History at the US Open… In all the right ways

CilicChampion

“History was made at the US Open.” I had that headline set in my head on September 4th after Roger Federer came back from a 2 set deficit to beat Gael Monfils to reach the US Open semi-finals. When Kei Nishikori defeated Novak Djokovic 2 days later in the tournament’s first semi-final game, that headline took on multiple meanings. But my mind was still on Federer winning a record (Open Era) 6th US Open championship. I had even started writing the opening paragraphs to this post. That was not to disrespect the two other players still alive in the tournament, as Marian Cilic’s and Nishikori’s 5 set thrillers against Gilles Simon, Milos Raonic, and Stan Wawrinka were 3 of the most exciting matches I have seen all year. Instead, I was betting on history. Only once since 2004 had someone not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, or Andy Murray won the US Open. When put in context with the broader state of tennis, only twice (including the 1 US Open) had someone outside of those 4 names won a grand slam (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open) since 2006.

It was a sure bet to think that Federer was going to not only make the finals, but win, set a record, and finish off the season’s grand slams continuing the big 4’s dominance. But then something wonderful happened. Croatian Marin Cilic not only defeated Federer in the 2nd semi-final at Arthur Ashe Stadium, he dominated, winning in straight sets. Federer fans across the world may be cringing at my description of his defeat as “wonderful,” but here is why this is good for tennis fans.

For the first time since the 2005 Australian Open, Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic did not qualify for the final at one of the grand slam tournaments. If that number doesn’t shock you, think about it this way, that period spans 35 grand slams and dates back to before the iPhone. For the first time in a decade, a player outside of the ATP top 10 would win a grand slam, and for the 2nd time in 2014 (Australian Open) someone outside the big 4 would win a grand slam final. This opens the door for any number of names to make a run at tennis’s highest achievements. Just like that rounds 1-4 of every grand slam suddenly are relevant again. The tennis season just effectively got 12 rounds longer.

In terms of ticket prices, the median price for tickets to the 2014 US Open Men’s Final was $216, increasing from the $200 median price of tickets for the 2013 matchup between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. To put that increase in context with the previous year, the 2012 median ticket price was $198 for the men’s final, increasing by only $2 for 2013. While it is hard to take these numbers and make broad claims about the overall interest in men’s tennis, what we can say is that the Cilic vs. Nishikori matchup in the 2014 US Open Men’s Final provided tennis fans with something that had never been witnessed before. Cilic would go on to become the first Croatian men’s champion of the US Open, defeating Nishikori in straight sets. But more importantly there is a fresh air in the sport and even more hope in the possibility of a new wave of tennis royalty.

It will be interesting to see how or if this grand slam final will affect the demand and pricing of tickets for the earlier rounds of next year’s grand slams. If Cilic’s victory starts a trend of new tennis champions, it could blow open the doors with a new storm of interest in the sport. As an unapologetic lover of underdogs, I for one cannot wait to find out.

Has there been a more exciting time to be a tennis fan in the last decade? Is Cilic a one gram slam wonder? Predictions for next year’s grand slams? I want to hear your thoughts.

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