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Sunday, 27 August 2017

US Open Preview

#BetweenTheBaselines: Welcome to the Big Apple!
We close out the 2017 tennis grand slam season with the US Open


Ok Summer is officially over when we  cast our tennis glare over Arthur Ashe Stadium and get ready to crown the final grand slam winners of the 2017 tennis season.  The US Open is ready to get underway Monday morning and tennis fans are ready for the North America hard court season to bring forth it's ultimate main event.

This tennis season has been an interesting one to follow.  The tone was set from the beginning when we went down under and turned back the clock with Roger Federer winning the Australian Open.  I must admit this was a bucket list item for me, being in Melbourne and watching RFed compete was magical!  Who knew at the time the only slam winners this season on the men's tour would be Federer and Nadal?

And what about the women's tour?  We saw a teenager rise to adulthood in front of our very eyes when Jelena Ostapenko shocked us all taking home the French Open.  And before we could blink Garbina Muguruza was a two-time grand slam champion after her Wimbledon triumph.  Not to mention the return, albeit a short one, of Vika Azarenka and now Maria Sharapova at a grand slam event.  We can also define the 2017 grand slam season as "Expect the Unexpected".

Should New York be any different?  I would argue the only assured moment to expect is the unexpected.  The event has not even started and already the men's field is decimated with injuries and withdraws.  Defending champion Stan Wawrinka...gone with a knee injury.  Wrist injuries sidelined perennial favourites Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.  An elbow injury took down Novak Djokovic and, only a mere hours before the first ball toss, Andy Murray pulls out with a hip injury.  What is happening with the men's tour?  Maybe all those arguments about the length of the season and all the mandatory events are not just smoke and mirrors here people....the ATP might need to seriously look into this problem.  Nobody wants a final slam....heck any slam...to be this watered down with injuries.

The women's draw has far less withdrawn players, minus notable Serena Williams due to pregnancy (due during the Open) and Timea Bascinszky due to a left thigh and wrist injury.  But this women's field is probably more wide open than we have ever seen before.  Heading into the event, 8 women are in contention to grab the #1 ranking by the time we crown a ladies champion.  Simona Halep, Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams all could steal the top spot from current #1 Karolina Pliskova.  Imagine Wozniacki or Kuznetsova being ranked #1 at the end of this tournament?  Don't laugh folks, both have legit shots at making deep runs here and, given how this season has panned out, expect the unexpected remember?

The Favourites

Roger Federer (3) - He already has 2 slams this year.  He is a 5-time champion here.  Ok sure his last title here was in 2008 but given how he has played this season would you want to bet against the #GOAT?  I don't know which will stand in his way more: the competition itself or the fact he is 36 years old and has some body aches and pains to survive during a long two-week event (especially the back)?  He does find himself in the loaded top half of the draw with fellow title threats Rafa Nadal, Grigor Dimitrov and Domi Thiem.  Nick Kyrgios should be his first real test in R4 with Thiem/del Potro awaiting in the QF.  And then the heavyweight battle vs Nadal in the SF.....talk about a blockbuster matchup for a SF.  Regardless of a top heavy draw, RFed is the favourite and should be playing well into the final weekend.

Garbine Muguruza (3) - She won Wimbledon for her second major.  She recently won in Cincinnati as a tune-up to the US Open.  With all due respect to current #1 Karolina Pliskova, Muguruza is playing as the #1 player in the world for the past few months.  Winning back-to-back majors is never easy and this is a very wide open field but Muguruza has the game to pull off the historic win and cement 2017 as her year.  She finds herself in the bottom half of the draw, partnered with Petra Kvitova in her section.  Kvitova may not even survive to R4 though.  Caroline Garcia could be one to watch out for though as well as a potential Wozniacki/Williams QF battle.

Watch Out For

Marin Cilic (5) - The 2014 champion could be primed for another surprise title run here in 2017.  The withdraw of Andy Murray may be the biggest benefit to him as well.  Cilic moved to Murray's slot in the draw and, overall, I would say lightened his load a bit along the way.  With Federer and Nadal on the top half of the draw still, the bottom half is wide open.  Cilic is coming off a Wimbledon final as well, I would keep my eyes closely on him throughout this tournament.  If Cilic's body can hold up, he has a fairly easy path to the SF....where he might have to face the upstart (and many considered favourite) Sascha Zverev!

Simona Halep (2) - The best player without a slam on the women's tour?  Perhaps.  But not without her opportunities either.  She lost the French Open final this year in a massive upset to Ostapenko, her second loss in Paris too (2014).  Halep's biggest issue is dealing with her own mindframe on the court.  If she could close some of these big matches, she may have one or two slams to her credit already.  She is consistent.  She is a tough out for any player.  She opens with Maria Sharapova so all eyes will be on her right from opening day.  If she survives, the path to the SF is WIDE open for her.  A SF vs. Muguruza though is a match you do not want to miss!

The Dark Horse


Denis Shapovalov - The Fighting Canadian will be making his grand slam debut...and he is ready to make it a memorable one.  The Wimbledon Junior Champion (2016) had his coming out party at his home event this summer, Rogers Cup, where he reached the SF.  Shapovalov arguably should have been handed a wild card entry into the event; however, facing 3 qualifying matches and winning them to reach the main draw might actually work in his advantage early on.  Is he a threat to win?  No, not yet!  Can he take down a round or two and make an even larger name for himself?  Yup, I could get behind that bet.  It won't be easy of course, considering he draws fellow up and comer Daniil Medvedev and perhaps Jo-Willie Tsonga in R2.  But hey, nobody said making it to the top would be easy right?

