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The most open US Open ever?
After winning at Wimbledon in July, Novak Djokovic ensured that this year was the first year since 2012 that he, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal shared the first three majors of the year. He also made it an extraordinary 50 grand slam titles won by arguably the three greatest male tennis players in history (add Rod Laver and Pete Sampras into the mix as well). Despite these remarkable statistics, arguments could be made that these three did not play to their best in their victorious runs. Federer did not drop a set until the final against Marin Cilic, but he was extremely fortunate to win the final with some nervous play when least expected. Nadal had the rain to thank in his quarter-final against Diego Schwartzman, as play was stopped with Schwartzman a set and a break up. For Djokovic, his semi-final against Nadal at Wimbledon saw him play at a great level for parts, but many pundits will still say Nadal played the better tennis for longer periods. So, as much as it seems like we are back in 2012, we are clearly not. Despite the great three winning at the majors again, why is this arguably the most unpredictable US Open ever?
Form and strategies to prolong careers seems like a good place to start. Federer’s gamble of missing the whole clay court season in order to attack Wimbledon did not work out to give him his ninth title, but it looks to continue to prolong his playing days. It would seem ridiculous to say he has not been at his best this year, with his stellar 29-4 win-loss record. But, his defeats this year have shown frailties that is only normal for the 37 year-old. Players have taken the magical Wilson racket away from his hands with immense power, and question marks remain whether he can win seven matches in a row at his age. Djokovic’s shock loss in Toronto to Stefanos Tsitsipas suggests that he is still not completely over his two year slump since the 2016 French Open. Despite the Wimbledon victory seeming to lift him from the gloom, whether he is back to his consistent and spectacular best is still up for debate. They may win in Cincanniti this week and even if the bookies have placed Djokovic as the favourite to land a 14th major title, there is one person who is the clear king of the court.
Nadal, since his Australian Open quarter-final withdrawal, has been in superb form. He seems to be playing more aggressive than ever and is more effective on his return, shown by him winning 45% of the points on his opponent’s serve. Rather surprisingly, at the grand slams, Nadal looked most vulnerable on his beloved clay. His performance at Wimbledon was exceptional, considering the opponents he was up against. Players who have bigger weapons such as the serve looked to be a magnificent test for the Spaniard. He not only passed those tests, he did with a more effective style of play than ever before. Only two defeats since that night in Melbourne makes him rightfully the favourite to lift a fourth title in New York. However, on the male side, no one has been able to defend their crown in the city that never sleeps since Federer in 2008. As much as he is the favourite, it should not be a huge shock if he loses before the final rounds.
Two players have shown that they can break dominance of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer at the biggest tournaments. Juan Martin del Potro and Stanislas Wawrinka have proved that time and again. The Argentine has had a stellar year so far and due to his love of the big stage, the new world number three has the chance to rekindle his dream run of 2009. On the other hand, Wawrinka has had a struggle since his knee surgery, but if the last few weeks are anything to go by, he can go under the radar again to win his fourth major title. His match in Toronto against Nadal was one of the matches of the year, in spite of the straight sets victory for the Spaniard. The beautiful backhand was always there, but now his forehand is back to its best and the movement does not look to be affected as much as it was.
The daily question of whether the young generation has it in them to win on the biggest stage and usher in a new phase will always be asked. Alexander Zverev has backed up his breakthrough year with another Masters title and a run to the quarter-final at Roland Garros. However, some surprise defeats in the last few months and some choice words in press conferences leaves fans questioning whether the 21 year old is ready to make the next step. Nick Kyrgios continues to struggle with unfortunate injuries, whereas the likes of Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov are thought of being too young to pull off an audacious run in New York . It may be in 2019 where we see someone from the young generation push this great era away from the top of the game, or even longer.
As mentioned earlier, no one has been able to defend their crown in New York since Federer in 2008. Every year has seen in different winner and in del Potro, Cilic and Wawrinka, these were champions that people least expected. Therefore, even if Federer, Nadal and Djokovic won the first three majors of the year, it is not a written that they will win the US Open. As Djokovic once said in anticipation of his opponent in the Australian Open final in 2016, “expect the unexpected.”