The US Open is set to begin next week at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. This has us all talking about who the next champion will be. Will Rafa defend his crown? Will Federer extend his lead as the king of majors? Will Djokovic continue his comeback season and add another Grand Slam? Or will Sascha or Delpo surprise? The truth is, nobody knows, but let’s take a look at the chances.
According to the odds, before Friday’s draw (odds always change once the path for each player is set), the favorite is Novak at 11/4. He is followed by Rafa at 4/1, Roger at 11/2, Sascha at 10/1 and Delpo at 14/1. This means the five favorites to win are all in the top six of the ATP rankings (Kevin Anderson is 5th in the ranking but 9th in the odds). In betting terms, today, the favorite is Novak Djokovic. However, I’m here to tell you that, this year, there is no favorite. Here’s why:
The man of the hour. Fresh off his Masters 1000 win in Cincy, which made him the first player in history to have won each Masters 1000 tournament, he could fool people to believe he’s the favorite. But it is not that simple. Djokovic has been rising in the rankings this season but will go into the US Open as the sixth seed. Yes, he can beat anyone on tour, but having the sixth seed usually means you do not get a favorable draw. In last years US Open, the sixth seed (had all the top seeds won their matches), would’ve had to play the 3rd seed in the quarter finals, the 1st seed in the semis and the 2nd seed in the final. Following that path, Novak would have to play Del Potro, Nadal, and Federer in consecutive games. There’s no doubt he can do it, but coming off a year of injury, will Novak be able to last through the top three seeds in tennis in back-to-back-to-back matches? I would be surprised. This means that for Novak to be champion, he would need a favorable draw on Friday, or for one of the top seeds to be knocked out early.
Defending champ. Number one seed. Rafael Nadal. Usually, nothing else needs to be said. But not this year. Rafa would be the clear favorite if it weren’t for a couple of things. The first reason has a name: Novak Djokovic. His outstanding play, as of late, makes him a slight favorite in a hard-court match against Rafa. If Djokovic get’s a slightly favorable draw and comes in somewhat well rested versus Rafa, I don’t think Rafa can take it. But any Djokovic-Nadal match is a toss up. Anyways, another reason Rafa isn’t a clear favorite, is because of the big boys on tour. Yes, I am talking about the 6’5″+ crew. The first, and most threatening of the big boys is Juan Martin Del Potro. On his favorite surface, hitting his forehand like he has been this year, he’s a real big threat. Then there’s the threat of playing John Isner or Kevin Anderson in an earlier round. John Isner has proven that he can be a champion on this surface (won the Miami Open), and Kevin Anderson is a two-time Grand Slam finalist. Finally, there’s the threat of Sascha or Roger. If either of them get Rafa in the semis, nobody knows how that will finish. With all this being said, if Rafa makes the final, I would never bet against him. Even with all these big threats looming.
Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time. Winner of 20 Grand Slam titles, Roger has not been looking like it. That Australian Open win seems like it was ages ago. Since the Australian Open, Roger has lost finals to Juan Martin Del Potro in Indian Wells, Borna Coric in Halle, and to Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati. These three final losses have given that aura he carries in finals a much dimmer glow. Tennis players year round have shown that Roger Federer is human, and that he is getting old. After losing early in Miami, Roger decided to take the entire clay season off. He came back in Stuttgart and won, but his toughest opponent was Milos Raonic. In Wimbledon he proved to be far away from his mid-season form after bowing out in the quarter-finals. And lastly, when we all thought he found his form and got his match-speed back, he was absolutely dominated by Novak Djokovic in the final of Cincinnati. But this is tennis, and Roger has proven to us time and time again that counting him out of any tournament is never a good idea. Will he find his form in New York? I certainly hope so.
Juan Martin Del Potro
Juan Martin Del Potro is coming in to the US Open with his highest career ranking and deservedly so. Although he has only won two titles this season, he has certainly reached his highest level of play, and he happens to have reached it in time for his favorite surface. His Indian Wells final versus Roger Federer seems quite a while away, but that, paired with a semifinal appearance in Miami is a sneak peak into what could be a successful hard court season. However, Del Potro has always lacked endurance. And if there is something we know, is that in these Grand Slams, you have to beat the best of the best. Going in to a semifinal well rested could be key to his success. But can his serve and forehand bail him out against Novak and Rafa playing at the level they are playing at right now? On a good day, it can, but it would have to be a good day to say the least. For “la Torre de Tandil” to win, he would have to sharpen his forehand in the early rounds, and play lights out tennis against the very best. Something Delpo has showed us he can do.
Alexander “Sascha” Zverev
Sascha has showed us a lot in his short career. He absolutely has no lack of talent. At his highest, Zverev can be the best player on the tour. But what makes players great is consistency. Zverev has won 3 titles this year, including the Masters 1000 in Madrid. He has accumulated the 4th most points in the race to London, only trailing Rafa, Roger and Novak, and is unequivocally the best ATP Next Gen player on tour. With all this though, comes his very disappointing Grand Slam performances. He has only reached the quarter finals of a Grand Slam once. This year, in the three Grand Slams, he lost to Hyeon Chung, Dominic Thiem, and Ernests Gulbis, which are all on a lower tier of the tennis hierarchy than he is. The key for Sascha would be to cruise through the first three rounds to inject a confidence he has lacked in the majors. This way he can reach the later rounds with a real belief. Anyways, as much as I would like to see this happen, I don’t imagine it. Sascha will have to wait his turn.
We can’t talk about favorites without mentioning “the field”. Although chances are always slimmer when the greats mentioned above are playing at their best. We can’t write a US Open op-ed without mentioning last year’s finalist, Kevin Anderson. With a US Open and Wimbledon final under his belt, the fifth ranked player can rely on his serve to take him all the way, since the experience is certainly not lacking. Another big server who has found a lot of success this season is John Isner. On a hard court, hardly anyone can control a John Isner first serve. The threat of the comebacks also exists. With multiple Grand Slam wins, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka can throw off the entire draw with a surprise in an early round. But for any of the sleepers to take it this year, a lot would have to happen in their favor. Calling “the field” a favorite would be somewhat far-fetched.
Clearly, the US Open this year is going to be one of the most exciting ones in recent memory. With the “Big Four” all scheduled to play together for the first time since 2015, the field is wide open. Under the lights, in the city that never sleeps, spectacles are never in need, but this show, that has been a year in the making, is always welcome. May the best man win!