- Chris Wilkinson
Murray's big chanceChris Wilkinson August 25, 2011
A year ago we were wondering whether Rafael Nadal would win a career Grand Slam at the US Open. Twelve months on it looks like he might struggle to make any real inroads in New York - he seems to have lost his mojo.
One player who will not be lacking in confidence is Andy Murray, who beat Novak Djokovic to win the Cincinnati Masters, meaning he goes into the final grand slam of the year on the back of a big win. I had a feeling Murray would win in Cincinnati. He lost early in Canada but he is too good a player not to bounce back and what better way to do that than beat the world No. 1 in the final of a Masters event.
Even when Djokovic's amazing unbeaten streak came to an end back at the French Open he was still playing amazingly well and bounced straight back and of course went on to win Wimbledon. But it is physically impossible to maintain such a incredibly high level for such a long time and the sheer number of matches he has played was always going to catch up with him. Some people are saying that he is done for the season and has burned himself out, but he will always be a threat.
With the US Open just around the corner Djokovic had to be careful and if he felt he was jeopardising his chances then he was right to retire in the final against Murray. It is a fine line though and it was obviously disappointing - for him, for Murray, and for the fans - that he threw in the towel. But they should both be happy - Djokovic has made another final and should hopefully be fit and firing for the US Open next week, and Murray has another title under his belt and will go to New York full of confidence.
With Nadal a little out of sorts I think Djokovic and Murray will be the two to beat at Flushing Meadows. For Murray, I think defeat in Canada was just what he needed - a bit of a kick and it has clearly worked and he looked like he enjoyed playing in Cincinnati.
He has now got a week to rest and prepare, both physically and mentally, for the final grand slam of the year. Obviously it depends on the draw but Murray will fancy his chances in New York - the court is well suited to his style of play and he is in good form.
What can we say for Nadal? I thought the summer break would do him good, but he seems to have lost his mojo. For a player who is so confident in his own ability he seems to have lost his belief. Losing to Djokovic so many times this year has clearly taken its toll.
As for Roger Federer, he has also struggled a bit over the last few weeks but as I always say he is too good a player to write off completely. He hasn't got that aura that he used to - players now believe they are capable of beating him, but he is still a genuine contender. It is his first slam as a thirty-something and he will be desperate to make sure he ends the year with a slam in his posession - something he has done every year since 2003.
I wouldn't like to say who is going to win this year, but I think it could be a repeat of the Cincinnati final - I'd like to think Murray can finally break his grand slam duck!
Although I can't really see anyone beyond the 'big four' reaching the final, I think Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych could be dark horses. Both have been in good form recently and have history of beating the big players at slams. Earlier in the year I said I thought Juan Martin del Potro would be back to his best in time for the US Open, but unfortunately it doesn't look like he will be in with a chance of regaining the title he won back in 2009. He has struggled for form ever since coming back from a nasty wrist injury and he is nowhere near back to his best form.
I'm sure he will make it through the first few rounds but I can't see him pushing much beyond the quarter-finals.
It has been eight years since the New York crowds has seen a home champion in the men's draw, and with Andy Roddick slipping down the rankings, he is no longer the top dog in American tennis. Mardy Fish is in the form of his life, picking up another title in Atlanta and reaching the final in Los Angeles and Montreal. He may be nearly 30, but he's showing no signs of slowing down - what a great story that would be if he could capture the title. They may not be the favourites, but there are a few American men who could produce an upset or two. John Isner has a big game to match his enormous serve and he could be one to keep an eye out for. Ryan Harrison is another player who has been playing well recently and with the crowd behind him could pull off a scalp or two.
Melanie Oudin was the surprise package a couple of years ago - can Christina McHale be the one to cause a stir this year in the women's draw? She's ranked at 66, but beat Caroline Wozniacki in Cincinnati last week and had a good win over Svetlana Kuznetsova this week.
But if we are looking at American chances, look no further than Serena Williams. She may be ranked outside the top 30, but her victory in Toronto shows she is a real contender for the title despite not having many matches under her belt.
She really should be seeded in the top five so the big seeds will be desperately hoping to avoid Serena in the early rounds. After such a long time out with injury you have to give her credit for coming back so strong, because it is not easy to do - just look at how Del Potro has struggled to establish himself after injury. She has incredible belief in herself and her power and experience makes her one of the toughest players in the game. I was saying how Federer has lost his aura - I think Serena still has that vibe and her opponents fear her - I certainly would be worried standing on the other side of the net from her!
The three-time champion Kim Clijsters will not be defending her title after pulling out with a stomach injury. I did wonder after the Australian Open whether her time was up. She pulled out of the French and didn't play at Wimbledon, and I wouldn't be surprised if she calls it quits this year. Three grand slams in two years is not a bad result, especially from a 'second career'.
Petra Kvitova's win at Wimbledon was great news for the women's game and it remains to be seen if the younger generation can follow her example. Could this be Caroline Wozniacki's big chance now she has dumped her father as her coach?
Maria Sharapova will have her eyes on a second US Open title. She reached the final at Wimbledon and won in Cincinnati last week and has been looking good. Along with Serena I think she is one of the favourites, but Andrea Petkovic could spring a surprise - she has been playing well recently and has the game to beat the big guns.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1