Monday, 29 August 2016

US Open - Wide Open

The final Grand Slam tournament for 2016 kicks off in a few hours and for once Novak Djokovic is not the raging favourite.  Neither is Serena Williams as certain of taking home the Flushing Meadows prize as in past missions.

Still the top seeds have to be toppled, and Andy Murray has been given a decent head start in his effort to achieve back to back majors.  If there is such a thing as a soft draw then Andy has had one delivered on a silver platter.  His Cincinnati conqueror, and 2014 winner of this title, Marin Cilic is in the other half of the draw, as too is his Wimbledon final opponent Milos Raonic.  Rafa Nadal also won't be a bother unless they meet in the final, which leaves Nishikori, Wawrinka and Thiem as the top ranked seeds in his half - clearly Novak has the tougher road to travel.

Interestingly, the two top Australians will likely meet in the third round, and either Nick Kyrgios or Bernard Tomic could face Stan Wawrinka in the round of sixteen.  Currently that is not the intimidating prospect it may have been at other stages of the year.  Alexander Zverev could give Stan trouble even before the fourth round.

Interest in the bottom half will possibly be mostly centred on an unseeded player - 2009 champion Juan Martin Del Potro.  The Olympic runner-up, if free of injury and still in form, is the danger to all around him, representing a real chance of reaching the quarter final.  He would need to defeat Ferrer and Thiem if the seeds won through, but he has the talent.  And having made it that far, a semi against Murray wouldn't be too much of a stretch.
I can't see anyone troubling Murray until the semis.

The top half of the draw has much to offer - Djokovic's quarter features himself, Gasquet, Tsonga, Cilic, and a few Americans to satisfy the crowd - Isner, Sock and one of the NextGen Taylor Fritz.  Big serving Anderson is thereabouts and he always is a worry to Novak once he starts serving well and winning a round or two.

If Djokovic survives the quarter final stage he will meet the winner of Nadal's section, and that won't necessarily be Rafa.  Six French and five Spanish players have spread themselves through this quarter but it should come down to Nadal v Raonic.

My pre tournament predictions are for the following quarter finals:

Djokovic v Cilic, Nadal v Raonic, Del Potro v Kyrgios and Murray v Nishikori

I believe Djokovic can win the title despite his lack of matches leading in.

Serena Williams has drawn quite well apart from a testing first round against Ekaterina Makarova.  The rest of her quarter is full of talent but a lower level and only the likely quarter final opposition in Simona Halep represents realistic danger.  Past major winners Ana Ivanovic and Samantha Stosur could stand in Serena's path, but their inconsistency will ensure little resistance should that occur.

The Williams sisters could clash in the semi finals if they each win their first five matches.  However, it is more likely that the Cincinnati and New Haven title winners of the last couple of weeks will meet in a US Open quarter final.  Aga Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova have the form and, on paper, friendly draws, Pliskova's not so much if she faces the seemingly ageless Venus in the fourth round.
In a star studded block, Bouchard, Bacsinsky, Mladenovic, Bertens and Pavlyuchenkova threaten to upset the expectations of many including yours truly.

The bottom half of the women's singles draw is even more exciting to anticipate.  
Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza is in what may be called the US quarter, with Keys, Vandeweghe, Townsend, Riske, Mattek-Sands and 3 others flying the Stars and Stripes.
Strycova, Kuznetsova, Olympic gold medalist Puig, and fast rising Johanna Konta all have claims for deep runs in this tournament, while 2014 finalist Caro Wozniacki is hoping for just one win to turn around an awful year on the court.

Angie Kerber can take the number one ranking off Serena Williams if certain results occur, and she has been dealt a handy draw.  Not until the round of sixteen should she be truly tested - probably against either Svitolina (New Haven runner-up) or Kvitova (New Haven semi finalist).  Last year's runner-up Roberta Vinci should make the fourth round, despite indifferent form, but it could be Dominika Cibulkova who finds her way through to a battle with Kerber in the final eight.

Even if Kerber loses in the first round, she will be world number one unless Serena makes the semis and Muguruza plays Radwanska in the final.  However if Serena wins the tournament she retains the top spot.

My quarter final forecasts are:

S Williams v Halep, Radwanska v Pliskova , Keys v Muguruza, and Kerber v Cibulkova 

I believe that Kerber can win another hard court major but realise that selecting against Serena is asking for trouble.

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