The final Slam of a so far unpredictable year of tennis is upon us, and it’s fair to say that it is possibly the most intriguing US Open in recent memory. With so many big names dropping out on the men’s side and a wide open field on the women’s side, we could be in for a very interesting couple of weeks in New York.
We head into Flushing Meadows with a lot of excitement and no clear favourite in either draw. With Stan Wawrinka unable to defend his title and Angelique Kerber out of sorts, it seems the time is nigh for a new name to emerge and stake their claim.
Novak Djokovic, Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic will all be watching from the sidelines. With so many big names missing, the men’s draw is certainly looking less glamorous than normal, although Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s potential first meeting in New York restores some of the star power. With the draw looking more open than usual there should be chances for some unexpected names to make a run.
It will be interesting to see if players like ninth seed David Goffin, 12th seed Roberto Bautista Agut, and 13th seed Jack Sock will be able to take advantage of their higher than usual seeding. But there is no shortage of veteran stars ready to stop them, even without Djokovic and Wawrinka. Nadal, who won twice in New York (2010, 2013) takes the top seed as world number one. Andy Murray, recently knocked off his perch at the top, will be looking for a measure of revenge and is seeded second. Winning the US Open would help him set to rights to a disappointing year in which he has so far won just a solitary title in Dubai.
Federer, who won five US Opens on the bounce between 2004 and 2008, is the third seed. He will be looking to win his third Slam of the year and boost his chances of finishing on top of the pile. Alexander Zverev, seeded fourth, his highest yet at a Slam, has looked the best player during the North American hard court swing. But he is as yet untested over the two weeks of a Slam, with his best result at a Major being a fourth round showing at Wimbledon. A good run in Flushing Meadows would be a big statement for him.
Fifth seed Marin Cilic is the only man outside of the top three seeds to have experience of winning a Slam and did it in New York. Having reached the final at Wimbledon in July he would be a big favourite, had an injury not kept him out since then. Dominic Thiem, the sixth seed, has played plenty of tournaments but has struggled for wins since Roland Garros. Will he show in New York that he can perform away from the clay?
Seventh seed Grigor Dimitrov comes fresh from the week of his life in Cincinnati where he won his first Masters crown without dropping a set. This, coupled with a run to the last four in Melbourne, suggests he might finally be able to make good on the potential he has shown for years. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the eighth seed, has played some superb tennis over his career and scored wins over the very best. But the well of genius seems to have dried up lately. Will he get back to his best in New York?
First round matches to watch
There are a few interesting first round matches but none quite as intriguing as Federer vs Frances Tiafoe. If you had seen this match just a few months ago, it might not have been that attention grabbing. But after Tiafoe’s beat Federer’s conqueror Zverev in Cincinnati, that’s changed. Almost certain to be played in front of a packed house on Arthur Ashe, it should be a thriller.
Their only other meeting was earlier this year in Miami, where Federer won after a tight first set tie break. This suggests that if Federer isn’t quite at his best then his teenage opponent may be able to give the five-time champion a run for his money. The unorthodox American has had a decent year so far, reaching a career high ranking of 60 earlier in the year. While Federer will be the heavy favourite, the fact that Tiafoe is playing in front of his home fans could make this a very entertaining match.
When the draw happened, this was unsurprisingly the match that immediately got everybody’s attention. The debate over whether Maria Sharapova should have been given a wildcard continues and she was probably the one name that everybody was hoping to avoid, especially in the case of Simona Halep. The Romanian is yet to beat Sharapova in their six matches although this will be their first meeting for almost two years.
Coming off a heavy defeat to Garbine Muguruza in the Cincinnati finals and having a tendency to struggle in the big matches, Halep is unlikely to be doubt free heading into such a difficult first round clash. This really could be quite the battle between two of the biggest names in the sport.
With three of the top 10 not playing and the fitness of Murray and Cilic unclear, this year’s tournament is wide open. While many people have Federer and Nadal as the favourites, they are far from certainties. Federer has played only one tournament since Wimbledon, losing in the final of the Rogers Cup. Nadal, meanwhile, lost early in both Montreal and Cincinnati, and neither man is looking in top form as they head into New York.
Zverev is probably their closest challenger after winning in Washington and Montreal, the latter of which was his second Masters win of the season. While he has yet to perform over the longer best of five sets format, he is sure to be looked at as a contender for his first Major win. The fact that he is in the other side of the draw to both Rafa and Roger can’t hurt his chances.
Another player who comes into the tournament in good form is Dimitrov. The Bulgarian won the title in Cincinnati and, with a field missing so many big names, this could be his year to finally fulfil his potential. A possible quarter-final with Nadal is a mouthwatering prospect.
But it’s hard to look beyond Zverev. He looks far more comfortable on hard courts than grass and clay. His early loss to Tiafoe aside, he has been in terrific form, and that defeat seemed largely the result of fatigue. Coming into the US Open fresh and rested he’ll be difficult to stop. In fact, he might just be impossible to stop. Look to the German to come up trumps in New York.
For the third slam in a row, the women’s draw is wide open with at least 10 women all capable of picking up the trophy. Incredibly, eight players have a chance of becoming world number one at its conclusion. The narrow favourite seems to Garbine Muguruza, who demolished Halep in the Cincinnati final and also won Wimbledon. While she’s never really performed at her best in New York, her recent big wins have surely given her confidence.
Elina Svitolina is another recent winner, picking up the title in Toronto. With five titles overall this year, she also looks to be a serious contender. The current number one, Pliskova is another name on many people lips after losing in the final last year. That being said, her form has been somewhat inconsistent on the North American hard courts in the run up to the US open.
Other names who could be in with a decent chance are Halep, Johanna Konta, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. The defending champion Kerber, on the other hand, has had an awful season so far, and she will have to find her form from last year to stand any chance of successfully defending her crown.
The dark horse though could be Madison Keys. The young American has been fighting her way back from injury this season and has performed well on the hard courts over the last few weeks. She picked up a title in Stanford, which included a win over Muguruza in the semi-finals. After a year which has seen three different Slam winners, there is a real sense in the air that anything could happen at this year’s US Open.
But Muguruza is rightly the favourite and comes into the tournament in the best form. Losing early in the French Open seems to have helped her turn the corner and expect her to add a third Slam to her trophy cabinet in New York.
Who are you looking forward to watching in this year’s US Open? Let us know in the comments below!
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