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2019 US Open preview

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Roar Guru
21st August, 2019
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The year’s final major is now less than a week away, and all eyes will be on the defending champions, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, to see if they can repeat in 2019.

Djokovic headlines a strong men’s field which also includes former champions Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, while Daniil Medvedev will loom as a potential dark horse following his victory in Cincinnati, where he defeated Djokovic in the semi-finals.

Local hopes will hinge on John Isner, who will have the arduous task of attempting to become the first local man since Andy Roddick in 2003 to win a Grand Slam title, and the first local since Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2016 to win his home major tournament.

In the women’s field, the battle for the world number one ranking will intensify over the next fortnight, with Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep all in the running to leave New York as the world’s best women’s singles player.

Again, attention will be on Serena Williams as she attempts to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, while Madison Keys will enter her favourite Grand Slam tournament off the back of winning the Cincinnati Open, which has lifted her back into the top ten.

As always, we begin by previewing the men’s contenders, starting with the defending champion, Novak Djokovic.

[1] Novak Djokovic (SRB)

US Open history
Best result: Won three times (2011, 2015, 2018).

Last year’s result: Champion (defeated Juan Martin del Potro in the final).

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Grand Slam results in 2019
Australian Open: Champion (defeated Rafael Nadal in the final).

French Open: Semi-final (lost to Dominic Thiem).

Wimbledon: Champion (defeated Roger Federer in the final).

Titles won in 2019
Australian Open, Madrid, Wimbledon.

At 32 years of age, Novak Djokovic is showing no signs of slowing down.

After injury saw him drop out of the world’s top 20 just over twelve months ago, the Serb has enjoyed a resurgence in form, winning Wimbledon and the US Open last year, and then finishing off the year strongly to reclaim his mantle as the world’s best male tennis player.

This form carried on into 2019, where he became the first man to win seven Australian Open titles by defeating Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the final in a rather disappointing sequel to the 2012 epic, which he won in just under six hours.

He then suffered consecutive pre-semifinal exits in his first three Masters tournaments of the year, losing to Philipp Kohlschreiber, Roberto Bautista-Agut and Daniil Medvedev at Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo, respectively.

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However, he bounced back to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas to win Madrid before falling to Nadal in the final in Rome. Then, with the chance to complete a double non-calendar Grand Slam at Roland Garros, he lost to Dominic Thiem in the semi-final.

At Wimbledon, Djokovic landed his 16th Grand Slam title, defeating Roger Federer in a dramatic championship match in which he became the first man since Gaston Gaudio at the 2004 French Open to win after saving a match point.

After deciding to bypass Montreal, Djokovic then returned to action in Cincinnati last week, where he had his title defence ended by eventual champion Daniil Medvedev in the semi-final.

Now, he returns to Flushing Meadows where he will get the chance to win a 17th major title, which would see him draw to within one of Rafael Nadal (18) on the men’s Grand Slam leader board, which Federer still leads with 20.

Novak Djokovic

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Of Djokovic’s 16 major titles, ten have come on hard courts, which is one behind Federer, who has won the US Open five times and the Australian Open six times.

Therefore, there is an incentive for the Serb to triumph in the Big Apple once again, and draw level on the Fed Express with 11 major hard-court titles.

Prediction
Champion.

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[2] Rafael Nadal (ESP)

US Open history
Best result: Won three times (2010, 2013, 2017).

Last year’s result: Semi-final (lost to Juan Martin del Potro).

Grand Slam results in 2019
Australian Open: Runner-up (lost to Novak Djokovic).

French Open: Champion (defeated Dominic Thiem in the final).

Wimbledon: Semi-final (lost to Roger Federer).

Titles won in 2019
Rome, French Open, Montreal.

At 33 years of age, Rafael Nadal continues to rule the tennis world, whether it’s at the top of the rankings or playing as second-fiddle to Novak Djokovic, which he has done for the balance of season 2019.

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This year has seen the Spaniard reach the semi-finals or better at the three Grand Slam tournaments so far, making this the first time since 2008 that he has done so.

This included winning a record-breaking 12th title at Roland Garros, which has pretty much been his kingdom ever since he played his first match there as an 18-year-old in 2005.

There, he defeated Roger Federer for the first time since 2014, though the Swiss Maestro would get him back in the semi-finals at Wimbledon, in what was their first meeting there since the epic 2008 finale, which the Spaniard won 9-7 in the final set.

Earlier, he was beaten by Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the final of the Australian Open, marking the first time he’d been dealt such a brutal beatdown in a major final.

Returning to action earlier this month, Nadal successfully defended his Rogers Cup title, defeating Daniil Medvedev in the final, before deciding to bypass Cincinnati. It was his second Masters title of the year, after also winning in Rome in May.

He now arrives at Flushing Meadows hoping to not only win a fourth title but also claim a 19th Grand Slam singles title, which would see him draw to within one of the men’s all-time record held by Federer.

