Go 0-for-2014? Not a chance
New approach brings back old swagger
If you had told me at the start of 2014 that either Serena Williams or Roger Federer would have a 6-3 record in majors heading into the US Open and the other would be 14-3, I would have raised an eyebrow.
No major championships between the two all-time greats? Odd, but maybe ...
But if you had told me it would be Williams sitting at 6-3, I would have come right out and called B.S.
The most dominant player, both mentally and physically, in the women's game not even sniffing another Grand Slam? Not a chance.
And that's exactly why she's due. Now.
Expect some serious Serena magic next week at Flushing Meadows, magic along the lines of Williams winning her 18th major, passing Federer (although I'm not ready to rule out the possibility of them both adding to their major haul, especially with Rafael Nadal out) for the most among active players and tying Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth place on the all-time women's list.
Granted, I expected all of that to happen about nine months ago. And some pretty crazy things have occurred since, most notably that bizarre "Walking Dead" imitation in her second-round doubles match at Wimbledon. But the truth then was the same as it is now: Every tournament is still Williams' to lose. She's got the best and biggest game in the game.
She proved that for the umpteenth time last week at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati when she won her fifth title of the season, taking out Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals without her A-game and crushing Ana Ivanovic in the final when things -- 12 aces! -- finally clicked.
"Definitely my best performance of the summer," she said on Sunday after improving her 2014 record to 38-6. "Hopefully not the last."
It was 15 years ago, back in 1999, when Williams won her first Grand Slam, at the US Open. I can still recall that awkward conversation when a 19-year-old Chelsea Clinton got on the phone to congratulate a 17-year-old Serena on her breakthrough title.
Williams is 32 now, long past that awkward phase, but still smack-dab in the middle of her dominant one. We'll see it again. At the Open.
Remember way back in his salad days when Roger Federer barely lost -- to anyone, anywhere?
And then something happened. He surrendered his veneer of invincibility. Actually, it was worse than that. Federer's losses started to pile up, one after another, to the point where he was no longer considered one of the foremost threats at notable tournaments. His automatic entry into semifinals became quarterfinals, if not worse. A year ago, Fed hit his career nadir, losing in the second round at Wimbledon, the tournament he had owned for years.
But then something else happened: 2014. His swagger returned, as did his results. So here we are, mere days away from the final Grand Slam of the season, and Federer is a legit threat. Look no further than his run in Cincinnati this past week.
For one, he's in a rush to win -- literally. Federer's tactical adjustment under the guidance of a guy who knows a little something about volleying, Stefan Edberg, has been a game-changer, so much so that he leads the entire tour with 49 match wins heading into Flushing. Not bad for a 33-year-old dude.
Make that eight trips to a final this season, more than double what he accomplished a year ago. Fed has three titles, but his loudest statement came at the All England Club, where only a break of serve in the fifth set came between him and an eighth trophy.
As accomplished as Federer is, he's always acted like a guy with something to prove, even if his words suggested otherwise. But this season, Federer looks content with his place in tennis' pantheon. He's enjoying the game and he's healthy. Oh, and he's 12-4 against the other top-10 players in the world this year. Oh, and Rafael Nadal isn't playing. Oh, and Novak Djokovic is playing his worst tennis of the season.
What does all this mean? Perhaps a lot of nothing, yet given not only Federer's results but also the clarity and consistency with which he's performed, what's to stop him from another thriller in New York?