You know summer is officially on it's last swing when the final tennis grand slam of the season rolls around. The 2016 U.S. Open kicks off this week meaning the end of August is around the corner and the Fall season is not too far ahead of us.
But before we start missing the glory days of hot sun and warm beaches, let's celebrate the excitement around, arguably, the loudest grand slam of the tennis tour. The U.S. Open, in classic New York style, usually produces some of the loudest, most excited and, occasionally, unruly tennis fans packing Arthur Ashe Stadium for classic night matches. New Yorkers love their sports and tennis is no exception!
The 2016 U.S. Open will be the 136th edition of the tournament....and perhaps enters surrounded by the most questions. Not sure what I mean? Try on some of these questions below:
- No RF? - Can we really have a U.S. Open without the #GOAT Roger Federer? This year we will find out. With Federer taking the remainder of the year off to heal from injury, the New York crowd will have to survive without him. He is a HUGE favourite with tennis fans at any event in the world but the U.S. Open crowd certainly gives him one of the largest cheers everytime he steps on the court. We will still see lots of RF merchandise in the crowd being worn by Fed Fans but Roger's absence will be felt. Worth mentioning here, the crowd will also miss grand slam contender Tomas Berdych and grand slam champions Vika Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.
- No repeat champion? - One thing for sure we know when analyzing the draw is there will not be a repeat winner on the women's side. Italy's Flavia Pennetta was a true underdog dark horse story winner last year. After collecting her trophy she pulled yet another surprise...she retired in her victory speech. The women's field is already wide open as it is, not having a defending champion to pull for (or against) adds another bit of intrigue.
- Rio Rebound? - Every 4 years the U.S. Open has to deal with players coming into the event perhaps a bit more exhausted, physically and mentally, as a result of the Summer Olympics. Rio closed it's court only a few weeks ago and here we are with the best players in tennis getting ready to compete for the final major. Will those who competed in Rio be able to sustain the high level of play for the next two weeks and compete for the major? Or will we see those players who skipped Rio rise to the top looking more fresh and ready for the grueling two weeks of grand slam action? No player will feel the pressure more perhaps than surprise gold medal winner Monica Puig!
- Djoker, Murray or someone else? - Everyone already expects the men's final to be contested between #1 Novak Djokovic and #2 Andy Murray. Djokovic is #1 for a reason and did win the opening two slams of the season. Murray won Wimbledon and became the first player, men or women, to repeat Olympic gold. But Novak's play has been questionable, especially after losing early at Wimbledon and a tough R1 loss in Rio to Juan Martin del Potro. Is he feeling it physically? Mentally? Emotionally? And what about Murray? Winning back-to-back big events is HUGE but is he going to come to New York a bit tired? Can he keep up his high level of play and intensity for two more weeks? The men's field is very deep and if either Djokovic or Murray are not on their games, upsets can occur quick and a surprise champion might emerge after all is said and done.
- What about Serena? - What can we make of Serena going into this final grand slam of the season? Yes, she did win Wimbledon to tie the career grand slam total wins mark of 22. But remember she also lost the Australian Open and French Open finals. She also underwhelmed in Rio, coming home empty handed in both singles and doubles. She is plagued with a bad shoulder right now. She hasn't played a tour event since May, outside the grand slams and Rio of course, and she isn't getting any younger. Can she pull through and win the big #23 grand slam or will the injuries and lack of playing catch up to her? You never count her out but, this year, if I was playing on the WTA Tour I would think this U.S. Open could be the best time to capitalize and take her down. She could lose the #1 ranking as well....a ranking she has held for 184 weeks and counting.
- Beware the Unseeded? - I don't think there has ever been a grand slam where the talk has been more about the quality of the unseeded players over the seeded players. Many people are even predicting more seeded players will fall in the opening few rounds than we have ever seen before and perhaps we even see one or two unseeded players, on both the men's and women's draw, make the quarterfinals or further. Can you really blame anyone for thinking this way though? Look at some of the unseeded players scattered throughout the draw: Juan Martin del Potro, Mikhail Youzhny, Fernando Verdasco, Ekaterina Makarova, Genie Bouchard, Lucie Safarova, Caroline Wozniacki. These are all players who have made deep runs in recent grand slams (or won before in the case of delPo). If you were a seeded player, especially in that 15-32 seed range, would you want to see any of those names as your first or second round opponent?
