The waiting is over. Novak Djokovic claimed the only Masters title that eluded him in Cincinnati. Rafa reigned in Toronto. But that was all just pageantry and illusion. Now the real show gets underway under the lights in the Big Apple. Djokovic and Nadal are the frontrunners, but Roger Federer can never be discounted and the power of Juan Martin del Potro lurks menacingly. But who are the dark horses who could maybe, just maybe, make a surprise run to the title this year?
The young Greek #1 only turned 20 last month, but his performances on the hard courts of North America have been outstanding so far. At the Canadian Open, he took out four top ten opponents in a row, beating French Open finalist Dominic Thiem, Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, defending champion Alexander Zverev and then Wimbledon and US Open finalist Kevin Anderson.
He fell short against Rafael Nadal in the final, but there was no shame in that defeat. As a result of his efforts, which also included a run to the last four in Washington, he is at a career-high ranking of #15 and surely heads to New York full of confidence. He has plenty of power off the ground and a single-handed backhand sure to win him plenty of fans. He's also a crowd favourite with a winning personality, so however far he goes, he'll be fun to watch.
After a run to the final at the O2 in 2017, things were looking bright for the diminutive Belgian this season. However, a freak eye injury sustained in Rotterdam brought his progress to a grinding halt. He was forced out of a number of tournaments and looked short of confidence on his return. In the run up to the final Grand Slam of the season, though, his fortunes appear to be improving.
His run to the semifinals in Cincinnati sent out a real statement as he dispatched Tsitsipas, Anderson and Del Potro before having to retire with a shoulder injury against Roger Federer. Provided the injury is not too serious the Belgian #1 is surely one of the 'best of the rest' competing for the US Open title, although he has yet to show he can regularly take on and beat the best of the best.
Another young gun who is just 20, Tiafoe has had a stellar season and is comfortably inside the world's top 50. He has put away some tough opponents this year too, most recently Milos Raonic in front of his home fans in Toronto before taking Denis Shapovalov the distance in Cincinnati. The young American is perhaps the least likely contender on this list, but he has serious pedigree and will enjoy raucous home support in New York.
The 22-year-old Russian is an old school power player. His forehand and serve are massive weapons and allow him to hit through almost anyone in the game. His results leading up to the US Open have given credence to the belief that this could be his time. He beat John Isner on his way to the semifinals in Toronto. There, he made a real match of it against Rafael Nadal though he did lose in straight sets, 4-6 6-7.
In Cincinnati he ousted American #4 Sam Querrey in the second round before taking Marin Cilic to three sets in the last 16. He could do some real damage in Flushing Meadows. But, he has taken some hammerings at the hands of the game’s best. Nadal crushed him at Wimbledon and in Beijing last year and he offered little challenge to Djokovic in the fourth round at the Championships this year, losing 4-6 2-6 2-6.
Another young gun, the Canadian is the only player on this list still in his teens. Shapovalov has been mooted as a major prospect since he beat Rafael Nadal last year in Montreal on his way to the semifinals (lost to Zverev) and his star has shown no signs of fading. Though at home in Toronto he’ll have been disappointed to fall in the third round, in Cincinnati, he beat British #1 Kyle Edmund as well as world #14 Fabio Fognini for the second time in as many weeks.
He was eventually downed by countryman Milos Raonic, but his pedigree was there for all to see. Although clearly not a frontrunner, the teen's game is strong, and he reached the fourth round in New York on his debut last year. He possesses a big serve, although he will need to cut down on his double faults, and huge groundstrokes, including a gorgeous single-handed backhand. On his day, the young Canuck is a match for anyone.
Which dark horse do you think has the best chance of causing a shock in New York? Let us know in the comments below!