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They’re coming to (North) America: U.S. Open Series storylines

U.S Open Series

The dust from Wimbledon has settled and the next big stretch of the tennis calendar is upon us. The world’s best will spend the next month or so tearing up the hardcourts of North America in preparation for the U.S. Open which begins in New York on August 29th. Unfortunately, when looking at story-lines, we are forced yet again to start with another megastar who will not be present.

Djokovic done in 2017

In a move eerily similar to what Roger Federer did last year, 12 time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic announced he would not play again in 2017 on Wednesday. The Serb cited an elbow injury that has apparently lingered for some time. Djokovic’s dip in performance over the last year is well-documented and perhaps now makes more sense. The U.S. Open and its lead up events will not feel quite right without one of the “Big 4”. Djokovic had played every Grand Slam dating back to 2005.

Novak Djokovic
Photo: foxsports.au

The good news is the current World No. 4 is keeping his coaching team together, hopes to avoid surgery and fully intends to return in 2018. In the short term though, all this does is open the door for Federer and Rafael Nadal to continue to dominate 2017. They will have a pretty good crack at the World No. 1 ranking as the summer rolls on. Speaking of the World No. 1…

Is Murray healthy?  

Bothered by a hip injury, Andy Murray barely moved in the final two sets of his Wimbledon loss. Even so, Murray’s injury outlook appears a bit more positive than that of Djokovic.

The Brit is lightly hitting balls again according to his Instagram page. As of now, he remains on the entry list at the Canadian Open and in Cincinnati. Movement is the foundation of Murray’s game. If that is hindered in any way, Murray becomes an ordinary player.

Keeping the top ranking away from Federer or Nadal over the summer will require a Herculean effort from Murray. The fact that he is carrying an injury makes it all the tougher and is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Federer and Nadal are in their own stratosphere this year. However, with half of the “Big 4” dealing with uncertainty, younger players like Alexander Zverev could be contenders on a week in week out basis this summer.

 Sharapova and Azarenka continue comebacks

Over on  the ladies tour, the summer is set to be dominated by one story, the ongoing comebacks of Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.

Despite the controversy surrounding Sharapova and Azarenka’s post pregnancy rust, having two big stars ready to go for the summer is a great thing, especially with Serena Williams on maternity leave.

The Russian and Belarussian will follow the same schedule leading into the U.S. Open. Starting next week, they will play as wildcard entrants for three straight weeks in Stanford, Toronto, and Cincinnati respectively. As a ticket holder in Cincinnati, I hope three straight weeks is not too much for them.

Before their lengthy absences, Sharapova and Azarenka racked up seven majors and three Olympic medals between them. They were clearly the second and third best players in the world behind Serena when healthy.  When clicking, their return games can break opponents almost at will. The unpredictable nature of the ladies’ game recently is staggering.

2012 Olympics
Photo: the42

After winning two Grand Slams and finishing the year with the top ranking in 2016, Angelique Kerber has fallen off the face of the Earth in 2017. New World No. 1 Karolina Plíšková just lost in the second round of Wimbledon.

Jelena Ostapenko and Garbiñe Muguruza are the latest surprise major winners at the French Open and Wimbledon respectively. The week before their breakthroughs, Ostapenko was ranked outside of the top 30, while Muguruza lost in the second round of the grass court event in Eastbourne, winning just one game in the process.

Given the details of the last two paragraphs, can Sharapova and Azarenka renew their fierce personal rivalry and compete for all the big trophies this summer? Absolutely. They may be rusty, but they know how to win. More importantly, neither is afraid to do so.

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