With the start of the year’s final Grand Slam rapidly approaching, now’s the time to get up to speed on the contenders and the pretenders in the US Open men’s and women’s singles. Below are my predictions as to who will be holding aloft the trophies in just over a fortnight.
The Top Three
As always with men’s tennis, it’s hard to go past the triumvirate of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. To my mind, Djokovic is the best player in the world on hard-courts and it will take a special performance to stop him. The Serb hasn’t had the smoothest of run-ups to this year’s tournament, having been upset by Daniil Medvedev in Cincinnati, but I still see the top seed easing into the second week and then raising his level from there.
Rafael Nadal looked impressive in winning the title in Montreal and then took the sensible decision to skip Cincy and let his body recover ahead of the US Open. As usual, Nadal’s biggest threats include his own health as well as Djokovic and Federer, but I’m expecting a deep run from the Spaniard if his body can survive the rigours of two weeks on hard-courts.
I’ll be fascinated to see how Roger Federer fares, both in terms of rebounding from his heartbreaking loss to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final and given that his form in the lead-up into Flushing Meadows has been fairly patchy. You can never discount the chances of the Swiss maestro, but I think he will have his work cut out for him this time around in New York.
The Next Three
Dominic Thiem showed by winning Indian Wells earlier this year that he is far from a one-trick pony; the clay-court specialist beating none other than Roger Federer in the final to claim the biggest hard-courts title of his career. Thiem pushed Nadal to the brink at Flushing Meadows last year, and I think he will have a good shot of progressing deep into the second week this year.
Daniil Medvedev has rocketed up to number five in the world rankings after a spectacularly consistent showing on the North American swing. Three consecutive finals, capped off with a victory in Cincinnati, show that the Russian is ready to wreak havoc in New York this year. By contrast, Alexander Zverev has had a miserable year on and off the court and I simply can’t see him having the physical or mental strength to put together a decent showing at the US Open this year.
Three Dark Horses
The enigma that is Nick Kyrgios has been in full flight this last month. The Aussie was impeccably behaved during his title run in Washington, D.C., only to revert to his bad habits and attract controversy in both Montreal and Cincinnati. Kyrgios the potential to do anything on the court, and it will be interesting to see which version of the Aussie shows up in New York.
Stan Wawrinka is a former champion in New York and, whilst the Swiss star hasn’t quite got back to his best after a lengthy injury lay-off, he’s not the type of player you want to face if he wins a few rounds and gets his confidence up and his eye in.
Fabio Fognini has long been known as a prodigious talent, but the fiery Italian has often fell short of expectations. This year, however, Fognini has been far more focused and the title he claimed in Monte Carlo is testament to his newfound dedication and discipline. Fognini has beaten Nadal in New York previously and will be out to claim some more high profile scalps this time around.
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Rafael Nadal
Outside Chance: Federer, Medvedev, Thiem
The Top Three
Osaka, Barty and Pliskova are the women’s top three seeds and each has her own claims to be a contender in New York this year. Osaka, as defending champion, has done it all before. That said, the Japanese star has struggled with the burden of expectation since winning the Australian Open this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if she is bundled out early.
Barty rose to world number one earlier this year on the back of her tremendous French Open victory and a slew of consistent results. The humble Aussie with the all-court game is adept on all surfaces and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her progress deep into the second week. Pliskova is a former finalist at Flushing Meadows and if she gets into a groove on serve the Czech could prove very hard to stop.
The Next Three
The next three seeds, Halep, Svitolina and Kvitova, are all genuine title contenders as well. Halep will be boosted enormously by her terrific Wimbledon victory, while Svitolina’s run to the semi-finals at the All England Club represented a major step forward for the Ukrainian, who had long underperformed at major championships.
Kvitova is somewhat erratic but if she can channel the hard-courts form she produced in her run to the final at Melbourne Park earlier this year then she will represent a formidable opponent for all other players in the draw.
Three Dark Horses
Serena Williams is of course much more than an outside chance, but the American’s return to top flight tennis after giving birth has been hampered by injury issues and erratic form at crucial moments. That said, the American is too good not to win more majors and sooner or later her drought is going to be broken.
While Williams represents the older vintage of American women’s tennis, Sofia Kenin represents the new breed. The 20 year old is a major rising star and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her make a strong run at Flushing Meadows this year.
And from across the border, Bianca Andreescu is another superstar in the making, the Canadian having already won a couple of big titles this year at Indian Wells and at home in Toronto. As with Kenin, winning the title is probably beyond Andreescu this year, but don’t be surprised to see her go awfully close.
Winner: Simona Halep
Finalist: Ashleigh Barty
Outside Chance: Serena Williams, Andreescu, Pliskova
That’s it in terms of my predictions for this year’s US Open. Enjoy the fortnight of tennis from Flushing Meadows and keep up to date with my additional thoughts as the action unfolds on Twitter: @satelliteserve.