We have come to the final leg of the 2018 Grand Slam season, with solely a fortnight in Flushing Meadows remaining on the docket.
With the US Open important draw set to kick off Monday, listed below are 5 storylines to regulate on the yr’s remaining main.
Serena takes one other crack at No. 24
Margaret Court docket’s report of 24 main singles titles does not actually matter. She received 13 of them earlier than professionals had been allowed to compete on the Slams, and, because the sage Chrissie Evert not too long ago identified, she received 11 of them on the Australian Open “when no person was happening there, as a result of it was throughout Christmas.” Serena Williams is already the undisputed GOAT, and her cultural imprint on ladies’s tennis already dwarfs anybody’s, save maybe Billie Jean King. And but, insignificant although the excellence could also be, that quantity – 24 – continues to be on the market.
As she runs out of milestones to chase, information to interrupt, and issues to show, that quantity offers her one thing to maintain striving for. Williams herself has stated as a lot. When she received her 23rd Slam to surpass Steffi Graf for the Open-era report on the 2017 Australian Open, it appeared a foregone conclusion that she’d ultimately eclipse Court docket’s tally. However Williams’ being pregnant, the recurrence of pulmonary emboli that adopted her difficult supply, her subsequent battle with postpartum melancholy, and every little thing else motherhood has thrown her means up to now yr has made the trail to that purpose rather less simple.
Nonetheless, six weeks in the past, she was enjoying within the Wimbledon remaining, two units from No. 24. She misplaced a spirited bout to an on-point Petra Kvitova in Cincinnati final week, however that loss spoke as extremely of Williams’ type as nearly any of the wins she’s notched since returning to the tour. In an ever-crowded ladies’s area, she nonetheless feels just like the most secure wager.
However, the place so many would-be threats in her Wimbledon draw scattered earlier than her like a flock of pigeons, her US Open draw appears unlikely to be so forgiving. Serena received bumped as much as the 17th seed in Flushing Meadows, and all it earned her was a possible third-round date with sister Venus, a possible fourth-round tilt with world No. 1 Simona Halep, and, if she makes it via, a doable quarterfinal in opposition to Garbine Muguruza or Karolina Pliskova, who’ve accounted for 2 of her final three Slam losses.
As anybody who glommed onto Roger Federer’s five-year pursuit of an 18th main title can attest, there may be nothing fairly just like the high-wire suspense of watching an athlete race in opposition to time to finish a historic quest. Even when the feat would really feel important primarily as a result of we may drop the clunky and superfluous “Open period” qualifier (or simply so we may begin speaking and pondering means much less about Court docket), no participant at this US Open will encourage a better sense of vicarious urgency than Serena Williams.
Youngbloods go mainstream
On the lads’s tour, so many gamers are comfortably settled into their roles – the unconquerable ruling get together, the stagnating center class, the aging-but-hopeful aspirants, the resigned journeymen. In the meantime, the college-aged firebrands who showcase unharnessed capacity and immeasurable promise have turn into a function attraction – the uncommon variables at males’s tournaments that stay wholly indecipherable.
Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe, Andrey Rublev, Hyeon Chung, Alex de Minaur, Karen Khachanov, and, most not too long ago, Stefanos Tsitsipas, have stormed into the highlight at numerous factors up to now yr. However we nonetheless do not have sufficient knowledge factors to say with any diploma of certainty what they’re able to.
In contrast to at earlier majors, a bunch of them are seeded on the US Open, rising their possibilities of enjoying deep into the primary week (at the very least) and taking swings on the prime guys. Khachanov may face Rafael Nadal in a Spherical Three rematch of their aggressive Toronto semifinal earlier in August. De Minaur and Tiafoe may see one another in Spherical 2, with the winner seemingly getting Marin Cilic. Tsitsipas and Borna Coric may meet in a super-fun third-rounder, with the winner doubtlessly getting a crack at Juan Martin del Potro or Andy Murray. Reigning finalist Kevin Anderson could should wrangle with Rublev within the second spherical and Shapovalov within the third. Chung has a fairly uncomplicated path to a fourth-round conflict with Federer, who trounced him within the Aussie Open semis early this yr.
There’s additionally Alexander Zverev, who’s near the aforementioned NextGen-ers in age however has elevated himself into a special stratum together with his early tour-level success. He is simply 21, however he’s comparatively previous information. Nonetheless, Zverev hasn’t outpaced his contemporaries on the majors; his quarterfinal berth at this yr’s French Open is his best-ever outcome. Bringing former Murray whisperer Ivan Lendl onto his teaching workforce could assist Zverev with among the psychological roadblocks that tripped him up at Slams previous. His summer season hardcourt swing has been disappointing, however with a cupcake draw, and Lendl in his nook, he may very well be poised to make a deep run in Queens.
Stability vs. chaos
Halep has been an absolute rock this yr – a world No. 1 as a lot in deed as in title.
She’s reached the finals at 4 of the previous 5 occasions she’s performed. She received the French Open and Montreal, and he or she got here inside some extent of pulling off the uncommon August hardcourt double in Cincinnati. Of the 12 occasions she’s performed this yr, she’s reached 11 quarterfinals, eight semis, and 6 finals. She leads the Race to Singapore by almost 2,000 factors.
Nobody else has supplied the identical stage of constant excellence, however a number of different prime gamers have helped type a comparatively sturdy energy construction. Angelique Kerber has been in type for a lot of the yr. Kvitova has been a power all over the place however on the Slams. Sloane Stephens has been sporadically (however more and more commonly) good.
