The US Open: The men's galaxy of stars

Amazing parity marked the three previous majors as six different men made the finals. Will this intriguing trend continue?

On his last day as a teenager, Stefanos Tsitsipas reached his first career ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final. Rafael Nadal finally stopped him a 6-2, 7-6, but the slender, 6’4” blond’s ranking shot up to a career-high No.15.   -  AFP

The US Open – Act IV of the “As the Tennis World Turns” drama – arrives soon. Every player has a final chance at this last Grand Slam event to redeem or cap their year, settle a score, or break through with a big win or two.

Amazing parity marked the three previous majors as six different men and five different women made the finals. Will this intriguing trend continue?

The Flushing Meadows hard courts even out the odds because both grass court and clay court standouts can fare well there. Stifling heat can stimulate fight-or-flight responses in gruelling matches. The new shot clock, implemented to speed up play, could exasperate dawdling and exhausted players. And don’t forget the Fan Factor. US Open spectators, boisterous in the day and raucous at night, can energise the players they love or deflate the players they loathe.

Preview: Who'll shine brightest among the women?

Let’s gaze at the tennis galaxy and see which stars will shine most brightly and how much charisma they possess.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

“The great thing about Tsitsipas is that he can play [well] on every surface,” praised Paul Annacone, who coached Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. At the Rogers Cup, the rapidly improving Greek knocked off four top 10 opponents: Tsitsipas upset French Open finalist Dominic Thiem 6-3, 7-6; Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3; No.3 Alexander Zverev 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-4, saving two match points, and two-time major finalist Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-7, 7-6, again escaping a match point.

On his last day as a teenager, Tsitsipas reached his first career ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final. Rafael Nadal finally stopped him a 6-2, 7-6, but the slender, 6’4” blond’s ranking shot up to a career-high No.15.

Tsitsipas, whose father Apostolos coaches him and whose mother Julia was formerly the No.1 player in Russia, says he wants to do for Greek tennis what the soccer team did for Greek soccer when it won the Euros in 2004. With a big serve, potent forehand (26 winners against Djokovic), and picture-perfect, one-handed backhand, he may just do that. Don’t be surprised if red-hot Tsitsipas makes the US Open quarters, or even the semis.

Charisma Quotient: 9 (of 10) — Handsome, stylish, well-spoken.

Roger Federer

How much longer can the Swiss maestro play at the stratospheric level we’ve been treated to since 2003? Having just turned 37, Federer started looking his age, at least in terms of showing his nerves, during his five-set marathon loss to Kevin Anderson in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Since winning the Australian Open and Rotterdam early in the year, Federer hasn’t beaten an opponent ranked higher than No. 24. And since Wimbledon, his only tune-up event will be at Cincinnati. He’ll be well-rested, but he may not be match-tough enough, though he reached the final at Cincy.

The Mighty Fed has captured five of his record 20 majors at the US Open, though the last title came long ago in 2008. He’ll be seeded No.2, but he won’t make the final.

Charisma Quotient: 10 — Super-athletic, articulate, riveting. ATP Fan Favorite for 15 straight years.

Rafael Nadal

A decade ago, some “experts” predicted that Nadal, injury-prone and playing a gruelling style, would have a short career. But this force of nature has proved them wrong. Now 32, he’s playing with the same, almost-superhuman intensity as he did when he burst onto the pro scene with pirate pants and sleeveless shirts in 2003.

By winning a record 11th French Open in June and a record 33rd Masters 1000 title at Toronto recently, the fist-pumping, “Vamos”-shouting Spaniard has shown he remains as formidable as ever. As Tsitsipas said after losing to Nadal in the Toronto final, “He will always grab you like a bulldog, and he will always make you suffer on the court. He was [once] normal like all of us, and he managed to become this beast, this monster that he is today.”

The monster from Mallorca won’t win his second straight US Open, but he’ll make the final.

Charisma Quotient: 9.5 — Ultimate warrior, muscular, humble.

