13 September 2017

Nigeria: A Spectacular Ending to the World's Tournament

In his autobiography, Boris Becker describes America as "where everything is ten times bigger and louder than Europe." In its tourism promotion, the Republic of South Africa describes itself as "all the world in one country." Is there any contention that America is the country of the world? It is more than a calendar placing that the US Open is the concluding Grand Slam of the Tennis Year. It is the tournament of the whole world.

At the end of the 2016 US Open, another German with a French first name, Angelique Kerber, described New York as having "the tournament where dreams are made." The 2017 event lived up to these accolades given by two objective admirers of America and its showcase tournament that became the first tournament "open" to professionals and amateurs in 1968 when Arthur Ashe defeated Tom Okker of The Netherlands to win the maiden event at the exclusive West Side Tennis Club Forest Hills. As an Amateur at the time, Ashe could not collect Prize Money but received ten United States Dollars.

On the outset, the 2017 was predicted to be wide open; with no clear winners in sight. In tennis, that is an exciting break from boredom of the same players carting away the silver and cash. There is a persistent yearning for an upstart to displace the old guard. This happened in Nigeria when Yemisi Alan (now a Flight Captain) achieved an upset victory over his mentor Lawrence Awopegba on the grass-courts of the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club to win the All Nigeria Championships in 1974.

The US Open fulfilled all predictions and far more. After eight months of playing all over the world, injuries constituted a factor that accounted for the absence of Djokovic, Warwrinka, Nishikori and Murray, whose 11th hour pull out scattered the lower half of the draw. But for the rules, the seeding would have been juggled and Federer would have occupied the 128th spot as second seed. On the women's draw, Serena Williams was expecting a baby while Victoria Azarenka had injury.

It was an Open with many upsets. Simona Halep had the misfortune of playing Maria Sharapova in the first round, and she lost. She could have risen to the top ranking merely by reaching the quarterfinals. Many top seeded ladies lost in the first two rounds; topped by the defending champion Kerber's loss to Naomi Osaka.

There were many surprises while new stars emerged. The promising Dominic Thiem lost a heartbreaker to Del Potro, who was returning to the tour after injury time off. Their five-set encounter in the Grandstand was considered one of the best matches of the Open. The "graceful old lady" Venus Williams had a Cinderella run to the semi-finals and lost to Sloane Stephens in a match that was tagged the final before the Finals.


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