2016 has been a year of ebbs and flows for the tennis world.
While Roger Federer’s knee surgery in February hinted at one of the Big Four laying low for a considerable part of the year, Maria Sharapova’s doping scandal exposed the ugly underbelly of the Sport.
The Big Four and Serena Williams have been dominant for more than a decade but the landscape is fast changing with a new crop of players trying to find their foothold among the top 10.
Last year’s US Open did have its fair share of surprises. Roberta Vinci toppled the World No.1 and the favorite, Serena Williams, in a drama riddled Semi Final. And her compatriot, Flavia Penneta, took the world by storm by emerging the eventual Champion in an all Italian duel. What’s more, she dropped the R-bomb in the prize ceremony and chose to end her Grand Slam career on a high.
Novak Djokovic remained unstoppable as he tore apart his opposition on the way to the Finale. He not only battled a partisan crowd in the Arthur Ashe stadium but also rendered the 17 time Grand Slam Champion, Roger Federer, a mute spectator in the Final.
Djokovic continued his fine form till May this year by winning his first French Open title. Since then the Serb’s performance, by his own lofty standards, is on a downward trend.
With the Rankings in a constant flux, both in the Men’s and Women’s Rankings Table, even those at the highest echelons are not immune to losing their coveted positions heading into the final Slam of the season.
Angelique Kerber could usurp Serena Williams’ throne
Every time someone’s made the gumption of counting Serena Williams out, she’s made them pay by making a comeback in style. After losing two hard fought Finals at the Australian Open and French Open this year, the 34 year old American equaled Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slams at SW19.
Although she’s made age seem a mere number, the 22 time Grand Slam Champion has been plagued with injuries since the last US Open.
Williams has held on to her Numero Uno position for 184 consecutive weeks so far. Owing to some smart scheduling that involved playing Slams and Premiere Mandatory Events, Williams did well in tournaments that mattered most and protected her No.1 Ranking. However, that could change in this US Open as Angelique Kerber is a mere 190 points behind the American.
Kerber had the opportunity to dethrone Williams had she won at Cincinnati. However, she fell to Karolina Pliskova in the Cincy Finals thereby making the dynamics very interesting in the run up to the Final Slam. Williams will have to make it to the Semi Final or further to defend her points from last year.
If Williams faces Kerber in the Final, she will have to defeat the German to stay perched at the top.
Roger Federer will fall out of the Top 5
The 35 year old Swiss Maestro chose to skip the Olympics and the rest of the season following Wimbledon this year. Roger Federer slid down to World No.4 due to his absence at the Cincinnati Masters.
With his nemesis Rafael Nadal less than 100 points behind him, Federer will tumble out of the top 5 by the end of this US Open as he will be unable to defend his hefty share of points from reaching the Final last year.
Although Nadal is still dealing with an injured left wrist, the gritty Spaniard showed us what he is capable of by winning the Olympic Gold in the Doubles category and making a deep run in the Singles at Rio. Nadal will be more than determined to banish the ghosts of his First Round exit last year at the Flushing Meadows.
Milos Raonic is currently ranked at No.6. The young Canadian proved his mettle by making it to his first ever Grand Slam Final at Wimbledon this year. Although he fell to Andy Murray in straight sets, Raonic is the most promising among the new brigade of players and worthy of being a future World No.1.
Kei Nishikori, a former Finalist at the US Open, is another player to watch out for. After ending a 96 year wait for Japan by clinching the Olympic bronze medal at Rio, the Japanese will definitely have his eyes set on his first Grand Slam title of his career.
The 26 year old reached his maiden Grand Slam Final at the US Open in 2014 and will be aiming to go one better in this edition.
Andy Murray could close the gap with Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray is the only one among the Big Four who has never been at the helm of the Rankings.
After yet another painful drubbing at the hands of Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros this year, Murray’s career has been looking up since he started his second innings with Ivan Lendl as coach.
The Scot’s 24 match winning streak that started at the Queen’s Club, saw him win his second Wimbledon title and defend his Olympic Gold at Rio 2016. Although the winning streak snapped at the Cincinnati Finals, Murray is brimming with confidence going into the US Open this year.
With Lendl by his side again, it will be interesting to see if he could emulate his Olympics- US Open double of 2012.
He’s had a tough time being a part of forgettable routs in 10 Slam Finals either losing to Djokovic or Federer. However Murray is more than capable of achieving this double after having defended his Olympics Gold successfully at Rio this year, a feat never achieved before.
Novak Djokovic has been affected by issues in his private life and a lingering wrist injury since his shock Third Round exit in Wimbledon. After having suffered a First Round defeat at Rio, he will be raring to go at the Flushing Meadows and defend his title.
He has an unassailable lead of more than 5000 ATP Ranking points over Andy Murray and in all likelihood could end the year as World No.1.
However, it would be a daunting task for the Serb to defend his title as Andy Murray will leave no stone unturned in his quest for his second US Open title.