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  • Jon Wertheim gives his seed reports, matches to watch and makes predictions ahead of the U.S. Open.
By Jon Wertheim
August 24, 2018

I don’t practice Santeria / I ain’t got no crystal ball.  But I do have a window of free time now. So here’s some prognosticating before the 2018 U.S. Open.

MEN

We're not exactly going out on a limb A Separate Peace style. But we’ll take Nadal as choice 1, Djokovic as 1a, Federer 1b and then pause to acknowledge that here we are in late 2018 and the three pillars are still standing tall….

1. Rafael Nadal (ESP): You wondered if there might be some accrued some scar tissue after the Wimbledon defeat to Djokovic. But then you remembered this is Nadal we’re talking about. The defending U.S. Open champ looked sharp in Toronto, hasn't played since, and still has his greatest weapon: supernatural competitive instincts. Emotionally fraught first-rounder v. countryman David Ferrer might be a disguised blessing.

2. Roger Federer (SUI):  Remarkably, it’s been a full decade since his last title in New York. He played so well at the year’s first hardcourt Slam in Australia, but otherwise it’s been a fitful and at times frustrating year. We’ll see if he can find his form—noticeably lacking in Cincy—in New York. (As long as the tennis salon is in a greedy mood, can he meet Nadal for the first time in New York?) He’ll need to get past Djokovic in the quarters.

3. Juan Martin del Potro (ARG): A former winner nine (gulp) years ago, he beat Federer here in 2017 and beat him again on the American hardcourt of Indian Wells in March. Much to like about his game (especially that lasso forehand), especially on his preferred surface. Much to like about his personality. Much to like about his story. Alas, much to dislike v/v whether his body can withstand 21+ sets.

4. Alexander Zverev (GER): Not only does a Grand Slam breakthrough remain elusive but, after winning the Citi Open Washington, Zverev backslid in Toronto (a testy defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory performance against Tsistsipas) and Cincy (a three-set loss to Robin Haase). The talent is undeniable; but as it stands today, the hype is not commensurate with the achievements. We’ll see whether his body holds up, especially in heat.  Then again, he ain’t quitting on Lendl.

5. Kevin Anderson (RSA): Having reached the finals of two of the last four majors (including last year’s U.S. Open, of course), Anderson has proven he’s more than a serve. Nice to see quiet professionalism rewarded. Still, it’s hard to see him replicating last year’s results. (The good news: the fifth-set tiebreaker.)

6. Novak Djokovic (SRB): Think you still have to tip Nadal as the favorite, but Djokovic would be our second choice. It’s tough to win back-to-back majors; but apart from Wimbledon, Djokovic is coming off a Cincinnati title. Never mind the seeding, he is the second (if not first) favorite.

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7. Marin Cilic (CRO): 2014 U.S. Open winner reached the final of the previous hardcourt major, and his big flat strokes are made for hard courts. But you fear he’s become a player who, deep down, is content simply to reach the second week. (Also: due for a Slam uptick, having flamed out of Wimbledon, losing to a qualifier.)

8. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL): A nasty case of the yips, especially on his service toss, persists. Again, it’s disastrous to lose control of the one aspect of tennis you control. Dimitrov is like the sportscar with so many gears and dimensions, but too often up on blocks in the shop. With the Cincy 2017 ranking points molting off like snakeskin, note that Dimitrov is down to No. 8 this week. And he gets Stanislas Wawrinka first.

9. Dominic Thiem (AUT): This neighborhood doesn’t seem as swank and emerging as it did earlier this year. He’s won 38 matches on the year; just three have come since the French Open. The inevitable Thiem-building exercise: discuss whether overplaying is compromising his results. (Missed Cincy on account of illness and not injury).  Plus, he returns to the scene of a bitter defeat, that classic five-setter against Delpo in 2017.

10. David Goffin (BEL): Been an awfully quiet summer for the Belgian. With David Ferrer retiring, he’s in line to become known as men’s tennis’ great Talent Maximizer. A little banged up, but he’s due for a strong tournament.

11. John Isner (USA): Always a player capable of mayhem. But especially now, playing some of the best ball of his career. He won Miami and came within a few points of the Wimbledon final. He’s played a lot of tennis, though, and you wonder, too, if pending fatherhood is a (welcome) distraction.

12. Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP): A revelation (and U.S. Open semifinalist) in 2017 has, alas, retreated.

