TTI Talks: State of the ATP + WTA (US Open Edition)
The TTI staff returned to their secret lair to hash out the year’s final Grand Slam, only to find it in a state of disarray. Realizing the fortress to be compromised, the staff decided it would be best to move on to another location — with not all parties present. From Serena Williams chasing history to compelling early-round match-ups on both sides, the drama and compelling narratives for the fortnight certainly won’t be in short supply. With that said….
Of the ATP and WTA, who is/has:
1. The Biggest Darkhorse?
#men: Kevin Anderson. The big-serving South African is coming off his third career ATP World Tour title in Winston-Salem with the loss of just one set, capping off an up-and-down US Open Series. Success in a warm-up tournament has been a precursor to Anderson’s success at majors this year; a semifinal showing in Auckland led to a second-week showing in Melbourne, while runner-up finish to Murray at Queen’s took him all the way a two-set-to-love lead against Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. While Anderson is 0-2 against Andy Murray, his potential fourth round opponent, getting to that stage would assure him of a career-best US Open result. His current form, plus the confidence of reaching that stage, might make for a tough combination.
#ladies: Belinda Bencic is at an interesting place in her development at the moment, and I’m not sure if we can call her either a darkhorse or a bonafide contender. No one would be surprised to see her defend her quarterfinal showing from a year ago, and success in Flushing wouldn’t be unforeseen or unexpected. With Serena Williams the overwhelming favorite against the field at this point, Bencic’s name has to be in the conversation — some kind of conversation — should Williams falter.
#men: This year’s US Open series left a lot to be desired: the usual “threats” to the ATP’s big names showed up sporadically, but had forgettable results at the marquee tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati. Thus, it’s difficult to predict which – if any – of these periphery ATP players have a shot at making a memorable run at this year’s final major. Although his 2015 has been largely underwhelming, I’ve got this feeling that Grigor Dimitrov has a deep run in store for him here. Placed in a fairly light section of the draw with a recovering David Ferrer and a slightly over-ranked Marin Cilic (yeah, remember what happened here last year?), if he catches fire and adopts a focused mentality to match his flashy tennis, we might very well see him in the second week.
#ladies: Given the way 2015 has panned out and all the history that’s on the line for the WTA’s No.1, It almost feels like anyone not named Serena Williams is the biggest darkhorse for this year’s US Open. Players not named Serena, Belinda or Simona pretty much failed to show up during the US Open Series this year, making a darkhorse pick even more difficult than usual. I’m going with Angelique Kerber, who has been one of the few consistent players of 2015 — consistently great at smaller events, and consistently poor at the larger ones courtesy of some rough draws. Her draw in New York is no better, with another darkhorse in Victoria Azarenka looming in the third round — however, Kerber has had ample time to rest and reset the quality game that has seen her win four titles this year.
#men: At 36 years and 6 months, Ivo Karlovic almost has become the elder statesman of the US Open. That honor will rest, though, with Jimmy Connors. In 1991 the brash American, who’d won 5 titles in the Big Apple, qualified for the slam, enthralling fans through to the quarterfinal. He turned 39 the day he beat Aaron Krickstein in their fourth-round storied match. It soon became a standard during rain delays when CBS maned the broadcast booths. Karlovic is no Connors, but he can cause havoc. Just a few weeks ago he whammed his 10,000th ace, which remains his, pardon the expression, ace in the hole. In his section are other big-servers: John Isner (No. 13) and lefty Jiri Vesely. Karlovic would face Vesely first and then Isner in the third round. Karlovic’s serve-and-volley game could oust Isner and put Ivo on a path to meet Roger Federer in the fourth round. Federer is one of the players who can read Ivo’s serve. Their match would probably end to Karlovic’s run. But it would also record his best effort at The U.S. Open. Karlovic’s rank, No. 21, is his highest since 2008, when he reached a career high of No. 14. The 6-foot-11 Croatian has gained momentum as he’s aged and there’s no reason to believe he won’t leave it all on the courts at Flushing Meadows.
