With the final Grand Slam of the year starting on Monday in New York City, the game of tennis has never seen more uncertainty and unpredictability. There are numerous top men hampered by injuries, which could produce multiple breakthroughs, while the women’s game has been in constant turmoil since the pregnancy of Serena Williams.
Here are a couple things to ponder, along with my predictions for the final major event of the season.
Could we finally see Roger Federer face Rafael Nadal?
Shockingly, the two legends of the game have never played each other at Flushing Meadows. They have dominated the tour this season, with Federer having more titles (five) than losses this year (three), and Nadal reclaiming the #1 spot in the world two weeks ago. They were the overwhelming favorites to meet in the finals until the draw came out on Friday, when #1 Nadal and #3 Federer were slotted in the same half of the draw. A semifinal matchup would be epic but bittersweet, as the first encounter in New York should really be for a title.
But their paths to the potential blockbuster semifinal are littered with potential pitfalls. Nadal could see up-and-coming American Tommy Paul in the second round, who really isn’t an upset threat but someone who I’d like to see face one of the greatest players of all-time. Veterans Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych would be his seeded opponents in rounds three and four, with #7 Grigor Dimitrov and #9 David Goffin looming as possible quarterfinal foes. A matchup with Dimitrov would be very intriguing, as the 26-year-old is coming off his first Masters Series title in Cincinnati and is playing the best tennis of his career.
Federer has a tricky first round opponent in American teenager Frances Tiafoe, who knocked off Alexander Zverev in Cincy for the biggest win of his young career. Two wily Spaniards, #31 Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco, may await Fed in the third round, and my early pick for champion #14 Nick Kyrgios could face Federer in the fourth round. The bottom section of Federer’s quarter is absolutely wide open, with #6 Dominic Thiem the highest seed, but several other players – #11 Roberto Bautista Agut, #24 Juan Martin del Potro, #30 Adrian Mannarino, and big serving Ivo Karlovic – could make a quarterfinals run.
The bottom half of the draw was already bound to see some surprises before the late withdrawal of #2 Andy Murray on Saturday, which makes #4 Zverev the highest seed remaining. The 20-year-old has never made it past the second round at the US Open, but is one of the favorites to possibly face a legend in the final. He could face #28 Kevin Anderson in the third round, which would be their third meeting in the last month (Zverev beat Anderson in the finals in Washington and the quarters in Montreal). #13 Jack Sock and #19 Gilles Muller would be the favorites to make the fourth round, with Muller having the unenviable task of facing tennis clown Bernard Tomic in the first round. The other two Top 20 Americans, #10 John Isner and #17 Sam Querrey, are in the top half of Zverev’s quarter, along with Alexander’s brother Mischa, who is ranked 23rd. Both Isner and Querrey are on upset alert early, with Isner facing Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Querrey dealing with Gilles Simon in the first round.
The bottom quarter could be #5 Marin Cilic’s for the taking, as many of the other seeded players are not playing well at the moment. An intriguing second-round matchup could be #16 Lucas Pouille against New England’s Jared Donaldson, who is quickly rising up the rankings to a career-high #51. Another interesting second round encounter could be #8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga facing 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov. As crazy as it sounds, a quarterfinal matchup of Donaldson vs. Shapovalov wouldn’t be out of the question in this quarter of the draw, which shows just how unpredictable the men’s side could be with five of the top 11 players currently sidelined (Murray, #4 Stan Wawrinka, #5 Novak Djokovic, #10 Kei Nishikori, and #11 Milos Raonic).
My picks: In a shocking surprise (which will probably be totally wrong), I’m going with Dimitrov, Kyrgios, Querrey, and Cilic in the semifinals. Dimitrov just defeated Kyrgios in the finals in Cincy, and Cilic knocked out Querrey in the semis at Wimbledon, so I’ll take the losers in both of those recent contests to meet in the final, with my man Nick Kyrgios taking the title. Hey I picked him two weeks ago so I can’t quit on him already.
Who is going to be the top-ranked woman after the US Open?
A whooping/insane eight women – #1 Karolina Pliskova, #2 Simona Halep, #3 Garbine Muguruza, #4 Elina Svitolina, #5 Caroline Wozniacki, #7 Johanna Konta, #8 Svetlana Kuznetsova, and #9 Venus Williams – can all leave New York as the #1 player in the world. With so much uncertainty in the women’s game, even the biggest tennis fan has little clue who to pick as favorites or potential finalists in the fourth major of the year.
There are some intriguing first round matches, with the biggest buzz around Maria Sharapova facing Halep on Monday. Sharapova was awarded a wildcard to get into the tournament, but had to pull out of her scheduled hard-court tune-ups leading up to the US Open with injuries. She has not competed in a Grand Slam match since the 2016 Australian Open, which was her last tournament before serving a 15-month doping suspension.
Another tough first round match is #15 Madison Keys vs. Elise Mertens, who just made the semifinals in New Haven last week. Keys is on the long list of potential favorites to make a deep run, and has been very impressive during the US Open Series, winning her first title of the year in Stanford and suffering a tough three-set loss to Muguruza in the quarters in Cincinnati. Keys could see another hard hitter in Svitolina in the fourth round, and the winner would be an overwhelming favorite in the quarters, as there are no real threats in the bottom section of their draw.
My picks: I feel like I should just draw names out of a hat. I’m going for an all-American semifinal with two of my favorite women on the tour, Keys and Cici Bellis, and I’ll take the top two seeds in the bottom half of the draw (and the two safest bets on the WTA), Halep and Muguruza. I think this will be the breakthrough event for Halep, who I’m picking to knock off Keys in the final for her first Grand Slam title. I’d be perfectly fine with seeing Muguruza and Halep battle it out for the #1 seed for a while, as they are clearly the two top players in the women’s game right now.
Written by: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)