13. Diego Schwartzman (ARG): Applaud the 5’7’’ Argentine for reaching these heights (pun intended). Defends quarterfinal points from 2017.

14. Fabio Fognini (ITA): Quietly—not his preferred adverb—Fognini, age 31, might be having the best year of his career. Three titles, 36 match wins and now plays a favored event (where he once beat Nadal in five sets.) 

15. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE): Everyone aboard the band-chariot! Tennis’ Greek freak, who just turned 20, comes to New York as the sport’s breakout star of the summer.

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16. Kyle Edmund (GBR): Highest-ranked Brit in Murray’s absence is a solid player learning to compete and close. Still seeking his first title of any kind.

Seeds 17-32

18. Jack Sock (USA): Put simply, can he salvage his year? He is 5-15 in 2018 and hasn’t won a match in singles since Rome. The former top-ranked American has also lost in the first round of the last four majors.

20. Borna Coric (CRO): Still prone to self-sabotage but a solid player building steadily.

21. Kei Nishikori (JPN): Disappointing year overall, but a former U.S. Open finalist. 

23. Hyeon Chung (KOR): Tennis’ Korean Zombie reached the semis Down Under.

25. Milos Raonic (CAN): Will always be dangerous so long as he’s dropping the boom on that serve. But will he ever be the player he once was?

27. Karen Khachanov (RUS): Perhaps the best player with whom casual fans remain unfamiliar.

28. Denis Shapovalov (CAN): If he comes in with less hype than he did last year, it ain’t by much. A lot to like here.

30. Nick Kyrgios (AUS): Tennis’ perpetual wild card. You hold out hope that the maturity will catch up to the talent. But it’s been a rough year overall. There’s electricity; there’s also static.

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Dark Horse Pasture

Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI): The 2016 U.S. Open champ showed real signs of recovery this summer. Close losses to Nadal and Federer ought to motivate.

Andy Murray (GBR): Assuming he plays….some serious physical concerns remain; but a former champ no wants to face early.

David Ferrer (ESP): Watch his last Grand Slam match and pay homage to a Talent Maximizer.

Frances Tiafoe (USA): Now just outside the top 40 and still upwardly mobile. Loses a lot of close matches but will be buoyed by partisan crowd.

Mikhail Youzhny (RUS): Less a player likely to win matches than one to applaud in his final U.S. Open.

Feliciano Lopez (ESP): See above. (And gets countryman Verdasco in R1)

First-round matches to watch

Nadal v. Ferrer: Somehow fitting but rough for both.

Wawrinka v. Dimitrov: Our upset special.

Tiafoe v. Mannarino: Rough first match for both.

Upset Special

See above.

Predictions 

Doubles: Murray and Soares

Semis: Nadal d. Wawrinka, Djokovic d. Zverev

Final: Nadal vs. Djokovic

Winner: Nadal

WOMEN

Like making diamonds, it takes heat and pressure to transform a player into a Grand Slam champ. All the more so in New York. We’ll pick the top seed Simona Halep to sparkle brightest.

1. Simona Halep (ROU):  Tennis karma did its part in Paris, as Halep finally won her first major. Well-deserved. Now—having proven to herself that she can win seven straight matches—let’s see if she can do it again. And having won Montreal, she’s solidified her hard court bona fides. Plus, her draw is decidedly kinder than last year’s.

2. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN): She’s already won one major this season on a hard court. But since then, it's been tough going—not least in Cincy where she withdrew on account of a left knee injury.

3. Sloane Stephens (USA): Tennis’ one-woman amusement park. A year ago, Stephens was holding onto the relevance. Since then? She’s won a major, been to the final of another and taken the Miami title as well. And, oh yeah, she’s also lost in the first round of two other Slams. 

4. Angelique Kerber (GER): Not only the Wimbledon winner (over Serena) but a former U.S. Open champion just two years ago, as hard as that it is to believe. Has already won 40 matches on the year. 

5. Petra Kvitova (CZE): Cooled off a bit since the spring, but her insta-classic win over Serena in Cincy ought to fire her with confidence. Took her a while to warm to the chaos of the Open (and the extreme conditions) but always a contender.

6. Caroline Garcia (FRA): Credit her for the top-five ranking. Now it’s time for the strong Slam showing.  Gets an early test against Jo Konta.

