We are only one weekend away from the last Grand Slam of the year, as the 2017 US Open tennis tournament is about to kick off on 28th August. And precisely because it is the last major of the season, US Open always represents the excitement climax both among the players and tennis fans, but the story has a bit different connotation this year.
Namely, with the three of the world’s top 11 players, Djokovic (last year’s runner-up), Wawrinka (defending champion) and Nishikori, calling it quits for the year, and another four – Murray (2012 champion), Federer, Cilic (2014 champion) and Raonic, still battling their persistent injuries, more and more tennis analysts and experts are raising the question if this year’s US Open is going to be all about the survival or fittest, and not so much about the victory of the best player out there.
Undeniably, the tempo of the game is astounding, mainly because the above mentioned players are to blame for raising the bar so high. ‘The Big Four’ (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray) have dominated the sport for more than a decade, with winning together 45 of the last 50 Grand Slams. The injuries of the top ranked players are a direct consequence of brutal trainings and strictly planned habits, and it seems that the age is also a factor that is catching up with the group. Amazingly, for the first time in tennis history, the top five ATP players are older than 30. The current number 1, Rafael Nadal, just took back the top rating aged 31, and Roger Federer, who turned 36 during the Coupe Rogers looks like he discovered the fountain of youth and the secret to eternal greatness.
If you take a look at their predecessors, you’ll see that while Nadal, Federer and Wawrinka are still collecting their Grand Slam titles in their 30s, tennis legends like Bjorn Borg and McEnroe didn’t win any majors titles after they turned 25. The five-time US Open champion, Pistol Pete, won his last Grand Slam title at US Open aged 31, but then he retired after 12 months of not participating in any of the tours.
Although suffering from back issues that made him pull out Cincinnati Masters, Roger Federer is undisputable king of records – holds a record of 19 Grand Slam titles, record for most matches won (321, second in line is Djokovic with 237) and match wins on hard court (165, second in line is Andre Agassi with 127), and he did win a record 8 Wimbledon title without dropping a set this year. After taking a break during the second half of 2016, Federer came back swinging – he won this year’s Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami Open and it was spectacular. He then decided to skip the entire clay season, came back to win a record-extending Halle title without losing a set, and the Wimbledon title.
As far as the US Open goes, the absolute favorite to win, Roger Federer, holds a record of 5 titles together with Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras, as well as the record for most consecutive men singles titles (also 5, 2004-2008). It would be extraordinary to see him go down in history as the six-time US champion, but the part about him losing in the Rogers Cup final to Zverev and skipping Cincinnati due to his back issues, is perhaps where Rafael Nadal could step in. He seems to be in a good shape, injury-free and is experiencing career revitalization as well, but it is possible that the grind of the game could catch up with him along the way. Plus, hard courts have never been his strong side (10 of 15 major titles are at French Open). If we listen to his interviews, he sounds pretty eager to fight, while Federer said himself that winning a third major this year would be crazy.
Murray is seriously struggling with his hip injury, and with all the question-mark headlines asking if he’ll participate or not, whether it would be wise or possible to participate, we are getting a feeling that it would be quite a surprise if he makes it past week one, should he decide to participate.
We cannot simply deny the success the #NextGen Players had during the past year – Alexander Zverev (5 titles this year – Canada Open, Washington, Italian Open, Munich, Montpellier, which makes him the youngest player to win consecutive Masters 1000 titles since Nadal in 2005), Dominic Thiem (Rio Open champion and four-time semifinalist or higher) and Grigor Dimitrov (impressive 24-6 mark on hard court this season) are strong opponents, as well as Nick Kyrgios, who showed charisma, accurate serve, powerful forehand and reliable backhand on court, and seems to be returning to the level he lost sometime between February and March. Other players to look out for would be Cilic, Raonic, Del Potro and Tsonga.
And don’t forget the 18-year-old Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, who had an amazing run at Rogers Cup, which includes defeating Grand Slam champions Del Potro and Nadal. Even when he lost in the semis to Zverev, his game was aggressive and precise. He also qualified for the tournament, so we’ll see what happens.
However, we think it is clear that none of them will stand a chance in case Fed back stop causing discomfort. If not, Fed will probably get to the championship round thanks to his talent and precision of the play.
It simply won’t be the same without the six-times champion and arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time, Serena Williams. She holds the record for most US Open titles together with another great female tennis player, Chris Evert. She never had a serious rival, although Kim Clijsters and Justine Henan came closest. With her gone, there is plenty of uncertainty when it comes to the possible winner of US Open this year. The two-time finalist (2012, 2013), Victoria Azarenka, will also miss the US Open due to custody battle.
Pretty much anyone can be a dark horse this year. The player with most US Open titles that is participating this year is Venus Williams, but we have to consider that her titles came in 2000 and 2001, while she was finalist in 1997 and 2002.
The 2006 champion, Maria Sharapova, enters the tournament after accepting a wild-card, and this is going to be her first major participation since 2016 Australian Open. Regardless, she remained an elite player through the years and the crowd’s sweetheart, so she might surprise everyone.
Sharapova will face Simona Halep in the first round, which is probably going to be the highlight of the R1. Halep is this year’s Madrid champion and Australian Open, Sony Ericsson Miami Open, Indian Wells, Wimbledon, French Open, Rogers Cup and Cincinnati finalist. She might be a dark horse given her close-but-not-quite status at majors and other big events this year. All she needs to do is defeat Sharapova, which she failed to at each past encounter (6). Even the defending champion and the former world no.1, Angelique Kerber, can be one, considering that she didn’t have a single tournament win this year.
Garbine Muguruza is the favorite after winning Wimbledon and defeating Simona Halep in Cincinnati (6-0, 6-1). The 23-year-old seems to be on top of her game and has the speed, power and length to win US Open, and many other upcoming major titles. However, although it is impressive to see that her game evolved, she has been knocked out of a tournament six times in 2017 before round 3, which is a bit confusing, considering that she is world no. 3.
The 25-year-old last year’s runner-up, Karolina Pliskova’s game is similar to Muguruza’s. She never won a major title, but has a spectacular serve and she holds a 6-2 career advantage over Muguruza.
The 2017 US Open Women’s Singles Final is scheduled for 9th September, while the Men’s Singles Final is scheduled for 10th. If it were up to us to make assumptions, we would say that we see Federer and Muguruza lifting the trophies (or at least it is something that we would like to see).