- US Open Series $$$ - The 2016 US Open Series champions were Kei Nishikori and Aggie Radwanska. Both players would collect an extra $1M should they also win the U.S. Open. Of course, they also will receive bonus money for each round they advance in the tournament too. 2nd place finishers Grigor Dimitrov and Johanna Konta could collect an extra $500K if they win their first grand slam. And 3rd place finishers Milos Raonic and Simona Halep are playing for an additional $250K. I think three, maybe four, of these players will be making very deep runs over the next two weeks....not only on court but also at the bank!
And these are just the major plotlines we know of going into the U.S. Open. Imagine the drama, excitement and new plot twists that will flow from the action on the courts themselves. This U.S. Open is going to be wide open with almost an "expect the unexpected" feel surrounding it. You almost can't predict what will happen....but you sure know #TwineTime will try!
(1) Novak Djokovic Quarter
A potential QF opponent would be 2014 U.S. Open champ #9 Marin Cilic. Cilic comes to New York fresh off a title win at the lead-up event in Cincy and looks ready for another long grand slam run. But it won't be easy in Cilic's section either. Double Rio medalist #26 Jack Sock awaits as a possible R3 opponent with #9 JW Tsonga and big serving #23 Kevin Anderson as possible R4 opponents. If you want a dark horse to look out for, watch qualifier Mischa Zverev from Germany.
(1) Novak Djokovic over Steve Darcis
(9) Marin Cilic over (23) Kevin Anderson
(1) Djokovic over (9) Cilic
(4) Rafa Nadal Quarter
Should Nadal survive his section, hard serving Canadian Milos Raonic could be waiting in the QF. Raonic skipped Rio and now we will see if this decision pays off in the long run. Raonic made the Wimbledon SF and many thought he could perhaps be the first player outside the major 4 to win a major the last few years. He certainly cannot complain about his draw, partnered with #32 Benoit Paire as a potential R3 opponent and facing little resistance before that. His fourth round opponent could be Gael Monfils but Monfils also has question marks surrounding his body and potential injuries, especially at the U.S. Open after an already long season. #18 Pablo Cuevas could surprise as well and make a run into week two.
(4) Rafa Nadal def. (15) Roberto Bautista Agut
(5) Milos Raonic def. (18) Pablo Cuevas
(5) Raonic def. (4) Nadal
(3) Stan Wawrinka Quarter
The other section of Wawrinka's draw is completely wide open. Could this be the grand slam break out for rising Austrian star #8 Dominic Thiem? Thiem also skipped Rio. Thiem also has an amazing one-handed backhand. Hmmm, sound familiar to another player named above? Wimbledon darling #29 Sam Querrey could be a R3 opponent though and will have the huge crowd support behind him. Speaking of USA men, #19 Steve Johnson will have all eyes on him in New York as he comes in being the highest ranked American male in the draw. Johnson had a great time in Rio, picking up a men's doubles bronze with Jack Sock and playing deep in the men's singles draw. Ah but speaking about Rio, welcome the silver medal winner Juan Martin del Potro to the discussion here. DelPo could not have asked for a better quarter to be drawn into. After his welcome back party performance in Rio, the unseeded Argentine should be a huge threat to everyone. A possible R2 pairing with Johnson and R3 with #11 David Ferrer or Fabio Fognini or Teymuraz Gabashvili are not too daunting for the big hitter. JMDP was handed a wild card to compete here after his great run in Rio, including that opening round W over Djokovic...he is going to want to make the best of it. Could we see another WC grand slam winner, similar to Goran Ivanisevic's 2001 Wimbledon triumph?
(WC) Juan Martin del Potro def. (8) Dominic Thiem
(3) Stan Wawrinka def. (14) Nick Kygrios
(3) Wawrinka def. (WC) del Potro
(2) Andy Murray Quarter
The other section of Murray's quarter should be #6 Kei Nishikori's for the taking. Nishikori comes to New York off a bronze medal win in Rio and lots of confidence/momentum on his side. Anything short of a QF showing (possibly vs. Murray) would be a huge surprise. His draw is fairly simple too. He faces German Becker in R1, a qualifier in R2 and possibly another German #25 Phil Kohlschreiber in R3. #12 David Goffin could be his biggest challenge as a possible R4 opponent but Goffin could face competition from unseeded Victor Troicki or #21 Ivo Karlovic.
(6) Kei Nishikori def. (12) David Goffin
(2) Andy Murray def. (22) Grigor Dimitrov
(2) Murray def. (6) Nishikori
Men's Final Four
(5) Raonic def. (1) Djokovic
(2) Murray def. (3) Wawrinka
(5) Milos Raonic def. (2) Andy Murray in 5 sets - The Canadian brings a grand slam title home to the Great White North and proves skipping Rio was the right move to make. Murray makes a great run to the final but all the tennis over the past few months catches up to him in a marathon five-set championship final where the more fresh serving arm of Raonic proves to be the difference.