7. Elina Svitolina (UKR): The comparisons to Zverev persist. A fine player week-in, week-out but the Slam results are lacking. The absence of bulk this year has been to her detriment.

8. Karolina Pliskova (CZE): “Erratic” would be a charitable summary of her results. Came within a match of winning the 2016 U.S. Open. Since then her results have played peek-a-boo.

9. Julia Goerges (GER): Awfully nice late career surge for Goerges, who doesn’t exactly possess classic strokes—starting with the serve—but it works for her. Coming off a Wimbledon semi appearance.

10. Jelena Ostapenko (LAT): You like the unwavering self-belief and the intolerance for anything other than excellence. But she’s a bit dinged up. And is still a player in need of a whetstone.

11. Daria Kasatkina (RUS): A player to watch—and not just for tennis aesthetics. Such an appealing, creative style and she’s improving steadily. Her record is still pocked by some mystifying losses (she fell to Sharapova in Montreal 6-0, 6-2) but overall she’s trending in the right direction. 

12. Garbine Muguruza (ESP): Wait, did we say Pliskova was erratic? Mugu has become the human coin flip, a player as capable of winning Majors as she is losing early.  It's been a miserable year for Muguruza. Which means she’s due for a title.

13. Kiki Bertens (NED): With this breakthrough year, she’s proven she’s more than just a clay-courter. The recency effect is in full force after she won the Cincinnati title—the biggest win of her career—beating Halep in a three-set final, but she has a real shot at a deep run.

14. Madison Keys (USA): Nice summer recovery after a dismal Wimbledon defeat, including a tight three-win win over Kerber in Cincy. The salon is getting restless.  We still say she’s a future Slam winner.

15. Elise Mertens (BEL): Fine player who won’t dazzle with power, but delivers crisp and efficient tennis. Win over Stephens in Cincy ought to boost self-belief.

16. Venus Williams (USA): For perspective, she played in her first U.S. Open final 21 years ago. That’s not a typo. A lot to defend during a lackluster season, but you overlook tennis’ grande dame at your peril. 

Seeds 17-32

17. Serena Williams (USA): A favorite, if not THE favorite. She’ll have crowd support, history and, most important, a day off between matches. (Why couldn't she have been seeded one spot higher—preventing her from meting a top 16 opponent until round four?) You wish she weren’t in the Halep quarter.

18. Ashleigh Barty (AUS):  You wish there were gears other than full throttle but her athleticism serves well.

20. Naomi Osaka (JPN): Not a lot of results since winning Indian Wells, but power is power, especially on hard courts.

22. Maria Sharapova (RUS). A former champ—and conqueror of the top seed in 2017— gets automatic mention. But how many bad losses will her ego allow her to take?

24. Coco Vandeweghe (USA): a semifinalist in 2017, she’s due for a strong Slam showing. 

26.  Aryna Sabalenka (BLR): Belarusian ranks among the best players you’ve perhaps never seen. Comes in hot, too. Cincy run included three-set wins over Konta, Pliskova and Garcia.

32. Maria Sakkari (GRE): Tsitsipas isn’t the only ascending Greek.

Dark Horse Pasture

Agnieszka Radwanska (POL): Her best days are behind her, but she is a former top-five player.

Donna Vekic (CRO): The breakthrough is coming.

Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS): 2004 U.S. Open champ won a few weeks ago Washington—never mind that she needed a wild card to enter the fray at Flushing Meadows.

Victoria Azarenka (BEL): Former finalist needed a wild card, but a player no one wants to face, especially early.

Camila Giorgi (ITA): Your guess is as good as hers. Which is half the fun. 

Johanna Konta (GBR): It’s been a rough year for Konta. But anyone who beats Serena 6-1, 6-0 on a U.S. hard court (regardless of circumstance) deserves mention before the U.S. Open.

First-round matches to watch

Kuznetsova v. Venus: Somehow unfair to both.

Muguruza v. Zhang: Upset bells peal?

Konta v. Garcia: Played a great match at Wimbledon last year.

Taylor Townsend v. Amanda Anisimova: Winnable for both.

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Wozniacki v. Samantha Stosur: Not often two Grand Slam winners meet in the first round.

Predictions

Doubles: Peng Shuai and Alison Van Uytvanck. Too soon?....Okay, how about Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova for their third straight Major.

Semis: Halep d. Sloane Stephens, Keys d. Kvitova

Final: Halep vs. Keys

Winner: Simona Halep

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