- Comeback stories, breakthrough performances and golden opportunities for a handful of players—here's why you should be watching the 2017 U.S. Open, if you aren't already.
NEW YORK – If you’re into entropy—and willing to learn a few names—then this year’s U.S. Open is worth your time. With stars such as Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic absent, and a number of seeded players already out in the men’s draw, wreckage has been laid and opportunities are abundant. And that’s helped shape comeback stories and breakthrough performances as we turn the corner into the second week of the final Grand Slam of the year.
Heading into the holiday weekend, here are five reasons this year’s U.S. Open is getting fun—and why you should be watching.
Roger Federer Has Not Looked Like Himself
After surviving a five-set thriller against 19-year-old American Frances Tiafoe in the first round, Federer was pushed to five sets for a second straight match on Thursday against Mikhail Youzhny, marking the first time he’s ever gone five twice in a row to open up a major. He joked after the match that he felt “quite warmed up by now,” but those sets could begin to take a toll on 36-year-old sooner rather than later. Considering he had only dropped a set in four of the 16 matches he’d played against Youzhny, and won each set he played at Wimbledon this summer, he’s looking rather human. (He also practiced in Central Park instead of coming out to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for a hit.) We may be treated to another close one in the coming days, which would be a bad thing for Federer, but incredibly entertaining (nerve-wracking?) for fans.
Who Needs Seeds?
Canadian qualifier Denis Shapovalov’s improbable run at this year’s tournament has actually had a hand in history. When 12th-ranked Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busto steps back on the court Sunday, he’ll be facing a qualifier for the fourth time in as many matches—the first time a player has ever done that in a Grand Slam in the Open era. Instead of No. 8-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, or Englishman Kyle Edmund, who performed well here last August, he’ll be facing the long-haired, baby-faced, 18-year-old Shapovalov, who was one of nine qualifiers to win their opening matches and one of seven unseeded players still alive. It seems like a bad year to be seeded.
All Aboard the Comeback Train
There are three compelling comeback stories cooking in the women’s draw, and they couldn’t be any more different. Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova are all still standing after three rounds at the U.S. Open, something that seemed unlikely months ago.
24-year-old American Stephens missed nearly a year due to a left foot injury and returned just under two months ago at Wimbledon, climbing from No. 934 in the rankings to No. 83 before the tournament. And her form looks as good as—perhaps even better than—three years ago when she reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
No. 13-seed Kvitova comfortably advanced past No. 18-seed Caroline Garcia in straight sets on Friday, but eight months ago, she was unsure she would even be able to hold a tennis racket.
Last December, Kvitova had her hand slashed when an intruder held her at knifepoint in her Czech apartment. She returned at the French Open in May and is only playing in her eighth tournament of the year at the U.S Open.
Sharapova, meanwhile, is playing in her first Grand Slam tournament after serving a 15-month doping ban. After serving her suspension, Sharapova returned in April but battled with injuries all summer and did not play the French Open or Wimbledon. She returned on Monday night in grand fashion, upsetting No. 2 Simona Halep. Now into the fourth round after beating Sofia Kenin on Friday night, she will next face No. 17-seed Anastasija Sevastova, who she’ll face for the first time in her career.
Small but Mighty
Tennis has its fair share of giants, from 6’11” skyscraper Ivo Karlovic, to 6’10” John Isner or Reilly Opelka. But this year at the U.S. Open, slightly less vertically gifted is making himself at name.
Standing at 5’7”, Diego Schwartzman eliminated 2014 U.S. Open champion and 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic on Friday, further dismantling the bottom half of the men’s draw. The 29th-seeded Argentinian will look to stand tall against No. 16-seed Lucas Pouille in the fourth round. It’s easy to get behind one of the smaller players on tour. Hop on the bandwagon while there’s still time.
God Bless America
Americans Venus Williams, Sam Querrey and Sloane Stephens all advanced to the fourth round on Friday. They aren’t just alive in the tournament—they’ve actually looked pretty sturdy compared to most of the field! Mix in Madison Keys, Jennifer Brady, CoCo Vandeweghe and Shelby Rogers and you’ve got a shot at seeing more than one American, on both sides of the draw, in the second weekend. While Williams is defying time at age 37 and Querrey is 29, the rest of the group has an average age of 23.5, meaning there’s some talent you can get excited about seeing for years to come.