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2014 US Open Recap: Serena’s Triumph, Marin’s Moment

Serena Williams defeats Caroline Wozniacki in the women's singles final on Day 14 of the 2014 US Open.
By E.J. Crawford
Monday, September 8, 2014

The US Open has long had the reputation as the most egalitarian of Slams, with cement floors that provide sure footing, a true bounce and a medium pace of shot. In 2014, that produced a tournament flooded with upsets, with only one of the top eight seeds reaching the women’s quarterfinals and a men’s finale that featured two final-round debutantes – one seeded No. 10, the other No. 14.

The result was the sixth different men’s champion in seven years and a women’s winner who single-handedly defies any push toward parity. Meet the 2014 US Open champion you never expected – men’s winner Marin Cilic – and the women’s champion who would not be denied – the indomitable Serena Williams.

Since 2005, men’s tennis has been dominated by the Big Four of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. And while they have certainly been the Open’s most successful players in recent years, New York’s own Grand Slam has not allowed them to rule with the same collective iron fist as in Melbourne (where Djokovic has won four of seven), Paris (Nadal winning six of seven) or London (two each for Djokovic, Federer and Nadal). This year’s men’s final ushered in a new entrant in Cilic, a surprise champion but a most deserving one. He did not steal a title here, did not luck into the trophy. He seized it by dismantling the world’s best, crushing No. 6 Tomas Berdych and No. 2 Roger Federer, both in straight sets, to reach the final, where he dispatched No. 10 Kei Nishikori with a frightful – for the rest of the men’s tour, at least – brand of power tennis.

On the women’s tour, the power game is the dominion of Serena Williams, now the three-time defending US Open singles winner. The world’s toughest tennis demands a durable champion, and there is no one in the game more resilient than Serena. Her play on the way to the 2014 crown was nothing short of sublime – she was never tested, pushed or otherwise bothered in rolling to the title – solidifying her place among the game’s all-time greats. It was her sixth US Open women’s singles championship – tied with Chis Evert for most in the Open era – and her 18th Grand Slam victory – matching Evert and Navratilova, trailing only Steffi Graf’s 22 for the Open era lead. And while she may be a few weeks shy of 33, there is no sign of her slowing down.

Partnering Serena in the record books on this fortnight was another pair of sure-fire Hall of Famers, Bob and Mike Bryan, who won their Open era-best fifth US Open men’s doubles title and their landmark 100th championship as a team, a feat unmatched in the history of men’s tennis. And joining Cilic on the list of first-timers were the women’s doubles champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina as well as Sania Mirza, who won the mixed doubles title with Bruno Soares, who had previously won the mixed here in 2012.

So there we are – titlists old and new, expected and unexpected, once again demonstrating that at the US Open, there is always a trophy for the taking and a little something for everyone – which is good, because a lot of you showed up, with more than 700,000 passing through the turnstiles for the eighth time in nine years.

So as these 15 days pass behind us, here’s a recap of the tournament that was, the 2014 US Open:

Player of the Tournament: At 32 years old, Serena Williams should be slowing down. Every point should be a little longer, every match a little tighter, every tournament a little more arduous. But she never made it look easier than she did at this year’s US Open. The younger Williams sister simply dominated the fortnight, never losing a set and dropping just 32 games (in 14 stanzas) to run away with her sixth Open title. In fact, no one got closer to her in any one set than 6-3, and her closest match of the tournament was a lopsided, never-in-doubt finale that she secured, 6-3, 6-3, over a rejuvenated Caroline Wozniacki. Now at 18 Grand Slam titles, there is little history left for Serena to chase. But with the last three women’s singles titles in her pocket, and a seemingly unending supply or talent, nerve, verve and desire, there appears to be no stopping the world No. 1 – certainly not this year, and perhaps in the many years to come.

Match of the Tournament: Roger Federer has long been known for his excellence, elegance and easy grace. But you don’t win 17 Grand Slam titles without a little grit, and on a humid Thursday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Swiss showed that even when his game didn’t flash, he knew how to gut out a victory. Gael Monfils was a shot-making wonder in the early – and even middle – going, blowing through Federer in the opening two sets, playing him tough in the third and gaining two match points on Federer’s serve in the fourth. But Swiss played with a champion’s mettle, fighting off each match point to pull even at 5-5 in the fourth stanza, then taking over the match from there. While the five-time Open champion surged, Monfils sagged, playing a disappointing fifth set that didn’t live up to the standard of the first four. Still, it was a riveting match between two of the most stylish, athletic players on tour, and when it was all said and done, with Federer advancing to his first Flushing semifinal since 2011, there was only one lonely Frenchman on court who was disappointed with the encounter.

Upsets of the Tournament: It was a foregone conclusion: No. 1 Novak Djokovic versus No. 2 Roger Federer for the 2014 US Open men’s singles title. That is, until, shockingly, it wasn’t. First, 10th seed Kei Nishikori defeated Djokovic in four sets, stunningly beating the 2011 US Open champion at his own game, racing down more balls, defending better and pounding harder, deeper ground strokes. Then 14th seed Marin Cilic simply blew right past five-time champion Federer, the match never in doubt as the 6-foot-6 Croat eased to a straight-sets victory. When the clouds had parted on a gray afternoon, men’s tennis was looking at a brand new landscape. For the first time at the US Open in the Open era, the top two seeds were both defeated in the semifinal round, replaced in the final by two double-digit underdogs, neither of whom had ever previously advanced to a major final. (In fact, they had just one Slam semi between them, and that was for Cilic at the 2010 Australian Open.) And for the first time since the 2005 Australian Open, there was not a single member of the Big Four competing in a Grand Slam final. A changing of the guard? Probably a little premature to say. But clearly the list of contenders in men’s tennis is growing – and with Cilic’s victory two days later, the list of active major champions had increased by one.

Quote of the Tournament: “You played better than me and you’re an inspiration on and off the court. You’re an unbelievable friend, and you definitely owe me drinks later!” – Caroline Wozniacki, addressing Serena Williams during the on-court ceremony following the women’s final. The two, in fact, did go out together in Manhattan after the match to celebrate.     

Looking Ahead: The 2014 US Open seemed to settle a roller coaster women’s season, with Serena Williams re-establishing her supremacy over the women’s game. But the year in Grand Slam tennis also hinted at a time post-Serena. Maria Sharapova, 27, won the French Open again this year, and Caroline Wozniacki, 24, seemed to regain her game in the two weeks in Flushing Meadows. Moreover, while neither achieved here what they did in the previous 2014 Slams, Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard are very much candidates to one day succeed Williams as the queen of New York. And whether it was Garbine Muguruza at Roland Garros, Belinda Bencic here or even fast-rising American star Madison Keys, there are other young players, all 20 or younger, on the horizon and primed for a major breakthrough.

The more seismic shift came in the men’s game. It is too early to judge the staying power or either Marin Cilic or Kei Nishikori, but both shone under the Open’s bright lights, giving us every reason to believe that they are players on the come. Add in Stan Wawrinka’s Australian Open title, the breakout seasons of 23-year-olds Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov, and the rising crop of fearless young talent such as 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios or 20-year-old Dominic Thiem, and there are reasons to believe that the Big Four’s total dominance, while certainly not completely over, is waning.

Of course, every year differs. No one forecast Cilic-Nishikori, as no one predicted the onslaught that took out all the top women’s seeds save Serena. Those who reign through two weeks in Flushing Meadows earn their titles – so they must come hungry, prepared and ready to battle. If we know nothing else, we know that the same will hold true in 2015.