Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2018 Western & Southern Open as well as the US Open Series as a whole.
We’re so close, we’re basically just about able to reach out and grasp it.
If the tennis season is one long rainbow that lasts a full year, we’re at the point where we can look ahead at the horizon and spot the big pot of gold at the end—only in this case, before the big pot of gold there’s one equally large just before, in the Big Apple. We only have one final event, New Haven for the WTA and Winston-Salem for the ATP World Tour, and we can finally make our way to Flushing Meadows for what is always the sport’s craziest party.
How did we get here so fast and so soon? And especially, what have we learned in the five weeks since our attention turned to the hard courts after one more dance on the Wimbledon grass surface?
Let’s see if we can unpack it all a little bit. (It’s the same exercise we did for the clay court season; we couldn’t do it for the grass season because there just isn’t enough tournaments played on the surface for us to do it.)
It’s the same trio of usual suspects at the top in men’s tennis.
We keep referring to this current era in men’s tennis as the golden era but we should really insist on the fact that it’s the never-ending one as well: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are, respectively 37, 32 and 31 years old, and they arrive in New York as the three main favourites to win the 2018 US Open.
This isn’t to say that it’s impossible for anyone else to capture this title but after a summer where Djokovic captured the Wimbledon title and finally, mercifully a first crown in Cincinnati, Nadal won the Rogers Cup and Federer managed to make another Cincinnati final, there really is no one on their level. We’ve all been spoiled.
Winning #CincyTennis over Federer, Novak Djokovic has now caught ’em all.
His Slams, Masters, WTFs:
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 19, 2018
The youngsters are coming but they aren’t there quite yet.
All the while, there is a slew of promising youngsters just knocking at the door and angling for a seat at the table: Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Borna Coric, Hyeon Chung and Stefanos Tsitsipas are five of the most promising players on tour, with all five having yet to fully realize and actualize their potential. They’ve each managed to grab the sunshine for themselves a few minutes at a time, but it seems like every time they do it has only reinforced the idea that they still have such a long way to go to reach the mountaintop.
Even Serena Williams has an off day—for a good reason.
Last month, the great Serena Williams suffered the very worst loss of her illustrious career—and now, through a TIME cover story, we learn that there was a very real and explicable reason behind this lopsided loss against Johanna Konta: just before the start of the match, Williams had discovered and learned, while scrolling on Instagram no less, that the killer of her half-sister had been released from parole.
The lesson, always? Stay off Instagram.
Sloane Stephens gearing up for a US Open title defense.
The American Sloane Stephens could be primed for a nice run in Flushing Meadows: she’s been hitting the ball as well as she can and with more gutso, as her run to the Rogers Cup final can attest. Over the past year and a half, Stephens has become a bit more regular in her week-to-week results, which is a good sign for someone ranked in the Top 5 of the WTA and who figures so prominently in top matches in women’s tennis.
The WTA is Simona Halep’s world.
Ever since finally slaying the Grand Slam-less chip on her shoulder earlier this year at the French Open, Simona Halep has been on an absolute tear and captured the Rogers Cup title all the while making the Cincinnati final as well. (Where she inexplicably lost to Kiki Bertens? Whatever.)
Women’s tennis is currently in Halep’s firm grip and for the first time in a very long time, it feels like that’s the case whether or not Serena Williams competes.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG