With the 2017 U.S. Open set to kick off on Monday, Aug. 28, in New York, SI's tennis experts and writers Jon Wertheim, Richard Deitsch, Stanley Kay and Jamie Lisanti discuss this year’s top storylines and predict the winners.
What qualifier or other player do you see being a dark horse this year?
Jon Wertheim: I’m not sure we ever reached any resolution insofar as defining a dark horse. If we’re talking no Big Four men, then Alexander Zverev—mirroring his ranking trajectory—springs to the top. Though he qualifies for the main draw on his own ranking, Nick Kyrgios is a wild card, capable of landing anywhere in the entire orbit of result. More conventionally, David Ferrer won't win the tournament, but credit the guy (now 35) with still another resurgence. As for Americans, can Frankie Tiafoe continuing his ascent in New York?
As far as women, who ISN’T a dark horse? Maria Sharapova is, given the way the last two years have played out for her. Simona Halep might be, given her close-but-not-quite status at Majors and other big events. Sloane Stephens, returning from injury to turn in a strong summer. Even Angie Kerber, the DEFENDING CHAMP, might be a dark horse, given her results since last year. More conventionally, how about Ash Barty, one of the better WTA stories of 2017?
Richard Deitsch: I loved what I saw from 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov at the Rogers Cup. The Canadian lefthander had a breathtaking run to the semifinals in Montreal, including wins over Grand Slam champions Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal. Even in his semifinal loss to Alexander Zverev, Shapovalov played aggressive, daring, winning tennis. He began the year at No. 250 in the ATP Rankings; he’s now at No. 67. Shapovalov can make a nice run here if the draw is right.
Jamie Lisanti: This is an obvious one on everyone's list, but how can you not pay attention to 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov? He made himself known a few weeks ago in Montrael, reaching the semifinals and beating the likes of Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro along the way. At the time of publishing this article, he’s still playing qualies. Since he wasn’t able to get a wildcard into the main draw because of timing, let’s hope he can play his way in.
Wildcard recipients are automatically considered dark horses, right? The storylines from this year's list is wide-ranging, from the return Maria Sharapova to Grand Slam tennis after a 15-month doping ban and a battle with injuries throughout the early weeks of the summer; to the young Americans teens looking to make a splash at their home Slam: 17-year-old Kayla Day, 18-year-old Sofia Kenin and 19-year-old Brienne Minor.
Another wildcard—20-year-old, Jersey-born Tommy Paul—told us in this week's podcast he's coming to New York to win the tournament, so watch out for him as he tries to continue a successful summer.
Stanley Kay: No Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka,KeiNishikori or Milos Raonic. Andy Murray is recovering from an injury. Roger Federer will be there, but he has a back issue, and also he's 36, by the way. RafaNadal is the new No. 1, but he isn't invincible. This year’s U.S. Open men's singles tournament is the best opportunity in recent memory for a young player or even a middling veteran to take a serious crack at the title.
One player I have my eye on is Frances Tiafoe—not to win the tournament, but at least to make some noise. The Maryland native is the best American male teenager on tour, and his victory over Alexander Zverev in Cincinnati should do wonders for his confidence entering this event. Depending on the draw, I think this year’s Open could be a seminal moment in Tiafoe's career.
The women's draw is also pretty open. Garbine Muguruza is playing better tennis than anyone right now, but nothing would really surprise me. I like Ekaterina Makarova as a possible dark horse. She won the Citi Open earlier this month, and she followed that up by beating Jo Konta and Angie Kerber in Toronto and Cincinnati, respectively. She exited in the third round at both of those tournaments, but she has to be feeling pretty good about her form entering the final Slam of the year. Keep an eye on the former U.S. Open semifinalist.
Make one bold prediction for the tournament.
JW: Healthy and emboldened by his recent success, Nick Kyrgios is engaged in the competition and returns to the level of tennis he betrayed in February and March.
JL: Nearly half of the ATP's top 10 will be out of commission due to injuries, and a big chunk of the remaining men will enter the tournament with nagging ailments, from hips and wrists to backs and elbows.
This is not a bold prediction, per se, but it’s definitely a bold statement. For fans following the sport year-round, it's not breaking news that the ATP's top players are hurting. For the casual fans who likely only tune in for the majors, the reality of this statement can be a bit shocking. You mean to say that last year's champion and runner-up aren't even playing this year? The 2014 finalist is out, too? What's going on?!
As most know, the show will go on without Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, after all three withdrew from the tournament—some shutting down their 2017 season entirely—due to injuries. And others, including two former U.S. Open champs in Andy Murray and Marin Cilic, have withdrawn from lead-up tournaments with the hopes of being healthy for the final Slam of the year. When most of the top players are either home rehabbing and recovering or just hoping to make it through a few rounds without pulling up with the same injury, there is a problem. With the big names out, will anyone address this issue during the tournament? Will more players be added to the list as the tournament goes on?
