TEN US OPEN QUESTIONS
1. Serena Williams has endured many humbling setbacks. Shocks in the first round at the French Open and defeats at the US Open to Kim Clijsters and Sam Stosur come to mind. But her toughest loss was at last year’s Open when she fell to Roberta Vinci. She’ll want to redeem herself in NY. But the pressure she’ll feel won’t be anything like last year, when history crushed her. After all, in July she won Wimbledon to tie Steffi Graf‘s record of 22 Slams, and she’s had a year to deal with the big-stage duress that’s the essence of New York’s DNA.
2. NEWSFLASH: We’re deep within the Novak Djokovic era. As one Danville, CA fan said, “Following the sport now is like watching reruns. A lot of guys play – then Djokovic wins.” Novak has won four of the last five Slams and he’s been No. 1 for 213 straight weeks. So what happened at Wimbledon when he meekly fell to Sam Querrey and at the Olympics where he fell to Juan Martin del Potro in his first first-round loss in six years? Curious theories abound. Now, can the world’s best hard court player become the first man to win three Slams in a season in back-to-back years since 2006 and 2007?
3. In the past 16 months, Andy Murray got married; fathered a daughter; led his country to the Davis Cup title; won Wimbledon; bravely came out against match-fixing, sexist attitudes and lesser pay for women, and traipsed to Serbia just to be a Davis Cup cheerleader. It’s a wonder he hasn’t been knighted or installed as Britain’s Prime Minister. Still, he hasn’t won the US Open in four years, he has yet to win back-to-back Slams, he has a dismal losing 2-8 record against Djokovic in Slams and he is down 10-24 overall to the Serb.
4. The Fab Four – Novak, Roger, Rafa and Andy – have tennis in an unrelenting headlock. They’ve won 43 of the last 46 majors. And in the last five Slam finals, the only player to reach a final outside of the Fab Four was Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic. The steadily improving Canadian is a 18-1 long shot to win in NY. The two 2014 Open finalists, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic, are listed as 25-1 and 33-1. Other prospects for the title are the flatlining Stan Wawrinka and the erratic Jo-Willie Tsonga. Long-suffering Tomas Berdych, who’s now being coached by Goran Ivanisevic, the suddenly serious and streaking Gael Monfils, mercurial Nick Kyrgios, and John Isner, who lost to Kyrgios in the Atlanta final, are all outliers of interest.
5. When referring to gamblers, Brit Heather Watson said, “I don’t know why they bet on us [women] because our results are all over the place.” The women’s tournament has a Serena vs. the field feel. So who’ll challenge her? Will it be either the Aussie or the French Open champ – vet Angie Kerber, No. 2, or the emerging Garbine Muguruza, No. 4? Will it be a WTA bridesmaid, like Toronto champ Simona Halep, ranked No. 3, or former Wimbledon finalist Aga Radwanska? Or maybe there will be a shock outsider like Dominika Cibulkova, rising Brit Jo Konta, Wimbledon ace Petra Kvitova or a 36-year-old lady named Venus?
6. Long-injured Rafa Nadal turned 30, withdrew from the French Open and dropped out of the top four. But legions of Nadal lovers hope their humble hunk, who has twice won in NY, will again unleash his swashbuckling Spanish swagger.
7. New York is known for America’s most media-savvy street – Madison Avenue. But will the town provide a road to glory for Toronto finalist Madison Keys? The powerful American, just 21 and ranked No. 9, is trending beautifully, and seems poised to win a big event, a really big event.
8. The dream factory that so delights our imagination often engages tennis. Remember Melanie Oudin and CiCi Bellis at the Open, or Shelby Rogers, just this spring in Paris? So we ask, “Will this year’s Open give us another Cinderella tale?”
9. On the other hand, there are often retirements at the Open: think Evert, Agassi, and Roddick. Goodness, moments after her victory last year, Flavia Pennetta told the stunned crowd she was done. Will another star do the same this year?
10. What sidebar story will grab our attention? The appearance (or absence) of suite owner Donald Trump? The stunning new Ashe Stadium roof? The new sunken Grandstand? A jaw-dropping upset, a nasty meltdown, a fashion shock or a celebrity sighting?