The final tennis major of the year is almost upon us. As always, New York City will serve as the backdrop for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday morning. Draws and matchups will have a huge impact like they do at every other event. Still, even before the draws come out, it is not hard to isolate a few questions whose answers will most impact America’s Grand Slam.
Is Serena a legitimate title contender?
As long as an all-time great like the younger Williams sister is in the draw, she is dangerous. However, the momentum her return to the tour as a mom picked up thanks to her run to the Wimbledon final has not carried over to the North American hardcourt summer. Williams was handed her worst career defeat in the opening round of San Jose, withdrew from the Canadian Open, and was sent packing in the second round of Cincinnati.
Williams is a 23 time Grand Slam winner for a reason. She has shown up to many majors out of shape and/or form over the years and still sometimes goes home with the big trophy. She has always been able to flip the proverbial switch. She is certainly capable of doing it again, but it will be tougher this time around in New York.
First off, a happy Serena off the court has always meant a dominant Serena on the court. Williams certainly has not been particularly happy off the court in recent weeks. She has been very open about her mental health struggles relating to adjusting to motherhood and being away from her daughter, who will turn one during the U.S. Open.
Secondly, the tour is so much deeper than it was 10-15 years ago when Williams would routinely show up and dominate a Grand Slam despite being out of shape, injured, rusty or dealing with some other extenuating circumstance. Now, former top ten players like Eugenie Bouchard and Vera Zvonareva are relegated to coming through the qualifying draw in hopes of competing for the main prize. Any top player has to be ready right from the start, or they could very well be in trouble.
Even at 36, it is foolish to put anything past Serena Williams. Still, the draw Gods helped her out at Wimbledon. She did not have to face a single top ten player on her way to the final. It will be interesting to see where her name lands for the U.S. Open. Her career resume earned her the 17th seed from tournament organizers, a handful of spots higher than her current ranking.
Serena is only playing against the record books at this point in her career, so she will be a dominant story at her home Grand Slam once again. However, when everything is taken into account, she faces an uphill battle to make a deep run in New York. regardless, it will be fun to watch her try.
Did Halep overplay?
World No.1 Simona Halep has been the best player in the world this year. Like many others, the French Open champion played consecutive hardcourt events in Canada and Cincinnati to prepare for the U.S. Open. The Romanian was the champion in Canada and runner-up in Cincinnati.
It is a grueling back-to-back under normal circumstances, but both events were ravaged by rain. Halep made deep runs and had to play multiple matches in a single day more than once. That is tough for any player, but especially for a counter punching grinder like Halep. She clearly had nothing left in the legs in the Cincinnati final. Halep is the fittest player in the world, but it is hard to imagine her tank being full for the entirety of the U.S. Open. If that does indeed come to fruition, this U.S. Open will be another in what seems like an endless line of wide open Grand Slams for the women.
Are we primed for an upset winner on the men’s side?
It is no secret that Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have had several dominant stretches atop the men’s game for many years. That trio is in the midst of another one. It is been almost two years since anyone else won a major. However, “the field” actually looks like a decent bet in New York this year. It is hard to determine just who will step up. Finding reasons to worry about the trio is much easier.
Despite winning Wimbledon and Cincinnati, Djokovic is still going through some odd patches of play where he can’t seem to put the ball in the court. You can find them in every match he played in Cincinnati. He needed to win a deciding set four times there. This isn’t all that surprising considering that the Serb is still relatively early in his comeback from a long-term elbow injury. However, eventually, rough patches are going to haunt.
Meanwhile, Federer has not been anywhere near his best since the beginning of the year. Despite reaching the final in Cincinnati, he is not returning serve well at all. He was unable to break David Goffin in the semis there. Goffin retired from the match with an injured shoulder. Being unable to break serve will haunt even quicker than a 15-20 minute patch of poor play.
The concern with Nadal is somewhat similar to that of Halep. He withdrew from Cincinnati after winning Canada. Still, Nadal’s physical style of play has been very hard on his body over the years. The hardcourts have been particularly hard on his knees. Especially after a rare second week run at Wimbledon for Nadal this year, it is hard not to wonder whether or not his body can hold up for the last major of the year where he is the defending champion.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are all very much legitimate threats to continue the trio’s dominance. However, there is more reason for optimism than usual for the other 125 men who will make up the singles draw at a Grand Slam.