The US Open: A tournament where surprises are no longer a surprise
The US Open is just around the corner and the entire tennis fraternity is waiting eagerly for the show to begin. Over the years, the tournament has provided us with some highly memorable contests, but also surprises in equal measure. What’s in store this time?
The final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open, begins on 28th August. This year’s ATP season has been nothing short of spectacular so far. The three Slams and all the Masters events to have taken place have provided the audience with mouth-watering and utterly captivating tennis all the way through. The Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon have all lived up to expectations, and the intergenerational Carlos Alcaraz — Novak Djokovic rivalry certainly has too. With Djokovic undergoing a torrid time around the tour last year due to his vaccination stance, the veteran Serbian superstar has bounced back in supreme style this time around, clinching the first two Slams of the year and reaching the final of the third.
Young gun Alcaraz on the other hand, has sprung up the tennis ladder at incredible speed over the past two years, and gave everyone the shock of their lives when he overcame Djokovic in a marathon Wimbledon final just last month. The two, aged 36 and 20 respectively, have torn through the rest of the tour like a bullet train. While Djokovic has been at it for almost 15 years, Alcaraz’s rapid rise too has impressed more than just a few.
Daniil Medvedev, Holger Rune, Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner and Stefanos Tsitsipas have all tried their hand at stalling the destructive duo, but have hardly succeeded. However, the final Slam of the year, the US Open, is yet to commence. History tells us that if there is one Grand Slam that has not seen a single person’s continued dominance, it is the US Open. The last person to win back-to-back titles at the US Open was Roger Federer, when he won five in a row from 2004–2008.
Since then, no one individual has been able to stake his claim as the undisputed king of New York City, and this year could very well carry on that legacy of surprises.
Who are the top contenders for the title? Do all of the top 8 seeds have a love affair with New York? Or do some struggle to find their feet at the Slam of blue and green? What’s guaranteed is that there are some incredibly enthralling contests coming our way, and at the Slam of surprises, nothing can ever be said for sure, but pre-tournament analyses and forecastings have their own little pleasures, don’t they?
Carlos Alcaraz- The defending champion, the world number 1, the Spanish sensation, reigning Wimbledon champion. Simply put, Carlos Alcaraz is a machine. At just 20 years old, he has 12 career titles to his name, (two of them Slams, four of them Masters titles). His rise to the top has been unprecedented yet awe-inspiring. He won his first Slam at 19, becoming the youngest No.1 ranked player in history. Nadal was 19 when he won his first too, Federer was 21, while Djokovic was 20. Alcaraz has a special connection with the US Open. It was here, 2 years ago, that he burst onto the scene. Defeating 3rd seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round, the then 18-year old Alcaraz fought through to the quarterfinals, before collapsing due to fatigue against Felix Auger-Aliassime. Since then, it has only been upwards and onwards for the magician from Murcia.
Alcaraz’s recent form has been good, too. He won the ultimate tournament at Wimbledon earlier in July, after a brutal 4h 42m final against Djokovic. He lost in another epic battle against the same opponent in the final of the recently concluded Cincinnati Masters, but his preparation and skill has put him right at the top of the pile of title contenders. His speed is incredible, his forehand is lethal and his volleys are classy. He has been given a tough path to the title, but Alcaraz is used to such challenges. The Spanish superstar is ready and raring to go, and once his engines rev up, he will be near-impossible to stop.
Novak Djokovic- 1069 career wins, 95 titles, 23 Slams, 39 Masters titles, six year-end championships, 380-plus weeks at world №1. Novak Djokovic’s career statistics look like they have been plucked out of a fantasy book. The Serbian maestro has been terrorizing the tour for close to fifteen years. Djokovic turned professional in 2003, the same year Carlos Alcaraz was born (he also played against Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, on the tour several times). From the Federer-Nadal-Murray-Wawrinka era of tennis, Djokovic has done exceptionally well to regulate his body, and style of play, to stay on par with the changing times and the way in which the game is played now.
