By Jane Voigt
What better day to write about New York, as Americans look back over the last 13 years at how life has changed.
The U.S. Open had just wrapped up in 2001, when every notion about liberty, freedom and moral fiber, literally came crashing down around us. We all realized that day, or shortly afterward, life would never be the same. And it hasn’t been.
Even the 2014 U. S. Open changed. We could never have anticipated many moments and outcomes.
The women’s singles draw was shaken early and often. By the time the singles’ final took to Arthur Ashe Stadium, only one of the top nine seeds remained, Serena Williams at number one. Caroline Wozniacki was seeded No. 10, her second U.S. Open final. As many fans had anticipated, Williams achieved her 18th Grand Slam, her 3rd consecutive U.S. Open, and her 6th U.S. Open overall. Champion applies to Serena Williams in a big way.
And, of course, the brand-new men’s singles champion, Marin Cilic, and finalist, Kei Nishikori, played in uncharted grounds in their semifinals and final. It had been nine years, since the Australian Open 2005, since one of the so-called big four had not vied for a Grand Slam. And only the third time one of the quartet didn’t carry off the Tiffany trophy.
Cilic made the media rounds the next day in New York, beginning with, “Live with Kelly & Michael.” Cilic was asked about his nerves. “It was the most relaxed two weeks I ever had at a Grand Slam,” he began. “With Roger I didn’t feel my nerves at all. Something happened. A lucky star hit me just before the tournament. Everything clicked perfectly.”
As for Serena … She and buddy Wozniacki partied until 3 A.M. at the VIP Room in Manhattan. But the next morning, Serena told NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America,” plus “Live with Kelly and Michael” she had to cancel. According to Fox News, Williams was “too tired.”
In some respects New York has not changed. Open all night. Party on.
Here are Down The Tee’s picks as U.S. Open stars, in addition to the ones mentioned. They captivated us and made us stand and cheer. They performed beyond their records in a Major, the tournaments that mean the most.
Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia. The slightly built, 21-year-old qualifier rocked every match she played, taking out American hopeful Madison Keys (No. 27) and the Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova (No. 3) before losing to the 2013 runner-up, Victoria Azarenka (No. 16) in a 3-set night match on the big stadium court. Her mouth full of braces, Krunic showed grace and grit under pressure, plus an all-court strategy the game sorely misses. The big reward for Krunic? She leapt from No. 145 to No. 100 in the WTA rankings.
Ekaterina Makarova (No. 17) has flown under the radar for years, which she prefers. But there was no way to keep her from the spotlight after sending the current “It Girl,” Eugenie Bouchard, home to Canada in her earliest loss of the year at a slam … the fourth round. Makarova beat Azarenka next, tumbling her ranking outside the top 20, in the quarterfinals to advance to her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal. She is now ranked No. 15, from a previous No. 18.
Belinda Bencic, the 17-year-old Swiss coached by Martina Hingis’s mother, Melanie Molitor, shocked the draw. She never lost a set, playing in her first U.S. Open, until meeting Shuai Peng in the quarterfinals. Bencic also defeated three seeds, two in the top 10: Angelique Kerber (No. 6) and Jelena Jankovic (No. 9). Bencic showed poise, courage and conviction on Arthur Ashe, although admittedly nervous. On Tuesday, she rose from No. 58 to No. 33 on the WTA rankings.
Shuai Peng made the run of her lifetime to the semifinals, a first for the number-three Chinese player. Hopefully she will be remembered for her aggressive game, the fact she did not drop a set through five rounds, and demonstrated courage in the face of declining health in the semifinal. She has landed at No. 21 in the world, from No. 39. It’s her highest career ranking.
Dominic Thiem turned 21 during the Open. Little known but full of game and guile, the Austrian faced his friend and hitting partner, Ernests Gulbis, in round two. The two even share the same coach, Gunter Bresnik. In the match Gulbis went up two sets, and lost footing. Thiem (pronounced team) worked patiently, point by point, and won the match. He didn’t go nuts when he walked to the net to shake his friend’s hand, yet he continued to show the competition his win over Gulbis wasn’t a fluke. Thiem next defeated Feliciano Lopez (No. 19). Tomas Berdych (No. 6) proved too tough in the fourth round. Nonetheless, Thiem’s ranking jumped nine spots to No. 36. Additionally, he joins young hot shot Nick Kyrgios, who is ranked No. 53, as ones to watch.
Kei Nishikori seemed burdened by his loss in his first-ever Grand Slam. He looked up to this box, one seat occupied by Coach Michael Chang, and apologized for not having won during the awards’ presentation. The moment was poignant, as Chang extended his arms and continued to applaud Kei nodding as if to say … you are a wonder … you did great. And he did. Nishikori, probably the biggest threat to the upper echelon, broke barrier after barrier during the fortnight. First semifinal for him and for a man from Japan. First final for him and a man from Japan. According to many, his 5-set win against Milos Raonic (No. 5) in front of a nighttime New York audience was the best of the tournament. Kei then defeated Stan Wawrinka (No. 3) in another 5-set blockbuster. And, finally, on a day when court temperatures approached 100 degrees, Nishikori defeated the world’s number one player, Novak Djokovic in four sets.
These are a few of the heroes of this year’s U.S. Open. We salute them.