Just short of 750,000 tennis fans attended last year’s US Open at Flushing Meadows in Queens, the heartbeat of New York City. This year, Sloane Stephens and Rafael Nadal are the defending champions.
Of course, for many Brits, huddled in front of their TVs in the early hours of the morning a couple of years earlier, there was that unforgettable moment. Deep in the final set of a gripping final, Novak Djokovic’s return scooted an inch or two beyond the baseline and Harold Mahony (in 1896) was no longer the last Scot to win a Grand Slam title. (Fred Perry in 1936 if you’re counting the whole of the UK!) Andy Murray had unforgettably triumphed on the third of Djokovic’s four consecutive finals – out of which he surprisingly won only a single title.
It’s no surprise that so many British tennis fans now consider their trip to the tournament a terrific way to spend a late summer vacation. Mind you, many have done so for years now, still thrilling to the atmosphere that is definitely not that of Wimbledon. It’s always raucous and full of opinions, much as can be said for this great city and its people!
It’s certainly worthwhile considering there are some terrific ticket, hotel and travel packages still available for this year’s event. Apart from the tennis, it doesn’t really need to be noted how much else is available to enjoy, amaze and wonder at in one of the world’s great cities.
The event itself was originally called the US National Championship and was first contested in 1881. This was on grass courts at the Newport Casino on Rhode Island. Richard Sears was the winner, as he was for the following six years. For many years, up until 1911, it was a challenge tournament, the winner of that all-comers competition then taking on the defending champion. As the years progressed, the event moved on to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, but it’s now almost 40 years since it first relocated to the hard courts of its accepted home in Flushing Meadows.
As ever, tennis fans are eagerly anticipating who might emerge as the champions of the 2016 vintage. In the women’s tournament, most betting folk might not bother, as Serena Williams is likely to be the odds-on favourite. She has three-in-a–row behind her here, twice beating Victoria Azarenka and last year enjoying a 6-3 6-3 straight sets victory over Caroline Wozniacki. Incidentally, it’s an amazing 14 years since her sister last won here (guess who she defeated) and only a year less since her last final appearance (guess who she lost to). The last player to beat Serena was Aussie Samantha Stosur in the 2011 final.
For the men, it’s a full seven years since Roger Federer won the last of his five consecutive titles, losing to the Argentinean Juan Martin del Potro in 2009 as he went for six. Every year now, fans tend to wonder if the years are starting to catch up with this amazing talent, but each time he only seems to confound. If he did win, would it even be a last hurrah?
Rafael Nadal won just two years ago but he still seems to be struggling with his fitness as the lower half of his body is increasingly unwilling or unable to respond to the heart and mind. Fully fit, he would be a threat to anyone and a truly popular winner. As usual now, it’s hard to see beyond Novak Djokovic, but defending champion Cilic proved that a less-fancied player can get there, as has Kei Nishikori, last year’s beaten finalist who made the quarters at this year’s French and Australian Opens. It’s thoroughly likely that the home nation’s long wait for a male singles winner, stretching back to Pete Sampras in 2002 and Andy Roddick a year later, will continue.
As well as Andy, Jamie Murray will be a contender for the title, and the older sibling is showing great recent form in the doubles, seeming at last to have found one of his ‘Peers’ he can really gel with. For Andy, this might even be his last major tournament before life changes as fatherhood beckons early in 2017, so it would be the first of two memorable highpoints in his life.
It’s difficult to know how many of the other British challengers will make it to the event itself. There may be a chance to cheer one or two, sadly probably only briefly, but names such as Heather Watson, Laura Robson or James Ward deserve support, as they work tirelessly to make an impact in the rankings.
One last thought if you’re lucky enough to be taking advantage of the superb ticket, hotel and travel packages and heading for Queens in late August and early September. It might be worth catching some of the younger player tournaments and see who you can future-spot. After all, the winner of the junior championship in 2004 was a teenager called Andrew Barron Murray OBE!