#ladies: A quick pick for this category should be Garbine Muguruza, the No. 9 seed. The Wimbledon finalist has proven herself on grass and red clay, yet also favors hard courts. But scanning the draw with a sharper eye, Karolina Pliskova pops out. She has had a meteoric rise on tour over the last three years, climbing the rankings from No. 120, to No. 67, to No. 24 at the end of last year. The degree has been so steep, the Czech Republic sensation is seeded No. 8 at the US Open in only her third appearance. Growth, though, can affect her performance. Never beyond the third round of any major, the Top 10 seeding could rattle her nerves, but, be ready for the US Open to ease them by scheduling her on outer courts.
Given that brush of grace and draw, Pliskova court sneak into week two without much fanfare. At that point she could face teenager Belinda Bencic, a not-so-dark horse or, perhaps, Venus Williams. Pliskova’s section of the draw is chuck full of Americans. It’s anchored by both Williams’ sisters, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Irina Falconi, and Wildcard Samantha Crawford. Nonetheless, the 6-foot-1 Pliskova has a propensity to serve aces, second only in total aces served this year only to Serena Williams. Pliskova is second to Williams in first service points won, too, and fourth in service games won — all according to the WTA. The New York stage could be Pliskova’s biggest stumbling block, but if she can focus on each match expect her brilliant career to blossom.
#men: In similar vein to my women’s picks, it’s anyone not named Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. I’ll go out on a limb and pick Gael Monfils. There’s no particular reason or logic to it (which seems somewhat fitting). I’m just looking at the draw and I think there’s a potential opening into the semifinals for the Frenchman. He’s made quarterfinals here last year after a fairly underwhelming summer and with Ferrer being injured for most of the summer and Nishikori’s frailty rearing its head again, we might end up with an unexpected semifinalist from the second quarter.
#ladies: If we are talking “darkhorse for the title,” well, it’s everyone not named Serena Williams. By virtue of that logic, I’ll pick Victoria Azarenka — who has finally been drawn far away from the American at a major this year. In previous previews, I claimed picking the Belorussian might be a cop out but it feels like the rules might need to be twisted for this year’s US Open. We’ve been waiting for Azarenka to be truly “back,” but an injury-riddled US Open Series wasn’t ideal preparation; coming back to a place where she had fond memories might finally do the trick.
2. The Early Exit?
#men: David Ferrer. Picking Ferrer seems to be the easy choice, with the Spaniard having been plagued by an elbow injury that sidelined him during Wimbledon and much of the summer. His opening round opponent, Moldovan Radu Albot, is a great story — but the Spaniard really looks ripe for an (on-paper) upset against Jeremy Chardy in the third round.
#ladies: Although Petra Kvitova turned around her summer with another triumph in New Haven, she just can’t seem to translate good form to success in the Big Apple — no matter how favorable her path. A much-improved Anna Karolina Schmiedlova is her potential third round opponent, and not enough people are talking about the very real chance the Slovak has to make her first second week at a major.
#men: If David Ferrer’s first few rounds weren’t outrageously soft, I’d pencil him in for an early exit given his notable lack of match play; it’s easy to forget he had an excellent string of results to start 2015 — hence his rank — although his season has fizzled slightly since then. Instead, I’m rolling the dice on Benoit Paire and thinking Kei Nishikori might bow out early. He hasn’t played a match since bombing out of Montreal in the semifinals with injury (albeit after an exceptional performance vs. Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals), and Paire has the ability to go backhand-to-backhand with the popular Japanese who is also defending finalist points here from last year. Could be close, could also be a blowout — you never quite know with the Frenchman.
#ladies: 2015 has been a wacky year for the WTA rankings, with plenty of players sporting ranks that few at this time last year would have guessed they’d have. My eyes immediately head towards Ana Ivanovic on the drawsheet, who has a difficult first round against Dominika Cibulkova and yet an easy draw thereafter… which seems like a perfect recipe for Serbian failure. However, Ivanovic navigated her way through a similar draw in Paris to make the semifinals this year, so she may well take advantage again. #ajde #orsomething
#men: Rafael Nadal has shown moments of brilliance over the hard-court summer season. His banana shot wiggled efficiently; his ground strokes grew in length, landing deeper and deeper in the courts; his confidence rose, but did not come to his rescue when serving for sets. That lingering reality continues to cast doubt on Nadal’s ability to perform at his best, which he will have to reach if he wants to see week two. On top of that, he plays teen sensation Borna Coric in the first round. Coric defeated Nadal in Basel last fall, their only meeting, a short time after Nadal returned from injury. The 14-time Grand Slam champion has never lost in the first round of a major, and Nadal losing this one hits a hard career bottom.