Men's Doubles Championship: (4) Jamie Murray / Bruno Soares def. (2) Ivan Dodig / Marcelo Melo - A Brazilian didn't take gold on the court in Rio but with this final at least 1 Brazilian brings home a grand slam title!
(1) Serena Williams Quarter
The second section of this quarter is led by #5 Simona Halep. Halep has consistently played Top 5 tennis for years and was the 2014 French Open finalist. A deep run in New York shouldn't be out of the question for her. She has a tricky opening round opponent in Kirsten Flipkens (known to upset higher ranked players in the past) and could see Lucie Safarova or Daria Gavrilova in R2. Rio women's doubles gold medal winner #19 Elena Vesnina or #11 Carla Suarez Navarro await as possible R4 opponents.
(23) Daria Kasatkina def. Ekaterina Makarova
(5) Simona Halep def. (19) Elena Vesnina
(5) Halep def. (23) Kasatkina
(4) Aggie Radwanska Quarter
#6 Venus Williams highlights the other section of this quarter. Venus looked awful in Rio, losing both her singles and doubles matches in R1 action. Yes she is a former champion and has played inspiring tennis this season. Her draw looks good for R1 but a R2 match up with either Yanina Wickmayer or Julia Gorges could be cause of concern. #26 Laura Seigmund has been playing outstanding tennis this year as well and could pose a threat. #10 Karolina Pliskova skipped Rio and comes to New York fresh off the biggest win of her career, beating Kerber in the Cincy final. This could be the perfect opportunity for Pliskova to make a deep grand slam run.
(4) Aggie Radwanska def. Varvara Lepchenko
(10) Karolina Pliskova def. (6) Venus Williams
(4) Radwanska def. (10) Pliskova
(3) Garbine Muguruza Quarter
The other section of this quarter is led by #8 Madison Keys. While the US focus may be on the Williams sisters, the best hope for an American victor actually is Keys. Keys lost the bronze medal match in Rio and I think this will only make her more hungry for a strong result in New York. Her draw looks very favourable, getting fellow Americans in R1 and R2. Her R3 opponent could be another American in #28 Coco Vandeweghe. There are a few unseeded players to watch here though with Maria Sakkari and Naomi Osaka (vs. Vandeweghe in R1). Both could make a R3 or better appearance. As for the bottom half of this section...all I can say is YIKES! We have #9 Svetlana Kuznetsova, unseeded Caroline Wozniacki and Francesca Schiavone. Heck Kuznetsova and Schiavone play one another in R1...and these two have played some of the most epic (and long) matches in the history of the sport. Not to mention #18 Barbara Strycova and the triad of Romanians (Monica Niculescu, Sorana Cirstea and qualifier Ana Bogdan). Keys would appear to the overwhelming favourite but escaping this section could be like tip toeing through a mind field. Watch your step along the way!
(8) Madison Keys def. (9) Svetlana Kuznetsova
(13) Johanna Knota def. (32) Monica Puig
(8) Keys over (13) Konta
(2) Angelique Kerber Quarter
Speaking of Serena Slayer, the other section of this quarter sees the Serena Slayer from the 2015 U.S. Open, #7 Roberta Vinci. After the big SF win over Serena last year and the tough loss in the final, one has to be impressed with the year Vinci has put in with remaining in the Top 10. Does she have another upset run in her this year? Probably not and she will see a sharp dip in her rankings by not making the final. Her section of the draw is littered with threats as well, led by #12 Dominika Cibulkova. Cibulkova could be the perfect dark horse contender once again. She made the QF at Wimbledon and has made the QF here before (2010). This section also presents some great unseeded players to watch out for. The list is led by the quartet of German's standing in the way of Vinci. She could face a German opponent in R1, R2 and R3. Watch out for Sabine Lisicki, Mona Barthel and Carina Witthoft.
(12) Dominika Cibulkova def. (7) Roberta Vinci
(2) Angelique Kerber def. (14) Petra Kvitova
(2) Kerber def. (12) Cibulkova
Women's Final Four
(4) Radwanska def. (5) Halep
(2) Kerber def. (8) Keys
Women's Doubles Championship: (5) Ekaterina Makarova / Elena Vesnina def. (4) Andrea Hlavackova / Lucie Hradecka - The Rio women's doubles gold medal winners continue to shine!
There you have it tennis fans...the #TwineTime preview and predictions for the 2016 U.S. Open! Agree, disagree? Have your say as well. Comment your predictions below or find me on twitter.
Enjoy the final grand slam of 2016 everyone!!