What a year in tennis it has been already. Ash Barty won the Australian Open and Rafa did the same, albeit after the Australian Government deported Djokovic considering him “a threat to the nation”, just let that sink in. Rafa also won Roland Garros and was actually looking good at Wimbledon until injury forced him out, Novak would go on to win defeating Kyrgios in the final.
Now, here we are in New York and wouldn’t you know it, Politics has again arrived uninvited, denying Djokovic entry into America as the Serbian is unvaccinated. This is despite the US Government’s own infectious disease agency, the CDC, declaring that “unvaccinated people now have the same guidance as vaccinated people”, apparently not if you’re a US citizen, because you still can’t get into the country, at least legally.
So, Novak, the best player on hard courts by a country mile is out, which puts a big dent in the men’s draw. The focus on the women’s draw will be Serena Williams, playing her last ever tournament, so lets start with that. The now 40 year old has played just four singles matches in a year, only winning one.
She lost 6-4, 6-0 to the current US Open Champion Emma Raducanu last week in Cincinnati, so the signs aren’t there for a triumphant walk off into the sunset ending. She comes into the draw in New York unseeded and will play another unseeded player, Danka Kovinic, win that and a likely second round looms against the second seed Anett Kontaveit, which is a winnable match.
Serena’s play will have to improve greatly from her last few matches though, but for pure entertainment purposes I’d like to see her make the second week, where the drama will surely ramp up.
The top seed Iga Swiatek has cooled down a lot since winning the French Open, she hasn’t made a semi final since, and has been complaining about the balls the women use in New York, which are lighter and harder to control, that’s never a good sign. A potential second round against Sloane Stephens would say a lot whether the world number one is a serious threat here.
The form players during the hard court summer of tournaments have been Caroline Garcia from France who won Poland and Cincinnati and two-time major winner Simona Halep, who won Toronto. Other players to watch out for is the sixth seed Aryna Sabalenka and the lefty Petra Kvitova, who made the final in Cincy.
If the Russian Sabalenka gets past Wimbledon Champion Elena Rybakina in the third round and possibly 11th seed Raducanu in the 4th round then those confidence-boosting wins could take her far, but only if she can keep that power game under control.
The bottom half of the draw is more wide open, other than Halep and Garcia, Coco Gauff (12), last years finalist Leylah Fernandez, Maria Sakkari (5) or power hitter Madison Keys (20) could all make runs.
So, who will hold up the trophy in two weeks? The final slam of the year always gives us a surprise, especially after last years Fernandez v Raducanu. There are so many players in this draw who can play lights out for two weeks, Anisimova, Badosa, former world number one Naomi Osaka or Muguruza. I could go on, but I won’t. The Champion of this US Open will be Simona Halep, but don’t put any money on it.
The men seem to be almost as tough to pick. Gone are the days (for various reasons), when it was Roger, Rafa or Novak. Now, there is no Roger or Novak and Rafa comes into New York still under a fitness cloud with questions of can his body hold up for seven best of five set matches, although he’s been given a gift of a draw.
The second seed shouldn’t be troubled until a potential 3rd round against the road runner Schwartzman (14) from Argentina, then a fourth rounder against either Shapovalov or Rublev, then a Quarter final against the lefty Brit, Cam Norrie. They’re all winnable matches for the Spanish Bull.
World number one and defending Champion, the Russian Medvedev has won only one title all year, a small event at Los Cabos, Mexico, he lost first round in Canada to Kyrgios but did make a run in Cincy, losing a tight semi to Tsitsipas.
His US Open draw shouldn’t be a problem until a potential third rounder against Kyrgios, that’s if Nick manages to get past his good buddy Kokkinakis in the first round.
Medvedev has the defense/offense game to go all the way, but his season has been patchy at best. There’s a handful of other players who could make runs, the dangerous teenager Carlos Alcaraz (3), the Italian Jannik Sinner (11) who pushed Djokovic to five sets at Wimbledon, the other Italian Berrettini (13), whose season has been disrupted by injury but is always tough to beat with a monster serve. Throw in Tsitsipas (4), the Cincy champ Borna Coric (25) and Kyrgios (23). Can he back up his Wimbledon form?
So, who am I tipping? Alcaraz is looking most likely to win this; he won Miami earlier in the year, has shown good form coming into New York and if he makes a semi against Nadal, he has the fitness and game to prevail, which would give him a boost in the final, whoever he plays. I’m tipping Alcaraz to win his first Slam.