#ladies: On paper, Caroline Wozniacki’s run to a meeting with Garbiñe Muguruza or Petra Kvitova (No. 5) in the quarterfinals seems probable, but all is not well in the Dane’s camp. Her recent calf problem coupled with sub-par performances for a top five player throughout the season add doubt to whether she can defend finalist points. Experience and shear could be enough fuel for the No. 4 for a couple rounds, but expect her to lose before week two — perhaps even to Christina McHale.
#men: David Ferrer has an incredibly soft draw into the third round but I see him losing at that point or even before that. I do not trust his elbow issues and am in now way inclined to believe he is 100 percent — and 90 percent Ferrer isn’t quite what he was three or four years ago.
#ladies: With the loss of Maria Sharapova, No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza becomes a de facto top eight seed — that means I can pick her, right? Two losses since Wimbledon to Lesia Tsurenko and Yaroslava Shvedova were tough enough, but splitting up with your coach the weekend before a major? That can’t bode well. She faces a quality customer in Carina Witthoeft in her opener — a dangerous match for the last major’s finalist.
3. The Toughest Draw?
#men: Rafael Nadal not only lost the draw lottery by landing in Novak Djokovic’s quarter of a slam draw for the second time this year, but his road to that projected meeting is full of stumbling blocks. He opens against the talented teenager Borna Coric, and also has Fabio Fogini and Feliciano Lopez — all of whom have had wins against him in the past year — in his section. However, this loaded path could turn out to be a blessing for the Spaniard; racking up wins against the quality of opposition in this section would certainly serve Nadal in good stead should he pass each test.
#ladies: Serena Williams will have to be at her very best early on, as her road through to the quarterfinals is full of players who can give the ball a good crack. She opens against Vitalia Diatchenko, whose flat two-fisted groundstrokes on both sides could trouble her for a few games, before getting into the meat of the top quarter. Anyone from Mirjana Lucic-Baroni to any of the Americans (Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe, Bethanie Mattek-Sands) could certainly give her a scare — and that’s just to get to the second week.
#men: Rafael Nadal‘s road is rough: he plays gritty youngster Borna Coric in the first round (who owns a winning record against the Spaniard), and has 2015 nemesis Fognini looming in the third round. After that, Feliciano Lopez or Milos Raonic — two big-serving players who also registered wins against Nadal this year — could be waiting in the fourth round. Then… Novak Djokovic. So yeah, it’s not exactly a walk in the Flushing Meadows for Rafa.
#ladies: Most of the big names have similar roads to the second week: one major obstacle, but for the most part winnable matches. Caroline Wozniacki faces an American collegiate wildcard who is ranked outside the Top 400 in her first round, but it gets much harder from there. Petra Cetkovska — who knocked a similarly injured Wozniacki out of Wimbledon a couple years ago — or Christina McHale — who matches up well against the Dane — await in the second round. Flavia Pennetta, Wozniacki’s potential third round opponent, has made the quarterfinals in New York in five of her last six attempts, while former champ Sam Stosur is looking to rekindle her US Open magic. Let’s just get past Jamie Loeb first, Caro.
#men: Injuries and the expectation of injuries swirl around Kei Nishikori like jets over LaGuardia Airport. In Montreal, he scored his first win over Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinal, but limped to the locker room after a drubbing from Andy Murray in the semifinal. This time Nishikori injured his hip. He needed a month to recuperate from a calf muscle strain at Wimbledon. Nishikori plays Benoit Paire first up. The Frenchman loves his drop shots, which will test Nishikori’s fitness and expected longevity in New York. If he’s thoroughly recovered from Montreal and beats Paire, a run to week two is almost assured.
