With the American hard court season upon us (the men take over Montreal this week), all eyes will be on Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The former will begin a quest to win his second U.S. Open title after 3 consecutive years of earlier losses. Meanwhile, the world number 9, Nadal will aim to re-establish himself as a grand slam threat. But these two are not the only top stories as we sail into the North American hard courts…
Where is Dimi?
At this time last year, the tennis universe was praising the unfettered potential of Grigor Dimitrov, and rightfully so. He had a career high ranking of number 8 in the world, having come off of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, his first.
But here we are in August 2015, and the Bulgarian stand out is without a title to his name, his last victory taking place in June of 2014. Everyone is digging for reasons as to this drop-off, but it’s clearly between the ears. Recently, he broke up with girlfriend Maria Sharapova after dating for the past year, and any guy can attest to losing focus because of a female. It happens. Then you add the tough training regime imposed by coach Roger Rasheed, and you have a disastrous situation at play. One not conducive with the mild, easy going nature of Grigor. Luckily, he’s realized this and made the necessary adjustments in his personal life (ending relationships with both). We’ll see if he can adjust his game in the second half of 2015.
Stan the Sleeper
After Roland Garros, the tennis community has learned never to rule Wawrinka out of a major. It’s okay, we can learn from our mistakes. Going into the American hardcourt season, most analysts don’t give him much of a chance to shine bright, especially not in Flushing Meadows. Because of this consensus of doubt, I’m picking him to fly in under the radar. Look for him to be making noise come the Open’s final weekend in September.
Which Frenchman will show up?
Tsonga and Monfils are the two most exciting Frenchman this side of Marseilles. But Monfils is quickly overtaking Jo-Willy’s spot on the thrill meter, in part because of a fantastic run at last year’s Open. And in fairness, he really should have beaten Federer after taking the first two sets of the match.
Tsonga’s last 12 months have been marred by injury and drastically inconsistent play. It’s never too late to turn things around, but at age 30, it’s unlikely he can rediscover his prime form of a few years ago. One bit of silver lining for Jo, he will be taking the court in Montreal as the defending Roger’s Cup champion. Let’s see if he can get it done again, and give him confidence going to New York.
The Main Event
We’d be remiss to doubt Federer in ANY tournament, and he was a streaky Marin Cilic away from playing in the title match in New York 12 months ago. There’s no doubt that he will be competitive yet again, despite recently turning 34 years young. But the question for Roger always remains, does he have enough in the tank to win slam? He’s proven he has enough to make it there. But given his competitive spirit, he definitely wants to win it all.
Meanwhile, life is pretty straightforward for Novak Djokovic. He’s the clear favorite to win every tournament he plays, and he’s quickly approaching 10 grand slam titles. Novak is the iron man, and I’m sure if Robert Downey Jr. surrenders the role he will give it to him.
Andy Murray recently got married and it’s been announced he will soon be a daddy. How will this weigh on his mind going into the Open? Well, he did pretty well at Wimbledon after the marriage, so if anything he might be more motivated to win.
For Nadal, it’s getting a bit more complicated. With age 30 right around the corner, he’s moving the wrong direction in the area of physical sharpness. Without having any major injuries to point to in 2015, his below average results(by Nadal standards) can only be attributed to an aging body. Unlike Federer, who appears as conditioned as any 25 year old, Nadal is playing like he’s well into his 30s. In another 2-3 years, we could be mentioning the dreaded R-word in a serious manner.
Those are my thoughts on some of the individual nuggets to be mindful of, but what do they mean as we gallop into New York, NY?
Barring a shocking letdown, Novak Djokovic is going to win the Open. But hey, nothing is guaranteed. Any player is a bad draw or poor match away from an earlier than expected exit. This is why the 2015 U.S. hardcourt series will be a telling sign of things to come. Montreal and Cincinnati could provide some necessary insight for our inquiring minds going into Flushing Meadows.