able to see that this U.S. Open may be their best opportunity to dig far in a Slam and earn valuable points. The big names are clearly not playing well, and an outsider who wants to make a run to the last weekend of the tournament, may not have to go through bunch of them to get there. Unless any one or more of the top players find their form quickly within the next week, the window of opportunity is there for one or more outsiders to have a career-building tournament.