With the grass courts of Wimbledon well behind us, and that weird second clay season done-and-dusted, the American hard court swing is here in full force. As has become the theme this year, uncertainty continues to permeate throughout the men’s and women’s games, and that means we’ve got questions. So read on for a look at eight burning questions that we hope – nay, expect – the coming month to answer.
Can Pliskova cement her no. 1 status?
No one said it’s easy being on top, but for the slam-less Karolina Pliskova, it’s particularly challenging.
As TC’s own Steve Tignor noted a few weeks ago, the 25-year-old Czech has had a wholly impressive 12 months on her way to taking the top spot, but now has the increased pressure and scrutiny of proving to onlookers she should be there. Realistically the only way she can do that is by winning a major title.
A titlist in Cincinnati and finalist at the US Open last year, she’s got a proven track-record here, and will come into Flushing Meadows a popular title pick. Whether she can deliver on that promise comes down largely to how she deals with the added pressure, and it should be fascinating to follow.
Will Federer finally falter?
It’s kind of odd given his five-straight titles in New York that the US Open is actually the home of Roger Federer’s longest title drought at a major, but hey, it had to be somewhere. That said, the now 36(!)-year-old’s chances of a sixth title have never looked better, what with a return to form almost as good as the new Power Rangers movie, and his rivals dropping by the wayside, almost to a man.
As such he enters Flushing a commanding favourite, with the most popular choice to stop him being the similarly resurgent Rafael Nadal. Having never faced-off in New York, an encounter this year would almost assuredly be a dream final, but keep in mind Nadal hasn’t made a USO final since the “dab” was the exclusive domain of Atlanta rappers and not co-opted by suburban 10-year-olds, so he’s far from a sure thing. On the other hand, neither is Federer – especially with a more hectic lead-up schedule than either the Australian or Wimbledon – but you have to like his chances.
Who will step into the Djokovic/Wawrinka vacuum?
Forget changing your coach/diet/training/racquet, if there’s one sure-fire way to reverse a player’s flagging fortunes, it’s take a half year off, ala Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. With Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka (and maybe Andy Murray) following in their footsteps, someone new is going to get their own quarter at the USO – and the golden opportunity that comes along with it.
Based on current fortunes, the favourite would have to be 20-year-old Alexander Zverev, who just downed fellow contender Kei Nishikori on the way to the title in Washington. Also in the mix is Dominic Thiem – back on a surface more suitable to his playstyle – and Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic, who if healthy, is as dangerous as he’s ever been.
Can Raonic get his season back on track?
Having made his first major final in 2016, 2017 was supposed to be Milos Raonic’s year. So much for that.
Robbed of much of the season by injuries, the 26-year-old Canadian is yet to find his best this year, but that could soon change. He enters August as healthy as he’s been in a long time, and that extra rest should help him finish the season strong – something he’s struggled to do in years past. If Marin Cilic’s run to the title in 2014 showed us anything, it’s that there’s opportunity for big serving, heavy hitting giants on the DecoTurf, so don’t count out a primed and prepared Raonic.
Can Muguruza finally make her success stick?
A freshly crowned Wimbledon champion, things are looking up for Gabrine Muguruza – assuming her career trajectory isn’t about to repeat itself, that is.
Having won her first major at Roland Garros in 2016, Muguruza proceeded to go not just title-, but final-less in the next twelve months, only breaking the streak with… her win at Wimbledon. If that repeats again you can forget about the rest of 2017… but bet the house on her for USO 2018.
Of course Muguruza won’t want to repeat that history, and considering the clear benefit she reaped under the temporary tutelage of Conchita Martinez, it’s reasonable to expect a more consistent, mentally-tough player going forward. No, she’s probably not going to enjoy a run of dominance quite like Wimbledon’s again, but having shown such ability to roll to a tournament’s latter stages, she should be able to find herself there with regularity.
Is it time for Azarenka reassert herself?
For someone less than a year removed from giving birth to a child, there’s no denying Victoria Azarenka’s comeback for the grass season was a success, but now the hope – if not expectation – will be she can take it a step further.
Yet to play since her fourth-round exit at SW19, her progress remains to be seen, but this is Victoria Azarenka we’re talking about. She’s a two-time finalist in New York, and when at her best arguably the most dangerous hardcourt player behind the sidelined Serena Williams. Assuming she comes in fit and focused, that makes her a strong dark-horse candidate for the title this year.
Are the American next-gen about to break out?
After years… and years of waiting for the next American sensation, tennis fans stateside might be about to finally get their wish.
Both on the men’s and women’s side, the future of American tennis looks incredibly bright. Between Frances Tiafoe, Jared Donaldson, Tommy Paul, Madison Keys and (perhaps most tantalisingly of all) CiCi Bellis, the US is loaded with potential stars. Each of them possesses serious natural ability, and as we’ve seen with recent results, are starting to display an increased polish against top-level players. Sure, it might be unreasonable to expect them to start winning tournaments left-right-and-centre, but their breakthrough at masters and major level is closer than you think.
Who will take the lead for “Jerk of the Year”?
Perhaps nothing can top Nick Kyrgios’ “JOTY” winning campaign of 2016, what with the Wawrinka-Kokkinakis remark in Montreal and the world-class tank job in Shanghai, but in 2017, he’s certainly got more competition.
Both Bernard Tomic and Denis Shapovalov have put forward a strong case for this year’s title – Tomic, with his questionable retirements and more questionable remarks, Shapovalov with his repeatedly explosive encounters with umpires – that are giving Kyrgios a run for his money.
To be fair to Kyrgios, it’s been a quiet year by his standards, with “only” his embarrassing defeat to Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open, a bit of light ball-boy bashing at the Miami Masters, and a few retirements tarnishing his name. To his credit, things like his match against Federer in Miami, and his open invite for fans to hit with him this week in Montreal would have also won a few fans, so there’s definitely been some good with the bad.
As of right now, you’d have to think Tomic is the favourite, but things can change quickly in the JOTY race. Kyrgios might tank the US Open final, Shapovalov could bring an axe on court to chop-down an umpire’s chair, or maybe Tomic will extend his lead by playing a point with his wristband. Forget the battle for year-end no. 1, this is where the real fight lies.