#ladies: This 2015 edition of the US Open should be dubbed the “Serena Open.” News will continue to swirl around the American from every angle known to any medium. It’s exciting, entertaining and a chance for tennis to ride above team sports that dominate news this time of year: baseball and preseason football, for example. Williams’ coaching relationship with Patrick Mouratoglou has polished all her assets to a patina few, in any, can crack. The question … will she win the Grand Slam despite the attention and possible pressure she could create for herself given her draw? Some threats loom: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Belinda Bencic, Karolina Pliskova, and Venus Williams. The new guard of Stephens, Keys, Bencic and Pliskova are ones to watch against Serena, if they happen upon a meeting with the legend. No one will give Williams a win, and her propensity to drop the first set or start slow might become a liability if she faces an on-fire opponent. Yet, if Williams steers her way to week two — she’s golden.
#men: Rafael Nadal‘s first round match up against Coric alone might already warrant toughest road into the second week. I think most of the other Top 8 seeds have been handed decent starts into the tournament and while Kyrgios-Murray will have all the attention I expect it to be a bit of a letdown of a match, with Murray winning in straight sets.
#ladies: If Serena Williams wants to make history, she’ll likely have to do it the hard way. The top seed is likely to face one of the least desirable No. 25-32 seeds (or even the nearly-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe) in her third round. Sloane Stephens has started to put together more consistent results in the past few months and also forced Williams to go the distance in both their meetings in Miami and Paris this year. In addition to that, Madison Keys and Agnieszka Radwanska are hardly going to be walkovers in a projected round of 16 either.
4. The Most Exciting 1R?
#men: Alexander Zverev vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber. This all-German derby could be a fun one, with the feisty Zverev grinding out three wins in qualifying to make the main draw. On the other side of the net, his elder countryman played just one match during the US Open Series (a loss to Joao Sousa in Cincinnati) and could certainly be ripe for an upset.
#ladies: Lucie Safarova vs. Lesia Tsurenko. It isn’t often that two players will face off twice in a matter of days, but this pair will do just that in Flushing Meadows. Just three days ago, Safarova defeated Tsurenko, a lucky loser and one of the in-form, dangerous floaters in the women’s draw, in the semifinals in New Haven, 6-2, 7-6(4) and the two will go head-to-head again on Tuesday. While Safarova’s New Haven victory looked straightforward, it was anything but — as Tsurenko came back from a double-break deficit in the second set to nearly force a decider.
In addition to their recent history, the two also have a past at Flushing Meadows: Safarova defeated Tsurenko in first round in 2013 in a topsy, turvy three-set affair.
#men: So many exciting opening round matches to look forward to on the men’s side, which is nice considering the WTA typically owns the honors there. While I’m tempted to pick Thanasi Kokkinakis/Richard Gasquet, it feels like it could be more straightforward for the Frenchman than one might hope. Instead, I can’t help but go with Nick Kyrgios vs. Andy Murray, the obvious choice. While the other early match ups could likely end in straight sets for the favored opponent, Kyrgios should thrive in the electric atmosphere of tennis’ biggest stadium… so long as he — and the crowd — has put that Montreal misstep behind him.
#ladies: Forgive me for the blatant hipster pick, but I’m looking forward to Sara Errani vs. qualifier Mayo Hibi in the first round. Hibi, a 19-year-old Japanese-Californian, plays with an uncanny stylistic resemblance to Steffi Graf: a one handed, often-sliced backhand and a rare eastern forehand. While Hibi has made occasional waves at the ITF level, this will be her first WTA main draw appearance. Errani isn’t the type of player to blast her opponents off the court, so we’ll likely get a good taste as to what this unique Slam debutante has to offer.
#men: New York has to have the biggest population of sports’ fans. They are fiercely loyal people and can be spectacularly loud. They also have good memories. Given the saga of Nick Kyrios and his dastardly display of rude diction in Montreal, his first match at the Open should be a doozy…especially since he’ll play Andy Murray, the 2012 champion. If Kyrgios shows signs of his Canadian antics, fans will turn on a dime and make his match a living hell. Murray, who could be at the brunt of this possible scene, will have to remove himself from the extravaganza, which would only thrill fans more. Murray and Kyrgios have met three times, all at significant tournaments: Canada Masters (2014); Australian Open (2015); and Roland Garros (2015). However, they have never faced each other in the opening round of a slam. Murray is 3-0 against Kyrgios and should get by the young Australian, but it should be a show that will righteously kick off the fortnight.
