While it was refreshing to see Marin Cilic join the list of Grand Slam winners at the US Open on Sunday, the tournament has suffered from the lapses of its biggest names.
The Croatian beat Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to become the first player from his country to win a major since his coach Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001.
The disappointing element to a final that lasted less than two hours was the lack of atmosphere, as there was a feeling of after the Lord Mayor’s show following two memorable semi-finals, where Nishikori and Cilic caused separate shocks by beating former champions Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer respectively.
Big Four dominance ending
This year’s final was the first time any Grand Slam final did not feature Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray since the 2005 Australian Open final, and those four have played out arguably the greatest era men’s tennis has ever seen.
It is those colossal forces of tennis (who hold 40 Grand Slam titles between them) that are role models for the sport, and the plain fact is a final does need at least one world class name to attract a great worldwide interest.
Even if recent events could help to promote the game in Asia, as Nishikori became the first Asian man to ever reach a Grand Slam final, a final should be the definitive point, a peak of standard that could not be matched by any other player, but that was not the case on Sunday evening.
That is not to say that the so called “Big Four” have a divine right to contest every Grand Slam final, because they do not, but in comparison to some of the classic finals we have seen in recent years, Sunday’s final is simply not in the same league.
Perhaps it was time to celebrate the quality of players outside the elite, and Nishikori and Cilic were worthy finalists this year, and it is not their job to ensure that the players ranked above them (11th and 15th going into the tournament) are on top of their game.
Lack of suspense
The spectacle was somewhat disturbed by the scheduling, as having a 5pm local time approximate start on a workday must partly explain why Arthur Ashe Stadium only seemed half full at the start of the match, but even when it started to fill, there seemed to be a lull among the spectators, a yearning for something more.
Cilic has deserved his title, as his powerful, attack minded serve and volley tactics was reminiscent of his coach in his prime, and rarely has a player seemed so comfortable and dominant in his first Grand Slam final, with 38 winners to Nishikori’s 19 and winning 80% of points on his first serve testifying this.
The 25-year-old, whose previous longest run in a Grand Slam resulted in a semi-final appearance at the Australian Open in 2010, could also do little about the weariness of his opponent, as Nishikori seemed pedestrian after playing the longer semi-final of the two when beating the world number one in four sets.
There can not be an argument that he had a fortunate draw to help him, because he had to fight his way past fourth seed Tomas Berdych before fighting his way past third seed Federer and then defeating a man who had beaten him in five out of seven previous matches in Nishikori.
The future of men's tennis
There are two ways to look at what has occurred at the US Open this year; either the apparent changing of the guard is refreshing of the game, or it is going to stunt its growth.
Nishikori, Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic have all fought their way into the top 10 of the world rankings on merit, while Stanislas Wawrinka won his first Grand Slam in January at the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal was beaten by a 19-year-old up and coming star in Nick Kyrgios at the fourth round at Wimbledon, Murray has not made the final of a tournament this year, Federer is still searching for his first Grand Slam since winning Wimbledon in 2012 and Djokovic has struggled for form since winning this year’s Wimbledon.
The dominance of the Big Four can not go on forever, but matches of the level such as the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal (won by Nadal 9-7 in the fifth set) or the 2012 US Open final between Murray and Djokovic (won by Murray in five sets and just under five hours), could be consigned to history.
After seeing how women’s tennis has suffered from a lack of dominant players other than Serena Williams in recent years, the excitement of seeing more open tournaments could come with a drop in standard when it comes to the final, and tennis fans can only hope that Cilic’s maiden Grand Slam title is not an example of that.
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