Ashleigh Barty continues to lead the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) world rankings, despite her Australian Open semi-final defeat to Sofia Kenin last month.
The final grand slam of the year gets underway on Monday at the raucous grounds of Flushing Meadows in New York.
As has been the case in recent majors, the Aussies are well represented on the men’s and women’s draws. Can any of them go deep into the tournament? Let’s have a look who they’re playing and predict how far they might go.
Alexei Popyrin (ranked No. 106) vs Federico Delbonis (ranked No. 68)
The young Aussie received his first direct entry to a grand slam without having to go through qualifying or obtain a wildcard. His reward is a match-up with an Argentinian who has never made it past the second round at Flushing Meadows. Popyrin is being touted as a future top-20 player, and he’s definitely showed glimpses of this talent by taking Daniil Medvedev to four sets at Wimbledon and reaching the quarter-finals in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago. I think Alexei will get past Delbonis before succumbing to Roberto Bautista Agut in a tight second-round clash.
John Millman (61) vs Rafael Nadal (2)
A rough first round for Millman against one of the greatest players of all time. Arthur Ashe stadium will hold no fears for Millman following last year’s stunning run to the quarter-finals, defeating Fabio Fognini in the second round and Roger Federer, the biggest scalp of his career to date, in four sets in the third round. As good as last year was, I don’t see John getting over the line against Rafa here.
Jordan Thompson (55) vs Joao Sousa (43)
A tricky first round for Thompson against Portugal’s top-ranked player, who made the fourth round of Wimbledon this year and the fourth round of the US Open last year, showing he’s not just a clay courter. Jordan, though ranked closely to Sousa, doesn’t have a great grand slam record, having reached only one third round – this year’s French Open – out of 17 grand slam appearances. Unfortunately I think Sousa will be too strong and too consistent for Jordan.
Nick Kyrgios (29) vs Steve Johnson (82)
After Kyrgios sensational week in Washington DC, it all fell apart last week in Cincinnati, where he copped a massive fine. He’s probably lucky to be playing in New York at all. However, here he is, and I still give him a chance to go deep if he can keep his head together. He takes on American Steve Johnson, who is coming off a first-round loss in the Vancouver Challenger. While Johnson is a better player than that result suggests, having reached No. 21 in the world, I don’t expect Kygios to drop this one. The caveat is if the New York crowd gets behind Steve and turns on Nick, anything could happen. I do expect Kyrgios to get through to a mouth-watering third-round clash against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Alex de Minaur (36) vs Pierre-Hugues Herbert (45)
Australia’s No. 2 men’s player begins his campaign against the sixth-highest-ranked Frenchman. On paper the two players are ranked very closely, which could mean a tight match. However, Herbert has never gone past the second round here and hasn’t been in great form during the US hardcourt swing, going 0-4 so far. De Minaur showed some form in Atlanta a few weeks ago, and I expect him to get past Herbert. A likely match up with Cristian Garin in the second round will hold no fears, and I expect him to reach the third round, where he will likely take on Kei Nishikori in a tough assignment.
Thanasi Kokkinakis (203) v Ilya Ivashka (143)
Kokkinakis was the somewhat controversial recipient of a wildcard into the US Open through the reciprocal agreement between Australia and the US. While there are higher-ranked Aussies, I do think Thanasi has the game to beat more top players than most of those ahead of him, as evidenced by his defeat of Roger Federer in Miami last year. Here he takes on a Belarussian who has been as high as No. 80 in the world and has had a handful of wins on hardcourt leading up to the US Open. While Ivashka certainly has the potential to cause a few problems, as long as his body holds up to the rigours of grand slam tennis, I expect Kokkinakis to go through to a likely second-round match-up against Rafael Nadal, which will be a real test to see where he’s at.
Ash Barty (ranked No. 2) vs Zarina Diyas (ranked No. 77)
Australia’s No. 1 women’s player and French Open champion opens her account against a Kazakhstan opponent who has had a few good wins during the lead-up weeks. However, Barty is also playing some great tennis right now, and I don’t see this as too much of a danger game. It looks as though she’ll have a relatively smooth run to the fourth round, where she is likely to take on Angelique Kerber for a place in the quarter-finals. Even though women’s tennis is quite unpredictable at the moment, I genuinely see Barty as a real chance to go all the way through to the final here.
Sam Stosur (132) vs Ekaterina Alexandrova (43)
A replay of their second-round match-up at Roland Garros, where Alexandrova got the win in three sets. Stosur is a former US Open champion and has wonderful memories here; however, Alexandrova has shown some good form during the North American hardcourt season and I expect she’ll be just a bit too strong for Sam.
Daria Gavrilova (84) vs Fiona Ferro (72)
These two women played most recently on the grass in Eastbourne, where Ferro won convincingly. Neither has any exposed form on the hardcourt leading into the US Open, so we probably have to look at the year as a whole. Gavrilova has a 7-19 record on tour this year and hasn’t looked like going deep into a tournament for quite a while. The rankings might not give much away, but I think the Australian will struggle here, and I expect Ferro to get through.
Astra Sharma (95) vs Magda Linette (80)
A close first-round match-up on paper, and the good news for the 23-year-old Aussie is that she won against Linette in straight sets on the way to the final in Colombia earlier in the year, where she was ultimately felled by Amanda Anisimova. Unfortunately since then there hasn’t been a lot of main-draw wins, while Linette is finally starting to show some form – she reached the final of the Bronx Open this week. This is close to a 50-50 contest, but I’m leaning slightly towards Linette based on her run of wins against three seeded players this week. If Sharma does get through, she will likely run into Naomi Osaka in the second round.
Ajla Tomljanovic (48) vs Marie Bouzkova (55)
Another tough first round on paper, with only seven ranking spots separating the Aussie and the Czech. Tomljanovic has lost in the first round of both her lead-up hardcourt events, while Bouzkova went on a giant-killing run earlier this month in Toronto, getting through qualifying to beat Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and Simona Halep and push Serena Williams to three sets in the semi-final. That form is good enough for me, and I think she’ll be too tough for the Aussie here.
Priscilla Hon (129) vs Margarita Gasparyan (60)
Hon was the beneficiary of the unfortunately titled ‘lucky loser’ rule. She won her first two qualifying matches before going down in the third, but due to late withdrawals she has been elevated to play in her debut US Open, which is a wonderful effort. Hon will take on a player who hasn’t been in great form lately – Gasparyan has won fewer matches on tour this year. Admittedly the Russian has played some bigger tournaments, but I see this as a great chance for the Aussie, and with a few matches in New York already, I think she can win this match. A likely encounter with Johanna Konta in the second round might be a bridge too far, though.
Overall the Aussies have drawn reasonably well, and with a handful of 50-50 contests, we could see a few move through to the second or third round with a bit of luck.
Tell me your thoughts on the Aussie contingent and we’ll review it all in a couple of weeks.