By Scott Riley, Tennis Editor, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – Serena Williams was expected to capture the U.S. Open title. Marin Cilic … not so much.
Order was restored on the ladies’ side when Serena dominated in New York for two weeks to grab a third straight and Open-era-record-tying sixth overall U.S. Open title in her fourth straight final there. Only Serena and Chris Evert have won the Open six times, male or female, since 1968.
Prior to her arrival in the Big Apple, the 32-year-old Serena had failed to reach even one quarterfinal at the year’s first three Grand Slam events, but that changed in a big way.
Over on the men’s side, of course Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Andy Murray must have won the 2014 U.S. Open title. Right?
In a tournament flooded with upsets, that’s not what happened, as a 14th- seeded Cilic faced 10th-seeded Japanese Kei Nishikori in an unexpected/uneventful men’s final, as Cilic captured his first Grand Slam title in his first major final by pummeling Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Cilic became the first Croat to secure a Grand Slam title since his coach and fellow massive server, Goran Ivanisevic, served his way to a Wimbledon championship in 2001. Nishikori, meanwhile, became the first Asian-born man to perform in a major title tilt.
Note: The 25-year-old Cilic is the sixth different men’s U.S. Open champ in seven years.
Serena had a relatively easy go of it in Flushing, as she won all seven of her matches in straight sets and never lost more than four games in any of her sets.
Her opponent in the final was her 10th-seeded good friend Caroline Wozniacki, who has been resurgent of late, culminating with a trip into her second U.S. Open final in six years. The likable Dane was the 2009 runner-up to Kim Clijsters.
After losing to Serena, Wozniacki said, “You played better than me and you’re an inspiration on and off the court. You’re an unbelievable friend, and you definitely owe me drinks later!”
The two women, in fact, did go out together in Manhattan to celebrate.
Not only did Serena nail down a sixth U.S. Open championship, she moved into a second-place tie with Evert and Martina Navratilova with her 18th Grand Slam title in the Open era. Only the great Steffi Graf (22) has more.
Note: Only one of the top-eight seeds reached the quarterfinals in the women’s draw.
Back over on the men’s side, a blockbuster men’s final got wiped out in the semifinals, when Nishikori shocked world No. 1 and reigning Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic in four sets and Cilic stunned former No. 1 and five-time U.S. Open titlist Roger Federer in straights, as most expected Djokovic and Federer to clash in a sexy Monday finale. The two-time champion and 2013 U.S. Open winner Nadal didn’t get there because he didn’t enter the tournament due to injury, and the 2012 champion Murray missed out on the big match after succumbing to his long-time rival Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
For the first time in the Open era at the U.S. Open, the top-two men’s seeds both exited in the semifinal round. And it marked the first time in 10 years that a men’s Grand Slam final did not include Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.
Nishikori may not have won it all in NYC, but he had the tournament of his life, beating the No. 1 Djokovic, Aussie Open champ Stan Wawrinka and fifth seed Milos Raonic all in succession, just not in that order.
In the match of the tournament, the 17-time Grand Slam king Federer, on a humid Thursday night at Ashe Stadium, showed that even when his game didn’t have all of its flare, he knew how to sneak out a gutsy victory. Flashy Frenchman Gael Monfils pounced all over the Swiss legend for a seemingly commanding two-sets-to-love lead, and even had match points later on, but the elegant Fed somehow eventually assumed control of the match in the fourth set, turning things around for an unlikely five-set win.
Did You Know?: For the first time in 16 years, eight different players captured Grand Slam singles titles. That’s only happened twice before since the start of the Open era.
It’s too early to tell of the staying power of the likes of Cilic, Nishikori, Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov, but there are reasons to believe the Big Four’s dominance, while probably not completely over, is perhaps starting to wane.
By the way, Serena took home $4 million as the latest Open champion, while Cilic received $3 million. Serena garnered an extra $1 million as the result of her finishing atop the U.S. Open Series standings leading up to the Open.
In men’s doubles, the 36-year-old twin Bryan bothers, Bob and Mike, continue to set records, as they captured an Open-era-best fifth U.S. Open title, a record 16th Grand Slam championship and their landmark 100th overall doubles title, a feat unmatched in the history of men’s tennis. And they have won at least one major title 10 years in a row.
On a somber-ish note, this also marked the final television broadcast of the U.S. Open on CBS, which now gives way completely to ESPN. CBS covered the Open for 47 years, or since the inception of the Open era in ’68.