Preview of the US Open series: The contenders
The last Grand Slam of the year kicks off in New York in less than a month from now. Players are getting themselves acclimatized to the hard courts after the grass court season.
The Citi Open, an ATP 500 event is underway in Washington at the moment. Two back to back Masters events in Montreal (Rogers Cup) and Cincinnati (Western and Southern Open) would test the players ahead of a much tougher task in Flushing Meadows.
Let us look at how some of the top players on the ATP tour are placed as we approach the business end of the hard court season.
After a remarkable 2014 where he reached his first Grand Slam semifinal (Wimbledon), Milos Raonic is struggling to put up consistent results on the tour. The Canadian started off 2015 with a runner-up finish at Brisbane Open (lost to Roger Federer).
Raonic lost in the last eight stage at the Australian Open before pulling out of the French Open with a foot injury. His Wimbledon campaign was cut short in the third round by young Australian Nick Kyrgios. Raonic has one of the best serves in the world and his booming forehands are difficult to return for most players on the tour.
For someone who was touted as a future Grand Slam champion, Raonic is not doing justice to the talent we all know he possesses. The Rogers Cup in Montreal would provide him the perfect opportunity to get back into form in front of his home crowd. Can he make it past the fourth round for the first time in New York? Only time will tell.
One man who has nothing to lose in the North American hard court season is Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard did not feature in the US Open series last year due to an injury and is keen to improve his results over the next six weeks.
Nadal is upbeat after claiming his first European clay court title of the year at Hamburg (beat Fabio Fognini). He will look to carry that momentum into Montreal where he has won on two occasions in the past (2005, 2013).
Another thing that is in Spaniard’s mind is to improve the ranking ahead of the US Open. He is currently ranked 9th in the world and faces the prospect of meeting either Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Andy Murray as early as the quarterfinal stage in New York. A decent performance in Montreal and Cincinnati would help him climb the rankings.
These two events will give us a clear picture of Nadal’s chances in New York as he looks for his third US Open crown.
The 2014 US Open champion has not lived up to the expectations this year. A shoulder injury at the beginning of the year meant he had to give the Australian Open a miss.
After a fourth round exit at Roland Garros (lost to David Ferrer), he made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon (lost to Novak Djokovic). The Croat will look to recreate his impressive run at Flushing Meadows last year where he won his first Grand Slam title (beat Kei Nishikori).
His hard court campaign started with a loss to Nishikori in the semifinals of the Citi Open this year. Consistency will be the key for Cilic’s successful defence of the US Open. He dismissed Roger Federer in straight sets in the semifinals of the US Open last year. Can he bring his A-game to New York this time around?
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is another player who is inching to put up a great performance this hard court season. The Frenchman,who is the defending champion at the Rogers Cup hasn’t played a single tournament since losing to Andy Murray in the Davis Cup quarterfinals.
Tsonga did have a great run in Paris where he lost to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in the last four. The 30-year-old reached his first Grand Slam final on the hard courts of Melbourne in 2008 (lost to Novak Djokovic). He has improved leaps and bounds since then and Tsonga in top form can be perilious to any player on the other side of the court.
He is well rested for the North American hard court season and don’t be surprised if he reaches deep stages of major tournaments by taking out well known names in the process.
Tomas Berdych had a great start to 2015 season as he reached the semifinals of the Australian Open (lost to Andy Murray). He also took out Nadal in the last eight for the first time in 18 meetings. The Czech carried that form into several tournaments thereafter where he made it to quarterfinals or better.
The World No. 6 had disappointing outings in Roland Garros (lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Round 4) and Wimbledon (lost to Gilles Simon in Round 4). He hasn’t played any tournament since and is eager to get back to winning ways in Montreal.
Berdych is one of the most consstent players on the tour and has been part of the Top 10 for some time now. He has struggled to make it count at Grand Slams where his best result is a solitary final. (2010 Wimbledon – lost to Rafael Nadal). The Czech struggles against the top 4 players in the world and should learn a thing or two from Stan Wawrinka’s exploits over the last 18 months to ensure his name is engraved on a Grand Slam title.