Despite what at first appeared to be a predictable U.S. Open bracket, the grand slam tournament finished with several final twists. Number one seed Novak Djokovic cruised to the men’s final in search of his third slam of 2016, but was upset by Stan Wawrinka in four sets. Meanwhile, Serena Williams missed her first major final of the season, falling to 10th seed Karolína Plíšková in the semifinals. Plíšková subsequently lost to second seeded Angelique Kerber in the championship.
Top seeds Djokovic, Wawrinka, Williams, and Kerber all marched through the early rounds. Andy Murray had trouble early on against Paolo Lorenzi, playing disjointedly with many unforced errors, but he found his rhythm to beat the unseeded Italian in four sets. An absent Roger Federer watched this U.S. Open from the Swiss Alps, nursing an injured knee.
On the men’s side, the French contingent dominated much of the early play, with Gaël Monfils, Lucas Pouille, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all making it to the quarterfinals. Pouille, the 24th seed, won an exhilarating five set match against fourth seed Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. This victory knocked out the last of Spaniards from the tournament, and dashing the country’s hopes of an improved performance.
The French insurgency ended at the hands of Djokovic. In the quarterfinals, the Serbian moved past Tsonga, who succumbed to a knee injury after the second set. Djokovic then went on to defeat Monfils in four sets to make it to the final.
Djokovic’s on-court appearances at this tournament were often short-lived, needing only to complete four out of seven matches including the final. He moved through the bracket with two opponents retiring for injuries and one walkover. In the final, Djokovic met Wawrinka, who was coming off excellent wins against Kei Nishikori in the semifinals and Juan Martín del Potro in the quarterfinals.
Djokovic took advantage of Wawrinka’s slow start, going up 3-0 to start the match. In response, Wawrinka gained momentum and closed Djokovic’s lead, forcing a tiebreaker at the end of the first set. The Serb recollected and won the tiebreaker handily, 7-1.
Unfortunately for Djokovic, Wawrinka remained unaffected by the first set loss and came out with focused play that wore on Djokovic’s strong defense. Wawrinka’s premier backhand proved too much for Djokovic, who saw the second set slip from his grasp 4-6.
Djokovic, still determined, hung tight with his opponent throughout the third set. But leading by one game at 6-5, Wawrinka broke Djokovic to take the set.
Many were expecting a Djokovic revival in the fourth set, as the world number one is known for his phenomenal fitness that allows him to maintain his form late in matches. Thus, fans were surprised when a visibly rattled Djokovic dropped the first three games of the set. The Serbian had to take two medical timeouts during the set for a foot injury but continued to compete in his haggard state. Still, Wawrinka’s momentum proved insurmountable as he won the fourth set 6-3 en route to his first U.S. Open title.
On the women’s side, Williams glided through early rounds as expected. Her dominant two-set wins over Johanna Larsson and Yaroslava Shvedova mollified worries about the shoulder injury that afflicted her during the Olympics.
Williams had a bit more trouble in the quarter-finals against Simona Halep, where Williams made a total 43 unforced errors as opposed to Halep’s total of 17. The American managed to win in a third set, using her powerful serve to advance her offensive game.
Williams met her end against Plíšková in the following round. The tenth seeded Pole had never made it past the third round of a major tournament before, but she had dueled excellently against Venus Williams to make it past the fourth round, and eventually to the semifinals.
Plíšková trounced Williams 6-2 in the first set. A resilient Williams fought back in the second set and earned a tiebreak, but in the end could not complete the comeback. A double-fault by Williams gave Plíšková the match, marking the second year in a row the American lost in the semifinals of the US Open.
A key factor in Plíšková’s victory was the 24-year-old’s out-serving of Williams, despite the latter’s reputation as one of the best all-time servers. Another factor in Williams’s loss may have been a knee injury that had manifested itself the night prior to the match. A notable effect of the American’s loss was the end of her 186-week reign at the top of the WTA rankings, ceding her spot to Kerber.
Winners of men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles were Jamie Murray with Bruno Soares, Bethanie Mattek-Sands with Lucie Šafářová, and Laura Siegemund with Mate Pavić, respectively.
The tournament faced initial trouble with player’s complaints of the newly-renovated Arthur Ashe Stadium. Work on a retractable roof for the stadium, which was intended to allow for play during rain, finished this summer after two and a half years.
Celebration of the roof was stymied due to its effect of accentuating the sound of the audience. Many players have complained of noise from New York fans before, claiming the fans do not respect the silence necessary for the players’ concentration.
“It was so loud,” Andy Murray told Associated Press (A.P.). “I’ve never played like that before….You can’t hear the ball at all. And tennis players do pick up the sound of the ball, to read the spins a little bit earlier and the speed of the serve. Makes it tricky. And that’s something you need to adjust to and get used to.”
Other, more dramatic players such as Rafael Nadal expressed excitement over the new noise.
“I always love the energy and the noise of the New York crowd,” Nadal said to A.P. “It’s just fantastic.”
All in all, this US Open marked the inception of a new era in professional tennis. This new era could be defined not by the dominance of stars like Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Williams, but by a more competitive and broader group of contenders.