It’s fair to say that this US Open has been one of the most memorable Slams in recent memory. It always had the potential to be exciting, and that certainly proved to be the case. From the first day to the last, there were plenty of surprises along with some fantastic tennis. While some players under-performed, others took advantage of the depleted field to make their mark in New York. Rafael Nadal and Sloane Stephens picked up the ultimate glory but who else impressed at Flushing Meadows?
Juan Martin del Potro – semi-finals
Ranking before – 28
Ranking after – 24
If it wasn’t for his injury problems, then Del Potro would surely have been competing with the big four over the last 10 years. The US Open champion in 2009, the Tower of Tandil has been plagued with wrist injuries which have kept him out of the game, including for the entirety of 2010, 2014 and 2015. Yet when he returns from them he has often been the player to push the top guys. Last year he played some superb tennis. He won an Olympic silver medal, beating both Novak Djokovic and Nadal along the way, and made the quarter-finals in New York. It seemed he might be on his way back to the game’s elite. But this year has been a disappointment comparatively. Few would have given him any chance of challenging for the title he won nine years ago.
He made his way through the first three rounds without dropping a set. But he then found himself in serious trouble when he lost the first two sets to Dominic Thiem 6-1, 6-2. Looking ill and on the verge of retiring, he somehow found some reserve and came back to win, saving match points in the process. This setup a mouth watering quarter-final with Federer, the player he beat to win the title in 2009. Del Potro seemed to have a new lease of life after his win over Thiem and he beat the favourite for the title in four sets.
Suddenly, coming into a semi-final with Nadal, Del Potro looked like he had a real chance. The big Argentine took the first set with a storm of huge forehands. He seemed to be within touching distance, only for Nadal to change his gameplan. The Spaniard’s level rose and Del Potro flagged badly, the Argentine won only five more games. Hearts were broken. Del Potro has always been a popular figure in New York and around the world. But where can the Argentine go from here? If he can stay fit, then he is always going to be a danger. Perhaps his run in New York is a sign of things to come.
Pablo Carreno Busta – semi-finals
Ranking before – 19
Ranking after – 10
With so many top players missing from this year’s tournament, it was the perfect opportunity for an unheralded player to make a deep run but few thought it would be this man. Ranked 19th at the start of the tournament, he hadn’t had a great run up to the Open but the Spaniard had made the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. He looked like a possible finalist once Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic were eliminated from the bottom half of the draw.
He met four qualifiers in the first four rounds to become the first player to play four consecutive qualifiers at a Slam in the Open Era. His opponent in the fourth round was the 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, who was swiftly becoming the darling of the New York crowd. The Spaniard, however, proved too steady for the young man, coming through in three very close tie breaks. Another straight sets win over Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-final put Carreno Busta into his first Slam semi-final without having dropped a set.
He looked to be on his way to his first final after winning the first set against Kevin Anderson but the experienced South African is a wily competitor. He found his power game and went onto win the next three sets. Nevertheless, Carreno Busta had a fantastic tournament, showing that he is a difficult opponent for almost anybody. With his ranking now up to world number 10, he is close to qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals. Carreno Busta is certainly one to keep an eye on over the next year or so and could well become a mainstay at the latter stages of Slams.
Diego Schwartzman – quarter-finals
Ranking before – 33
Ranking after – 28
The diminutive Argentinian has had his best year to date. He has reached a career high ranking of 33rd in the world and reached three quarter-finals in a row leading up to the US Open. He wasn’t a contender but the luck of being in the bottom half of the draw meant he had the chance to go far. A great third round win over former champion Cilic was his standout victory of both the tournament and the year. Schwartzman’s steady all round yet powerful game then brought him through a tough fourth round match against Lucas Pouille and into his first Slam quarter-final.
After seeming to pick up a slight injury in his win over Pouille, he struggled against Carreno Busta and lost in straight sets. It was a disappointment for the Argentine, who surely had his best chance to make a Slam semi-final but it was still his best performance to date at one of the sport’s elite events. Moving up to 28th in the world, Schwartzman is sure to fancy his chances of pushing towards the top 16 over the next year. After his performances in New York, who would bet against him.
Andrey Rublev – quarter-finals
Ranking before – 53
Ranking after – 37
The Next Gen players have become a major topic of discussion in the tennis world. Of the young guns most likely to break through in New York, few would have picked Andrey Rublev. But, up to a career high ranking of #53 after winning the title in Umag, the 19-year-old Russian is certainly a player on the rise. Despite that, there weren’t many who fancied him to make a run in New York, an understandable position considering he won only one match on the North American hard courts in the run up to the Open. A great first round performance against Aljaz Bedene was followed by his best win of the year, beating seventh seed Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets.
His all out attacking game saw him through the next two rounds, which included knocking out another seed in David Goffin. But when he came up against Nadal, the legendary Spaniard made short work of the young Russian, losing only five games. Rublev will certainly look at this loss as a learning experience and will look to continue to push towards the top 32. If he can learn to add a new dimension to his game and play a more patient match, he could be a force to be reckoned with at the top of the game in the years to come.
Denis Shapovalov – fourth round
Ranking before – 69
Ranking after – 51
Not many players have burst onto the scene with quite as much style as Shapovalov. Picking up fantastic wins over Del Potro and Nadal in Montreal, he came through the qualifying in New York with no shortage of media and fan attention. By the time he had beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round, he was the third favourite for the title and many started dreaming. Could the next big thing have arrived? Zverev’s lack of form at the Majors seemed to suggest that he wasn’t yet worthy of the praise being afforded to him, and Shapovalov appeared ready to fill the void.