The WTA - There are so many players in this draw that could derail a few of the top contenders...and stop these same players from claiming a wide open #1 ranking spot when they leave New York.  Maria Sharapova is back and could make headlines, and set the tone for the entire event perhaps, with an opening draw vs #2 Simona Halep.  Imagine if she takes down one of the big favourites right out of the gate?  The Americans could also rock the draw with Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys getting back into full gear after both had some injuries.  Russian Daria Kasatkina could surprise, as could Aussie's Daria Gavrilova and Ash Barty.  And don't forget past SF (2014) Ekaterina Makarova, who is always a superstar on the doubles court but is just as capable of a deep run in singles.  If you were forced to choose between the favs (Pliskova, Muguruza, Halep, Svitolina) and the field, I would think long and hard about taking the field!

It's prediction time.....one of my favourite parts of blogging about any big sporting event.  Sometimes you put together some pretty accurate predictions and sometimes you are way off in left field wondering why you even bother.  Let's hope for more of column A vs. column B this go around.

MEN

4th Round

(1) Rafa Nadal def. (15) Tomas Berdych
(7) Grigor Dimitrov def. (18) Gael Monfils
(3) Roger Federer def. (14) Nick Kyrgios
(24) Juan Martin del Potro def. (6) Domi Thiem
(23) Mischa Zverev def. (25) Karen Khachanov
(4) Sascha Zverev def. (19) Gilles Muller
(12) Pablo Carreno Busta def. Denis Shapovalov
(5) Marin Cilic def. (21) David Ferrer

Quarterfinals

(7) Dimitrov def. (1) Nadal
(3) Federer def. (24) del Potro
(4) S. Zverev def. (23) M. Zverev
(5) Cilic def. (12) Carreno Busta

Semifinals

(3) Federer def. (7) Dimitrov
(4) Zverev def. (5) Cilic

MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP: (4) Sascha Zverev def. (3) Roger Federer in 4 sets - Going with a mild upset here.  Yes I am a HUGE RFed fan but the back is a bit of a concern and I think his draw is WAY more difficult than Zverev's.  Federer will be tested early and could see a few 4 and 5 set matches on his path to the final, which could hurt the stamina and weaken the back going up against a more fresh, younger bodied Zverev who will come out guns a blazing to take home his first major.  Don't be mistaken though, if RFed takes home his 3rd major of the season #TwineTime will still be very very happy!

Men's Doubles Championship: (3) Pierre Hugues-Herbert / Nicolas Mahut def. (4) Jamie Murray / Bruno Soares

WOMEN

4th Round

(1) Karolina Pliskova def. (14) Kiki Mladenovic
(8) Svetlana Kuznetsova def. (20) CoCo Vandeweghe
(4) Elina Svitolina def. (17) Elena Vesnina
(6) Angelique Kerber def. Daria Kasatkina
(5) Caroline Wozniacki def. (9) Venus Williams
(3) Garbine Muguruza def. (18) Caroline Garcia
Sloane Stephens def. (30) Julia Gorges
(2) Simona Halep def. Donna Vekic

Quarterfinals

(8) Kuznetsova def. (1) Pliskova
(4) Svitolina def. (6) Kerber
(3) Muguruza def. (5) Wozniacki
(2) Halep def. Stephens

Semifinals

(4) Svitolina def. (8) Kuznetsova
(2) Halep def. (3) Muguruza

WOMEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP: (2) Simona Halep def. (4) Elina Svitolina in 2 sets - FINALLY Simona Halep will take home a grand slam title....and boy does she deserve it!  You have to feel for Halep at this event.  First she opens with Maria Sharapova, which will have the entire sports world watching and, honestly, more people will be cheering against her than for her.  Should she survive though, her draw opens up nicely and she should start building the confidence she needs to go deep at another major.  After 2 French Open runner-up appearances and SF losses at Wimbledon and here in New York, the sports gods owe Halep a little love.  Although given the way this grand slam season has gone, maybe I should have picked Kuznetsova to really shock the world and claim her 3rd slam.

Women's Doubles Championship: (1) Ekaterina Makarova / Elena Vesnina def. (2) Martina Hingis / Chan Yung-jan

There you go ball boys and girls, the final major preview of the 2017 tennis season is in the books.  Agree or disagree with my predictions, let me know and share your thoughts on twitter or in the comments section below.

OR.....challenge me and other tennis fans around the world by competing in the US Open Suicide Pool.  #TwineTime is fresh off my first victory (in many, many years) when I took down the competition and won the gold medal at Wimbledon.  I will going for the very rare back-to-back suicide pool victory in New York.  Think you have what it takes to knock me and other tennis fans out?  Put your prognosticating skills to the test and sign up before the first ball is in play on Monday morning.

AND....if you really want to go full balls into the court, join the US Open Bracket Challenge as well and really see how your predictions stack up to the final results.  #BringItOn

Enjoy what should be a wide open and exciting final grand slam of the season!