The year’s final Grand Slam commences on Monday at Flushing Meadows in New York. Will Novak Djokovic’s late-season revival continue? Can Roger Federer produce another piece of tennis history? Will Serena capture her first major as a mother? Read on to see my predictions for what will unfold over the next fortnight of tennis.
After crashing out of the French Open earlier this year to the unheralded Marco Cecchinato, Novak Djokovic had to be wondering where his season, and his career, were headed. But after silencing the critics with his triumph at Wimbledon, and having now completed a career sweep of the nine Masters titles with his recent win in Cincy, Djokovic heads to Flushing Meadows as one of the favourites in the men’s tournament.
Despite being seeded only sixth, the Serb seems to have regained his swagger and confidence on court. Importantly, there appear to be no outward signs of the elbow problem that previously plagued him and, in reuniting with longtime coach Marian Vajda, Djokovic has got back in his team a trusted and insightful advisor. When fit and focused and full of confidence, Djokovic is one of the hardest men to wear down over a best of 5 sets match.
As the defending champion and a recent winner in Toronto, world number one Rafael Nadal will be hard to beat and shapes as Djokovic’s most likely challenger for the crown. The pair engaged in a pulsating duel in the Wimbledon semi-finals, and I would not be surprised to see them square off once again in the latter stages of this tournament. Roger Federer will also be eager to make a deep run in the tournament after his surprise loss to Kevin Anderson at the All England Club. Federer looked a bit out of sorts in the Cincy final against Djokovic, but I expect him to sharpen his game significantly as the US Open gets underway.
To my mind, both Nadal and Federer are more susceptible to defeat on hard-courts than on grass (in the case of Federer) and clay (in the case of Nadal), whereas a fit and confident Djokovic is at his very best on hard-courts; the Serb’s record of two US Open crowns from seven trips to the men’s final underplaying his dominance of the surface in the last decade. I’m backing Djokovic to cap off his amazing 2018 turnaround with a second Grand Slam in succession, with Nadal and Federer likely to be his closest challengers.
Of the outside bets, I like the chances of former winners Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro. Both are big hitters who, on their day, can overpower any of the sport’s biggest names. Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are still working their way back to top form and cannot be expected to last the distance over the fortnight, whilst I’m yet to be convinced of the title-winning credentials of the so-called “Next Gen”. John Isner and Kevin Anderson have both had terrific years and can be expected to progress into the second week of the tournament, but I honestly think that winning the title is beyond each man.
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Finalist: Rafael Nadal
Outside Chance: Federer, Cilic, Del Potro
Predicting the results of any women’s Grand Slam in recent times has been a difficult proposition, as highlighted most emphatically at this year’s Wimbledon championships when the top 10 seeds all crashed out before the quarter-finals. Admittedly, the Wimbledon final ended up being contested by two established stars, eleventh seed Angelique Kerber and comeback queen Serena Williams, but it’s a far cry from the men’s game, where the last decade has seen the majors shared between only a select handful of players.
Despite losing the Cincy final, world number one Simona Halep enters the tournament as the most in-form player. The Romanian got the Grand Slam monkey off her back earlier this year by capturing the French Open title, and I think she will be hard to beat in New York. Under the watchful eye of Darren Cahill, Halep has improved her consistency and seems better at regulating her emotions in the biggest moments of the biggest matches.
Defending champion and 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens tends to be completely hit or miss when it comes to majors, but I’m expecting the American to put in a commendable defence of her title. In a similar vein, I expect Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki to make a deep run in the tournament and genuinely contend for the title. If results go her way, I think the Dane could even make it all the way through to another final in New York.
In relation to the Williams sisters, Venus will be looking to repeat last year’s run to the semi-finals and perhaps even go a couple of steps better. The elder Williams sister hasn’t been as consistent this year as last year, but on fast hard-courts she is always in with a chance. Serena, after the excitement of making the Wimbledon final, seems to be stuck in something of a rut, with her performances on hard-courts post-Wimbledon mediocre at best. I expect the 23-time major winner to lift a gear in New York, but in my opinion Grand Slam title 24 is not a realistic outcome.
Last year’s finalist Madison Keys is a good value outside bet, capable of beating anyone on her day but also liable to wander mentally during matches. Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, who toppled Halep in the Cincy final, has progressed significantly this year and transitioned from a clay-court specialist to a player capable to beating anyone on any surface. A final dark horse is Petra Kvitova, the enigmatic Czech leftie who, when in the right frame of mind, can outplay anyone on the WTA Tour.
Winner: Simona Halep
Finalist: Caroline Wozniacki
Outside Chance: Stephens, S. Williams, Kvitova
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.