On Monday, thousands of expectant spectators will converge on Flushing Meadows for the final Grand Slam of the season, and if it is anywhere near as exciting as last year’s event, then we are in for a treat.
Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori contested last year’s showpiece, which was the first Grand Slam final comprising two players outside the top four in the world since Pete Sampras defeated Andre Agassi at the same tournament twelve years previously.
It is unlikely that such an unpredictable final will be repeated. However, deciding on a favourite is still a difficult task.
Until recently, Novak Djokovic was the nailed-on favourite to take the crown. He beat Andy Murray and Roger Federer in the Australian Open and Wimbledon respectively, and also reached the final at Roland Garros. Before the North American hard-court swing had got underway, Djokovic had only tasted defeat three times in 2015. However, Murray got the better of the Serb in a three-set thriller in Toronto, and Federer exorcised his SW19 demons by coming out on top in Cincinnati in straight sets. New York has not been Djokovic’s favourite destination in the past. The World No.1 has reached the final five times, but only tasted victory once. He faces the Brazilian Joao Souza in round one.
One of those final defeats came against Murray, who will be looking to emulate his 2012 success at this event, when he finally broke his Grand Slam hoodoo in a five-set epic against Djokovic. This came hot on the heels of his Olympic triumph, and was followed a year later by his Wimbledon win. Since then, he has not been able to capture one of the majors. However, he has made great strides since 2014, when his form dipped having undergone back surgery. Due to his falling ranking, he was seeded eighth going into last year’s event at Flushing Meadows, and consequently came up against Djokovic, who beat him in four sets. Murray may have been starting to doubt whether he could ever reach the heights of a few years ago, but this year his form has been on the up, and his decision to appoint Amelie Mauresmo vindicated. He reached the final of the Australian Open, and almost did the same at Roland Garros (in doing so, he achieved his best ever result there). His Toronto triumph over Djokovic will also give him the belief that he can overcome his old friend when it really counts. He faces a difficult first-round match against the fiery Australian Nick Kyrgios.
Federer also has to be in contention. The Swiss made it to the semi-finals of last year’s tournament before being defeated in straight sets by eventual champion Cilic. Along with Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras, he holds the highest number of US Open titles with five, all of which came consecutively, between 2004 and 2008. He was then defeated by Juan Martin del Potro in 2009, but has not reached the final in his last five attempts. His form earlier in the year will give him confidence. He was victorious in the hard-court tournaments in Dubai and Brisbane, and also reached the final of Indian Wells. The way he disposed of Murray at Wimbledon gave us a glimpse of the imperious Federer who was so dominant. His most significant recent result though was that win in Cincinnati over Djokovic, and suggests that the greatest player of all-time can make it lucky number six. He kicks off his campaign against the tricky Argentinian Leonardo Mayer, who has made it as high as No.21 in the world.
These three are the main contenders. Despite Cilic’s victory last year, the Croatian has not really pushed on since then, and is currently ninth in the world. Instead, it is Nishikori who has made great strides, capitalising on Nadal’s lull in form to take fourth in the world rankings. Stan Wawrinka is another player who could challenge, and, after his second Grand Slam, secured at Roland Garros in June, he will believe that he has a shot. Finally, it is impossible to rule out Nadal given his credentials. However, the deteriorating condition of his knees has definitely resulted in a drop in his performances, and he has not made it past the quarter-final stage of any of the three Majors so far this year.
The strength-in-depth of men’s tennis is improving, and all of the men mentioned above will fancy their chances of going all the way.
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