Tennis expert Andy Schooler looks ahead to the 2020 US Open which takes place in New York from August 31 to September 13.
The State of Play
The 2020 version of the US Open promises to be like none to have gone before it.
A fan-less Flushing Meadows, in particular its cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium, will likely feel a soulless place, be it as a player on site or a spectator on the TV.
Many big names will be missing. The likes of defending champion Rafael Nadal and world number one Ash Barty have been put off by the COVID-19 pandemic and ‘bio-bubble’ conditions imposed by the organisers.
But for all the negative aspects surrounding the first Grand Slam tournament to be staged since January’s Australian Open, the on-court battles promise to as competitive as ever, certainly if the recent restart to tennis is anything to go by.
Punters will certainly need to take into account the factors which have changed due to the intervention of coronavirus.
Some players will suffer from the absence of fans – many draw energy from the crowd when they are struggling. Others will doubtless feel less pressure in an atmosphere more akin to a practice session.
How Has the Break Affected the Players?
On the men’s side, fitness is likely to be an even bigger factor than usual. Best-of-five-sets tennis is back just a matter of days after the players returned to action after a six-month break.
Those who didn’t work hard enough during lockdown look sure to be exposed if matches go deep.
Another thing to note is the recent change of surface at Flushing Meadows – Laykold hardcourts (also used at the Miami Open) have replaced the DecoTurf ones on which the tournament was played last year. Indications from the ongoing warm-up event at the New York venue are that they are playing pretty fast.
You have to think that all the different variables introduced to the event since it was last staged increase the chance of upsets (and some big-priced winners). Andy Murray was among those in agreement last week.
But the other side of the coin is that, while the potential for a one-off shock is clear, can a lower-ranked player string together seven wins in a row in the best-of-five format to claim the title?
Former player turned analyst Patrick McEnroe believes not, saying: “I don’t see someone coming out of nowhere and winning the Open. The cream will rise to the top.”
I don’t see someone coming out of nowhere and winning the Open. The cream will rise to the top.Patrick McEnroe
All Eyes on Serena
While the early stages of the US Open will likely be dominated by some of the issues raised above – including probably the odd positive coronavirus test and player expulsion – by week two, the tennis can be expected to take centre stage.
And if massive upsets have stayed away, expect two stories to be dominating.
The biggest one, certainly as far as the locals are concerned, will be Serena Williams’ latest attempt to win Grand Slam singles title number 24. If successful, she would tie Margaret Court as the most decorated singles player in the history of the sport.
Now 38, Williams has lost four Grand Slam finals, including the last two here, since her 23rd win arrived, whilst pregnant, at the 2017 Australian Open. Should she reach another title match, the pressure will again be big, although probably slightly reduced by that lack of fans.
Serena will start as the title favourite, although not a clear one, but there’s little doubt who is expected to win the men’s tournament.
Novak Djokovic - Favourite for US Open Glory
Novak Can Take Advantage
World number one Novak Djokovic won all 18 matches he played in 2020 before the tour’s suspension and the odds clearly expect him to stretch that to 25 in New York.
Were he to lift the trophy, the Serb would move within two of Roger Federer’s all-time men’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles.
The absence of both Federer and Nadal will no doubt help Djokovic, while the other member of the so-called ‘Big Four’, Andy Murray, has played only one tournament since November.
Between them the quartet have won 55 of the last 60 Grand Slam titles.
Nadal, winner of the title in 2019, and Federer, recovering from knee surgery, are the two biggest absentees on the men’s side.
However, certainly in terms of numbers, the women’s draw has been hit harder.
Just four of the top 10 will be in attendance, with world number one Ash Barty and defending champ Bianca Andreescu among those to have withdrawn.