#ladies: Grand Slams are fabulous times to see new faces. American and wildcard Louisa Chirico is one such player, as is qualifier Johanna Konta of Great Britian. As the luck of the draw would have it, they face off in round one. Chirico, at 19, had her best tournament at Citi Open this summer. She defeated Heather Watson, Alize Cornet, and then fell to the eventual tournament winner Sloane Stephens. Chirico is dedicated and professional on court. Her groundies are clean and land deep, an asset for such a young player. Although five years older, Konta’s presence on tour has been much more noticeable this year. Her run at Eastbourne this spring put the Brit on the map, as she defeated Zarina Diyas, Ekaterina Makarova and Muguruza, before falling to eventual champion Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinal. The attraction of the opening-round match is in the freshness of the players, quite simply.
#men: In terms of names and crowd-pulling power, Murray-Kyrgios wins by a county mile and Nadal-Coric has a lot of intrigue but I’ll go slightly left (German) field. Zverev-Kohlschreiber is frustrating on paper but here’s hoping it’ll be a good tussle between the current German #1 and the potential future German No. 1.
#ladies: If both Ana Ivanovic and Dominika Cibulkova are able to bring some of the tennis they showed in Cincinatti and New Haven, respectively, this could be the first round match on the ladies’ side. The two are dead even in their head-to-head at 2-2, and the Slovak put Lucie Safarova into all sorts of trouble a few days ago; her legs, finally recovered from the Achilles’ surgery from earlier this year, were motoring away at a similar frequency as her groundstrokes and she could provide a very stern test for the Serbian No. 6 seed.
5. The Unheralded Opposition?
#men: Chung Hyeon has an excellent opportunity to win his first career Grand Slam main draw match having drawn Australian James Duckworth in the first round. The wunderkind South Korean was the name on everyone’s radar for the early part of the season while he tore up the Challenger circuit, and a second round meeting against Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka could get a lot of people talking. While the bespectacled teenager is the antithesis of nearly everything found in the loud, hustle and bustle of the US Open.
#ladies: There are a whole host of unseeded players that I thought could put together some strong wins with the right draw, but ended up getting handed the wrong one. Tsurenko, Witthoeft and Caroline Garcia are all underdogs in their first round matches against seeded players, but I think the biggest beneficiary of Maria Sharapova’s withdrawal is Kristina Mladenovic. Svetlana Kuznetsova hasn’t played since giving Sloane Stephens a walkover in Washington, D.C., and the Frenchwoman winning that opening round encounter would be no surprise. Should that come to pass, an unseeded player in the second week in guaranteed…and Mladenovic certainly has the tools to take a run further.
#men: Alex Dolgopolov and his unorthodox brand of tennis made a splash in Cincinnati and it feels like he might be primed to continue that form in New York this year. The US Open has yielded the Ukrainian’s highest win percentage at a major, and he has a decent draw to make an impact. He could also lose meekly in three tiebreaks to the big-serving Sam Groth in the first round. But hey, #IfCilicDidItLastYear.
#ladies: She was my Wimbledon pick, and she’ll be my US Open pick again: Ana Konjuh comes from the same junior generation as Belinda Bencic and had similar success at the minor level with her big serving and walloping groundstrokes. Still only 17 years old, she’s been subject to the WTA’s age restriction rules this year, which has seemingly prevented her from developing at the same rate as Bencic. Konjuh was slated to meet Sharapova in the second round, but since the No.3 seed’s withdrawal, that section of the draw is wide open for the taking and the former US Open girls’ singles champ might just be the player to do so.
#men: Lots of players are pushing the ceiling on the men’s side. Borna Coric has already been mentioned. Steve Johnson, though, stands out as a real threat. Two years ago, the American was ranked No. 116, but this year, he’s at No. 49. His performance at the Citi Open threw him into a bright spotlight, when he scored wins over Bernard Tomic, Grigor Dimitrov, and Jack Sock. They were all ranked well above the USC graduate. Johnson should have won his semifinal against finalist John Isner, but a couple loose points from ‘Stevie’ and a couple of lucky points from Isner turned the tables. The American has never gone beyond the third round in New York. In fact, he’s lost in the first round three out of four appearances. However, with America’s wind at his back and Fabio Fognini the first opponent, look for Johnson to at least progress past round one and, perhaps, into the second week.
