Desh Gaurav Chopra Sekhri: The year of Serena

Approaching the first weekend of the US Open at Flushing Meadows, and already there have been some significant developments. Last year's men's finalist Kei Nishikori has been ousted in the first round, and that's just one of the stories. Fourteen players in total, not including Maria Sharapova's withdrawal prior to the start, with 12 on the men's side alone, have conceded or retired due to injury or the unusually hot weather. This is sure to trigger yet another debate on the workload of players, the length of the playing season, and rules on players playing injured to receive prize money.

This year's Open, however, is all about Serena Williams. In a departure from tradition, the men are on the sidelines for what promises to be one of the most historical events in the history of tennis, and this time it's on the women's side. Williams, who continues to dominate women's tennis seemingly at her whim, enters the Open as the overwhelming favourite to win her 22nd grand slam singles title. More importantly, she is poised to become the first person since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win a calendar grand slam. It is an accomplishment, should it happen, that will likely not be repeated in either men's or women's tennis going forward.

Professional tennis today is deep and extremely competitive. Williams' extended period of dominance and the periodic dominance of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal on the men's side are anomalies. There are likely to be threats to win all four majors in a year, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. If anyone other than Williams is likely to contend, it would be Djokovic in the next couple of years, should he maintain his stellar form. It will be extremely difficult though, given his futility thus far to win the French Open, and the occasional stirring performances against him by his rivals that have somewhat limited his steamrolling through majors the last few years.

Interestingly, the entire focus of this tournament could have been very different if not for just a few periods of play on the first weekend of June, on the clay courts of Paris. Djokovic entered the French Open in dominant form, having brushed aside competition almost at will. He had dethroned Nadal in the quarterfinals, and in the finals was an overwhelming favourite to cross the hurdle that the major had become for him. Initially, it all went as scripted, and it appeared that Djokovic would be half way towards a more than likely calendar slam given his form in 2015. But then, fortunes shifted dramatically when a magical performance from Wawrinka stunned the tennis world and especially Djokovic, coming from behind to seal a shocking upset, and ending any discussion of a calendar slam on the men's side for 2015. The shock was compounded by what had happened just the previous day when Serena had a losing battle on her hands, fighting the flu and an inspired performance from first-time finalist Lucie Safarova. At one set apiece and up an early break in the third, Safarova was about to turn history on its head, and end the 2015 domination of arguably the greatest woman athlete of this generation, if not all time. But then, nerves took over, and shortly thereafter Serena was half-way to her apparent destiny. Had the two finals ended differently, this could well be the year of Djokovic, as he has marched through Wimbledon and through the first couple of rounds here at the Open.

One wonders just how close he would be to joining Serena in what have been an unprecedented quest of a calendar grand slam on both the men's and women's sides, had that Sunday in June ended differently. He remains a clear favourite to win his third major of the year and eleventh in total here at the Open, with his conqueror from last year Nishikori already out, and a relatively straightforward route to the finals. He is set to face Nadal in the quarterfinals, but is expected to win.

"What-ifs" aside, however, Williams is the focus of this fortnight and rightly so, given the magnitude of what she is poised to achieve. Unless she falters, this is her legacy and her destiny. If all goes to form, US Open 2015 will quite possibly showcase the last calendar grand slam of this era, and the crowning achievement of a remarkable athlete.

The author leads the sports law practice at J. Sagar Associates. Views are personal.

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