Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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NEW YORK — The last two American men were extinguished from the U.S. Open men’s draw Friday afternoon.
John Isner and Andy Roddick were summarily dismissed by Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, respectively, leaving the game’s Big Four standing for Super Saturday’s semifinals.
With men’s tennis at a critical and fascinating juncture in its history, either Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Nadal or Murray will win the 2011 championship.
No Americans. A Serb, a Swiss, a Spaniard and a Scot.
“I think they’re pretty firmly the best players in the world right now,” No. 21 Roddick said after his 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 quarterfinal loss to Nadal was marred by his left calf tightness. “I think they pretty firmly deserve the numbers next to their names right now. They’re playing great.”
“One of the top four guys…is going to win this thing,” four-time U.S. Open champ John McEnroe said before the Open began.
Here we are two weeks later and that not-so-bold prediction has come true.
But how will it play out? That is the intriguing question that will unfold Saturday and in Monday’s men’s final.
Will Djokovic win his third Grand Slam singles title of the year and continue one of the greatest seasons in tennis history?
Will Nadal defend his Flushing title and challenge Djokovic for the No. 1 world ranking at the end of the year?
Will Federer, at 30, prove that he’s not yet finished leaving his mark on the game and capture his 17th career major title?
Or will Murray, a loser in all three major finals in which he’s appeared, finally join the club and capture a Grand Slam title?
Keep in mind that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have combined to win 25 of the last 26 majors.
Federer and Djokovic will be first on Arthur Ashe Stadium court at noon on Saturday, meeting for the fifth straight year at the Open.
Federer beat Djokovic in the 2007 final and then in the semis in 2008 and ’09 before blowing double-match point and losing to the Serb in last year’s semis.
Federer admitted Friday night after his quarterfinal win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that he allowed his mind to slip during that match and imagine a possible final the next day against Nadal, his arch-rival.
The two had never met at the U.S. Open — and still have not to this date.
If Federer gets in a similar position again Saturday, he won’t have to fret about coming back and playing the next day.
The men will have Sunday off before Monday’s final.
“It’s better for sure for my match now for Novak, for both of us, for that matter, just to be able to go out there and play that match instead of thinking of something else,” said Federer, appearing in his eighth straight U.S. Open semifinal.
Serving extremely well and smacking his trademark forehand all over the court, Federer has looked brilliant in routing Juan Monaco and Tsonga in his last two matches and appears to all the world like he can win another major.
Whoever wins the Federer/Djokovic match would appear to have the advantage heading into the final because they will have had both Friday and Sunday off, whereas the bottom half of the draw had to play Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“Out of fairness to the bottom half of the draw, I think it’s definitely the right thing to do,” Federer said of the Monday final.
While Isner extended Murray to four sets, 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), in a match that lasted 3 hours, 24 minutes, Nadal crushed an injured Roddick in just 1 hour, 53 minutes. Roddick, who endured a tough four-set match with fellow Spaniard David Ferrer on Thursday, was bothered by a tight right calf and called for the trainer on several occasions.
“I had zero reserves,” Roddick said. “I didn’t have any time to train this summer, so playing a tough match like [Thursday] I felt – I played a four-setter yesterday; I felt like I played six sets.
“Came out today and I just couldn’t — you know, I was trying to push up on serves, and I felt like I was falling over as opposed to pushing up. Just didn’t have much.”
Roddick remains the last American man to win the Open in 2003, but his window is rapidly closing.
“He’s having a fantastic career and he’s a great champion,” said the always classy Nadal, seeking his 11th career major title.
At 24, Murray is one of the fitter players on tour and said he expected to be fine for the Nadal match.
“I’m feeling fine now,” Murray said. “A lot of times that’s the case. It’s kinda how you wake up the next day.
Murray and Nadal will tangle in the semifinals for the third straight major after Nadal defeated Murray at Roland Garros and Wimbledon earlier this summer.
Murray did beat Nadal in four sets in the 2008 rain-delayed Open semifinals.
“Well, I’ve beat him before in the semis; I won against him also at the Australian Open,” said Murray.
“And when I’ve won against him, it’s always been on hard courts. It’s a good surface for me to play him on.”
Still, Nadal enjoyed a rout against Roddick and and has that going for him even though he played the second quarterfinal Friday.
“Always is a pleasure to play against Andy, no?” Nadal said of Murray. “Probably one of the players with more talent on the tour and always the matches against him are exciting. It will be a big challenge for me and always I try my best.”
He added: “[Saturday] I have to play a good match.I have to play aggressive to have any chance.”
So here we are.
The top four players in the world duking it out on Super Saturday at the U.S. Open.
At an intriguing point in men’s tennis history, one of these four men will push the story forward and add another chapter.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.