However the depth of the ladies’s area imperils that energy construction. For all of the expertise on the prime, the variety of threats beneath makes this US Open not possible to foretell. Is that this when younger powerhouse Naomi Osaka cashes in on the promise she confirmed within the spring? Will breakout 20-year-old Aryna Sabalenka maintain her unimaginable summer season run rolling? Is that this that one annual main when Muguruza places all of it collectively? And what of Caroline Wozniacki, or Elina Svitolina, or Karolina Pliskova, or Maria Sharapova, or Julia Goerges, or Daria Kasatkina? What of Venus, who’s only a yr faraway from main the tour in Slam match wins; or onetime clay specialist Kiki Bertens, who’s received eight straight matches in opposition to top-10 gamers on grass and hardcourts; or Madison Keys or Jelena Ostapenko, who can get red-hot at any time and blast any idiot off the courtroom? And we have not given up on Victoria Azarenka but, have we?
Even when WTA volatility has been a bit overstated – the 5 ladies who’ve contested Grand Slam finals this yr are the 4 top-ranked gamers on the earth and Serena – there are simply a dozen ladies who can win the US Open. In the latest main, zero top-10 seeds reached the quarterfinals for the primary time within the Open period. “Chaos” can really feel like a pejorative, however on this period of ladies’s tennis, it speaks to top-down high quality.
In the meantime, Halep, Serena, Venus, Muguruza, and Pliskova are all in the identical quarter of the US Open draw. Halep and Serena are the runaway title favorites, and but one in every of them will go no additional than the fourth spherical. Would possibly as properly embrace the chaos. It is fairly rattling enjoyable.
A Large 3, as soon as once more
In distinction to the perennial openness of the ladies’s area, the lads’s sport stays top-heavy, and their US Open seems like a three-horse race. Novak Djokovic is resurgent, Nadal is as imperious as ever, and Federer, regardless of exhibiting among the similar cracks that appeared in the course of the latter levels of final season, continues to be the very best hardcourt participant on the earth.
Whereas they’ve all skilled bodily struggles and dips in type within the current previous, they’ve mixed to win every of the final seven majors. For a very long time, Djokovic dominated whereas Federer and Nadal gave the impression to be tailing off. Then Federer and Nadal got here roaring again whereas Djokovic mysteriously cratered. And now right here comes Djokovic, contemporary off a Wimbledon title and his first-ever Cincinnati crown (which accomplished an unprecedented profession Masters sweep), and we’ve ourselves a Large Three once more (godspeed, Andy).
If Wimbledon did not make it clear sufficient that Djokovic was again – if his hiccup in Toronto or his uneven play within the early rounds in Cincinnati left any doubts – the 13-time main champ laid them to relaxation together with his classic, Federer-smothering efficiency in final week’s remaining. The 2 are on a quarterfinal collision course in Flushing Meadows. That ought to give a leg as much as Nadal, whose quarter is pure cake, however it’s arduous to select a favourite from the three.
It is means tougher to select the sphere over any of them. Is anybody else actually closing the hole? Anderson received washed by Nadal and Djokovic in six straight units in his two main finals, the mid-generation hasn’t fared a lot better (Cilic has misplaced twice to Federer in Slam finals, Thiem simply received rinsed by Nadal on the French, Del Potro’s been overwhelmed by Nadal at three of the previous 4 majors), and the NextGen gamers, undaunted and gifted as they’re, nonetheless have a lot to be taught. The oligarchical construction is not as sturdy because it was once, however the street to a Grand Slam title nonetheless runs via the triumvirate that is captured 46 of the final 54.
The damaging floaters
That stated, six of these different eight Slams had been received by a pair of males who lurk as harmful unseeded landmines in New York. It has been an extended, gradual climb for Stan Wawrinka since present process knee surgical procedure final yr, however he pushed Nadal in Toronto, he pushed Federer even tougher in Cincinnati, and he is already performed the function of disruptive floater this summer season by beating Grigor Dimitrov within the opening spherical at Wimbledon. He drew Dimitrov within the first spherical once more on the US Open.
Murray has regarded a great distance from peak health since getting back from hip surgical procedure, however as Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have all proved over the previous 20-odd months, you possibly can by no means predict when the wounded greats will rediscover their confidence and vigor. Murray has a cushty first-round match in opposition to James Duckworth, adopted by a trickier however winnable second-rounder in opposition to both Fernando Verdasco or Feliciano Lopez, earlier than issues get actually actual with a potential assembly with Del Potro. We’ll discover out in brief order how shut he’s to getting again.
Sam Querrey and Gael Monfils are additionally price keeping track of. They have not had significantly good seasons, however each have top-15 capacity and workable US Open attracts. Querrey, a quarterfinalist at this event final yr, may get Shapovalov in Spherical 2, and Anderson in Spherical 3. Together with his potent serve-forehand mixture, Querrey is at all times a risk on fast surfaces, and he can upend anybody on the correct day. (Simply ask Djokovic and Murray, who misplaced to him at Wimbledon in back-to-back years and instantly sunk into despair.) Although Monfils, as ever, can not seem to keep wholesome, he is loved lots of earlier success in Flushing Meadows, together with a semifinal run in 2016. He’ll play a qualifier within the first spherical, which suggests he ought to advance to arrange an interesting second-rounder in opposition to Kei Nishikori. The solar could also be setting on Monfils’ prime, however he is nonetheless field workplace.
(Pictures courtesy: Getty Photos)