In a year that has been nostalgic for Men’s tennis, the US Open gets underway at Flushing Meadows.
The return to prominence of both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been quite remarkable. Between them, they have mopped up the Australian, French and Wimbledon Grand Slam singles titles, and with a line-up heavily decimated by injuries, they are without question the ones to beat in New York.
Andy Murray was the latest big name to miss the tournament, having not sufficiently recovered from a hip injury. Murray now joins Djokovic, Raonic, Nishikori and last year’s champion Stan Wawrinka, on the sidelines.
Rafa Nadal is the new world number one (replacing Murray). It’s the fourth time he’s achieved this feat, and it’s testament to his consistency – particularly during the clay court swing, when he landed an incredible tenth French Open title. His form has dipped somewhat since, and he does sit in a tricky part of the draw, although the Majorcan has won this title twice previously.
As for Federer, at 36 years young, his rise back up the tennis ladder has been staggering.
Two more Grand Slam singles titles (19 now in total) have been added, and this will be just his ninth tournament of the season (won five). And despite losing two weeks ago in Montreal to young prodigy, Alexander Zverev, Federer arrives here fresh and confident, and seemingly over a slight back complaint in that recent final loss. It may come as a surprise that he hasn’t won a US Open title since 2008, but I’m not concerned by that, given that he hadn’t won a Slam since Wimbledon 2012, before winning in Melbourne earlier this year.
It may come as a surprise that he hasn’t won a US Open title since 2008, but I’m not concerned by that, given that he hadn’t won a Slam since Wimbledon 2012, before winning in Melbourne earlier this year.
His odds are very cramped though. That, I must admit, but I would much prefer to back Federer at the prices than Nadal, or the third best in the market, Alexander Zverev.
20-year-old Alex Zverev has been nothing short of sensational this season. Now up to number six in the world, the tall German has won five titles, and arrives off the back of hard court wins in Washington and Montreal. The only thing lacking has been a run in a Grand Slam, and whilst his draw is favourable, I just feel there is no juice in his price whatsoever.
Young Australian maverick, Nick Kyrgios, does lurk in Roger Federer’s quarter, and is a threat if bringing his A game to the court, but it’s his lack of discipline during a match that concerns me most. The talent is oozing out of every vein, but it’s what goes on between those two ears that worries me about Kyrgios. If his head is right, he’s respected.
Nadal could face Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals, and if so, this would be a repeat of their enthralling semi-final in the Australian Open.
On that occasion, Nadal won a five set epic, but the scales could tip the balance in Dimitrov’s favour this time around. A recent title win in Cincinnati can only increase the Bulgarian’s confidence, whereas Nadal’s form has dipped since the French Open.
2014 champion Marin Cilic, has an excellent draw on paper, but was rather laboured in winning his first round match yesterday. Cilic hasn’t played a single event since being crushed in the Wimbledon final, and has been nursing an adductor injury, so it will be a big ask to go close here.
Juan Martin del Potro’s finest hour was back here in 2009, but whilst we have seen glimpses of his best since, he has been struggling for consistency.
Enter outsider, Kevin Anderson. There are no secrets with the thirty-one year old South African (based in Florida), but following an injury-hit period, this big serving giant has found some form.
Anderson lost a final in Washington recently, and was a quarter-finalist here two years ago (beat Murray on the way), and looks a spot of value to win his quarter of the draw. A straight-forward first round win yesterday underlined his wellbeing, as he suffered no service breaks, and fired in twenty-two aces. He looks under the radar for me and could cause Zverev some problems in the first week.
There are plenty of others that could contend – such as Tsonga, Pouille, Isner, Monfils, Querrey, Thiem and Berdych – amongst many others, but Roger Federer can cap off the most extraordinary year, with another Grand Slam singles success.
Kevin Anderson (each-way), and to win his quarter, may give you a run in the other half of the draw too.
The women’s event unleashes numerous potential winners, but I have to start with the best player in the world right now in Garbine Muguruza.
The Spaniard is full of confidence, after securing her second Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon, and then put up a blistering performance in thrashing Simona Halep in the recent Cincinnati final.
Up until now, Muguruza has never got beyond the second round at Flushing Meadows, but crushed home player Varvara Lepchenko in her opening match, and only dropped three games in the process. She is mixing her game up nicely too, with sweeping groundstrokes and plenty of net coverage. I respect her greatly, but her odds are now too cramped for me.
The talking point on the opening day was the return to form of Maria Sharapova.
In front of twenty-four thousand spectators, and just inside three hours, the 2006 champion saw off the second seed, Simona Halep. Sharapova hit four times as many winners, in a gruelling baseline battle, and now has a real chance of progressing in a wide open quarter.
The seventh seed, Jo Konta, also crashed out. Britain’s number one held a set advantage, before losing in three sets to Serbia’s, Aleksandra Krunic.
Other players to note in the final quarter include Julia Goerges, who barely broke a sweat in winning yesterday, but a more interesting alternative could well be a fit again Sloane Stephens.
The American spent almost a year on the sidelines with a left foot injury, but following successful surgery, has recently broken back into the world’s top one hundred. Excellent showings in Toronto and Cincinnati have built the foundations, and maybe that time off for surgery has given the talented Stephens, that extra focus and desire to challenge the very best players.
Thirty-seven-year-old Venus Williams stuttered through her first round match in three sets but has had a great year so far, having reached two Grand Slam singles finals, but I’m not convinced that the dual US Open winner is playing with quite the same level of intensity now.
Caroline Wozniacki has also had a terrific year in terms of consistency but has been beaten in six finals to date. The twenty-seven-year-old Dane is twice a runner-up here too, but whilst she could easily go deep once again, it’s that inability to get the job done at the business end that puts me off.
Karolina Pliskova reached the final here twelve months ago but is still waiting for that Slam breakthrough.
Pliskova has a big serve and forehand and has long been tipped by many to be a Slam winner, but the fact we are still waiting for that debut success does concern me. There is no disputing that she does have the game, but I can’t be tipping her up at the odds on offer, given her profile to date.
Longevity in tennis is tough given the gruelling schedule, and many, rightly, point to the Williams sisters durability, but another player that fits this bracket is thirty-two-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova. The 2004 champion has played well again this season and is playing in her fifteenth US Open.
She continues to trouble the top players, as she is such a strong and dependable player. I can see her going well, and I like her draw.
Angelique Kerber had a remarkable 2016, but the defending champion has struggled for form this time around, and a bigger threat could well be the fifteenth seed Madison Keys.
The twenty-two-year-old has finally found some form, following wrist surgery, and has Lindsay Davenport back as part of her coaching team. Keys has a big game, as she demonstrated when winning the title in Stanford recently.
There should also be a mention for the most consistent player on tour this year in Elina Svitolina.
The Ukranian has won five titles in 2017 and has soared up the rankings as a result. It’s her Grand Slam results that need to improve, but the twenty-two-year-old has got time on her side and is very consistent.
I’ll take Svetlana Kuznetsova, Madison Keys, and Sloane Stephens – all on the outrights as each-way selections. Also, play on Kuznetsova – to win the first quarter.