The ‘Djoker’ will be a leading threat at any tournament he plays, until the day he retires. His legacy is unlike anyone else’s, and he is far from a shadow of himself just yet, as he showed everyone when he routed his opposition at both the first two Slams of the year (Casper Ruud in straight sets in the French Open final, Stefanos Tsitsipas in straights at the AO). The US Open has been a Slam of mixed fortunes for Djokovic. He was not allowed to participate last year due to a vaccination controversy, and has reached the final of the tournament eight times, coming out with three victories and five runner-up finishes. Nevertheless, an all-time great like Djokovic is always the first name on everyone’s mind before a Grand Slam, and the passionate warrior will be looking to further stamp his legacy as the greatest to have ever held the racquet come the end of this year’s edition. If he does win the competition, it will be a record-equalling 24th Slam for the Serbian, tying Aussie legend Margaret Court for the all-time record, something Serena Williams tried tirelessly to do for almost five years, but failed. Novak, however, has yet another shot at history here.
Daniil Medvedev- A former world №1 and 2021 US Open champion, Medvedev is as good as they come on hard courts. He has blatantly stated his dislike for the clay surface multiple times in the past, and grass is not his best friend either (he still reached the semifinals of Wimbledon last month). But on hard courts, Medvedev is a different beast. The tall, lanky Russian moves around at the speed of light, and his shotmaking is surprisingly venomous given his slim structure. Medvedev has had a bittersweet season so far, with early exits at the Australian and French Open, but triumphs at the Masters events in Rome and Miami.
The 27-year-old’s style of play greatly suits the fast courts of the US Open, and he has played two finals at the tournament already, losing the first to Rafael Nadal in five sets, before winning his next against Djokovic in straight sets. Apart from Djokovic, Alcaraz and Andy Murray, Medvedev is the only one in the entire draw who has held the №1 ranking at some point. He was beaten in the fourth round last year by a freakishly good Nick Kyrgios, but he is surely back to claim the throne that he rightfully believes is his, and when running on all cylinders, he has the power to make any opponent look like an amateur.
Holger Rune- Perhaps surprisingly to some, 20-year old Danish talent Holger Rune is seeded 4th. I say surprisingly because Rune’s best finish at a Slam is the quarterfinals, with his best at the US Open only being the third round. But he is a generational talent, one that can electrify crowds with finesse and aggression in equal manner. Rune’s stellar season thus far has contributed greatly to him achieving such a high seeding, with career-best quarterfinal finishes at both the French Open as well as Wimbledon. Rune also has a Masters title to his name, having emerged victorious at the Paris Masters last year, defeating Djokovic in an epic final.
Still being only 20 years old, Rune has not yet experienced much of the courts of New York to stamp any past legacy. But with the way the Dane has been playing, expect him to switch things around this year.
Rune’s resilience and never-say-die spirit is his greatest strength, something that has resulted in him being part of some of the most glorious Slam matches this year. As the youngster continues to climb and impress, a deep and entertaining run at Flushing Meadows is very much on the cards. Quarterfinals at least one would say!
Casper Ruud- It would be safe to say that Casper Ruud is one of tennis’s most fascinating mysteries. The 24-year-old Norwegian has 10 career titles to his name. But they have all come at the ATP 250 level, which is just one rung above the Challengers. Ruud reached the final at Flushing Meadows last year, going down to Alcaraz. He has reached the French Open final two consecutive times, but has not progressed past the fourth round at the Australian Open and second round at Wimbledon. Ruud has reached Slam finals, something even the best of the best struggle to do, but has never won even an ATP 500 title, something most players ranked inside the top-50 achieve at some point (Ruud’s career high ranking is №2).
Regardless of these inconsistencies, the Scandinavian always seems to suddenly come alive at the big moments, and he has chosen the US Open as his own big moment. He raised quite a few eyebrows with his calm demeanour and booming style of play, and despite the ups and downs of this season, Ruud will surely be a leading threat for the title after his historic run last year.
Jannik Sinner- Sinner has, for the past three years, been one of tennis’s most promising rising stars. His growth over that period has been steady, but slower than he would have liked. Alcaraz and Rune have come from behind, and stormed ahead of the 21-year-old Italian.
