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Djokovic, Serena lead the pack in flushing meadows

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Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

The last and arguably the biggest grand slam of the year is here and as usual, world no 1’s, Novak Djokovic of Serbia and American, Serena Williams, are atop of the male and female ranking respectively. They will open play on Monday, when hostilities begin.

Djokovic, the defending champion, who won last year’s thriller over Swiss, Roger Federer, is suffering a temporary dip in form as he exited last week’s Olympics in round 1, falling to Argentine, Juan Martin Delpotro in straight sets.

Sadly, this was not a one off scenario, as he also fell in the third round of Wimbledon to Sam Querrey in four sets. While his no 1 ranking is not threatened, yet, his position as the leader in the Race to London is under serious threat by world no 2, Andy Murray, who won gold in Rio and reached the final of the Western and Southern Open (Cincinnati), where he fell to Marin Cilic of Croatia in straight sets.

Why Djokovic’s case is more worrisome is because he is defending thousands of points from last year’s massive indoor hard court season, where he tore through the field, winning everything in sight.

Those points may now come back to haunt him and he would have to win or at least get to the finals of the indoor swing to keep his position. Pundits and game watchers however have not written him off, insisting he is still favourite as he has captured 11 of the last 24 major titles, and has been a finalist seven times. If he gets to the finals, he may take it all.

However, the 29 year old Serbian seems to be battling a left wrist injury and has been spotted in New York already with a massive bandage and tape on said wrist, bandage that was present when he lost in Rio.

Neither he nor his team has come out to address the wrist issue, but there have been insinuations that the wrist is still a big source of worry for him. Roger Federer is still out of action, nursing knee and back problems, and would not be playing, while Spaniard Rafael Nadal, who hit big in Rio by winning gold in doubles and narrowly missing a bronze medal in singles, seems to be back to winning ways.

Nadal, a two-time winner in the Big Apple is a formidable threat if he is playing well and may look to consolidate on his good luck in Brazil by playing lights out tennis in New York. Sadly, he is not a threat to the two favourites as he has not made the business end of any grand slam in almost three years, even in Paris, his erstwhile favourite hunting grounds.

The women’s side is another matter entirely. It now consists of two players: Serena Williams and Others. The rest of the tour fall into the ‘others’ category and if Serena suffers an early, shocking loss, it becomes anybody’s game really.

Last US Open saw the American suffered one of the most shocking defeats in history, as she fell to unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy in the semi finals, bringing an end to almost a two year run of winning every slam in sight. She took off the rest of the season and this year, has not been too favourable for the American either as she lost in both the Australian and French Open. Her 22nd slam came at Wimbledon and many breathed a sigh of relief, but she soon went back to recording disappointing defeats and lost in the third round of the Olympics.

Serena pulled out of Cincinnati, citing injury, which cost her points, and had Angelique Kerber won the title. She would have unseated Williams atop the rankings. Serena Williams however lived to fight another day, but her position is extremely shaky and would need to win this slam or get to the finals at least, and hopes Kerber loses before the finals to keep her ranking intact. If Kerber gets to the final, even with Serena herself, she would lose the no1 ranking.

Apart from Serena, the field has been thrown wide open, especially as big names, such as Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are sidelined. Defending champion Flavia Pennetta has since retired, and there are several other prospects but truthfully, none can be said to be a sure winner amongst the lot.

Monica Puig shocked the tennis world by winning gold in Rio, but has never gotten to the second week of a slam. Karolina Pliskova defeated three top 10 players to win Cincinnati last Sunday, but she shares the same problem with Puig: she doesn’t go deep in slams. But with the way things are, she just might be a threat, especially as she has moved up to 11th position in the rankings.

Troubled by a slight shoulder problem, Williams is still the favourite and looking to add to her draw-dropping haul of 22 slams and a win would give her an open era record, seventh crown in New York and break the tie she presently shares with Steffi Graff (22) and Chris Evert (6 USO titles). The American who is 35 this year, seems to save her best for last, and if Patrick Mouratoglou, her coach, is to be believed, Williams might just close out the year in style, slam wise.

Undisputedly, the best female athlete already, Williams knows a win in New York would seal her immortality as the best player in the open era but pressure such as this can be detrimental. It would be recalled that the pressure of a calendar slam last year cost her victory in Flushing Meadows and ruined the earlier parts of this season.

If both players can overcome injury and pressure, it would be extremely difficult to look past them and come September 11, Djokovic and Williams might just emerge triumphant once again on Arthur Ashe.


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