As the U.S. Open prepares to head into a second week, the final major of the professional tennis season is drawing to a close. While this would usually be more than enough reason for excitement, this years’ tournament is incredibly unpredictable with the male and female titles arguably more open than ever before.
This is particularly true in the male format of the game, where the enforced absence of Novak Djokovic and world number one Andy Murray has been exacerbated by the early exit of several other seeds. This has left the bottom half of the draw wide open, while Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal remain on course for a mouth-watering semi-final encounter in the other half.
The tournament has definitely been typical of the season as a whole on the ATP Tour, as stalwarts such as Murray and Djokovic have struggled with a combination injury, fatigue, and inconsistency. This has seen a number of surprise results and performances throughout the year, but who have been the best and most consultant players at the majors so far?
Bet Hut takes a look:
Our obvious starting point is the evergreen Swiss, who has won two of the three Slams so far this season and arguably reaffirmed his status as the greatest player of all-time.
After taking a six-month hiatus from the game at the end of last season, Federer has returned refreshed and with an aggressive game that has enabled him to leverage his natural ball-striking ability. This saw him win his 18th major title at the Australian Open in Melbourne (when he overcame his nemesis and long-time rival Nadal) and an eighth triumph at Wimbledon, with these two successes sandwiched by a prolonged break during the clay court season.
The Swiss legend, who is currently competing for his 20th Grand Slam at the U.S. Open, was particularly impressive at SW19, winning the tournament without dropping a single set while showcasing the unique shot-making ability that betrays his natural talent.
The new look Federer, complete with improved game management skills and superior ball striking, remains the current favourite to claim his sixth title at Flushing Meadows despite struggling to two five-set wins during the first week. Concerns over his fitness and form appear to have eased after a convincing straight-sets win over Feliciano Lopez, however, with only the indefatigable Nadal seeming to stand in his way.
In any other year, Roger Federer’s resurgence would be a sporting story without equal. It has arguably been matched by the return to form of Nadal, however, who was also forced to take a six-month break from the game amid ongoing wrist and knee concerns. At that time, he had not won a major since May 2014, while it appeared as though the powerful and physical nature of his game had ultimately taken their toll.
He also rebounded in superb fashion at the Australian Open, however, reaching the final with an epic five-set win over the more youthful Gregor Dimitrov. While he was narrowly beaten by Federer in the final, he sustained his form and fitness into the clay court season before completing ‘La Decima’ at Roland Garros by winning his 10th French Open title in May.
Although he endured a surprise, five-set defeat against Gilles Muller in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, Nadal has rebounded well and remains in contention for the U.S. Open title following a third round, four-set win over Leonardo Mayer.
Interestingly, Federer and Nadal are both located in the top-half of the draw, meaning that they are inching closer towards an epic semi-final clash at Flushing Meadows. Given this and the increasingly open nature of the bottom half of the draw (where 17th seed Sam Querrey is the only player who has previously reached a Grand Slam semi-final) both players will see the tournament as offering an outstanding opportunity to add to their Grand Slam haul.
Outside of the old-guard, no single player has genuinely excelled at the Slams. A couple of exciting youngsters have emerged, however, with the 23-year old Austrian having enjoyed an excellent year and now arguably the best-placed to win a Slam among the new generation of starlets.
The season started with a respectable fourth-round defeat against David Goffin in Melbourne, which represented a personal best at the Australian Open. He then managed to reach his second consecutive semi-final at Roland Garros, where only a dominant Rafa Nadal prevented him from reaching a maiden Slam final. This run also included a stunning, straight-sets win over defending champion Djokovic, as Thiem delivered a superb denouement by taking the final set 6-0.
Thiem also achieved a personal best at SW19 this year, reaching the fourth round before losing a gruelling five-set encounter with eventual semi-finalist and seasoned grass court campaigner Tomas Berdych.
Currently ranked eighth in the world and seeded sixth at the U.S. Open, Thiem has progressed to the fourth round where he will face the returning and extremely gifted Juan Martin Del Potro. A win here would establish yet another personal best for the increasingly consistent Thiem, who has perhaps improved more than any other elite player during the last 12 months.
An honourable mention should also go to the evergreen Stan Wawrinka, whose incredible power and shot-making ability have established the Swiss as being almost unplayable on his day.
The three-time Slam winner may have enjoyed a mixed year at the Slams in 2017, but he did manage to reach a second Roland Garros Final in May (before being outclassed by the brilliant Nadal). Wawrinka also reached the semi-final at Melbourne, where he fought hard before being dispatched by his countryman Federer in five, gruelling sets.
The second half of the year was far less fruitful for the Swiss, however, with a shock, first round dismissal at Wimbledon halting the big-hitting stars momentum. Wawrinka also succumbed to a knee injury prior to the U.S. Open, with the star missing out at Flushing Meadows and unlikely to return to the ATP Tour this year.
The Swiss will see this as a missed opportunity, particularly given the the exodus of seeds at the U.S. Open and the high profile withdrawals of Djokovic and Murray. He will hope to return strong next season, however, as he strives to win his fourth Grand Slam.