Serena Williams won her fifth US Open women’s singles title in 2013 and is now just one behind Chris Evert’s Open-era record of six.
© Philip Hall
By E.J. Crawford
The 2013 US Open was one for the ages – and one for the aged. Three of the four women’s semifinalists – and five of eight quarterfinalists – were 30 or over, and the average age of the four men’s semifinalists was 27, with none younger than 26. Moreover, Flavia Pennetta made her first Grand Slam semifinal at 31, and Stanislas Wawrinka did the same on the men’s side at age 28.
Aptly enough, it was the nearly 32-year-old Serena Williams who lifted the women’s trophy. The world No. 1 defeated Victoria Azarenka on Sunday in a hard-fought final for her fifth women’s singles championship, becoming the oldest in the Open era – and the oldest overall since 1950 (Margaret Osborne duPont) – to win the women’s singles crown. In the process, she also broke her own record for the greatest number of years between her first (1999) and last singles title.
The men’s title tilt also was a battle of veterans, with Novak Djokovic (26) and Rafael Nadal (27) facing off in the Flushing finale for the third time in four years. And as was the custom at this year's Open, the older man won, with Nadal capping an incredible comeback from injured to untouchable with his second US Open championship and second Grand Slam title of the year, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. It was also Nadal's 13th Grand Slam crown, which puts him third all-time behind only Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14), and pushed his record on hard courts this year to an immaculate 22-0.
The US Open year of the veteran extended to doubles as well, where 40-year-old Leander Paes won the men’s doubles title with 34-year-old Radek Stepanek, and 36-year-old Max Mirnyi teamed with relative youngster Andrea Hlavackova, 27, to claim the mixed championship. Hlavackova also won the women’s doubles title, with 28-year-old Lucie Hradecka.
With no Grand Slam tennis left to play this year, let’s now take a look back at the tournament that was: the 2013 US Open.
Players of the Tournament: It's an easy call to go with the two singles champions as the player of the tournament, but in this case, they are also the most deserving. Serena Williams, the most dominant player in women’s tennis, was her most dominant self in the lead-up to this year’s women’s singles final, losing just 16 games in her first six matches, and she showed her maturity and fortitude in the finale, rebounding from losing a second set that she served for twice to nearly run the table in the third. With her 7-5, 6-7, 6-1 victory over world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, Serena matched Steffi Graf with five US Open women’s singles championships, one behind Chris Evert’s Open-era record, and moved within one Slam of matching Evert and Martina Navratilova (18 each) for the second most in the Open era (trailing only Graf, with 22).
Rafael Nadal was equally as impressive in his run through the draw. He missed the 2012 US Open with a knee injury but returned playing the best hard-court tennis of his career, proving that point by defeating the world's best hard-court player, Novak Djokovic, in four impressive sets for his second Flushing crown. For good measure, he joined Serena in taking home the largest payday in tennis history – $3.6 million as the US Open champion and Emirates Airline US Open Series winner. Put it all together, and it adds up to two historic performances from two of the greatest players in the history of the game.
Match of the Tournament: 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. Richard Gasquet and Milos 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 a 6-7, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory in four hours, 40 minutes, saving a match point in the fourth set.
Upset of the Tournament: There were certainly bigger upsets by seed or rank, but none registered like Tommy Robredo’s shocking straight-sets dismissal of five-time champion Roger Federer in the fourth round. 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 here 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 Nadal have 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 was positively un-Fed like against Robredo, who summoned perhaps the best tennis of his 14-year career to knock out the former champ, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Quote of the Tournament: “You have to be on the same page, for sure. Definitely have to get a few steps to lift off to get enough height. And it does help that you're the same size, because if I'm chest bumping you, [and] I'm breaking your nose every time, it's going to be a disaster. I mean, we have the twin thing going for us. You've got to do it on a great point or at the end of a match because it doesn't look good when it's a crowd just of, you know, crickets.” – Bob Bryan, on how to do the proper flying chest bump, after he and brother Mike’s come-from-behind, third-round victory over Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil
Surprise of the Tournament: There was little to indicate a deep run for Flavia Pennetta at this year’s US Open. She entered Flushing Meadows with a 16-17 record on the year, failed to qualify for the Emirates Airline US Open Series event in New Haven, Conn., and had fallen to No. 83 in the world due largely to a lingering wrist injury. Then the 31-year-old former Top-10 player won her first-round match over reigning NCAA champion Nicole Gibbs and began an unforgettable run: victories over, in order, No. 4 seed Sara Errani, 2004 champion and No. 27 Svetlana Kuznetsova, red-hot No. 21 Simona Halep and No. 10 Roberta Vinci. All in straight sets, no less. She would lose in the semifinals to Victoria Azarenka, but not before the Italian established her best-ever finish in a Grand Slam event and improved her ranking by more than 50 spots.
Goodbye of the Tournament: Last year the US Open bid goodbye to beloved champions Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick. This year it was another American fan favorite, James Blake, who stepped aside. The 33-year-old, who was born in Yonkers, N.Y., and learned to play at the Harlem Junior Tennis program, was always most at home in New York. He inspired the “J-Block,” a group of friends and family who cheered him throughout each match, and twice reached the US Open quarterfinals. His stay this year was relatively brief, having lost in five sets in the first round to Ivo Karlovic, but he left memories to last a lifetime.
Game of the Tournament: The first set in Rafael Nadal’s quarterfinal victory over Tommy Robredo went 22 minutes. The third game in the fifth set of the Day 12 semifinal between Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic took 21, a ridiculous back and forth that featured multiple game points, multiple break points and a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd. In the end, Wawrinka would hold, but it would prove costly. Djokovic won the next three games to take control of the fifth set in his eventual 2-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
Player of the Tournament (Doubles Edition): For all the pre-tournament promise of the Bryan brothers completing the calendar-year Grand Slam or the Williams sisters winning here for the third time, it was Andrea Hlavackova who walked away with two US Open trophies. She won the mixed doubles with Max Mirnyi and the women’s doubles with Lucie Hradecka to become the first woman to sweep the US Open doubles crowns in the same year since Cara Black in 2008.
Shot of the Tournament: As it turns out, the tournament’s best shot came on the tournament’s first day. It looked like a standard overhead for Ryan Harrison but turned into a spectacular shot for Rafael Nadal. The No. 2 seed returned Harrison’s overhead from the net with one of his own from well beyond the baseline, curving it around the net and into the court for a clean winner in his straight-sets, first-round victory.
Looking Ahead: The Grand Slam season has now come to a close, setting up a 2014 in which Serena (17) will attempt to pass Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert (18) for the second-most Grand Slam titles of the Open era (trailing only Steffi Graf, with 22). On the men’s side, the Open may not have delivered Rafa vs. Roger, but it now appears that Rafa vs. Nole is the one to watch. For 2014, and perhaps for many years to come.