In this era of supreme tennis where the Grand Slams keep revolving within the ‘Big Three’, surprisingly, there hasn’t been an ATP player who has defended the US Open title since the year 2008. The last tennis professional to do it was the Swiss maestro, Roger Federer who claimed five consecutive titles at Flushing Meadows and since then, neither Rafael Nadal nor Novak Djokovic has won the title two times in a row.
Rafa’s falling through at US Open defense
Rafael Nadal reached his second hard-court major final at US Open 2010 and the first one being the Australian Open 2009 where he defeated Federer in the finals. In 2010, Nadal defeated Djokovic in four sets but at US Open 2011 finals, it was Djokovic winning over Nadal in four sets.
In 2011, the Serbian had a good command over his service games, he performed well on the net and that denied Rafa to defend his title at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Moreover, Rafa lost his sixth straight match to Novak.
At US Open 2013, Rafa once again won over Djokovic in the finals. During the US Open 2014, he was the defending champion, but before the tournament got underway Nadal withdrew due to his wrist injury and hence skipped the chance of shielding his US Open crown.
Nadal was once again the champion at the American major in 2017 by defeating Kevin Anderson in the finals. During the US Open 2018, Nadal played a toilsome quarterfinal match against Dominic Thiem and in the semifinals, Rafa had to retire in his match against Juan Martin del Potro due to a knee injury and skipped another chance of pulling off his second consecutive US Open title.
In general, Nadal underperforms during the second half of the tennis season and it has been his dilemma for ages as he has still not won the ATP Finals title in his thriving career. However, Rafa has won 75 percent of his final matches at Flushing Meadows and US Open has been Nadal’s most successful hardcourt Slam.
Novak’s incompetence to defend the US Open title
Before lifting up his first US Open title in 2011, Novak Djokovic lost two finals matches in the Big Apple City to Federer and Nadal in 2007 and 2010 respectively. In 2012, he reached the finals and was determined to defend his title, but this time, it was the ‘Big Four’ contender, Andy Murray who dethroned the Serbian at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The ATP men played nearly a five-hour-long final match in New York, Djokovic was at par with Murray in all the aspect of the game, but his unforced errors outnumbered the Brit’s errors by nine and which caused him a setback. Also, Murray sealed the first set in the tiebreaker 7-6(12-10) and that denied the Serb to defend his US Open title.
Novak was consistently making it to the finals of US Open from 2010 to 2016, but he could only win twice. In 2015, Federer was crushed by Djokovic in the finals and 2016 he was once again given the opportunity for his title defense.
This time, a new champion was crowned at the US major as the Swiss, Stan Wawrinka emerged out to be the champion. During the final, Djokovic called the trainer twice in the final set as he was unable to stand on the court. Physically the Serb was distressed, also his toe was bleeding.
With his win over Juan Martin Del Potro in 2018 finals, this year, Djokovic will be opening the American Slam as the defending champion. The top seed of the tournament has had a decent run at Slams this season, Novak is free from all sorts of injuries and has got a significant amount of rest before the US Open’s commencement.
He has all the chances to be the first player in 11 years to defend a US Open title. In contrast to that, Djokovic has won only three US Open finals out of the eight that he has played.
Why Roger Federer could defend US Open titles four times?
It was the time when Roger Federer was on the path of utter dominance and he was on the track of collecting consecutive Wimbledon and US Open titles. He was the top-seed at US Open from 2004 to 2007, and during those years Federer defeated Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic in the championship matches.
After dealing with heartbreak at Wimbledon 2008 finals and losing his four-year-long stay on the summit of the ATP’s roster to Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer pulled off his fifth US Open title as a second seed with victories over Djokovic and Murray in the semifinals and finals.
In 2009, Federer could once again defeat Djokovic in the semifinals. Back then, the Serbian was developing a tennis player, in his early twenties he was still practicing to hold himself on the tennis courts and an experienced Roger could exercise his dominance over maturing Novak.
During that phase, Rafael Nadal had great prowess on clay and he was yet to reach the finals of a hardcourt major. To summarise with, when Federer dominated on the ATP Tour, according to tennis experts, it was considered to be a ‘weak era’ for tennis and talent Swiss star made good use of that opportunity and collected twelve Slams before the Serb made his Grand Slam breakthrough.
Additionally, from 2004 to 2008 Roger Federer played only one five-set match at the US Open, which was against Andre Agassi in 2004 quarterfinals. His next five-set match took place at US Open 2009 finals, but it was Del Potro who snapped Federer’s 41-match winning streak at the US Open.
Federer’s downfall in the New York major
The advent of revived Djokovic had withered away Roger’s sixth American major title reverie. He dealt with injuries and other technical aspects of his game were lacking.
Other players failing to pull off their second consecutive US major
US Open 2009 champion, Del Potro withdrew from US Open 2010 due to a wrist injury. Due to which he could not just defend the title at Arthur Ashe Stadium, also he fell out of the Top 250 ATP Rankings.
Marin Cilic had the opportunity to lift a Grand Slam title at US Open 2014 as Cilic and Kei Nishikori halted Federer and Djokovic respectively from entering the finals. However, the very next year, Djokovic steamrolled over Cilic in the semifinals and knocked out the reigning champion.
After Wimbledon 2017, Stan Wawrinka called off his tennis season due to his knee injury and hence couldn’t play defend his US Open title.
Last Grand Slam of the year
US Open is certainly regarded as the toughest Grand Slams. Mainly due to the time of the year it scheduled. By being the last Slam of the year, all the tennis players have already played 40 to 50 matches before they step into New York City. The players enter the tournament with their prevailing injuries and fatigue which results in upsets in the first week of the major tournament.
Slowest hardcourt major
The slow courts of the US major have contributed to some brutal matches. The long rallies make the tennis match grueling and the players are exhausted. This factor affects the fitness of the tennis player thereby the professionals tend to underperform. (Last year, Jim Courier revealed that the court speeds of the US Open were lowered solely to benefit American players.)
The US Open takes place during the northern hemisphere’s summer. The hot and humid conditions make the playing environment claustrophobic, especially the Arthur Ashe Stadium with its roof closed makes the tennis court feel like a sauna due to lack of air circulation.
Under the poor ventilation conditions, the professionals are unable to maintain their natural style of play. Also, US Open conducts matches during the day and night, the court conditions vary in both the sessions which consequently affects the player’s rhythm in the tournament.
US Open crowd
The audience attending the American major is different from the other majors. The crowd is more vocal than the other Slams. The negative cheering from the spectators pulls down the players and they fail to give their best.
Despite all the odds, the former ATP men like, Patrick Rafter, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe, and Jimmy Connors have defended the US Open title.