Philadelphia, PA – It should come as no surprise that two of the best tennis players in the world became 2012 U.S. Open champions this week.
Andy Murray finally got off the schneid to secure his first-ever Grand Slam title, while Serena Williams added more hardware to her already-crowded trophy case with her fourth U.S. Open crown and 15th major singles title, which is currently good for fourth place among all women in the Open Era.
Murray has made Great Britain a proud tennis nation once again, as he closed out his brilliant summer by whipping former world No. 1 superstar Roger Federer in the gold medal match at the London Olympic Games last month and then outlasted former/new No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in a pulsating five-set U.S. Open final on Monday to give the Brits their first male major singles champ in 76 years (or in the Open Era).
Note: Murray is the only man to win Olympic gold and the U.S. Open back-to- back.
The world No. 3 Murray blew his two-sets-to-love lead against his good friend Djokovic at the National Tennis Center, but the native of Dunblane, Scotland, cheered on by 007 himself, Scotland's own Sir Sean Connery, managed to hang on by cruising past the five-time Slam champion Djokovic in the fifth and final stanza on Day 15 of the Big Apple fortnight. The epic finale featured the longest-ever tiebreak in a U.S. Open title tilt, which was won by Murray (12-10) in the opening set.
The former world No. 1 Serena, meanwhile, prevailed in Sunday's women's final only after overcoming current top-ranked star Victoria Azarenka in the third set, as the Belarusian slugger held a 5-3 lead and could almost see the finish line. Serena, who won the last four games of the match, even admitted afterward she was preparing her runner-up speech in the latter stages of the bout.
Serena, like Murray, also closed out her summer with Olympic gold and a U.S. Open title. She destroyed fellow former No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the gold medal match last month at the famed All England Club, where, a few weeks earlier, unlike Murray, she also captured a Wimbledon title, her fifth in the quaint London suburb.
Murray also played in a Wimbledon final in July, but the heavy crowd favorite was unable to overcome the great Federer. Murray did, however, win over the crowd big time by sobbing during his on-court post-match interview, saying that he was "getting closer" in terms of winning that elusive major. And that's exactly what he did this week.
The 25-year-old Murray had gone 0-4 in his previous Grand Slam finals, including a loss to Federer in the 2008 U.S. Open title match. But a lot of the bad memories were erased when he outlasted Djokovic in Monday's odyssey at Ashe Stadium, which lasted a U.S. Open-final-record-tying 4 hours, 54 minutes. Earlier in the year, Djokovic beat Murray in an equally grueling almost-five-hour Aussie Open semifinal.
By capturing his first major, Murray joined towering Argentine Juan Martin del Potro (2009 U.S. Open) as the only players to break the Grand Slam dominance of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic. The terrific trio has won 29 of the last 31 Slams dating back to the 2005 French Open.
Not since Fred Perry won the then U.S. Championships in 1936 had a British man hoisted a major singles trophy, leaving the British faithful to wonder if it would ever happen again. Perhaps Murray was starting to wonder the same.
Four times Tim Henman came up a Wimbledon semifinal loser. "Our Tim" also fell in one U.S. Open and one French Open semi, leaving him just shy of reaching a major final on six occasions.
All of Henman's Wimbledon losses (14 in the main draw) were watched dejectedly by hundreds of fans out on the so-called "Henman Hill," which has since become known as "Murray Mount" with the Scot's ascension over the last few years.
Sure, Murray has gotten the proverbial monkey off his back with the massive victory in New York, but I still think he needs to do it at Wimbledon if he wants to perform a successful men's British tennis exorcism.
You have to think that Murray's current coach, the great Ivan Lendl, has had something to do with Murray's emergence over the last few months. Lendl, like Murray, was viewed as a bit of an underachiever in his early years, as the Czech native/American citizen, like Murray, also went 0-4 in his first four major finals.
Lendl, of course, would right the Grand Slam ship en route to eight major championships in the 1980s and '90s. Could Murray also produce eight Grand Slam titles like his stoic coach? Possibly.
One thing that's safe to say is that Murray has officially turned the "Big Three" (Federer, Nadal and Djokovic) into the "Big Four."
Unlike Murray, the soon-to-be-31-year-old Serena has had to overcome a ton of adversity during her great career. Many injuries and other physical ailments, including a potentially career-jeopardizing one last year when she was treated for a pulmonary embolism, and subsequently developed a hematoma that wound up requiring emergency treatment, have kept her from achieving even more Grand Slam fame.
She also did some severe damage to her foot in 2010, when, in a freak accident a few days after capturing her fourth Wimbledon title, she stepped on some broken glass while leaving a Munich restaurant and sliced a tendon in her right foot. Eight months and two surgeries later, Williams was still unsure when she would return to the tennis courts. She did ... of course.
It would appear as though her health crises are over for now, but she's also been plagued by behavioral issues over the past few years.
Who could forget that semifinal night match against eventual champion Kim Clijsters at the Open three years ago when Serena was DQd not long after threatening a lineswoman following an untimely foot-fault call. And last year, when more controversy ensued in the final against Sam Stosur in Flushing when the American had another mental meltdown, this time directing a verbal tirade toward a chair umpire.
Whether you love her or hate her, Serena is clearly one of the best women's tennis players of all-time ... if not the greatest. When she's firin' on all cylinders, I couldn't imagine her losing to anyone, and that includes Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, unless it's on clay, where the American star is vulnerable, as evidenced by only one title at the French Open during her career. Heck, Serena's only ever reached one final at Roland Garros, and that was over 10 years ago.
And, of course, it would be hard to argue against Navratilova on grass, where the Czech-born American piled up a whopping nine singles titles in three different decades.
But I digress.
Serena, like Navratilova, also has captured Grand Slam titles in three different decades, which is certainly a testament to her consistency...and immense talent.
Note: Serena is also the only female player to have earned over $40 million in prize money.
Murray, who will challenge for the year-end world No. 1 ranking, is certainly not in the conversation to be among the best-ever men yet, but he's starting to take little steps in that direction.
For now, however, he's definitely the king of New York, and Serena is the queen.