Ahead of the first Grand Slam since the season was suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic, three Last Word on Tennis writers – Vithun Illankovan, Damian Kust and Harsh Bhoot made their US Open predictions.
US Open Predictions
Vithun:  Dominic Thiem (AUT)
If world #1 Novak Djokovic hadn’t won in Cincinnati, I would have been more inclined to pick him as the winner. However, I think maintaining a winning streak across two Grand Slams will prove too much for him, just like it did in 2011. Therefore, I will pick Dominic Thiem. Given his run to the Australian Open final this year, he should be filled with confidence that he can win his maiden Grand Slam on a hard court.
Damian:  Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Is it a 50/50 between Djokovic and the field? Probably somewhere around that. The draw gods were kind to the Serbian and put Thiem and Medvedev in the other half of the draw, with neither of them a lock to really get there. Djokovic hasn’t lost yet this year and if anyone’s picking someone else, they just want to go against the grain.
Harsh:  Novak Djokovic (SRB)
It’s hard to look past the world number 1. The Serb managed to win in Cincinnati and it’s a draw he should have no trouble navigating.
Vithun:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
I think Naomi Osaka is grossly overrated. I also think she is only the highest paid female athlete because of her nationality and because her first Grand Slam win was in such controversial circumstances (which gave her mainstream exposure she wouldn’t have otherwise received). However she is still my pick to win her third Grand Slam title which speaks volumes about the state of the WTA Tour.
Osaka has yet to reach a final on clay or grass, win an event when she is ranked world #1 or win an event as defending champion. Thankfully for her, the US Open is played on hard court, she is now ranked 10th in the world and she lost in the fourth round last year. Therefore, the conditions are set for her to win her second US Open title.
Damian:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
This is an extremely tough call. To some extent, Osaka has a draw from hell. Camila Giorgi is not an opponent you want to face early in a Grand Slam and Cori Gauff defeated her at the Australian Open, following one of Osaka’s worst career performances. The fourth round could see her face Anett Kontaveit, another dark horse for maybe even the title.
But it’s also a draw that builds a lot of confidence if you manage to get through it and it seems like from the quarters on, it could actually get easier. Her withdrawal from the Cincinnati final seems mostly preventive to me, so I believe she’ll recover for the main event.
Harsh:  Naomi Osaka (JPN)
Barring any injury problems, she looks like the player to beat. She put up strong performances in Cincinnati and should feel confident enough for a title winning run.
Men’s Dark Horse
The player we think will go furthest in the Men’s Singles that isn’t a Top 16 seed
Vithun: Feliciano Lopez (ESP)
With the unfamiliar time the tennis tour finds themselves in, it may be an advantage to a player who has been on tour for a long time as they are more accustomed to adjusting around inconvenient situations. Lopez is a very experienced player who has previously reached the quarterfinals of the US Open and also reached the third round last year. His experience could help him in this time of uncertainty.
Damien:  Dan Evans (GBR)
With his versatility, it’s actually one of the trickier opponents to face on the tour. He’ll also like the faster conditions. No one else plays quite like Evans and that’s what makes him so dangerous. He could be on the path for a potential fourth-round meeting with Thiem and looking at the Austrian’s weak Cincinnati outing, I’m not sure who I’d take to win that one.
Harsh:  Milos Raonic (CAN)
The Canadian should be feeling extremely confident after pushing Djokovic to three sets in Cincinnati and if he gets past a potential third round against Roberto Bautista Agut then Raonic should fancy himself a good run this year.
Women’s Dark Horse
The player we think will go furthest in the Women’s Singles that isn’t a Top 16 seed
Vithun:  Angelique Kerber (GER)
Kerber is one of the biggest overachievers in the history of the sport, although there is even a case for her to be classed as slightly overrated. She has no big titles besides her Grand Slams, which all came in quite favourable circumstances. However, as a former US Open champion and the fact almost all her deep runs in Grand Slams have occurred in even years, she could be primed for a good run at this year’s event with how unpredictable women’s Tennis is nowadays.
Damian:  Jennifer Brady (USA)
The American did amazing two weeks ago in Lexington, hitting her serve and forehand combination the best she’s ever done. Her third-round opponent is Karolina Pliskova but as the Czech is definitely not in-form, Brady will like her chances there. From there on, everything would be possible.
Harsh: Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
Seems like the obvious choice for this. Defeated quality opponents throughout her Cincinnati Open campaign and has a very favourable draw to put together a decent run.
Men’s Early Exit
The Top 8 seed we think be eliminated first in the Men’s Singles
Vithun:  Daniil Medvedev (RUS)
Whilst I think there is a chance for Medvedev to win the whole tournament, I think he will be very vulnerable early on. We saw his rival (and fellow NextGen member) Stefanos Tsitsipas fail to back up his semifinal run at the 2019 Australian Open and lose in the first week this year. I think the same could happen to Medvedev here where he crumbles under the pressure of trying to back up his amazing run to the US Open final last year.
Damien:  David Goffin (BEL)
We don’t know whether Reilly Opelka’s knee will be okay for next week, but if he’s back to fitness, the American will be extremely tough to take down in these faster hard court conditions. That will just be the beginning of Goffin’s troubles as in the third round, awaiting him should be in-form Filip Krajinovic. Alexander Zverev won’t have it easy either – Kevin Anderson is always dangerous and Brandon Nakashima might just be getting ready for his first win over a marquee player.
Harsh:  Alexander Zverev (GER)
Grand Slams haven’t been kind to the German. Cincinnati was a disappointment and with a tricky first round against Kevin Anderson, expect Zverev’s woes to continue.
Women’s Early Exit
The Top 8 seed we think be eliminated first in the Women’s Singles
Vithun:  Sofia Kenin (USA)
This era of women’s tennis has been characterised by unheralded players frequently winning big events, but then faltering under the pressure of being a top-ranked player as they achieved peak success quicker than their ability suggested. This year’s Australian Open champion Kenin has not showed us anything which suggests that she will buck this trend.
Damien:  Sofia Kenin (USA)
The Australian Open champion is not fully over her first Slam title hangover yet and she will probably face another rising star, Leylah Fernandez, in the second round. Her third-round might be a repeat of an Australian Open quarterfinal battle against Ons Jabeur. This time, it’s the Tunisian who seems to be in better form coming into this event.
Harsh:  Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)
She didn’t look convincing in Lexington and Cincinnati. A potential second round clash against Victoria Azarenka could be troubling and can potentially end her US Open campaign earlier than she would’ve liked.
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