Here is a full list of the absentees:
- Rafael Nadal
- Roger Federer
- Gael Monfils
- Fabio Fognini
- Stan Wawrinka
- Nick Kyrgios
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
- Lucas Pouille
- Pierre-Hugues Herbert
- Alex Popyrin
- Yen-Hsun Lu
- Ash Barty
- Simona Halep
- Elina Svitolina
- Bianca Andreescu
- Kiki Bertens
- Belinda Bencic
- Qiang Wang
- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
- Barbora Strycova
- Svetland Kusnetsova
- Saisai Zheng
- Julia Goerges
- Fiona Ferro
- Polona Hercog
- Su-Wei Hsieh
- Lin Zhu
- Anastasia Potapova
- Andrea Petkovic
- Ana Bogdan
- Sam Stosur
- Shuai Peng
- Xiyu Wang
- Barbora Krejcikova
- Priscilla Hon
Form Lines Thin on the Ground
For those who are playing, trying to find form lines is somewhat tricky due to the sport’s near-six-month hiatus which only ceased at the start of August.
Given what’s happened since, results from early in 2020 should be treated with caution.
For example, while Djokovic is unbeaten this year on the tour, he’s since had COVID-19 and played very few exhibition matches.
Those exhibitions do provide punters with a few clues, although not all will place great weight on them. Personally, I feel those players who did manage to get in matches against top-quality opponents during the shutdown of the tours will be at an advantage in New York.
Dominic Thiem is a good example – he managed no fewer than 28 matches between March and July, many against high-class opposition.
Even ‘course form’ from previous US Opens needs to be treated with a pinch of salt given the change of surface manufacturer.
But at least there will be a handful of recent results to go on, certainly on the women’s side – the WTA resumed on August 3, almost three weeks before the ATP.
Ones to Watch
With this being a tricky puzzle to solve, here are some early views on players to follow.
The draw, which takes place on Thursday, should provide a bit more clarity for punters ahead of the tournament’s start on Monday.
Clearly the one to beat. His hopes of an 18th Grand Slam title – and fourth in New York – have undoubtedly been raised by the absence of old rivals Nadal and Federer. However, he contracted COVID-19 in June, so anyone backing the favourite, a player who has had breathing issues in the past, in these hot and often humid conditions should do so with their eyes wide open.
The Russian was outstanding on the North American hardcourts this time last year. He won 20 of his 23 matches and reached the US Open final. He didn’t start 2002 in such great form, but his mix-it-up game style clearly has the ability to trouble his opponents here.
He’s already been to a Grand Slam final this year. Thiem lost to Djokovic in five sets at the Australian Open. The Austrian was one of the most active players during ‘lockdown’ and looks in peak physical condition. That could be a huge advantage in the five-set format.
There’s long been talk of the ‘NextGen’ coming to challenge the Big Four, but the number of youngsters in the Top 50 is now higher than it has been for some time. FAA is one of the leaders of that pack and looked good in the early months of the year, reaching two ATP finals. Long touted as a potential Slam winner, if there is to be a surprise winner, it could be well be the Canadian.
Once again favourite for a Grand Slam tournament, albeit probably by default this time following the plethora of withdrawals. Serena has won this title six times before and played in four other finals. One of the wealthiest sportswomen in history gained an advantage by having the new Laykold surface installed on her home court during the lockdown so she should be raring to go. But will the pressure of equalling Margaret Court’s record strike again?
Like Serena, the two-time Wimbledon champion’s chanced have been boosted by the faster conditions that the Laykold surface (and different balls) have produced. The Czech has never been beyond the quarter-finals here. But a summer of training and playing against some strong opposition in her home country mean she could well break that run in 2020.
The 16-year-old will again receive much attention over the next fortnight and she appears to have a strong head on her shoulders. As she showed at Wimbledon last year, her game is already good enough to compete at the highest level. However, consistency is an area she will need to get right if she is to triumph in New York.
Arguably the eye-catcher of the tour since its return to action, Teichmann could be a dark horse here. She made the final in Lexington recently and continued her strong form upon arrival in New York.