It’s time for the year’s last Grand Slam at the Big Apple. The US Open presents a different challenge – it is the fastest of the four Slams and the lower but consistent bounce favours aggressive serve and volleyers and big hitters. The players have to contend with the distraction of planes flying past, the noisy banter and movement of the fans, which can be a shock after the quiet, traditional atmosphere at Wimbledon.
Who are the frontrunners? It is the usual suspects Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and defending champion Andy Murray with Roger Federer a rung below. The dark horses include Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and John Isner.
Djokovic has been in less than stellar form recently but has primed himself to deliver his best at majors reaching the semifinals at every Grand Slam the past three years. The Serbian’s preferred surface is hard court and he boasts an excellent record at the Flushing Meadows, reaching the last four since 2007. In the semifinal, Djokovic could face familiar foe Murray, against whom he has contested three of the last four Grand Slam finals losing two.
Prior to that showdown, Djokovic’s main threat may come from Del Potro in the quarters while Murray could face Berdych. 2009 Champion Del Potro looks to be back at his best, pushing Djokovic all the way in a nail-biting semifinal loss at Wimbledon. Djokovic would be wary that if he loses early, Nadal could dethrone him at No 1 by reaching the final.
Third seed Murray, meanwhile, would be high on confidence after winning Wimbledon and would fancy his chances after reaching the final in his last four Grand Slams with the exception of the French Open that he had missed due to injury. With Ivan Lendl in his corner, Murray has played with more aggression, particularly with his forehand, and this has paid dividends. It is new territory for Murray though, as he faces added expectations and the pressure of defending a Grand Slam title for the first time. “I’ve enjoyed my tennis the last few weeks, but now it’s time for business,” Murray told a website.
Nadal comes in as perhaps the leading contender, a position he hasn’t often enjoyed here. He appears to be finally working out his hard court puzzle as reflected in an unbeaten 15-0 record. “It means a lot, winning two straight titles on hard. It’s just amazing. I never did something like this,” Nadal told after winning at Cincinnati. That’s courtesy a more aggressive playing style and a better court position; playing closer to the baseline and showing an inclination to go for more winners has helped him spend lesser time on court to protect his knees. Nadal has had an extraordinary 2013 with nine titles and a 53-3 record with an early loss at Wimbledon where he had some fitness concerns.
In a tough draw, the Spaniard could face Federer in the quarterfinal. The winner would likely face David Ferrer, Richard Gasquet, Milos Raonic or Jerzy Janowicz. Playing his first hard court Grand Slam after 2012 Australian Open, Nadal may have to overcome some big hitters in Ryan Harrison, Vasek Pospisil, Fernando Verdasco and Isner.
Federer, now 32, has had a bad year slipping to No 7 and starts the Open at his lowest seeding in a decade. The Swiss maestro, who was troubled by a back ailment when trying out a new racquet after an early loss at Wimbledon, has declared himself injury-free. Federer showed that he would remain a threat at the US Open after displaying sparkling form in a close quarterfinal defeat against Nadal at Cincinnati.
The race for the women’s title is headed by Serena Williams in search of her 17th Grand Slam title. After a close defeat in the 2012 final, Victoria Azarenka would be buoyed by a thrilling win over Serena in the Cincinnati final and would be a contender again. With Maria Sharapova out through injury, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska would be the others to watch out for. History beckons the champions.