We’re now less than a week away from the 138th iteration of the U.S. Open in New York, where the world’s top tennis players will compete for the fourth and final Grand Slam of the season.
There’s a stellar line up of both male and female players expected to contend this year, as Rafa Nadal and Sloane Stephens prepare to defend their respective titles against some serious competition.
But which players are most likely to prevail at Flushing Meadows? Here, we take a look at the top contenders…
Will Djokovic confirm his return to form?
Serbian and SW19 winner Novak Djokovic will start the men’s tournament as favourite, as he goes in search of his 14th Grand Slam and third U.S. Open title. He’ll certainly arrive in New York in outstanding form after his recent win against the odds at Wimbledon and having lifted the Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati for the very first time.
In doing so, he became the first man to claim all ATP Masters 1000 titles since the series started in 1990, taking his overall winning tally to 31.
Djokovic also beat world number two Roger Federer in the Mason final and his notoriety as a hard court specialist will make extremely him difficult to beat at Flushing Meadows.
However, he is by no means the overwhelming favourite, as this will be the first iteration of the US Open to feature the ‘big four’ since 2015. Federer will also arrive having been successful on five previous occasions at Flushing Meadows. While the last of these titles came in 2008, he did contest an entertaining 2015 final against Djokovic.
These two are also scheduled to meet at the quarters in New York as a result of Djokovic’s seeding, and this will create an opportunity for players like Marin Cilic and Sascha Zverev to claim a semi-final berth from the bottom half of the draw.
Then there’s the defending champion and world number one Nadal, who is a three-time US Open winner renowned for his indomitable fighting spirit. Former player and ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert also believes that Nadal will be aided by a reduced surface speed on the Arthur Ashe court, with the Spaniard looking to have an easier route to the final than his rivals.
Former world number one and three-time Slam winner Andy Murray will also make his elite-level return in New York, although he’s unlikely to add to his 2012 triumph this time around.
Still, both Murray and the talented Stan Wawrinka should be considered as potential landmines in a fascinating third-quarter draw, as despite being unseeded after prolonged injury problems, they both have the natural ability to progress well beyond the first week of the tournament.
Stan Wawrinka is further along in his recovery than Murray and is one of the favourites to reach the quarter-final in this section, where he could well meet a rejuvenated Juan Martin Del Potro. The 2009 US Open winner, who has endured some torrid injury problems throughout his career, has finally returned to form after outstanding runs at Roland Garros and SW19.
He also won his first ATP Masters 1000 tournament at Indian Wells earlier this season.He is now established as the world number three and despite recent fluctuations in form, he retains the type of formidable serve and forehand that thrives at Flushing Meadows.
Will Halep win her first Hard Court Slam?
The WTA tournament is also likely to be keenly contested this time around, particularly with the last seven Grand Slams having been won by different players dating back to the 2016 US Open.
On paper, the French Open champion Simona Halep would seem to be the favourite, but we must remember that the Romanian has often struggled to replicate her consistent tour form on the Grand Slam stage. The win at Roland Garros was her maiden Grand Slam title, while she has never progressed beyond the semi-finals in New York.
Halep also faces a tough draw, with a first round match against the hard-hitting Kaia Kanepi providing a potential roadblock. She could also run into one of the Williams sisters in the fourth round, where Halep’s touch and variety may be overwhelmed by brute force and power on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.
In fact, Serena Williams must be considered as a key contender in New York, particularly if her unexpected run to the Wimbledon final is anything to go buy. The idea of the big-hitting Williams contesting a ferocious semi-final against defending champion Sloane Stephens is hard to resist, with the battle between power and athleticism potentially one for the ages.
However, it’s the third quarter of the draw that provides the greatest interest with a number of likely winners featured. This includes two-time Slam winner Petra Kvitova, who has, despite her historic struggles in the US Open, made the quarter-finals twice in the last three years.
Caroline Garcia, Jelena Ostapenko, Madison Keys, Maria Sharapova, and CoCo Vandeweghe are also included in this section of the draw, along with the out-of-form British star Johanna Konta.
Perhaps the biggest danger here is Angelique Kerber, who ended Serena Williams’ fairytale in ruthless fashion at Wimbledon to win her third Grand Slam title. She also won the US Open title back in 2016 and has a game that is ideally suited to the hard courts at Flushing Meadows.
So, while the world number four endured an indifferent August and a disappointing defeat to Madison Keys in Cincinnati, she holds a slight edge in an extremely competitive and evenly matched field.