Eight questions ahead of the US Open
Originally published on 25/08/16 00:00
Can Murray continue his quest for No.1?
In a word, yes. The Wimbledon and Olympic champion may have had his 22-match winning streak since the French Open ended by Marin Cilic in Cincinnati last week but the world No.2 is undoubtedly the form player at the moment and doesn’t look like being stopped in a best-of-five set encounter by anyone else in the draw. While Murray can’t surpass Djokovic at the top of the rankings over the two weeks in New York, given the points each must defend from last year (Murray’s 180 to Djokovic’s 2000) expect the Brit to have closed the gap by the end of the fortnight.
How fit is Novak Djokovic?
A million dollar question, and one that seemed unthinkable and downright ridiculous to ask only a few months ago, the tennis world is now on tenterhooks waiting to find out how close to 100% Novak Djokovic is. A shock third round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon may have been followed by victory in Toronto, but an emotional loss against Juan Martin Del Potro in Rio was a big upset for a man as patriotic as the Serb. Wrist troubles and rumoured off court distractions have derailed the world No.1’s progress and for the first time in a long time defending a Grand Slam title may look a little more daunting.
Who is going to break through?
Milos Raonic? Gael Monfils? Nick Kyrgios? Steve Johnson? With Murray and Djokovic still appearing to be dominant based on the American hard court series results thus far it’s perhaps not time to suggest a new name on the US Open trophy just yet. However, with Roger Federer out for the rest of the season and a question mark over the consistency of Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and even for the first time in a while Djokovic, there will be potential on one side of the draw for someone to go deep into the fortnight. The obvious choice would be Wimbledon runner-up Raonic, who would hope to avoid Murray and Djokovic.
Will USA’s new No.1 handle the expectation?
Ask most tennis fans to name an American player and most would probably say John Isner. Get them to tell you the American No.1 and you’d probably receive the same answer. But that’s probably just testament to the under-the-radar nature that Steve Johnson has climbed the rankings with. The Californian started June ranked at No.38 in the world but has risen to No.21 thanks to a string of impressive results which has also seen him become the highest-ranked competitor from the States. Still a far from a household name, Johnson will go into a Grand Slam with more attention on him than ever before and will be itching to get his teeth into the draw in the Big Apple.
And what about Del Potro’s chances?
The one they will all want to avoid in the early rounds, DelPo is as dangerous as ever, just ask Wawrinka, Djokovic and Nadal – who have all been bludgeoned into submission by the Argentine’s forehand in recent weeks. The 2009 US Open champion proved he could still play the big matches at Wimbledon, but it wasn’t until the Olympics when he showed he was more than just a one-match-wonder on his latest road to recovery from wrist surgery. An unseeded wildcard, the Olympic silver medallist would dearly love to avoid the bigger names for the first couple of rounds, allowing him a chance to play his way into the fortnight and get amongst the seeds as the final Grand Slam of the year nears its conclusion.
Will Kerber overhaul Serena?
The Australian Open champion may have come up one match short of ending Williams’ 307-week reign at the top but the equation for New York is a simple and potentially exciting one. Should Williams fail to regain the title she failed to defend last year, then Kerber will only need to reach the quarter-finals to reach the summit of the world rankings.
Perhaps most enticing of all is a final between the two would mean the pair were playing not just for the trophy but for the No.1 ranking. Only once in the last 13 years have the top two seeds contested the championship match in New York, but given the strength of the summers both players have had, it seems highly possible.
How will Konta deal with defending points?
A Grand Slam semi-final, a first win at Wimbledon followed by a maiden WTA Tour title means Jo Konta comes to the year’s final major off the back of her best ever season. Some big wins have punctuated the last twelve months and a consistent presence in the later stages of tournaments have seen the British No.1 climb to 14 in the world. But gaining points is one thing, defending them and replicating them is another, especially with the unpredictable nature of the Tour. Wins in New York last year against Garbine Muguruza and Andrea Petkovic may have been the springboard to 2016 but Konta will need to start reproducing the results so she can keep bouncing around the top 10.
Will the new Arthur Ashe roof fit in?
The USTA were criticised for years about the lack of protection to the grounds of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center whenever the storms and gales blew in to New York and the new structure should therefore satisfy the sceptics as the elements will no longer be able to delay play on the main show court. The Monday final should now also be a thing of the past and the atmosphere inside the 22,500 seater arena will now be maximised as those in the upper tiers get a better feel for the energy being stirred up courtside under an enclosed viewing environment. Expect even more noise, and hopefully even more drama as the US Open finally catches up with Melbourne and London in the weather prevention department.