The Best of the US Open 2012

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Best Tactician — Ever since Murray was a teenager studying 1990s stars on TV, he has been fascinated by tennis tactics and how best to use them. Experienced at dealing with the notoriously vicious Scottish winds, Murray artfully managed gusting winds he called “the worst conditions I’ve ever played in” when he outthought and outplayed Tomas Berdych in a four-set semifinal. Murray kept his unforced errors down by not hitting near the lines, using topspin effectively when with the wind, and taking small, corrective steps to align his body properly and keep his balance. With newfound confidence gained by winning the Olympic gold medal, he applied those same tactics against Novak Djokovic in the final. When the wind abated, though, he attacked opportunistically with his improved forehand and powerful backhand and absorbed Djokovic’s power without over-hitting. The smart tactics paid off beautifully in the deciding set when Djoker’s spirit, body (thighs) and shot selection broke down. Murray won eight of the last ten points to prevail 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.

Best Tour de Force — Love her or loathe her, you have to admit a healthy, focused and in-form Serena Williams is the most fearsome force women’s tennis has ever seen. Just four weeks after Serena, who turns 31 on September 26, demolished six straight Olympic foes, allowing just 17 total games, she crushed her first six US Open opponents, dropping only 19 games. When Serena blasted a ferocious backhand winner to wrap up the first set, 6-2, in the final, Victoria Azarenka looked like she’d lose her seventh straight match to muscular Serena at a Grand Slam event. Instead, Azarenka shockingly captured the second set 6-2 and surged to a 5-3 third-set lead, as Serena kept erring while she played solidly. Three unforced errors by the nervous Belarusian helped the determined but calm Floridian break her serve and then attack fiercely to finish her brilliant 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 comeback victory. Later, Serena, who hit 44 winners (compared to Azarenka’s 13), confided, “I really was preparing a runner-up speech at one point.” Instead, she jumped for joy six times after she won her fourth US Open and 15th major title, leaving her just three behind two legends, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

Best Match — David Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic, two under-6’-tall European veterans, were enjoying career years when they collided in the US Open quarters. Ferrer, nicknamed “Little Beast”, reached the Aussie quarters, French semis and Wimbledon quarters. Tipsarevic, who reads Nietzsche and Dostoevski, ranked a career-high No. 9. After a slow first-set start, the Serb started unloading big forehands in the second set. The rest of the match pitted his spectacular shotmaking against the dogged the Spaniard’s superlative counter-punching. In the fifth set, the underdog Tipsarevic led 4-1 and then 5-4, 30-30 (on Ferrer’s serve)—just two points from victory. But Ferrer escaped with a forehand winner and volley winner and combatively yelled “Vamos” thrice toward Tipsarevic. After Ferrer pulled out a 7-4 tiebreaker to take the 4-hour, 31-minute duel, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), he graciously said, “The match was very emotional. My opponent, he deserves also to win this match, no?”

Best Set and Game — The second set of Novak Djokovic’s 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 quarterfinal triumph over 7th-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, provided both. “Del Potro hit seven shots that would that would have been winners against anyone else,” praised ESPN analyst John McEnroe about Djokovic’s defensive wizardry to break serve for 5-5. Djoker then held serve for 6-5. In a riveting, 17-minute game, Delpo escaped three set points and hit five winners, while equally determined Djokovic staved off three set points before succumbing. “It was a truly great effort by Delpo to hold,” said McEnroe. It may have drained Delpo too much, though, because Djoker grabbed a 5-3 tiebreaker lead and then won a phenomenal hard-hitting point for 6-3 and took set point on a backhand, down-the-line winner. McEnroe called it “one of the all-time great sets I’ve ever seen.”

Best Fond Farewells — Kim Clijsters, who captured four majors, including three US Opens, retired at the Open. “Kim’s such a great sportswoman,” praised former superstar Evert. “She’s been a role model for so any young women tennis players.” Andy Roddick announced his retirement during the tournament, before playing an exciting swan song match against Del Potro. Roddick won the US Open in 2003 when he finished the year ranked No. 1, and also went 6-0 to lead the U.S. to the Davis Cup title in 2007. “Andy’s big legacy and the big culture change he made for U.S. tennis was with Davis Cup,” said ESPN analyst Darren Cahill. “If you look at Fish and Blake and you go to Querrey and even Ryan Harrison, Andy has made playing for America in Davis Cup something that everyone has to do.”

Best Quotes —“I proved that I can win the Grand Slams. I proved that I can last four and a half hours and come out on top against one of the strongest guys physically that tennis had probably seen especially on this surface. So they would probably be the things that I would say I have learned tonight: To not doubt myself physically and mentally from now on.” —Andy Murray, after outlasting defending champion Novak Djokovic in a riveting 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 US Open final, which included a 24-minute first set tiebreaker and equaled the longest US Open final in history, for his first Grand Slam title.

For me, she’s the greatest player of all time. She took the game to the next level. Having players like that on the women’s tour right now is something priceless—something you cannot take away.” —A gracious Victoria Azarenka, after she extended superstar Serena Williams to 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in a thrilling US Open final.

THE END

Paul Fein has received more than 30 writing awards and authored three books, Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies; You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers; and Tennis Confidential II: More of Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Fein is also a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with a Pro-1 rating, former director of the Springfield (Mass.) Satellite Tournament, a former top 10-ranked men’s open New England tournament player and No. 1-ranked Super Senior player in New England.

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