The US Open is upon us. Atmospheric night sessions, big crowds and baseline battles are to come, as the world's top tennis players fight to come out victorious in the men’s and women’s singles tournaments.
While the standard of tennis is likely to be fitting of the occasion, there is a sense that there are few challengers to the elite, and that the top seeds in both, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, do not have to deal with an extensive amount of competition.
Djokovic, who has appeared in all of the last four finals at Flushing Meadows, winning one in 2011, comes into this year’s tournament as the reigning Wimbledon champion, having edged an epic five-set final over Roger Federer in July.
Some may argue that he is not the man to beat in New York this year, given that he was subsequently knocked out of the third round of the Toronto and Cincinnati Masters in August by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tommy Robredo respectively.
The 27-year-old’s prime adversary in his attempt to win his second title in New York will be Federer, who has made significant progress in his first year of being coached by six-time Grand Slam winner Stefan Edberg, increasing his world ranking by three positions from sixth and reaching his first Grand Slam final in two years at Wimbledon.
After following that up by winning the Cincinnati Masters, the Swiss is showing the level of consistency that propelled him towards his record tally of 17 Grand Slams, and it is hard to see how he would fail to reach a final against Djokovic.
It would be more comprehensible to question the possibility of a final between the top two seeds, and what would be a repeat of Djokovic’s first Grand Slam final in 2007, were it not for the wrist injury sustained by two-time champion and world number two Rafael Nadal, who will not be back to defend his title this year.
That is without taking away credit that us due to other players in the top 10 seeds, such as this year’s Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka (seeded third) or Bulgarian prospect Grigor Dimitrov (seeded sixth), whose powerful serving propelled him towards the semi-finals at SW19.
Former champion Andy Murray comes into the tournament seeded eighth, his lowest since 2007, but despite not reaching the final of a tournament since winning Wimbledon in 2013, his experience of winning this tournament in 2012 and reliability in the early rounds suggests he is the most realistic threat to the top two seeds.
Expectancy of Williams
As for the women, it seems to be a case of opponents relying on Williams to have a bad day at the office, as has happened in the previous three Grand Slams this year, where she has failed to reach the quarter-finals.
But the American has made an immense recovery from the mysterious virus that left her bed-ridden for three days after being forced to pull out of the women’s doubles at Wimbledon, winning titles in Stanford and Cincinnati.
Having won the tournament on five previous occasions, the defending champion is looking unflappable going into her home Grand Slam.
Looking directly beneath the 33-year-old in the seedings, it is difficult to see whether world number two Simona Halep can turn her blistering form on the WTA tour this year into her first major title, as the Romanian has seen her ranking rise by 62 places since May 2013, and she reached her first Grand Slam final at the French Open in June.
That was followed by a run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon, before she lost to Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who has seen her own rapid rise in the rankings from 31st to eighth this year, following runs to the last four of all three majors, culminating in this year’s Wimbledon final, where she was beaten by Petra Kvitova.
Sharapova's experience a factor?
The 20-year-old can now hold realistic hopes of tasting success on the second Saturday of the tournament, along with 2006 champion Maria Sharapova, who won her first Grand Slam in two years at the French Open this year, and is one of the few players who boasts the level of experience at the top level to challenge Williams.
While shocks do happen in tennis, there are not many to be expected at the US Open this year, and leading candidate Djokovic’s first round match against Argentine Diego Schwartzman will be the highlight of the opening day’s play on Monday, along with Sharapova’s all-Russian match up against Maria Kirilenko.