SK: Both singles champions will be first-time Grand Slam winners.
RD: The women’s draw is going to be very chalky; I don’t expect many upsets.
Name one offbeat and/or off-court story you will be following during this year’s U.S. Open.
JW: For better or worse, lots….Serena is likely to become a mother during the tournament. The Azarenka custody issue is depriving the draw of a two-time champion and a contender. The forthcoming Billie Jean King movie—which is quite good—will get much publicity, as it should. Does anyone address the rash of injuries and the proximate causes? And of course there is Maria Sharapova who not returns to play her first Major since her ill-fated 2016 Aussie Open but does so with a book to sell. It's been interesting to see a player fairly bland and corporate and on-message suddenly become polarizing.
SK: Serena Williams’s due date is fast approaching. Don’t put it past the Williams sisters to deliver both a baby and yet another U.S. Open title within days of one another.
JL: After withdrawing from the tournament on Monday, Victoria Azarenka's ongoing custody dispute in California will be interesting to keep an eye on. When Azarenka was still on maternity leave, she was active and engaging on Twitter during Grand Slam matches, providing commentary, support and insight to those players on the court. Will she do the same this year, or will she remain quiet on social media as she tends to her family situation? Either way, we wish her the best and hope she returns to the court soon. The game is better when Victoria Azarenka is in the draw.
One off-court story my grumbling stomach won't let me forget: The food at the U.S. Open is really good. If you're lucky enough to attend this year, make sure you lather up the SPF and drink a lot of water, but also arrive hungry. Just as you check the day's order of play and devise a plan for seeing your favorite players throughout the day, figure out a few food pit-stops as you roam the grounds. Y'all know I'm a big fan of the Pat LaFrieda steak sandwich, but there's much, much more. Check out our full guide to eating your way through the U.S. Open on SI Eats, coming Friday.
RD: Reports say Serena Williams is expected to give birth in early September and if that happens during the tournament, it’s going to be a major story on the grounds. With zero inside information, I’m going to predict the baby is born on the day of the women’s finals (Sept. 9).
Who will win the men's title?
JW: I say this with some caution and trepidation, but how do you not pick Federer? He’s won two of three majors in 2017—including the one played on hard courts. The day off between matches serves him (and his tweaked back) well. While he’s not won in New York since 2008, his record speaks for itself. I adhere to the rule that you can't be a favorite to win a Slam until you’ve won a Slam. So that rules out Zverev. But were he to win, it should surprise no one.
RD: Roger Federer. Along with those out of the tournament (Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic), so many men in Flushing Meadows arrive with injuries, including Andy Murray (hip) and Marin Cilic (adductor). Federer is part of that list with a bad back but I see one last Open major given his biggest New York nemesis (Djokovic) won’t be around.
JL: I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: You can bet against Roger Federer, but I’m not taking my chances. Sometimes, things just go your way and it seems like 2017 is Fed’s year.
SK: Just because something is trendy doesn’t mean it’s wrong. For example, I like Chance The Rapper. I enjoy a good slice of avocado toast. I live in Brooklyn. I’m also picking Alexander Zverev to win the 2017 U.S. Open.
Who will win the women's title?
JW: The logical pick is Garbine Muguruza, who won the previous major (Wimbledon) and the previous big event in Cincinnati, beating a murderesses row of opponents. There’s a vacuum in the women’s game and the Spaniard is threatening to fill it herself.
JL: Garbine Muguruza is both an obvious pick and a risky one. She is the winner of the last major and has put together a strong summer of results since earning her second Grand Slam title. She is also going for her second major title in a row, at a tournament she has never advanced past the second round and in a "noisy" city that she admittedly doesn't feel that comfortable in. She could win it, but I’m also not counting out Venus Williams for the title.
SK: Simona Halep came *thisclose* to winning the French Open in June. She made the semis in Flushing two years ago, and last year she reached the quarters. She’s had a couple ugly losses recently, but entering this season I truly believed that she’d finally get over the hump at a major this year. I’m sticking with my pre-2017 conviction: Simona Halep is finally going to get that Grand Slam title.*
*conditional on someone else knocking out Garbine Muguruza
RD: Garbine Muguruza. She’s playing great (a 6-1, 6-0 destruction of Simona Halep in Cincinnati) and has motivation from past U.S. Open disappointments. She strikes me as the player most likely to accept the post-Serena mantle at No. 1. Halep is going to win a major one of these days. If not Muguruza here, it will be Halep.