The U.S. Open begins on Monday in New York, with some of the world’s top tennis stars looking to add the last major of the year to their lists of accolades.
With defending champion and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic suffering a shock defeat in the third round of Wimbledon, the towering Serb will be looking to cap an otherwise memorable year with a Grand Slam victory at Flushing Meadows.
Serbian tennis star Ana Ivanovic is nearly ready, according to her Twitter account:
However, Djokovic will have his work cut out with Andy Murray, who is fresh from picking up gold in the men’s singles at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and is going for his second U.S. Open title.
The absence of five-time winner Roger Federer, who is ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury, means Djokovic and the British contender are the hot favourites.
The women’s singles will also be fiercely contested. World No. 1 Serena Williams bowed out in the 2015 U.S. Open semi-finals to heavy underdog Roberta Vinci, and the American be looking to make amends this time around.
However, a host of other players will also be hoping to make an impression, with some notable names featured below.
Players to Watch
Juan Martin del Potro
Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro is the unseeded player all seeded players will be hoping to avoid.
The 27-year-old is in fine form after picking up the Olympic silver in Rio earlier in August, beating Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on the way before losing to Murray in the final.
Del Potro, whose stock has sunk considerably since his 2009 U.S. Open triumph, is looking to put his injury woes behind him.
The 6’6″ player is ranked 141st in the world, owing to a number of injuries he has suffered in his wrists. Since winning the U.S. Open seven years ago, he has had a total of four surgeries on his wrists, according to ESPN’s Greg Garber.
However, Del Potro still possesses the formidable forehand that outwitted Federer in the 2009 final and helped bludgeon Djokovic in the Olympics.
After winning Olympic gold, Murray told Spanish news agency EFE (h/t Tennis.com’s Kamakshi Tandon) that Del Potro is a “definite” contender to make his way back to the top—the Argentinian held the No. 4 ranking in 2010.
With his two-handed backhand, which is still one of the best in men’s game, Del Potro could be set to continue his resurgence in New York.
Rick Rycroft/Associated Press
Another player who has suffered a spate of injuries and has underperformed in recent years is Spaniard Nadal.
Maladies have marred the career of one of the greatest clay-court players. According to Sky Sports’ Raz Mirza: “Tendinitis in his knees prevented him from defending his Wimbledon title in 2009, and the 2008 Olympic gold medalist also missed the 2012 Games because of injury.”
Nadal, who won the U.S. Open in 2010 and 2013, had to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon this year with a wrist injury.
These troubles have undoubtedly affected his forehand, which baffles opponents with the topspin bounce it produces. According to Mirza, he had to take pain-killing injections in his wrist to take part in the French Open earlier this year.
Frank Victores/Associated Press
The 6’1″ star also suffered unusually bad form in 2015, failing to record any major trophies throughout the campaign. His inability to replicate past successes has continued into 2016 somewhat. He suffered a first-round loss in Melbourne and Borna Coric defeated him in the second round in the recent Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
However, Nadal has shown glimpses of the stamina and speed that make him one of the most celebrated tennis players ever. In Rio, he won gold in doubles and fell in the singles bronze-medal match to Kei Nishikori after a tight semi-final against Del Potro.
He also captured the Monte Carlo and Barcelona titles to equal Guillermo Vilas’ record of 49 clay-court titles this year.
Although Nadal will probably never reach his former heights, his desire to win hasn’t faltered, meaning no one can write him off just yet.
Prediction: Fourth round
John Minchillo/Associated Press
Much of the chatter around Flushing Meadows has been about Williams and whether she can pass Steffi Graf for most Grand Slam titles won in the Open Era by winning her 23rd. The Wimbledon winner can also pass Chris Evert’s record of six U.S. Open titles.
Williams is finalising her preparations for the U.S. Open, as Ash Marshall of the United States Tennis Association posted on Twitter:
But hot on the heels of the American is the 28-year-old German Angelique Kerber, who won the Australian Open this year—her first Grand Slam.
In fact, if the 5’8″ Kerber won the Western & Southern Open final in Cincinnati, she would have knocked Williams out of the top spot in the rankings—a position the American had held for 184 consecutive weeks at the time, according to Tennis.com’s Ed McGrogan.
The Bremen-born star has been disappointing on clay this season, losing in her opening match at three consecutive tournaments in May, including the French Open.
The left-hander has still managed to put together one of her most successful years in 2016—she’s 43-13 in singles this season, gained a silver medal in Rio and has amassed close to $5 million in prize money, per Stanley Kay of Sports Illustrated.
The world No. 2 lost to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final, and she will be hoping her aggressive, counterpuncher style will result in what would be only her second Grand Slam.
Kerber trails Williams by 190 points on the WTA table, and if the American makes the semi-finals of the U.S. Open, she will be guaranteed to keep her spot after the year’s final Slam.
Yet in light of Williams’ stuttering performances at the Australian Open, French Open and Rio, Kerber will no doubt be thinking top spot is well within her grasp.