Pandemic, dark horses, new champions… The 2020 US Open in 10 questions

On day the main draw commences in New York, we are here to ask 10 burning questions about the 2020 US Open.

US Open 2020, Tennis Majors Lists

The 2020 US Open could be one of the strangest Grand Slams in history, with no fans in attendance and players locked into a protected bubble as a global pandemic casts a shadow over the sporting world. As play gets underway we’re curious about what quality of tennis will we see from household names like Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic and how players will handle the intensity of a Grand Slam so soon after a five-month layoff.

1. What role will the pandemic play during the US Open? 

As we saw before the Western and Southern Open, with Guido Pella and Hugo Dellien, and again on the eve of the US Open, with Benoît Paire, there is the possibility for positive Covid-19 results. But the strict health and safety protocols appear to be doing their job: keeping the players Covid-free and safeguarding the public as they work on site. The dark cloud of the pandemic will lurk over this Grand Slam and there’s nothing that can be done about it, but Dominic Thiem may have said it best when he was asked if he was worried about his own safety in light of Benoît Paire’s positive test on Saturday. 

“I think there is no safer place in the world right now than here. Maybe you can lock yourself somewhere in a cave or something, I don’t know, in the middle of the sea. Otherwise it’s super safe here. We are in a bubble.”

2. Will players play differently without the fans and the energy that comes with it? 

As we saw at the Western and Southern Open, players will be left to fend for themselves when they need energy during their contests. At times it felt like the quality of the matches suffered without fans, so it will be of the utmost importance that those interested in making a good result in New York do everything they can to keep their energy positive.

Some seem to enjoy the relative calm that has replaced the frenetic energy of the loudest, craziest Grand Slam, and because of that we could see certain types of players do better than they ever have in New York, while others like Daniil Medvedev, who thrived off the chaos in 2019, could suffer. 

3. Are players ready for the rigors of Grand Slam tennis? 

Players that got in a few matches at the Western and Southern Open will certainly benefit, but based on what we saw last week, many have not had enough time to reach their top form. Novak Djokovic is struggling with a neck injury and will have one day of rest between his back-to-back three-setters on Friday and Saturday and his first-round match on Monday. 

Naomi Osaka, oddsmakers’ top favorite a few days ago, pulled out of the Western and Southern Open final on Saturday with a hamstring injury. Expect players to struggle at an alarming rate, and expect quality of matches to be lower than it normally is – there is simply no way to avoid it. 

4. Will Djokovic and Serena triumph? 

It’s hard to imagine any man other than Novak Djokovic winning the US Open title. Even as the world No 1 struggled with form and injuries last week he still managed to come away with his 35th career Masters 1000 title. The top seed carries a 23-match winning streak into the Open and he’s hell-bent on leaving New York undefeated. Even if he struggles, we think he’ll have the mental toughness to pull himself through. He’s that much better and that much more driven than the rest of the field. 

Serena, on the other hand, is a massive question mark. Her troubling loss to Maria Sakkari last week was concerning by all metrics. After coming unglued in the second set she completely lost the script and had nothing left to give down the stretch against the Greek. Despite the watered-down field of this year’s women’s singles draw in New York, it just doesn’t feel like she’s in good enough form mentally or physically to win it all. 

5. Will somebody finally step up to end the Big 3’s domination at the Slams? 

The odds are much greater with two thirds of the vaunted Big Three not even in attendance in New York. So this is a question about whether or not anybody can take down Novak Djokovic over the next two weeks at the US Open. And we must look at this question from different perspectives.

If Djokovic finds good health and plays to potential, he’ll likely emerge victorious. If his neck injury worsens, or he suffers some other ailment, then anything can happen. 

6. If not Djokovic, then who? 

Let’s say Djokovic’s neck injury worsens and he’s unable to make it through. Which player will rise to the occasion and take advantage of the opportunity? 

  • Dominic Thiem: The Austrian may have been absolutely destroyed in his first match at the Western and Southern Open, but he’s been very good in New York over the years, and he’s ready for his breakthrough Slam – this could be it. 
  • Daniil Medvedev: If Thiem can’t make it through the lower half of the draw and into the final, then the Russian is a likely second choice. He played very well in Cincinnati, and should be even better with another week of practice under his belt. 
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas: The Greek only owns one win at the US Open from two appearances. We think he’s ready to make a run. 
  • Alexander Zverev: Tucked into Tsitsipas’ quarter of the draw, we look forward to a Zverev v Tsitsipas matchup for a spot in the semis. Will the winner be ready to challenge Djokovic? 
  • Milos Raonic: The Canadian imposed himself at the Western and Southern Open, and the fast courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center really suit him. 
  • Roberto Bautista Agut: The Spaniard looked extremely strong last week, and nearly defeated Djokovic in their three-hour epic in the semis. He hasn’t had a lot of success in his career (11-7 in New York, with just two trips to the round of 16) but he does seem to be in very good form.

Roberto Bautista Agut, Cincinnati 2020

7. Can we have a first-time Slam champion on the women’s side? 

To quote Kim Clijsters:

There’s a lot of girls who can play tennis at a very, very, very high level. There’s a lot of girls now who at their best can beat anybody.”

The theme for the last several years on the WTA Tour has been depth and unpredictability. It won’t be any different this year, with six Top 10 players electing not to play and the rest of the field just recently returning from a five-month layoff due to a global pandemic. Expect the unexpected.

8. Which young players are ready to make a splash?

A list of rising forces who just may be able to do some damage in these watered-down draws in New York: 

  • Coco Gauff: The 16-year-old American has already reached the second week at two of her last three majors, but has yet to do so in New York. 
  • Jannik Sinner: All eyes have been on Sinner since he won the NextGen ATP Finals in Milan last year. All eyes will stay on him as he faces Karen Khachanov in first-round action at the US Open. 
  • Elena Rybakina: Before the pandemic stopped the tours, Rybakina was the hottest player in tennis. Can she pick up where she left off? 
  • Denis Shapovalov: Shapovalov reached the round of 16 as an 18-year-old qualifier at the Open in 2017. He’s a far better player today than he was then but needs the results to prove it. 
  • Iga Swiatek: 19-year-old Swiatek has the game – and the tennis IQ – to become a great player, and she’s already proven herself at the Slams with two runs to the second week in her last four majors. 
  • Felix Auger-Aliassime: 2-4 at the majors and 0-2 at the US Open? It’s time for a step-up performance from this talented 20-year-old Canadian. 
  • Jennifer Brady: Brady has been on the rise for about a year now, and the 25-year-old proved she’s in great form by rolling to the Lexington title two weeks ago. 

Elena Rybakina on the WTA Tour, 2020

9. Does the 2020 US Open deserve an asterisk?

It won’t be a normal Grand Slam, and thus will not produce a typical champion, but in no way, shape or form does this tournament deserve an asterisk. In fact, given that it’s played during a global pandemic, it might deserve an exclamation point! 

10. What impact will the US Open have on Roland-Garros chances ? 

With Roland-Garros two weeks from the day of the men’s final, we expect the players that make deep runs to struggle at the French. In fact, even the players that lose early will still be a bit worn out from all the effort they put into making it to America and locking themselves into the bubble. 

In Paris the advantage will tilt to those players who have decided to prioritize the European clay.

 

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