- Matt Wilansky, Tennis editor
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With the Slam season now behind us, what better time to debate things we really don't need to debate. But that's just what we do. So without further ado, a few burning questions for this fall:
More impressive US Open title run, Serena or Nadal?
Serena Williams was expected to win -- and she did. Rafael Nadal was expected to win -- and he did. So the two players who have dominated much of the 2013 season strolled into New York, beat their archrivals in the final, snagged another Grand Slam title, and further etched their names into the greatest-of-all-time discussion. Predictable, eh? Perhaps, but consider this: No one in his right mind could have predicted Nadal was going to win the US Open, never mind string together an infallible 21-0 hard-court season. For a guy who had long been pigeonholed as a clay specialist, his latest feat is remarkable, knowing full well that cement can’t be anything but an impediment to the world No. 2’s health. This surely doesn’t diminish Williams’ run to a 17th Grand Slam title, especially the mental fortitude she showed against a determined Victoria Azarenka in the final. But anything less than a title for Williams would have been considered a failure.
Better success story in New York, Pennetta or Wawrinka?
What’s it like to play in relative obscurity? Stanislas Wawrinka, who has fought for any back-page real estate with Roger Federer, knows better than anyone. No further explanation needed. But at this year’s US Open, the unthinkable happened. Federer found himself reeling in another early-round defeat while Wawrinka played the tournament of his life, crushing defending champion Andy Murray in the quarters and then taking Novak Djokovic into a fifth set before finally conceding in the semis. Flavia Pennetta, on the other hand, helped put Italy back on the tennis radar after winning her much-ballyhooed match against countrywoman Roberta Vinci in the US Open quarterfinals. Pennetta cracked the top 10 four years ago but fell into the middle-of-the-pack matrix, never really making a name for herself until her latest Slam exploits. But considering she is 31 years old and entered New York unseeded and ranked 83rd, her accomplishment is pretty amazing.
Who needs fall success more, Federer or Sharapova?
Roger Federer has been free-falling from mere mortal to ordinary since losing in the second round of Wimbledon. He played a couple of low-tier clay-court events after the All England Club, experimenting with a larger racket. That didn’t work out so well. He reverted to his 90-inch-square head for the US Open, and after a few seamless matches, Tommy Robredo, who was 0-10 against Federer entering the match, eviscerated the Swiss in three swift sets. If nothing else, it only validated what we all were thinking this summer: Federer is inexorably headed toward a life of drivers and putters. For Sharapova, her past couple of months have been marred by off-the-court histrionics. There was the Jimmy Connors coaching drama, the purported name change to “Sugarpova” and her withdrawal from the US Open with a right shoulder injury. The good news for Sharapova, though, is that as long as Serena is not staring her down, she can still beat anyone. Right now, Sharapova has an image issue. Federer’s problems lie in the wild ground game he showed against Robredo, which appears to be as much a mental challenge as anything else. Only match play will fix his summerlong mess.
More important for Djokovic, Davis Cup title or year-end championship?
Here’s the thing: No matter what Djokovic does the rest of the way in 2013, he’s not going to be able to hang on to his No. 1 ranking -- unless Lukas Rosol and Steve Darcis conspire to kidnap Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has zero points to defend, and for all intents and purposes, he just needs to show up and he’ll garner enough points to usurp Djokovic. But after another loss to Nadal, in the US Open final, the year-end championships would be sweet retribution for the Serb. But Djokovic is a team guy through and through. It was Serbia’s 2010 Davis Cup championship that propelled Djokovic to the force he is today. He rode that momentum into the Aussie Open a few months later, won, and then absolutely bludgeoned the field that year, going 70-6 with 10 titles and finishing both 2011 and 2012 as the top-ranked player. So though that streak is bound to end, he will lead his country into another Davis Cup final, this time against the Czechs. And if the Serbs win that championship again, well…
Advantage, Davis Cup