It’s late August and once again time for the grand finale of the tennis grand slam season; the U.S. Open. Trying to come up with five solid predictions for the Open is a hard task given the unpredictable nature of the last grand slam we witnessed at the All England Club; Wimblegeddon as some have dubbed it, but here it is: my attempt to forecast a fortnight in Flushing Meadows
1)Starting with the obvious perhaps, a final between the two top female players in the world, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka is on the cards. “Vika” edged out Serena in an entertaining encounter a week ago in Cincinnati to snatch the title. Elsewhere this year Serena has been…well Serena. Enjoying a career year in terms of match wins, the world number one has stormed to a mark of 60 wins and 4 losses. However, it is Azarenka who boasts the best record in all of women’s tennis on hard courts (25-1) and a grand slam win on the surface at the Australian Open. The pair’s superiority on hard courts and the absence of a certain Maria Sharapova who is out injured means you shouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if Williams and Azarenka square up for a second straight final on the tournament’s second Saturday.
2) Roger Federer should limp into the quarter-finals despite having recently slipped down the rankings to 7th in the world. Out of sorts and jaded are two words that you wouldn’t normally associate with the Swiss master but since his second round loss at Wimbledon to little known Ukranian Sergiy Stakhovsky he has been just that. After being bounced early in minor tournaments, Hamburg and Gstaad, he finally managed to string two wins together last week in Cincinnati. Despite his horrendous year (By his lofty standards) so far it is well known that Federer loves the bright lights and speedy courts of New York City. As a 5 time champion he’ll have plenty of memories to draw inspiration from and should successfully navigate his way through the draw, tip toeing around any upsets to reach the quarters where he could be met by a familiar foe: Rafael Nadal.
3) It’s taken a long time but the face of men’s tennis is finally getting a little younger. This youth charge is being led by a trio of talented 22 Year Olds; Milos Raonic of Canada, Jerzy Janowickz of Poland and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Remember these names. All three have had their signature moments this season; Raonic reaching the final earlier this Summer at home in Montreal to break into the world’s top 10, Janowickz blasting his way into the Wimbledon Semi-Finals the first man from Poland to do so and Dimitrov upsetting the world number one Novak Djokovic in Madrid. Come tomorrow the race is on. Who will make their mark at Flushing Meadows? The highest ranked of the three, bomb serving Raonic? The versatile, elegant Dimitrov? Or the 6ft 8 man who moves like he’s 8 inches smaller whilst also serving bombs, Janowicz? One thing is certain; at least one of these prodigious talents will make the headlines.
4) Laura Robson is unlikely to replicate last year’s run– cue the sighs of resignation from British Tennis fans. Robson’s journey into the top 30 of the women’s game (her career high is 27) has yielded some eye-catching results this year, most notably reaching the last 16 at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. When Robson hangs up her racket she’ll most certainly remember her unexpected breakout success last year at the U.S. Open. Behind her hefty serve and forehand she toppled two grand slam champions in three days, Kim Clijsters and Li Na, smiling all the way. Things aren’t looking so sunny for Robson this year though. Coming off the back of a wrist injury, the 19 year old has only played one tune up match in preparation for the tournament. Not even the zeal of youth can make up for a lack of match fitness and with a rematch against Li Na on the cards, the third round looks to be the limit for Robson.
5) Novak Djokovic should find a way to stop the Nadal hot streak in the final despite all the headlines screaming “Nadal the man to beat” and rightfully so. This season we’ve witnessed the rise of “Nadal 3.0. the hard court avenger”. Since his return from injury in February he has been beastly. So beastly that he remains undefeated on his most hated surface: the North American hard courts – winning back to back titles in Montreal and Cincinnati. Hold on though, before we all jump on the Nadal bandwagon it is worth pointing out that this is New York, this is a hard court slam, and this is Djokovic territory. He is likely to reach his 4th straight final in New York, most likely beating the defending champion Andy Murray in the semis. There barring an upset, he should face Nadal in their 3rd U.S. Open final, with one win apiece from the first two. The reason I feel Novak will overcome the surging Spaniard is simple; Nadal needs to play his absolute best to beat Djokovic on a hard court. He did just that in the semi-final of the ATP Masters 1000 event in Montreal, but can he produce that same efficient and aggressive tennis over 5 sets? The jury is still out on that one.