Making it to the fourth round of his first US Open, he came up against the solid all-round game of Carreno Busta, losing a match that arguably could have gone either way. The loss showed that he wasn’t quite there yet but after a fantastic few months, the young Canadian has made his way into the hearts of many. It seems the sky is the limit for him. Now at another new career high ranking of 51, he has jumped almost 200 places from the start of the year. If he continues to progress at this rate, it may not be long before he is spoken of as a serious contender in the men’s game.
Coco Vandeweghe – semi-finals
Ranking before – 22
Ranking after – 16
The big hitting American has made a name for herself at the Slams this year. With the exception of a first round loss in Paris, she has made at least the quarter-finals at every event. She came into the tournament as a dark horse for many, with her recent appointment of Pat Cash seeming to have made a real difference to her game. She came through a tough three setter with fellow American Alison Riske in the first round before beating Ons Jabeur in the second. Vandeweghe then announced herself as a contender by defeating Agnieszka Radwanska in a tense third round battle.
Her most impressive victory came in the quarter-finals, when she ended Karolina Pliskova’s hopes of retaining the number one spot. While her semi-final performance against Madison Keys left a lot to be desired, Vandeweghe is surely close to breaking into the game’s elite. Her performances outside of the Slams have been underwhelming, with a run to the final in Stanford being the only time she has got past the semi-finals. But if she can find the consistency on the rest of the tour that she has found in the Slams, she could be a big name on the women’s tour in the coming years.
Petra Kvitova – quarter-finals
Ranking before – 14
Ranking after – 13
One of the feel good stories of the year has been Kvitova’s return to the game. After suffering a stab wound to the hand late last year, she seemed overjoyed to be back on tour when she made her return at the French Open. It has taken her some time to get back to full strength, and she has admitted that her hand still isn’t 100%, but she had shown flashes of her old self in the run up to the tournament. After coming through the early rounds with relative ease she pulled out one of the performances of the year by beating favourites for the title Garbine Muguruza.
After going a break down immediately she looked far from likely to pull off the upset. Instead, she powered through in straight sets. Her victory over the new world number one is perhaps the best indication yet that the two-time Wimbledon champion is on her way back to her best. While she was surely disappointed with her close third set tie break loss to Venus Williams in the quarter-finals, her run at the US Open was unquestionably her best performance since her return from injury. If she continues the form she showed in New York, it won’t be long before she is back where she belongs, at the top of the game.
Kaia Kanepi – quarter-finals
Ranking before- 418
Ranking after – 110
In a tournament full of surprises, Kanepi’s run to the quarter-finals may just be the biggest. A former world #15, the veteran Estonian came into New York ranked 418th after playing only three tournaments all year. Despite being a five-time Major quarter-finalist, she came into the tournament almost unnoticed. After coming through qualifying, all looked bleak as she lost her first set of the tournament 6-0 to Francesca Schiavone. This instead seemed to be a catalyst for her and she went onto win the next two sets. After putting out Yanina Wickmayer in the next round, she came up against the much fancied Naomi Osaka, who defeated the defending champion Angelique Kerber in the first round.
Not many fancied Kanepi but she showed her quality in a three set win. A straightforward win over Daria Kasatkina put her into her first US Open quarter-finals in seven years. In doing so, she became only the second qualifier to make it to the last eight. There she met a determined Keys, who won the match for the loss of only six games. Even so, it is undeniable that Kanepi deserves a lot of plaudits for her performances in Flushing Meadows. Jumping a massive 308 places in the rankings, she is now just outside the top 100. This tournament may just have been the shot in the arm that the 32-year-old needed to get herself back to her top form.
Maria Sharapova – fourth round
Ranking after – 146
Ranking before – 103
The debate over Maria Sharapova’s inclusion in the tournament has been beaten to death at this point. After she drew Simona Halep in the first round, all eyes were on the Russian. This didn’t seem to bother her one bit as she fought her way to victory in a fantastic match. Opening up the draw, the victory also propelled her from wildcard to possible champion overnight. Wins over Timea Babos and Sofia Kenin in the next two rounds seemed to strengthen her position as a contender for the title.
But in a fourth round contest with Anastasija Sevastova, that she came into as heavy favourite, she was undone. In a tournament where being a favourite meant little, the Latvian defeated Sharapova in three tight sets. This surprised many and a fourth round loss for someone of the star power of Sharapova might not seem like much. But as this is her first tournament since May, this has to be looked at as a very successful return for the five-time Major champion. While still ranked outside the top 100, she is going to be a tough early round match up for many of the top players throughout the rest of the year.
Anastasija Sevastova – quarter-finals
Ranking before – 17
Ranking after – 18
The Latvian number two has had a decent year so far, after winning the title in Mallorca and reaching the semi-finals in Dubai and Madrid. But she came to New York having lost early in both Toronto and Cincinnati. Seeded 16th, she had never been past the fourth round of a Slam before but flew through the first three rounds without dropping a set. Having never played Sharapova before, their meeting in the fourth round looked an interesting match up that favoured the Russian.
After losing a close first set, Sevastova seemed to up her game, improving her first serve percentage and taking advantage of a rash of unforced errors from Sharapova. She eventually came out victorious to reach her first Major quarter-final. An epic battle with Sloane Stephens followed, in which Sevastova was a break up in the final set before losing a close third set tie break to the eventual champion. Even in defeat, Sevastova impressed a lot of people with such a gutsy performance. Coming off the back of her best Slam performance to date, it will be interesting to see where she can go from here but a push towards the top 10 looks very possible.
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