By Mark Preston
The 2014 Emirates Airline US Open Series was one again a resounding success, with the game’s biggest names showcasing their hard-court acumen throughout another sizzling summer season.
The Series, in its 10th year, links eight North American hard-court events to the season’s final Slam – the US Open – and annually provides some of the summer’s biggest blockbuster hits. This year was no exception. Here are just a few of the highlights of a summer Series to remember:
A Series of successes: American John Isner defended his title at the BB&T Atlanta Open in July, defeating Israel’s Dudi Sela in the final. In defending his championship, the big-serving American claimed his ninth career singles crown – four of those have come in Series events. (He’s also twice won the Winston-Salem, N.C., tournament). Cleary, this is one Series in which reruns offer handsome residuals.
The long and short of it: The aforementioned BB&T Atlanta Open final featured a number of highs and lows – and that included the heights of the competitors. At 6-foot-10, Isner towered over the 5-9 Sela, who stood on a box in order to be in the same camera shot as Isner for the post-match TV interview.
Take that to the Bank: In her first tournament after a disappointing third-round exit at Wimbledon, Serena Williams found her feet on the hard courts of the Bank of the West Classic, winning her third title there in the last four years. Williams dropped just one set en route to the title, offering fans an early glimpse at the sizzling summer that was to come.
Whoa, Canada: The men’s Citi Open, held in Washington, D.C., featured an all-Canadian final, as Milos Raonic defeated countryman Vasek Pospisil for the title. It was the first all-Canadian ATP men’s final in the Open era.
Young is semi-tough: At the Citi Open, 25-year-old American Donald Young reached his first semifinal at an ATP event since making the semis in Bangkok in 2011. Young showed remarkable toughness and tenacity in battling back from a set down in his quarterfinal against No. 7 seed Kevin Anderson, winning the match, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2.
Venus rising: In the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Venus Williams showed flashes of the brilliance that once brought her to No. 1 in the sport, conquering her sister – and the women’s game’s current No. 1 – Serena Williams in a three-set thriller. It was the first time older sister had beaten younger sister since the 2009 Dubai event. Despite the loss, Serena still owns a 14-11 career edge in their meetings.
Bettering the best: In winning his first career Rogers Cup title, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga planted top-seed Novak Djokovic in the third round, No. 8 seed Andy Murray in the quarters, No. 7 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the semis and No. 2 seed Roger Federer in the final. Indeed, you’d have to live on a farm to plant more seeds than the Frenchman did that week. The Big Three in that group have accounted for a total of 27 career Grand Slam singles titles. It was the first time since 2004 that the event had crowned a champion not named Federer, Djokovic, Murray or Rafael Nadal.
Doubles indemnity: Rogers Cup defending doubles champions Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares successfully defended their title, beating No. 4 seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo in the final. The win made the pair the first doubles team since 1977 to win the event in back-to-back years.
Six the hard way: Roger Federer toughed out a back-and-forth 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 win over David Ferrer in the final to capture his record sixth title at the Western & Southern Open. The Cincinnati win was Federer’s 80th career singles crown.
First and golden: There aren’t too many career “firsts” left for a player of Serena Williams’ caliber, but the women’s No. 1 won her first-ever title career singles title at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in her sixth appearance at the event. Williams had reached the final in Cincinnati for the first time in 2013, losing to Victoria Azarenka. But in her second career Cincy final, the top seed was all business, overwhelming Ana Ivanovic, 6-4, 6-1, for her 62nd career singles crown.
Century in sight: Bob and Mike Bryan captured their 99th career doubles title at the Western & Southern Open, ousting Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock in the final to gain a measure of revenge against the team that had just weeks before beaten them in the Wimbledon doubles final. The win in Cincinnati set up the American brothers to take career title No. 100 at the US Open – a fitting stage for the greatest doubles pair of all time.
Pitching a shutout: Petra Kvitova captured her second Connecticut Open singles title without dropping a set, sweeping through the draw before taking out Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-4, 6-2, in the final. It was the Czech’s second New Haven title in the last three years. The two-time Wimbledon Champion became just the third woman to win multiple titles in New Haven, joining four-time winners Venus Williams (1999-2002) and Caroline Wozniacki (2008-2011).
Third time’s a charm: The third time proved to be a charm for Lukas Rosol at the Winston-Salem Open. After reaching two previous finals earlier in the year, Rosol finally broke through for the win, posting a gritty 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory over Jerzy Janowicz in the final. The win was the Czech’s second career title.
First to third: When the 2014 Emirates Airline US Open concluded, Canada’s Milos Raonic had finished first among the men in the Emirates Airline US Open Series Bonus Challenge, while Serena Williams finished first on the women’s side. It was the first time Raonic had finished the Series in the top spot; for Williams it was the third time as No. 1, making her the first player – man or woman – to claim the Series’ championship three times.
The pay’s the thing: Williams backed up her sizzling summer with a remarkable run through the US Open, claiming her sixth US Open crown without losing a set. As Series champ, Williams qualified for a $1 million bonus if she also could finish first in Flushing. With her Open win, Williams banked a record $4 million payday. Not an altogether bad summer gig.