Grand slam tennis is back with the US open, but not as we know it

Next Monday marks the return of grand slam tennis but not like we’ve seen it before. Other than the partisan French crowds at Roland Garros, the US Open is the liveliest of majors.

American fans raucously backing Serena or Venus Williams, more recently Coco Gauff and of course, the man loved wherever in the world he flicks his one-handed backhand, Roger Federer – is a familiar sight at Flushing Meadows. Yet, this year, it’s all change. 

Just the computerised voices making line calls, the scuttle of the masked ball boys and girls and the countless planes coming into land at La Guardia airport.

Can Metal Murray Last Five Sets?

One more metal hip, no fewer self-berating rants. The empty cauldrons of Flushing Meadows have only amplified Murray’s typically blunt pep-talks. Yet, despite his comical moaning, he’s displayed some stellar performances ahead of this year’s US Open. The two-time Wimbledon champion beat both Frances Tiafoe and Alexander Zverez in three sets this week.

Murray has been playing in the Western and Southern Open, normally held in Cincinnati before organisers moved it 658 miles east to aid with logistics in this coronavirus era. This means both men’s and women’s tours have been competing on the same courts that they’ll take to next week for the actual major. Murray eventually exited in the third round, coming unstuck to the big-serving Canadian, Milos Raonic, losing 6-2, 6-2.

However, his display against world number seven Zverev was vintage. You do have to remind yourself sometimes that this man is playing professional tennis with a metal hip.

Of course, the real test will come when Murray must win not two but three sets. Tennis’ five-month hiatus may be his saving grace in terms of match fitness. The Scot last won a five-set match two years ago, at the US Open. He’ll now face Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round next week in a bid to end that dry spell.

Ninth-Time Lucky for Serena?

From Murray’s long overdue five-set win to Serena Williams’ hunt for that elusive grand slam title. The US Open marks the ninth major she’s participated in since she was the last woman standing. The American great is just one slam away from equalling the all-time record.

Margaret Court holds the record with 24 slams to her name, with Williams just one behind on 23. Understandably, it’s taken her longer to win the record-tying title – after all, she did miss the next four slams after her 2017 Australian Open win to give birth to her daughter. However, now the questions of doubt are beginning to appear more often – is Serena nervous?

Despite many months away from the court to reset, she is still finding it hard to return to her best. She was punished by Greece’s Maria Sakkari earlier this week, losing 5-7, 7-6, 6-1. Williams was 5-3 up in the second set but somehow threw it all away.

The 38-year-old later described her performance as “like dating a guy that you know sucks.” Adding, “That’s literally what I keep doing out here. It’s like I have to get rid of this guy. It just makes no sense. It’s frustrating.”

On one hand, perhaps the lack of spectators may provide more focus for Williams but if she is triumphant the lack of an American crowd there to salute her greatness just doesn’t sit right with me. Either way, expect her to give it one hell of a go.

Unbeaten Novak Is the Bookies’ Favourite

With the turmoil of his car-crash Adria Tour event now behind him, Novak Djokovic arrives in New York City with added motivation. The world number one still has the potential to go a whole calendar year unbeaten. Ignore the obvious asterisk next to that statement – it would still be some feat.

He’s looked in fine fettle since tennis’ return and has taken home the Western and Southern Open title – ideal preparation for the fortnight ahead.

Djokovic, who caught the coronavirus after partying with fellow players in Bosnia for his exhibition event, has hopefully learnt his lesson. Should he win the eighteenth grand slam of his career – his victory speech may be one to listen out for. Excellence on the court might help Djokovic earn back some fans but it’s his actions off it that will earn him back some respect.

Rejuvenated Konta Takes on Watson

On Johanna Konta’s return to competitive play a few weeks ago she was visibly unwell. Heart palpitations just 10 minutes into her match caused considerable concern within the tennis community. However, the British number one was quick to admit that it’s something she’s suffered with before and trying to address whilst also being confident that it won’t happen again for a long time.

Fast forward a fortnight and she’s just displayed some of her best tennis in recent years. Despite losing out to Victoria Azarenka at the semi-final stage of the Western and Southern Open, she played some promising tennis this week and goes into the slam high on confidence.

Konta put in her best performance at Flushing Meadows last year, reaching the quarter-final stage – she faces fellow Briton Heather Watson in the first round next week. With several top seeds preferring not to play in New York, this could be the chance for the Brit to finally make a grand slam final.

By Pete Trifunovic

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