Monday, September 12, 2016

US Open 2016 and Graf's continuing legacy

What an amazing fortnight for Angelique Kerber. She took home the US Open trophy, her 2nd Grand Slam title of the year, by beating Karolina Pliskova in a very tough three-setter. With this win, Kerber takes over the #1 ranking from Serena Williams. She is the first German to be ranked #1 since Steffi Graf. Furthermore, she snaps Williams' streak of 186 consecutive weeks at #1. This is the exact same women's record that Steffi has, a record I thought she would lose this year. As such, Steffi and Serena now share the women's record for most consecutive weeks at #1 (the men's record and the overall record are both held by Roger Federer at an astonishing 237 weeks). Congratulations, Angelique!

For her part, losing finalist Karolina Pliskova made headlines herself when she announced her arrival at the top echelon of tennis when she defeated Serena Williams in the semifinals. Pliskova had been slowly making a name for herself over the last two years, and even moreso in the last couple of months. She led the women's tour in number of aces last year and she is the current ace leader this year as well. More recently, she beat both French Open winner Garbine Muguruza and Kerber en route to a Cincinnati title. She was actually ahead in the final as she was up 3-1 in the third set and seemed on the way to another upset win but in the end, you could see she was just a bit more tired than her more seasoned opponent. If Pliskova continues to work on her fitness and movement, she could very be a future Grand Slam titlist and even a future #1. Her rise to #6 after this tournament is a solid step in the right direction for her.

On the men's side, Stanislas Wawrinka just made a case for a Big Five instead of a Big Four as he won his third Grand Slam trophy, beating Novak Djokovic in four sets. He now has won in three of the four Grand Slam events - the only one missing in his collection is Wimbledon - and at 31, he becomes the oldest male player to hoist the trophy since Ken Rosewall who won in 1970 at the age of 35. Things could have gone very wrong for him though as he faced a match point in the third against Daniel Evans. He saved that and four rounds later, he becomes a champion.

Interestingly enough, Angelique Kerber herself could have had a not-so-good year if not for saving a match point in the first round of the Australian Open against Misaki Doi. If she lost that, she may not have gained the confidence she now has that allowed her to reach the final of Wimbledon, win a silver medal in Rio, take the US Open title, and become world #1. Imagine that. Oh, and Karolina Pliskova had to save a match point herself against Venus in the fourth round.

I understand that this is also the first time that Serena Williams was seeded #1 at the US Open and didn't win. She actually had a solid shot at taking home Grand Slam title #23 that would have allowed her to take over Steffi Graf's current Open Era record (Margarent Court has the all-time record with 24). Instead, her loss keeps her at even footing with Steffi in the Grand Slam title count as well as in the consecutive weeks at #1 record. Amazing how Serena's incredible success has somehow reminded people of Steffi's otherworldly career.

With the last Grand Slam event of the 2016 tennis season having been played out, it would be interesting to see what happens in the WTA Tour Championships and who will end up being #1 at the end of the year.

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