#ladies: At 32 and known more for doubles than singles at this point in her career, Roberta Vinci has a chance to make some noise in New York. Her draw is book-ended by Carla Suarez Navarro (No. 10) and Jelena Jankovic (No. 21). Yet inbetween are women she could defeat, first being Vania King. Vinci’s experience and variety could take her past Suarez Navarro, too, in the second round. The Spaniard’s year has gone from good — with a final appearance in Rome where she lost to Maria Sharapova — to a series of first-round losses starting in Eastbourne through Cincinnati. Although Vinci would most likely lose to Jelena Jankovic, that prediction is always fraught with doubt.
#men: What can Mardy Fish do in the final tournament of his career? He played Andy Murray close in Cincinnati and has drawn a very solvable first round opponent in Marco Cecchinato, who knows — maybe the American can put Feliciano Lopez into a bit of trouble and finish his career with a proper hurrah! It would certainly make for feel good story.
#ladies: There’s a fair slate of women who could break through some of the softer sections of the draw or those headlined by slumping players and those with injury concerns. Don’t be surprised to see Roberta Vinci challenge for the second week at the US Open. After struggling with shoulder issues at the beginning of the year, the Italian has shown signs of her old form posting a strong result in Toronto and pushing Caroline Wozniacki to the brink of defeat in New Haven.
6. The Semifinalists?
#men: Novak Djokovic vs. Marin Cilic. Although the World No. 1 could face David Goffin — who led him by a double break in the final set in Cincinnati — in the fourth round, Djokovic is seemingly playing too well to be upended by anyone before the business end of the tournament. As was the case at Wimbledon, one quarter of the men’s draw looks ripe for a surprise semifinalist. With serious questions surrounding Ferrer, that surprise — a term you don’t typically hear regarding a defending champion at a major — could come in the form of Cilic. A rematch of last year’s final between Nishikori and Cilic could be on the cards in the quarterfinals, and the Croat will surprise most (again) — this time, by not succumbing to the pressure of defending a maiden slam. Stan Wawrinka vs. Roger Federer. The US Open is the only slam that hasn’t seen a Swiss derby, and what better time for it than 2015? The stars have seemingly aligned: Federer is primed for another successful US Open run after his dominance (again) in the land of Skyline Chili, and half of Wawrinka’s wins against his potential quarterfinal opponent Andy Murray have come in Flushing Meadows. The last time I had an inkling about an ATP result at a slam, Richard Gasquet made the Wimbledon semifinals.
#ladies: In thinking about the three players who’ll join Serena Williams in the final four, Maria Sharapova’s last-minute withdrawal flips the second quarter on its head. All of a sudden, a dozen players have the chance to call themselves a US Open semifinalist. If Ekaterina Makarova was healthy, she’d be my pick to make it through this section — full of players she knows she should beat — but the Russian has struggled with injury all summer. In her stead, I’ll choose Elina Svitolina, who is quickly becoming what Makarova is — a solid player who very rarely loses to someone she shouldn’t. Her dire head-to-head record against Ana Ivanovic is the only sticking point, but I’m not confident that she’ll seize a wide-open draw at two slams in the same year.
On the bottom half, Caroline Wozniacki looked none the worse for wear in New Haven after her summer injury struggles — and, although opportunity exists for many in the bottom half — I think she and Simona Halep will come through relatively unscathed.
#men: Djokovic vs. Dimitrov. I’m sticking with my incredibly faithful pic of Dimitrov dark horsing his way past a section loaded with Top 10’ers Ferrer, Cilic, and Nishikori with the inspired world-class tennis he showed flashes of in his tough loss to Murray in Cincinnati. Djokovic was fairly mediocre for most of Montreal and Cincinnati yet made the finals nevertheless. Sporting an elbow injury that impacted his serve, one can’t help but think he’ll have worked out the kinks for the year’s final major. On the other half, I’m thinking Wawrinka vs. Federer. Wawrinka owns a great record at the US Open against fellow top seed Murray in his section and has done well here in the recent years. Federer played exceptional attacking tennis to dominate Cincinnati and appears fresh to make a deep in New York again, having not made the finals since 2009.
