NEW YORK – Champion at Wimbledon in both singles and doubles. Winner again at the All England Club in both events, four weeks later at the London Olympics.
Nobody would blame Serena Williams if she felt worn down by this year’s jam-packed tennis calendar. She doesn’t see it that way, though – even with the grind of the U.S. Open looming.
“I look forward to this,” Williams said. “It’s almost like a launching pad for what I want to do for the rest of the hard-court season.”
In a way, yes, today’s start of the year’s last Grand Slam actually marks something of a new beginning – the kickoff of a six-month stretch on the hard courts that winds down at the 2013 Australian Open.
Call it mental gymnastics, a creative way of looking at things or whatever else might apply. What can’t be denied is that in an Olympic year, the U.S. Open – considered the toughest test in tennis even under normal circumstances – is essentially the season’s fifth major.
“A lot of them,” Jim Courier said, “are running on fumes.”
Indeed, many top players have had to double down on their fitness and find new, creative ways of organizing their schedules to get ready for what they hope will be a two-week grind in the fishbowl that is Flushing Meadows.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic barely took any time off following his fourth-place finish at the Olympics. He traveled to Toronto for a hard-court tuneup, played six matches and won the tournament.
Then, he flew to Cincinnati, played six more matches but lost to Roger Federer in the final. No shame there, though that loss to Federer did include an uncharacteristic 6-0 whitewashing in the first set.
“Mentally, I wasn’t there, wasn’t fresh,” Djokovic said. “It had been a very busy time starting at the Olympic Games, and maybe that caught up with me at the end.”
No big deal in Cincinnati. But a half-hour mental lapse in New York could mean the end of Djokovic’s quest to win what has, essentially, shaped up as the tiebreaking major for 2012.
Second-seeded Djokovic won the Australian Open. Rafael Nadal won the French Open. Top-seeded Federer won Wimbledon. Just for good measure, third-seeded Andy Murray won the Olympics, meaning the U.S. Open could essentially determine the player of the year in men’s tennis.
Though the women’s game has been more in flux than the men’s of late – seven different winners over the past seven Grand Slams – the math is essentially the same in 2012: Three of the top four women – No. 1 Victoria Azarenka (Australia), No. 3 Maria Sharapova (France) and No. 4 Williams (Wimbledon) – have major titles this year and all need this one to break the tie.
Where things differ is in the way Williams has been playing of late. She lost a total of 17 games over six matches in the Olympics, punctuating it with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Sharapova in the final – the kind of drubbing that would have to come to mind if the two should meet in the finals.
Former No. 1 Kim Clijsters said she’ll retire after the U.S. Open.