Last year, his title defence came to an end in the semi-final where he was forced to retire while two sets down against Juan Martin del Potro; it was the second time in 2018 that he was forced to retire in a Grand Slam match.

Rafael Nadal

(Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)

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This year, I can see him reaching the final, and will have the chance to close the gap on Federer on the Grand Slam leader board, while at the same time skip clear of Novak Djokovic (16).

Prediction
Runner-up.

[3] Roger Federer (SUI)

US Open history
Best result: Won five times (2004-08).

Last year’s result: Fourth round (lost to John Millman).

Grand Slam results in 2019
Australian Open: Fourth round (lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas).

French Open: Semi-final (lost to Rafael Nadal).

Wimbledon: Runner-up (lost to Novak Djokovic).

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Titles won in 2019
Dubai, Miami, Halle.

As always, the always popular Roger Federer will be one to watch at Flushing Meadows.

Over a decade has passed since the Swiss Maestro won the last of his five consecutive US Open titles, but there’s no doubt the 38-year-old would love to salute in the Big Apple once again before he draws the curtains on his illustrious career.

The Basel native started his year by reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open, where he saw his chances of a hat-trick of titles ended by Stefanos Tsitsipas by way of a four-set defeat.

Following that loss, Federer announced that he would contest the French Open for the first time since 2015, having missed the previous three editions due to making the tournament not so much of a priority anymore.

He went very well at the tournament, reaching the semi-final and only being beaten by the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, whom he would turn the tables on at Wimbledon, defeating him in the final four stage before losing to Novak Djokovic in the championship match.

At the All England Club, Federer became the first man since Guillermo Coria in 2004 to lose a major final, despite holding two match points in the gripping fifth set, which for the first time would be settled by way of a tiebreak at 12-all in the final set.

The Swiss Maestro then decided to skip the Rogers Cup, returning to action in Cincinnati last week where he was beaten by Russian Andrey Rublev in straight sets; it marked his quickest defeat in over 16-and-a-half years.

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That, of course, came way before he won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, where he defeated Mark Philippoussis in the final.

In between, his quickest defeat (to my knowledge) was when he lost to Nadal in the final of the 2008 French Open in 82 minutes.

While he hasn’t been able to add to his haul of 20 major singles titles, he has won three other titles this season, including his milestone 100th career title in Dubai, in which he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final, as well as in Miami and Halle, where he won for the tenth time.

Rogerer Federer serving at Roland Garros.

(Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

At Flushing Meadows, where he is always a fan favourite, you can expect him to better his performance from last year, where he was upset by Australian John Millman in the fourth round. I have him reaching, at best, the final four.

Prediction
Semi-finals.

Also watch out for
Alexander Zverev, who has yet to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final outside of Roland Garros.

Daniil Medvedev, who won the Cincinnati Masters last week after defeating Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals. He is the first Russian to crack the top five in the men’s rankings since Nikolay Davydenko was ranked this high in mid-2010.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose form has stagnated since the French Open. But back on the hard courts, the 21-year-old Greek star is capable of a good run in New York.

Withdrawals
Juan Martin del Potro, who remains sidelined due to a knee injury which also kept him out of Wimbledon.

In the women’s draw, top seed Naomi Osaka will experience being the defending champion at a major for the first time, and given her poor form since winning the Australian Open, it’s fair to say that she is skating on thin ice.

The 21-year-old should consider herself lucky to still be clinging onto the world number one ranking, after being forced to retire in the quarter-finals at Cincinnati, where her main rival for top spot, Ashleigh Barty, fell in the semi-finals against Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and former US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova are also in the running to overtake Osaka at the top of the rankings, while Madison Keys looms as a major dark horse after winning the Cincinnati tournament last week.

Let’s now have a look at the women’s contenders, starting with the defending champion Osaka:

[1] Naomi Osaka (JPN)

US Open history
Best result: Won (2018).

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Last year’s result: Champion (defeated Serena Williams in the final).

Grand Slam results in 2019
Australian Open: Champion (defeated Petra Kvitova in the final).

French Open: Third round (lost to Katerina Siniakova).

Wimbledon: First round (lost to Yulia Putintseva).


Titles in 2019

Australian Open.

Since winning the Australian Open and ascending to world number one, things have not turned out the way Naomi Osaka would have liked.

The 21-year-old has failed to reach another championship match since; not only that, she has also fallen early at both the French Open and Wimbledon, losing in the third and first rounds respectively.

(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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As a result, she lost the world number one ranking but regained it earlier this month after Ashleigh Barty dropped her first match in Toronto, and should consider herself lucky to still be in top spot after the Australian lost in the semi-finals at Cincinnati last week.