#ladies: In the wide open section vacated by Sharapova after her recent withdrawal, it’s hard to pick a semifinalist. Ask me a year ago and I would have chosen Eugenie Bouchard, but there’s no signs of her slump ending any time soon. Elina Svitolina might be a safe pick there, since she’s earned her ranking on beating players she should beat (and rarely anything more), but I’m going with Jelena Jankovic. The former US Open finalist has had decent results lately (and, now, a decent draw) and seems motivated for strong results at this latter stage in her career.
On the other half of the draw, Wozniacki will be keen to defend her mass of points from last year’s finals run, but her draw isn’t doing her any favors. Instead, I’m going with Sam Stosur, who is in the same section but has the weapons to get past the tough players in her draw on this favorable surface. The bottom section is a tough call, with Kerber, Safarova and Azarenka — yet I can see Simona Halep finally overcoming her Grand Slam mire to #fightergirl her way into the semifinals here.
Oh yeah, and Serena Williams. Duh.
#men: Although Novak Djokovic has a fairly tough quarter, his game, resilience and drive should land him in the semifinal. Awaiting the top seed will be Kei Nishikori. Djokovic has not won the U.S. Open since 2011, progressing to the final in 2012 and 2013, and the semifinals last year when he lost to the Japanese. That loss should give Novak the wiliness he’d need to edge a competent Kei. This is the last Grand Slam of the year, too; and, Djokovic is in his prime. He will want to prove himself to the New York crowds even though no one will surpass him at number one. The win will mean everything; and, he will get it. Andy Murray and Roger Federer look like the hands-down favorites to make the semifinal from the bottom half of the draw. They each are playing their best career tennis, which is odd to write given Federer’s age at 34. However, his dance moves in Cincinnati stunned his opponents, including Murray. But the Scotsman gave Roger his best test at the last summer Masters 1000. One player could upset Murray in his quarter, Stan Wawrinka. But the Swiss has somehow been harmed by the Kyrgios incident, and it’s negatively affected his performance. Federer could be stalled by Tomas Berdych (No. 6) in the quarterfinals, but the Czech Republic star arrives in New York on a mini-skid. Not a good time for that. Thus, Federer for the win.
#ladies: Ana Ivanovic (No. 7) was handed a gift late Sunday afternoon, as Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Open with a nagging leg injury. Therefore, the quarter should be hers to rule. Jankovic could cause trouble, in the fourth round, but in the battle of the Serbs Ivanovic is a surer bet. Thus, we’ll see her on semifinal Friday across the net from none other than the woman of the hour, Serena Williams. Miracles do happen, but the tennis gods should clearly have taken Williams’ side by the time this match begins. Winner: Serena Williams in straight sets.
Lucie Safarova has changed. She’s anchored in the top ten and energized by her record in singles and doubles, alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Her draw is tricky but with winnable matches until week two when she faces tougher competition, namely Victoria Azarenka (No. 20) or lefty Angelique Kerber (No. 11). Azarenka’s health remains a big question, although her head is ready to rumble. Kerber can upset any one with her consistency and determination, but it would be Simona Halep (No. 2) in the quarterfinal that might upset Safarova … but not this year. Muguruza, although in the same quarter as newly crowned two-time New Haven champion Petra Kvitova, has a great shot to play Safarova. The Spaniard has not done well since losing to Williams in the Wimbledon final. However, rest and practice could put her in a Grand Slam state of mind — the tournaments that seem to bring out her best. Look for Muguruza to face Williams once again as she wins the semifinal over Safarova in three sets.
#men: I have very little doubt about Federer and Djokovic making it to the semifinals and I don’t see an awful lot standing in the way of that. Andy Murray might have to deal with Stan Wawrinka in a quarterfinals and who knows whether the 2015 Roland Garros champion will have one of his days when his shots are kissed by the tennis Gods but overall I’m having good confidence that Murray and Federer will meet in the semifinals. The certainly feels the most open but I went with Kei Nishikori regardless. I picked Monfils to make the semifinals at the French Open and that never materialized, so I will abstain from crazy Monfils picks even if the opportunity seems plausible enough.