But Sinner is making sure that his talent doesn’t go to waste. The lanky youngster has broken new ground this year, getting past his Grand Slam quarterfinal curse to reach his first semifinal at Wimbledon, as well as conquering his maiden Masters title at the Canadian Open just earlier this month. Perhaps the most anticipated match of the entire tournament is the potential quarterfinal between Sinner and Alcaraz, a rematch of last year, where the two also met in the quarters and ended up playing one of the greatest matches of all time, clocked at 5h 15m, in which Alcaraz prevailed after five sets of absolute bliss.
Sinner has shown time and again that he has the mentality, temperament and ability to play long, gruesome matches. He hits the ball harder than pretty much anyone else on tour, and has honed his skill wonderfully well over the past few seasons. Sinner is being touted as a serious title contender by many all around the globe, and being as talented and powerful as he is, one can surely see why.
Stefanos Tsitsipas- The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is a famous Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. If ever that movie was remade with a tennis-based theme, it would surely be called ‘The Curious Case Of Stefanos Tsitsipas’. Because that’s just what Tsitsipas’s career has been; unfulfilled, unresolved and confused. The 25-year-old Greek first turned heads when he beat Roger Federer in the 2019 Australian Open quarterfinals. Since then, he has reached two Slam finals and has won two Masters titles, but something still seems missing. That something is consistency.
Tsitsipas has been highly inconsistent and has lacked stability throughout his career. His best result at the US Open remains a shocking third round, while last year he crashed out in the very first round. He wields a one-handed backhand, which has often been described as being the reason for his downfall. Despite all the shortcomings and question marks around his career and achievements, Tsitsipas is still one of the world’s leading players. It doesn’t take long for champions to rise from the ruins, and the stylish Greek would finally want to break his miserable spell at the US Open this year and progress towards glory. He will have to work tirelessly for it though, as a tricky test against veteran Milos Raonic awaits him in the very first round itself!
Andrey Rublev- Like Tsitsipas, Rublev too has not been able to exploit his potential to the very hilt. The 25-year-old seems to be stuck in a never-ending loop of Grand Slam quarterfinals, those being his best finishes at any of them so far. He has lost in the quarters of a Slam eight times, the first of which also came at the US Open way back in 2017. The dashing Russian is seeded 8th at the tournament this year, and seems to lose his steam once he reaches the second week of a Slam. His forehand is exemplary, and his powerful shotmaking makes him very difficult to play against, but just like Tsitsipas, he too lets himself down more often than he would like.
Rublev has a projected quarterfinal berth against his Russian counterpart Medvedev, which is a very, very stiff challenge. He is a good enough player to beat anyone, but there is still that one chord that ‘Rublo’ is yet to strike. To be the best, you must beat the best, and that is what Rublev has failed to do at the big occasions. Not many have him progressing past the quarters yet again, but the man with the headband would be eager to finally, finally prove them wrong. It will be tough, but tough situations make tough competitors.
Apart from these top-eight seeds, there are always other threats looming around, with their eyes on the prize too. Americans Taylor Fritz (9), Frances Tiafoe (10), and Tommy Paul (14) will all be eager to spring a nasty surprise. Polish behemoth Hubert Hurkacz (17) has displayed some good form leading up to the Slam too, with comeback men Karen Khachanov (11) and Alexander Zverev (12) also not oblivious to deep runs at the top level.
Looking at the draw, and the history of all the main contenders, my prediction is shaping up to be something like this;
Semifinals- Djokovic v Ruud; Alcaraz v Medvedev
At the US Open, however, one thing is for certain. You are never guaranteed a spot in the second week of the tournament. Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic, Alcaraz and Medvedev all won their maiden Slam title at Flushing Meadows, and everyone outside of the aforementioned group of players will also be licking their lips to spring up an upset. Stranger things have happened at the US Open, the only Slam where no one is ever the ‘favourite’. Beware, Carlos Alcaraz, one wrong step has led to the downfall of many defending champions out on Arthur Ashe Stadium…