Now, the Japanese star, who also split with her coach Sascha Bajin earlier this year, will face the pressure of being the defending champion at a major for the very first time in the next fortnight.

She has been on the other side of the net before, upsetting then-defending champion Angelique Kerber in the first round of the 2017 US Open; it was that result which made the world stand up and take notice of her talents.

We all know too well what happened last year when the glory of Osaka winning her first major title was taken away from her owing to the events surrounding Serena Williams’ meltdown in the championship match last year.

To have any chance of leaving Flushing Meadows with the world number one ranking, the Japanese star must successfully defend her title; not even finishing runner-up to anyone other than Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova or Ashleigh Barty will be enough.

Should Osaka face Simona Halep in the final, then the world number one ranking will be decided there. Otherwise, if neither reach the championship match, Pliskova can reclaim the ranking if she reaches the quarter-finals or better.

Despite her poor form, a return to Flushing Meadows should inspire Osaka to do well here.

Prediction
Semi-finals.

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[2] Ashleigh Barty (AUS)

US Open history
Best result: Fourth round (2018).

Last year’s result: Fourth round (lost to Karolina Pliskova).

Grand Slam results in 2019
Australian Open: Quarter-finals (lost to Petra Kvitova).

French Open: Champion (defeated Marketa Vondrousova in the final).

Wimbledon: Fourth round (lost to Alison Riske).

Titles in 2019
Miami, French Open, Birmingham.

Going into the US Open, the player best placed to leave with the world number one ranking is Australia’s Ashleigh Barty.

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The Queenslander has had a solid season so far, winning her first Premier Mandatory title in Miami before saluting at Roland Garros to become the first woman from her country to win a major title since fellow stateswoman Samantha Stosur took out the US Open in 2011.

She then ascended to top spot in the rankings before losing to Alison Riske in the fourth round at Wimbledon, when a win would’ve seen her take on Serena Williams in an inter-generational quarter-final battle.

Barty then lost in the second round and the semi-finals at Toronto and Cincinnati, respectively, handing the world number one ranking back to Naomi Osaka in the process.

But despite losing her status as the best singles player in the women’s game (for now), Barty has handled the disappointments with dignity, and is in the box seat to reclaim the ranking as she only has a fourth-round appearance to defend at Flushing Meadows.

The 23-year-old had the chance to return to the top of the rankings this week, but lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semi-finals at Cincinnati.

Ash Barty during Wimbledon 2019

(Photo by Shi Tang/Getty Images)

In the doubles, Barty has formed a partnership with former world number one Victoria Azarenka, and together the pair won the Italian Open in May.

However, you would think that her focus would be in the singles, as she aims to add a second major trophy to the one that she won at Roland Garros back in June.

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I have her reaching the final; who knows what she can achieve afterwards.

Prediction
Finalist.

[4] Simona Halep (ROU)

US Open history
Best result: Semi-final (2015).

Last year’s result: First round (lost to Kaia Kanepi).

Grand Slam results in 2019
Australian Open: Fourth round (lost to Serena Williams).

French Open: Quarter-finals (lost to Amanda Anisimova).

Wimbledon: Champion (defeated Serena Williams in the final).

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Titles in 2019
Wimbledon.

After a disappointing first half of the season, suddenly Simona Halep is back in business.

Arriving at the All England Club without having won a title for nearly 12 months, the Romanian motored her way to the title, thrashing Serena Williams for the loss of just four games in the championship match to become the first player from her country to win tennis’ holy grail.

Halep had already lost to the American in the fourth round of the Australian Open, while at the French, where she was the defending champion, she was upset by another American, Amanda Anisimova, in the quarter-finals.

The 27-year-old would not fare any better in the lead-up to the US Open, being forced to retire in her quarter-final clash against Marie Bouzkova in Toronto before losing to eventual champion Madison Keys in Cincinnati last week.

But after losing in the first round last year, Halep has the chance to attain fresh rankings points at will, which will help in her pursuit of regaining the world number one ranking.

To do so, she must win the title, nothing less, regardless of who she faces in the final. I can see her going deep, but maybe not past the semis.

(Imaginechina via AP Images)

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Prediction
Semi-finals.

Also watch out for
Karolina Pliskova, who must simply defend her quarter-final points if she is to return to world number one for the first time since 2017.

Petra Kvitova, who will be aiming to win her first non-Wimbledon Grand Slam title.

Serena Williams, who will again be aiming to match the record of most Grand Slam singles titles held by Margaret Court.

Madison Keys, who won Cincinnati last week and with Williams will carry the nation’s best hope of another homegrown women’s champion.

Bianca Andreescu, who became the first local woman to win the Rogers Cup in half a century earlier this month.

Withdrawals
Amanda Anisimova, whose father and coach Konstantin Anisimov died suddenly earlier this week. She turns 18 at the end of this month.

The US Open gets underway on Monday, August 26 (local time).

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