By E.J. Crawford
The US Open delivered the drama once again in 2013, with upsets, surprises, comebacks and the unforgettable matches that will be talked about for years to come. Here’s a look at the top 10 from this past year’s Open:
10. Men’s Second Round: John Isner d. Gael Monfils, 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6
The contrast of styles between the big-serving, 6-foot-9 Isner and the dashing, backboard-like ability of 6-5 Gael Monfils combined to produce one of the most entertaining matches of the 2013 US Open – all playing out before a packed house in Louis Armstrong Stadium. For three hours, the two men exchanged big serves and passing shots, leaving the crowd conflicted between wanting the American to advance rooting for a fifth stanza. In the end, Isner put together enough forehand and drop-volley winners to pull him into the third round in four sets.
9. Men’s Second Round: Lleyton Hewitt d. Juan Martin del Potro, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-1
Del Potro entered the 2013 US Open with high hopes but a balky left wrist. He had reached the semifinals of Wimbledon – his first semi at a major since winning the 2009 US Open – and finished third in the Emirates Airline US Open Series, but he labored in his opening-round win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. And if you’re struggling or sputtering, there is perhaps no worse opponent than Hewitt. The Australian may be a dozen years clear of his 2001 men’s singles title here, but he remains one of the most dogged players on tour. And on a Thursday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world No. 66 displayed vintage form, rebounding from two-sets-to-one down to topple the No. 6 seed and register the biggest early upset on the men’s side.
8. Women’s Third Round: Camila Giorgi d. Caroline Wozniacki, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
Wozniacki entered the third round of the 2013 US Open as the No. 6 seed, a former Flushing finalist and a heavy favorite in her night match against Giorgi, a little-known Italian qualifier ranked No. 136 who had lost in the first round in her only prior US Open appearance. The result was a dazzling match, with Giorgi winning over the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd with her stylish, aggressive game – she hit 46 winners in the match, to just 13 for Wozniacki – and taking control of the match, wearing down Wozniacki to become just the third female qualifier in the last 25 years (Anna-Lena Groenefeld, 2008; Anna Kournikova, 1996) to reach the fourth round.
7. Men’s Fourth Round: Tommy Robredo d. Roger Federer, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4
There were certainly bigger upsets by seed or rank during the 2013 US Open, but none registered like Robredo’s shocking straight-sets dismissal of the five-time champion. First, the stats: Robredo was 0-7 in his seven prior round-of-16 matches at the US Open, while Federer had advanced to the quarterfinals or beyond for nine consecutive years. Moreover, Federer was 10-0 against Robredo for his career, dropping just three sets in those 10 encounters. Now, the context: Federer and Rafael Nadal had played each other 31 times in their careers, including in eight Grand Slam finals, but they had never met in New York; a Federer win over Robredo would set up the tennis’ fans dream quarterfinal. Nadal lived up to his end of the deal, but Federer struggled against Robredo, who summoned perhaps the best tennis of his 14-year career to knock out the former champ.
6. Men’s Semifinals: Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, 2-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
The first set in Rafael Nadal’s quarterfinal victory over Tommy Robredo went 22 minutes. The third game in the fifth set of the semifinal between Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic took 21 minutes. And so it went in one of the best matches of the tournament, with the six-time Grand Slam tournament champion and the first-time Grand Slam semifinalist playing each other to a near draw. Both, in fact, finished the match with 165 points won, but it was Djokovic who prevailed in the important ones. The No. 1 seed took the second-set tiebreak, and while he didn’t win the epic 21-minute slugfest on Wawrinka’s serve, the game seemed to take some of the starch out of the Swiss. Wawrinka held it to go up 2-1, but Djokovic captured the next three games to take control of a match he would go one to win to advance to his fourth consecutive men’s singles final and his fifth overall.
5. Women’s Second Round: Zheng Jie d. Venus Williams, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6
It ran three hours and two minutes, tying for the fifth-longest women’s match in recorded US Open history. And from one set down and a break down in the third, Venus Williams fought back time and again. She trailed, 3-0, in the final set, but clawed back to force a tiebreak. Then, in the breaker, she fell behind, 4-1, before evening it at 5-5. But that would be all the two-time women’s singles champion could muster, with Zheng claiming the final two points to advance to the third round before a capacity crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
4. Men’s Fourth Round: Richard Gasquet d. Milos Raonic, 6-7, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6, 7-5
The rain came on Labor Day, scattering great matches across the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the late afternoon and early evening. The best of those ended up on the intimate Court 17 – a match that started in the gloaming and finished near midnight. Gasquet and Raonic came into the match with reputations as supreme talents still waiting on their breakthrough performances. In the round of 16, both played like this year’s US Open could be that opportunity. Exchanging supersonic serves (Raonic) and sublime single-wing backhands (Gasquet), the two battled through three tiebreaks and five arduous sets before Gasquet closed out the victory in four hours and 40 minutes, saving a match point in the fourth set.
3. Women’s First Round: Victoria Duval d. Samantha Stosur, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
In 2012, Duval came to the US Open as the winner of the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships, a 16-year-old with an infectious personality who was overwhelmed by the Arthur Ashe Stadium stage, falling to three-time champion Kim Clijsters in Clijsters’ final professional tournament. A year older, Duval returned to the US Open in 2013, this time qualifying for the main draw. The stage this time was similar, Louis Armstrong Stadium, and she once again faced a former champion, Samantha Stosur. The result, however, was wholly different. Duval played poised and confident tennis, ousting the veteran Australian in a three-set thriller that was in doubt until the very end.
2. Men’s Final: Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
The men’s final had a familiar feel – it was the third time in four years that Djokovic and Nadal had squared off in the US Open final and it marked their 37th career meeting, making it the most-played men’s rivalry in the Open era. The product was some of the most breathtaking tennis of the year. Nadal controlled the match at the outset, but he lost the handle in the second set and had to scamper just to stay in it in the third. In fact, Djokovic had triple break point at 4-4 to earn a chance to serve for the third set, but Nadal fought of the hole, then fought back from 0-30 down in the next game to break Djokovic and earn the set. The Spaniard ran away with the final stanza, winning eight the match’s last nine games for his second men’s singles title.
1. Women’s Final: Serena Williams d. Victoria Azarenka, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1
While many had deemed the women’s singles final a coronation for Williams, Azarenka came to fight. In the end, it was Williams who pulled out the victory, but it was a match worthy of a championship final – and a fitting sequel to their 2012 three-set classic. Azarenka looked like she had the first set in hand, but Serena battled back. Serena served for the match in the second set, twice in fact, but Vika wouldn’t be denied, winning the set to complete two of the best sets played in women’s tennis in all of 2013. In the final set, Serena showed her mental toughness, putting the second set behind her to capture the two-hour, 45-minute clash between the two best players in the women’s game – a match that would leave fans hoping for a third bout in 2014.