Alcaraz and Djokovic is the final that everyone is hoping for, but in a Grand Slam renowned for its upsets and unpredictability, will a new champion once again rise to the occasion in the concrete jungle?
The final Grand Slam of the year is nearly upon us, for some it will represent the potential icing on the cake of an exceptional season, whilst for most it represents their last chance for Grand Slam glory in 2023.
Perhaps for those hoping for the latter, the US Open is the place to do it.
Since 2008, ten players have been crowned Champion at Flushing Meadows, making the US Open the most diverse pool of champions in the sport (by quite a distance), doubling its nearest rival, Wimbledon, for number of champions in this time.
The reason why I highlight 2008 is because this is also the last time that someone defended the US Open title, when Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray.
Of the ten champions since 2008, six won their first Grand Slam titles at the US Open. The last three champions (Thiem, Medvedev and Alcaraz) were all first-time champions, making the US Open the seemingly ideal place to capture your maiden Grand Slam title.
Carlos Alcaraz enters the tournament as a defending Grand Slam champion for the first time, and the question on everyone’s lips is: “Can he overcome the curse of the US Open?”
The reasons behind the US Open’s unpredictability compared to other Grand Slams in recent years has long been debated, with the consensus appearing to be that the top players are often more worn out after a long season.
But perhaps another reason for the tournament’s ‘openness’ is the neutrality of its courts. The material used for the hard courts is slower than that of Australia and of course has less variation than the clay of Roland Garros or the grass at Wimbledon.
Without the court factors that give certain players an advantage on a particular surface, the dominance of the top players like Nadal and Djokovic seems to have been neutralised over the years.
So, who are the players hoping to take advantage of the US Open’s unpredictability?
One of the favourites is the 2021 champion, Daniil Medvedev, who has reached at least the semi-finals is three of the last four US Opens.
Medvedev’s consistent, flat groundstrokes have made him a real powerhouse on hard-courts over his career, racking up 18 titles on the surface. With a lethal serve to boot, the Russian will be a strong contender.
Another player who has often produced strong returns at the US Open is Matteo Berrettini. The Italian looked nailed on to be one of the top competitors in men’s tennis in 2021 when he made four consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals, including the final at Wimbledon, but injuries and covid have seen his career derailed over the last few seasons.
However, Berrettini has made at least the quarter-finals of the US Open for the last four years. He showed glimpses of his best at Wimbledon last month and may have an outside chance of a push for the title.
Another outsider to consider is Alexander Zverev, who made the final in 2020 and the semi-finals in 2021. The German contender, who for so long promised to be a multiple Grand Slam champion, may like his chances at this year’s tournament, but finds himself in the toughest quarter of the tournament.
In his quarter is my personal pick for the tournament, another Italian superstar, Jannik Sinner. Sinner made the quarter-finals of last year’s US Open and was only one point away from defeating the eventual champion Alcaraz, before falling in five sets.
Sinner started his US Open preparation well, winning the Toronto Masters. While he lost in the early rounds of Cincinnati, it will have given him some much-needed rest before the US Open. Sinner has all the weapons to be one of the great players and many are excited for his potential rivalry with Alcaraz in the future. Will this be the time he wins his first Grand Slam title?
Another young superstar hoping to follow in Alcaraz’s 2022 footsteps is Holger Rune. Rune comes into the tournament as the fourth seed and much like Sinner has shown glimpses of greatness in his play this year. Rune has made two quarter-finals in 2023 and will be hoping to cap off what has been a decent year by making a push for the title.
Now, for the names that everyone has been waiting for. This year has seen the explosion of a rivalry between two players, at very different stages of their careers, that has engulfed the tennis world in a whirlwind of excitement.
Alcaraz and Djokovic’s rivalry really kicked off at the French Open earlier this year, when Alcaraz’s inexperience got the better of him and he fell in four during the semi-final. This was followed by one of the best Grand Slam finals in years, when Alcaraz became the first man in ten years to beat Djokovic on Centre Court at Wimbledon. The pair have since treated us to one of the best Masters finals of all time at Cincinnati, where the old master was once again able to defeat the young fire cracker.
Many people will be hoping that Alcaraz and Djokovic re-ignite their rivalry that has enthralled so many this year, but may have to be wary of the unpredictability of the US Open.
Djokovic hasn’t won the US Open since 2018, and Alcaraz has the curse of the US Open Champion to worry about. History suggests that it may be a struggle for the pair to both make the final, and with the talents of Medvedev and Sinner lurking, there will be a host of players hoping to take advantage of the blessings and the curse of the US Open.