With not just the tournament as a whole to review, but Day One matches as well, let’s get straight to what the top players have to prove at the 2015 U.S. Open:
Serena Williams: The one big name with nothing to prove. As much as people are making this tournament out to be a huge event in her candidacy for the title of G.O.A.T. over Steffi Graf, it’s not that big of a deal if she loses. The chatter about her being the greatest is largely from people already convinced that she’s there and if she happens to lose, she isn’t going to stop contending in 2016. This is merely an opportunity for a New York-sized victory lap.
Novak Djokovic: He doesn’t need a second title in Flushing Meadows in regards to his 2015 season, but he does need one more (at the least) for his career as a whole. His candidacy as an all-time great revolves around potentially ending up the greatest hardcourt player ever, which is juxtaposed against the relative house of horrors that this tournament, the most important hardcourt event, has been for him. Making the semifinals eight straight years is astounding, yet it’s also been somewhat disappointing due to the high standard he’s set.
Roger Federer: The opposite of Djokovic, as he could retire today and be the near-unanimous G.O.A.T. In a current sense, he hasn’t won a Grand Slam since the summer of 2012 and hasn’t so much as made the final at a hardcourt major in five and a half years.
He beat Andy Murray and Djokovic back-to-back to win Cincinnati for the seventh time, but if faced with that task again here, Slam No. 18 won’t be happening in 2015. It’s unwise to pick him at a Slam (other than Wimbledon) until he proves he’s still capable of it. Pundits keep picking him to win majors seemingly because they’re squinting to find something they want to see.
Andy Murray: His loss at Wimbledon to Federer was by no fault of his own, as Fed turned back the clock for a flawless performance. However, that’s the problem with Murray: unlike the other Big Four members, he lacks a sustained unbeatable mode.
If he doesn’t capture this title with the form he showed on the summer hardcourts (which included a title in Montreal), it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever raise another Grand Slam trophy, simply because there will always be someone else playing at a higher peak level.
Rafael Nadal: Somehow Nadal has been up and down all year while also being rather consistent. He’s made five Masters quarterfinals (only Djokovic, Murray and Tomas Berdych can say the same) but has just one final and one semifinal at the 10 significant events this year (three Slams, seven Masters 1000s). Every time he looks to have regained his top form, he suffers a setback.
The good news is he isn’t losing to “pushers,” as his defeats have come at the hands of elite players and those capable of looking elite on any given day. The bad news is his passive play has contributed to helping those hit-or-miss opponents find a comfortable rhythm.
His track record (10 straight years with a Grand Slam title, an all-time record) gives him some leeway, so a loss to Djokovic in the quarters, as long as it’s a competitive match, would meet expectations and likely reassure both the public and Rafa himself that he can contend for majors again in 2016.
Simona Halep: With Serena an overwhelming favorite, the result isn’t the most important thing for Halep. What the second seed needs to show is the mettle from 2014 that she recovered in Toronto and Cincinnati (where she went toe-to-toe with Serena in a splendid final). A repeat of her flameouts at this year’s Grand Slams could be disastrous considering she’d have to stew until January in Australia for redemption.
Victoria Azarenka/Petra Kvitova: Both two-time Slam champs who can’t seem to have a prolonged stretch of good luck/health. A solid run to the quarterfinals or even the fourth round would be a good result to build on to get back on track for these two. That’s more than doable for Kvitova based on her draw (though this is her worst Slam by far, due in part to effects from asthma). Azarenka though? She’d need to beat Angie Kerber and Lucie Safarova just to get to the quarters, where she could run into Halep.
Men’s quarterfinalists: Nadal, Dimitrov, Wawrinka, Gasquet
Men’s semifinals: Djokovic over Tsonga, Murray over Federer
Men’s champion: Novak Djokovic
Women’s quarterfinalists: Bencic, Svitolina, Pennetta, Kerber
Women’s semifinals: Williams over Jankovic, Halep over Errani
Women’s champion: Serena Williams
(Apologies for going chalk, but that’s what 2015 has been.)
Day One Matches to Watch:
-Serena Williams (1) vs Vitalia Diatchenko
Serena’s quest for the final leg of the Calendar Grand Slam kicks off the night session. Pick: Williams
-Rafael Nadal (8) vs Borna Coric
Many think Coric, the top teenager, can threaten Nadal, however he does not profile like the ideal challenger. Coric lacks the consistent attacking to dominate court positioning and make Rafa play from behind the baseline. Pick: Nadal
-Ana Ivanovic (7) vs Dominika Cibulkova
Especially now that Maria Sharapova has withdrawn, Ivanovic should make the semifinals… except she could easily fall in this trap match. Pick: Ivanovic
-Kei Nishikori (4) vs Benoit Paire
Nishikori skipped Cincinnati after predictably falling injured due to playing too many tournaments. With a great backhand and poor forehand, Paire can be dangerous on the right day, but this is all about seeing how healthy Nishikori is as he returns to New York after making the final last year.
-Sloane Stephens (29) vs Coco Vandeweghe
Stephens won her first title in D.C. and seems to have cracked the code on her game under coach Nick Saviano. Vandeweghe is attempting to back up a strong Wimbledon run in front of her hometown fans. Stephens should prove to be more consistent in rallies. Pick: Stephens
Also in action: Djokovic, defending champion Marin Cilic, Toronto champion Belinda Bencic, Mardy Fish in his final tournament, Madison Keys and David Ferrer returning from injury, NCAA champion Ryan Shane faces Montreal semifinalist Jeremy Chardy, American prospect Tommy Paul (fresh off turning pro) plays 25th seeded Andreas Seppi, Genie Bouchard tries to get back on track against American Alison Riske