US Open: 5 things we learned

After a fortnight of thrilling tennis in New York, what did we learn? RealSport investigates.

Serena steals Venus’ thunder, even when she’s not playing

A few hours before Venus Williams stepped onto Arthur Ashe for her third round match, reports emerged that Serena Williams had gone into labour. Serena, with a record 23 Grand Slam singles titles for the Open Era, has usually been the Williams sister in the spotlight. And Venus, one of the most gracious players on tour, has always appeared just fine with that.

Before the French Open, Serena announced that she would be taking a hiatus from tennis because of her pregnancy. This led to Venus receiving a level of attention she has not received since she made her Grand Slam debut in 1997 at Rolland Garos. While most players her age have long since retired, some being well into coaching careers, Venus remains on the tour competing. But Venus’ efforts in reaching the third round were somewhat overshadowed by Serena giving birth right before Venus stepped onto Ashe. Despite media outlets focusing on Serena, the elder Williams sister was unperturbed and kept on winning matches, making it all the way to the semi-finals.

Feed a cold, starve a fever, unless you’re Argentinian

In the round of 16, Juan Martin del Potro barely played Dominic Thiem for the first two sets. He didn’t manage even one winner and was down 1-6 2-6. The Tower of Tandil was coughing, lethargic, and sporting a bulbous red nose. He looked set to retire but his Argentinian supporters weren’t ready for his tournament to end. In a capacity-filled Grandstand, chants of “Vamos, Delpo!” were deafening.

The atmosphere turned from tennis to football. ‘Olé, Olé, Olé! Delpo, Delpo’ rang out and fired Del Potro, after three hours and 35 minutes, to a thrilling victory. The big Argentine won through 1-6 2-6 6-1 7-6 6-4. Del Potro gave full credit to his compatriots in the stands for pulling him through the fourth round and pushing him into the quarter-finals. He, in fact, managed to go even further, shocking Roger Federer again in New York before falling valiantly to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.

When the hug at the net is the best part of the match

The women’s final was a total washout. Madison Keys, who was sublime in the semis against Coco Vandeweghe, seemed a deer caught in Sloane Stephens’ headlights in the title match. It was, in fact, hard to watch until the end. After one last Keys forehand found the net, the two friends met for a long embrace. When the two women hugged Stephens could clearly be seen speaking to Keys, who was visibly overcome by the emotion of the moment. It was heart-warming to see two competitors engaged in such a moment. It also lasted 19 seconds and it might well become what the 2017 women’s final will be remembered for.

Don’t bet on anything when tennis comes to New York

It was a tumultuous tournament from the very first coin toss. In round one, most experts and fans tipped world number two Simona Halep to beat controversial wildcard entry Maria Sharapova. Sharapova has struggled with injuries recently and wasn’t match-ready but we all soon learned that a Russian on the comeback trail is not to be underestimated. Sharapova won a three set thriller and made it to the fourth round.

Before the Slam began, Wimbledon champions Federer and Garbine Muguruza were the favourites to be the last two standing. Muguruza fell to Petra Kvitova in the fourth round and Federer to Del Potro in the quarter-finals. If Federer had made it to the semi-finals and faced Nadal, it would not have been terribly shocking to see Nadal win and move on to the finals. In the bottom half of the draw it was a different story. A story summed up by Kevin Anderson. To call the South African a surprise finalist would be the understatement of the decade.

Though many predicted Keys would make a deep run, few imagined Stephens would make it to the finals let alone that she would win. She was ranked 934th just a month ago and now she’s the US Open champion and the world #17. An achievement nothing short of astonishing.

Is age really just a number?

Tennis players are now playing until they are much older. Federer is 36. Venus is 37. Serena plans to return next year as a 36-year-old mum. They are fitter than champions of the past because in today’s world, athletes and amateurs alike know more about nutrition, health, and fitness than ever before. But can that all truly stop Father Time?

Venus deserves all the love she receives for continuing to excel. This year she was a finalist at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. She lost to 23-year-old Muguruza at Wimbledon and 24-year-old Stephens in the semis at the US Open. Stephens then faced 22-year-old Keys in the final at Flushing Meadows. Can Venus win another Slam against one of them or is it time to say goodbye?

Federer was in fine form at Wimbledon, but not so much at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. When he faced Zverev in the finals, just two weeks prior to the US Open, he appeared to be competing at a diminished level. And with questions looming as he came to New York, it was finally confirmed after his loss to Del Potro. Federer said of his defeat “I’m out of this tournament because I wasn’t good enough in my mind, my body and my game.”

Who wouldn’t like to think that 36 is the new 26? But, in tennis, can a 36-year-old ever rally and lob and volley like a 26-year-old? Only time will tell.

What were your biggest take aways from the US Open? Let us know in the comments below!

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