Source: Alexander Zverev via Facebook
Considering the crushing dominance that the Fab Five of tennis have exerted over the other three Grand Slams in recent years, the US Open is a comparative free-for-all. Since Roger Federer won five titles in a row between 2004 and 2008, no winner has managed to defend their title. Notably, the two active players on the ATP tour with one Slam title to their name claimed it at the US Open, with Juan Martin del Potro triumphing in 2009 and Marin Cilic breaking his duck in 2014. With question marks over every leading contender, perhaps this year’s tournament will witness another player making the transition from potential star to Slam winner.
The 2012 US Open was where Andy Murray made the leap from a nearly-man to a full champion, so the 2018 US Open could be the perfect stage for one of the players touted to one day top the world rankings to make their mark. Alexander Zverev has been this player for the past few Slams. Aged just 21 and with a career-high ranking of 4, it is reasonable to suggest that Zverev’s first Slam title is a matter of when and not if. His quarter-final run at this year’s French Open saw the German breaking new ground, although his succession of titanic battles proved an unsustainable method of victory.
The man who eventually swatted a shattered Zverev aside is the other player most fancied to claim a Slam. That man is Dominic Thiem and that Slam is the French Open, once Rafael Nadal decides to let someone else have a go. Thiem is the archetypal clay-court specialist, although Nadal has managed to break free of that label on three occasions in US Open finals. Nadal is the reigning champion, having taken advantage of a draw blown wide open by injuries and withdrawals. William Hill has Nadal at odds of 9/2 to defend his title, ranking the Spaniard as third favourite behind Djokovic and Federer. Yet, Djokovic’s ability to prolong his Slam-winning form upon return to injury will be a concern, while Federer’s uncharacteristically poor Wimbledon showing raises questions. Nadal is the ultimate competitor, although of course, he is not the same proposition away from clay.
Anderson takes the applause of the Wimbledon Crowd. Source: Kevin Anderson via Facebook.
Nadal defeated Kevin Anderson in straight sets last year, the South African making his first Grand Slam final. Anderson proved that this wasn’t a one-off with a similar run at Wimbledon this year, losing to Novak Djokovic in routine fashion in the final. Having defeated Federer in an epic encounter, Anderson overcame the challenge of John Isner in an even more epic encounter. Anderson has the dependable serve and powerful hitting that can cause anyone problems, but his limp final showings perhaps show that this is as far as his ability can take him.
Instead, it might be time for a player who has yet to make an impression on a Grand Slam to thrive at Flushing Meadows this year. Denis Shapovalov is a couple of years behind Zverev in terms of his progression, but the Canadian is another player who has boundless potential and has already troubled some of the leading players on the tour. Isner will have been emboldened by his showing at Wimbledon and will want to strike at his home Slam while the momentum is strong. There is still a feeling that if the stars align for Grigor Dimitrov then he has the peak level to claim a Slam, with the Bulgarian at times effortlessly artistic and at times hugely frustrating. Dimitrov will be eyeing up the US Open hungrily, where the stars seem to align for outsiders more often than anywhere else.