#ladies: Serena Williams/Ana Ivanovic and Andrea Petkovic/Simona Halep. Serena Williams might have a match or two that will test her and sharpen her senses on her way to the semifinals but I’m pretty convinced she’ll be there at the business end of the year’s final slam. Predicting her semifinal opponent is trickier.
Maria Sharapova is an unknown quantity at the moment and Ivanovic doesn’t have the easiest of first round matches, but if she clears the hurdle, I think the Serb might actually be able to exploit a relatively open quarter and reach her second Grand Slam semifinal of the year. However, it wouldn’t shock me if an entirely different name pops up at the end of the second week.
At first glance, the third quarter appears to be tailor-made for a Caroline Wozniacki semifinal run but in fact it is the softest of them all; there are more than a handful of players who could potentially make a semifinal run in New York. It could be Sam Stosur, Petra Kvitova, even Sara Errani — but I’ll go with my compatriot Petkovic even though one of her legs has been strapped over the past few days.
7. The Champion?
#men: Novak Djokovic. Wawrinka’s already channeled off-court happenings into on-court brilliance in 2015, and because of that, a run to the US Open final is just crazy enough to be in the realm of possibility. While he denied the Serb the chance to complete the career Grand Slam in Paris, I feel there will be no such repeat in New York when the two meet in this final. Djokovic is by far and away the best hardcourt player in the world at the moment, and will come away with his second US Open title in four sets.
#ladies: Serena Williams. Pressure is a privilege, says Billie Jean King. The pressure has been on Serena Williams more times than one can count this year, and she’s delivered every time. There’s no reason to think she won’t do it this time, as she’s once again staring history in the face.
#men: We’ll be getting a rematch of the Dubai, Indian Wells, Rome, Wimbledon, and Cincinnati finals – Federer vs. Djokovic in the final, and Djokovic should snag his third Slam of the year and second US Open title. Given that the tournament is played on hard courts, it seems strange that the Serb hasn’t won this title as much as he’s won Wimbledon or the Australian Open. While Federer outclassed him in Cincinnati with his blitz returning and pinpoint serving, the surface in New York is slightly slower, and Djokovic’s defensive play should once again get him over the line against Federer in the best-of-five format.
#ladies: It’s impossible not to pick someone who isn’t Serena Williams at this point. With so much history on the line and widespread interest from both hardcore and casual fans all over the world, the pressure might get to the tennis legend, but it makes for an equally compelling reason to think she’ll overcome it all and secure her place in the tennis annals as one of the best ever.
#men: Roger Federer will hoist his 18th Grand Slam trophy come Sunday, September 13. The final against Djokovic will be a repeat of Cincinnati, where the Serbian will fight while a seemingly relaxed Federer will carve up his hopes. This dream comes true for diehard Fed fans, of which there are zillions, only if the number-two seed can execute his best revival act a la Cincinnati. There are doubts, for sure. Arthur Ashe court is not as slick as the one in Ohio, which will give Djokovic even more time to set up his lethal ground game. Additionally, Federer’s run up to the Wimbledon final was nothing less than stellar, yet he could not withstand Djokovic’s slam stamina and gritty mental fortitude. Nonetheless, the mighty Federer will prevail over four sets.
#ladies: There’s little to quibble about here. Let the moment explode. Serena Williams wins her 22nd singles Grand Slam, the calendar year Grand Slam, and her fifth consecutive major to tie Steffi Graf. Williams is simply too good on all tennis fronts to let this occasion slip from her skillful fingers.
#men: This one is tough to call but despite Federer’s great display in Cincinnati, I can’t help but go with Djokovic, particularly over five sets on hard courts. He hasn’t been entirely convincing over the course of the past three weeks but it would be very much like him to shift into appropriate gear for the US Open and it’s quite bizarre that arguably the best hard court player of the current generation has only won the US Open once so far. Strong chance this will be No. 2. (Watch Cilic defend his title.)
#ladies: Serena Williams def. Simona Halep.
Last year Williams made the semifinals in Canada, won Cincinnati and conquered New York without ever breaking a sweat. I think her road will be more difficult this year but I’m pretty convinced that we’ll see her hoist No. 22 and the calendar year Grand Slam.
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