Alexander Zverev

Four-time major winner Jim Courier observed, “Isn’t it a great sign to be No.3 in the world, and you still have a lot of things that can get better?” Three things that should keep improving are the 6’6”, 198-pound Zverev’s net game, his defensive skills and mediocre results in five-set matches at Grand Slam events. Parlaying his booming serve and penetrating ground strokes, the 21-year-old German will reach his first major semifinal at Flushing Meadows.

Charisma Quotient: 8.5 — Intelligent, opinionated, humorous.

Three things that should keep improving are the 6’6”, 198-pound Alexander Zverev’s net game, his defensive skills and mediocre results in five-set matches at Grand Slam events.   -  AP

 

Dominic Thiem

The hard-hitting Thiem has reached the US Open fourth round three times, but his long backswings and deep positioning are ill-suited for hard courts. The 24-year-old Austrian has captured only one hard court title. The 2018 French Open finalist should study how Nadal changed his technique and tactics to excel on faster surfaces. The No.8 Thiem could get upset early.

Charisma Quotient: 8 — Polite, dedicated, and professional.

Kevin Anderson

A year ago, the 32-year-old South African reached the US Open final where Nadal trounced him. This year, Anderson made the Wimbledon final where Djokovic outclassed him. Although the 6'8" Anderson dramatically improved his return of serve and self-belief to upset Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, it’s a tall order for him to conquer one of the Big 3 in a major final. A quarterfinal showing is most likely at Flushing Meadows.

Charisma Quotient: 7.5 — Industrious, decorous, but colourless.

Hyeon Chung

A surprise Australian Open semifinal performance, featuring upsets over Djokovic, his idol, and Zverev, made the 22-year-old Chung with the funky white eyeglasses a Next Gen prospect to watch. Quarterfinal results at Indian Wells and Miami reinforced this consensus. A right ankle injury, however, stopped his momentum.

With relentless power, a top-notch serve return, excellent mobility, and terrific composure, the best player in Korean history should rebound strongly at the US Open.

Charisma Quotient: 9 — Outgoing, enjoys the big stage, and quotable.

Juan Martin del Potro

The good news is that Delpo has steadily regained the form he had when he won the 2009 US Open with stunning wins over Federer and Nadal. The bad news is that Delpo had to withdraw from the Rogers Cup in August because of the same wrist problems which have plagued him this decade. This gentle giant can beat anyone on a given day with his powerful serve and forehand, but lacks the speed to play effective defence. The 29-year-old Argentine will be upset early this year.

Charisma Quotient: 8.5 — Popular with both players and fans, especially from South America, goes for his shots on big points, ultimate sportsman.

Nick Kyrgios

Kyrgios likes to say “Expect the unexpected,” so you never know. No player brings more shot-making flair or more mental meltdowns. With an injured hip limiting his mobility and short of match play, the volatile, underachieving Australian doesn’t figure to go far.

Charisma Quotient: Anywhere from 4 to 10 depending on his mood and level of competitiveness.

Marin Cilic

To his straightforward power game the understated, 6’6” Croat has added nuance and variety, such as slice backhands and wrong-footing tactics. Cilic, ranked No.7, was the surprise 2014 US Open champion and yearns to leave the “one-Slam wonder” club. He nearly did when he extended Federer to five sets in the Australian Open final in January. But he doesn’t have enough sheer talent to win another major.

Charisma Quotient: 7.5 — Solid citizen who received the 2016 Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award; becoming more animated during matches.

Andy Murray

Only an athlete who has undergone a major injury and subsequent surgery and a prolonged rehab can understand the pain, sweat, and tears Murray has endured since his hip surgery in January. He sobbed for four minutes after winning his last match at 3am at the Citi Open. Then the 31-year-old Scotsman pulled out of the tournament and also the next one at Toronto due to fatigue. Murray won’t be match-tough enough to reach the US Open semis, but he’ll still be dangerous.

Charisma Quotient: 8 — Any man who self-deprecatingly declares he’s one of the most boring people in Great Britain and regularly advocates for women’s rights is exciting in his own way.

