Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon focuses on the results so far in the 2017 US Open Series.
Will we get the Cinderella ending we deserve?
In this throwback kind of season, it would seem only fitting that the two players who have been at the foremost centre of just about everything in men’s tennis since 2005, well it would seem fitting if they could give us one last battle.
Roger Federer, 36, versus Rafael Nadal, 31, in the 2017 US Open final, who’s with us?
Just about the entirety of the tennis world would be with us, and we can’t blame them. Two of the greatest to ever play tennis writing yet another chapter in their storied history, it’s the stuff dreams, or Hollywood movies, are made of.
And the thing is, it just might happen for the Grand Daddy of them all, the US Open in Flushing Meadows.
(Okay, we’ve had a five-set classic earlier this year at the Australian Open but what have you done for me lately and all that, you know?)
Granted, this all might have been a little more likely a few months ago just before the summer. Then, Nadal was still just 30 years old and coming off his (seemingly) annual immaculate rampage through the clay court season. He had suffered six losses by that point, including three at the hands of the Swiss Guy, but his dominance was never really in question.
Meanwhile, in Roger Land, all was well too. Federer had decided to skip the French Open because he understood there was no point in trying to challenge Nadal on the Paris clay. He was sitting on two losses in 2017, two fluke ones at that against Evgeny Donskoy and Tommy Haas, and he then promptly went on to win his second Grand Slam of the season at Wimbledon.
To top it off, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who had been on par with if not downright better than Nadal and Federer for the past two or so seasons, had been more or less irrelevant in 2017. They had been playing but, like, they might as well have been Gilles Simon and Tomas Berdych: the two men who were at the centre of things on the ATP World Tour were more or less average. Then Djokovic shut things down, and so did at-times-dangerous Stanislas Wawrinka.
But this week, a mere two weeks before the start of the US Open, things don’t seem as crystal clear as they might have been. Ironically, Nadal may have never been as vulnerable in 2017 as he is right now, on the day that he makes his return at World No. 1. The past few months haven’t been so great for the Spaniard, and his progression to the top of the rankings has more to do with his four titles this year already double the number that he won last year.
And since winning La Decima at Roland Garros, Nadal has six wins to three losses; fine statistics for the average pro, but beneath Nadal’s season so far. The hard courts were never the 31-year-old’s best surface, and 2017 hasn’t changed anything.
For Federer, the US Open is a prime occasion to put his stamp on the season the same way he had so many. We don’t know if you’ve heard but the Swiss already has five titles to his name in 2017 and has suffered only three losses in 38 matches played: the two referenced above and a loss against Alexander Zverev suffered in the Rogers Cup final.
Speaking of Sasha, Zverev could be one to spoil this dream US Open final. The 20-year-old, the #NextGen if you will, has conquered just about it all this year and already seems set to dominate things in men’s tennis.
So yeah, keep an eye on Zverev at the US Open. Unless it’s Nick Kyrgios. Or Dominic Thiem. Or Milos Raonic. Or…
Maybe the Cinderella part is that. It could be anyone.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG