US Open: 8 things to look out for
The final Grand Slam of the year promises to be special one, especially if Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer end up playing against each other
The dream clash
No, we aren’t going to make this about Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal. I mean, they have faced each other more than 40 times—38 times in singles and thrice in doubles. We aren’t even counting exhibition matches. We should get over it. Or at least try to.
This is about Federer, Nadal and the US Open. The Swiss has won this tournament five times. The Spaniard has won it thrice. Federer has played 17 editions and Nadal has participated in 13. Federer turned professional only three years ahead of Nadal. They have had 18 years of being on the circuit at the same time. Yet, these two have never played each other at the US Open. In any round!
Put your money on witnessing a first.
The big four
Last year, at this time, marquee players were pulling out of the US Open one after another due to injury. This year, they have chosen the very same stage to come together. For the first time in a major this year, the Big Four will be present. The phrase “Big Four” was coined after the quartet of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray dominated the world of tennis in terms of rankings and victories since 2004. Fourteen years later, they are still at it and Federer has gone on record saying that this US Open is going to be “epic”.
Murray was out for nearly a year following a hip injury and then surgery. It all started around this time last year, with the Scot pulling out of this tournament, but the 2012 champion will be at Flushing Meadows, making an appearance in his first major in 2018. Djokovic also missed last year’s US Open. Both of them have dropped in rankings, and, while the Serb, after winning Wimbledon this year, would like to close the year in the top 10, Murray is trying hard to get back into the game. With so much at stake for them, it just makes all of it more exciting for us.
Put your money on there being some disturbance in this force.
The wild cards
If 378-ranked Murray’s return isn’t exciting enough for you, there are a couple of wild card entries that might blow your mind: former US Open champions, Stanislas Wawrinka and Svetlana Kuznetsova, and former world No. 1, Victoria Azarenka. Who needs rankings when one has wild cards like these?
Wawrinka, the 2016 champion, has had a couple of knee surgeries that kept him off the circuit. While Azarenka was away due to personal reasons. But, if these are the players ranked in the hundreds and handed wild cards, we can’t imagine what the rest of the tournament is going to be like.
Put your money on some early final-worthy clashes.
The return of the ‘mommies’
Speaking of Azarenka, Serena Williams is looking to win a first major since becoming a mother. While the two of them have been having fun on social media, joking about their children playing each other, both are very serious once they take to the court.
They have faced each other more than 20 times, with the Belarusian stunning the six-time US Open winner on four occasions. It has never been a Grand Slam tournament, but the two-time Australian Open champion has been a finalist here twice.
On both occasions, Azarenka has lost to none other than Williams. While Azarenka may have a score to settle, the 23-time major winner, Williams, will be looking to enter an elite list. The American made the final at Wimbledon this year, 10 months after giving birth to her daughter. Only three women have lifted Grand Slam trophies as mothers—Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong and Kim Clijsters—and Williams, who turns 37 next month, would want to be the fourth name on that list. And we all know what Williams is like when she really wants something, don’t we? If it all comes together, it will be inspiring, but we also don’t mind a touch of Serena-drama while we are at it.
Put your money on Azarenka eyeing that list too.
The shot clock
A serve clock and a warm-up clock will be used at this year’s US Open in an attempt to speed up the game. This might be a reason to rethink your prediction on Nadal defending his title. Players have 25 seconds to begin their serve, and, if they fail to do so, they will lose it. It’s warning, point and game. Chair umpires can stop and restart the clock. Also, there is a maximum of 1 minute between the second player arriving on court and the toss. While these rules have been followed loosely, there will be clocks ticking for all to see. Five minutes are allotted to the warm-up period and there will be another minute before the first serve. Though this has already been put to the test in the build-up, and players have been getting introduced to this, we are expecting a slight stir from the crowd and players.
Put your money on Nadal being the inspiration behind the shot clock.
the money matters
The US Open is celebrating its 50th anniversary and we know how the Americans like to go large. The 2018 US Open has officially been labelled as the tournament “built for glory”. Singer Kelly Clarkson will perform at the opening ceremony; expect to see a few celebrities in the stands too. More importantly, the anniversary is being celebrated by inviting 50 champions—that ought to be spectacular, reason enough not to miss it. The organizers have also increased the prize money this year, which means the winners will earn $3.8million (around ₹26 crore), $100,000 more than last year.
The Louis Armstrong arena has gone through a remarkable facelift and is ready to make its debut after five years of renovation. This was the main arena until the Arthur Ashe stadium opened in 1997. Now, after a revamp that has cost more than $600million, it looks set to regain its historic No.1 ranking. The makeover includes a retractable roof, but the arena will be the first to use natural ventilation in the process—this means that both the main courts will host matches regardless of rain or shine, night or day.
Put your money on the restrooms being four times bigger.
Of the 50 champions, more than 10 will be participating in this year’s event and many of them have a real chance at the title. We told you about the big four and the wild cards, but, in addition, the men’s singles has Juan Martín del Potro and Marin Čilić in the fray. The women’s draw will see Maria Sharapova, Serena and Venus Williams, Angelique Kerber and another home favourite Sloane Stephens.
However, the 25-year-old defending champion Stephens does have one major barrier to overcome: Simona Halep. Halep is currently the top-ranked player and beat the world No.3, Stephens, to lift the title at Roland-Garros this year. The two have faced each other nine times, with Halep winning seven, but the encounters have shown signs of a nascent rivalry.
In terms of the men’s circuit, while Federer has won the most number of titles—five—amongst those playing, it is still the most competitive major right now. Even the Australian Open has seen both Djokovic and Federer win it six times each. There are seven former winners in the fray and also players like Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson—who defeated Federer at Wimbledon—looking for their first major title.
Put your money down on the previous champions not having it easy.
But we have already convinced you, haven’t we?
Lastly, since this is the final major of the year, with a lot of points at stake, it will obviously have an impact on the rankings, and on what 2019 may look like.
Put your money on this edition of the US Open being totally worth your while.