Fabio Fognini

The Italian veteran and husband of retired 2015 US Open champion Flavia Pennetta has won three titles from three finals this year. Undersized (5’10”) but an explosive shotmaker, No.14 Fognini is one of the most dangerous floaters in the draw.

Charisma Quotient: 8.5 — Flamboyant, fiery, and unpredictable.

Borna Coric

A lesser version of Djokovic, this former teenage standout, now 21, is still seeking a breakthrough Slam. “I love the big stage,” says Coric. Though he upset Federer in the Halle final, he’s an abysmal 2-3 at the majors this year. He’s also beaten Nadal and Murray.

His progress is impeded by an inconsistent forehand and positioning too far behind the baseline. His increasingly strong serve, splendid backhand, and competitiveness have boosted his ranking to No.20.

On Coric’s right bicep, a tattoo declares, “There is nothing worse in life than being ordinary.” He’ll make the quarters, which is far from the ordinary in a 128-player draw.

Charisma Quotient: 8 — Good-looking, ambitious.

Grigor Dimitrov

Once dubbed “Baby Fed” for a style and talent similar to Federer’s, the 27-year-old Dimitrov never lived up to his potential. After rising to a career-high No.3 at the end of 2017, the Bulgarian flunked all his tests this year. He slumped to a 19-13 record and has defeated only one top 10 player, David Goffin. His weak backhand will prevent him from going far at Flushing.

Charisma Quotient: 8.5 — Handsome, well-spoken, spectacular shotmaker.

Denis Shapovalov

Denis will likely menace the field again. Last year, the 19-year-old Canadian lefty followed up his huge upsets over Nadal and del Potro at the Rogers Cup by reaching the US Open fourth round. This bold but streaky Next Gen player has a promising future. But his one-handed backhand remains vulnerable, and that will prevent him from advancing further than the fourth round.

Charisma Quotient: 9 — Crowd-pleasing shotmaker, animated competitor, modest.

The bold but streaky Denis Shapovalov has a promising future, but his one-handed backhand remains vulnerable.   -  AP

 

Kyle Edmund

Propelled by one of the tour’s best forehands, a strong serve and an improved backhand, Edmund achieved a career breakthrough by reaching the Australian Open semis. The offensive-minded, 23-year-old Englishman also upset Djokovic and No.10 David Goffin to make the semis at Madrid.

The No.16-ranked Edmund, nicknamed “Kedders,” doesn’t have the talent of fellow Brit Andy Murray, but he does have more on-court equanimity. He’ll make the fourth round.

Charisma Quotient: 7.5 — Likable and hard-working, but rarely flashy.

Novak Djokovic

The introspective but extroverted Serb rediscovered his passion for the game during the European clay court circuit. He then regained his elite form at Wimbledon, winning his fourth title there. Federer says Djokovic is the best hard-court player of the Big 3, and his eight Grand Slam and 22 Masters 1000 titles on hard courts provide solid evidence.

The 31-year-old Serbian also is the best active player at beating top 10-ranked opponents at 67.4 per cent. Djokovic has clinched 48 of his 69 tour-level titles by defeating a top 10 opponent in the championship match, winning 64 per cent of his finals (48-27) against members of that elite group.

At Flushing Meadows, the reinvigorated Djoker will take his second straight major and 14th overall, tying Pete Sampras for third place all-time.

Charisma Quotient: 9 — Handsome, charming, crowd-friendly.

Dark horses

After 17-year-old Canadian wild card Felix Auger-Aliassime upset No.18-ranked Lucas Pouille of France 6-4, 6-3 at the Rogers Cup, Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone enthused, “I loved the athleticism and decision-making. He looked like he’d been there a thousand times. He was incredibly sound in all aspects of the game. He has such a huge future.” Get used to Double A’s shouts of “Allez!” after hitting winners. A good omen may be that he shares the same August 8 birthday as Federer. Keep an eye on another Next Gen prospect, Alex de Minaur. The smallish (5’11”, 152 pounds), 19-year-old Aussie shot up to No.45 by reaching the final at the Citi Open where he beat Chung, Andrey Rublev and Steve Johnson.