Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the US Open, ahead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but as the year’s final Grand Slam tournament approaches, three of the game’s “Big Four” are looking vulnerable.
Federer is the only one of the quartet who has shown anything like his best form since Wimbledon, while there are major doubts hanging over the three other players who have so dominated the sport in recent years.
Nadal has not played since the end of the grass-court season because of a wrist injury, Djokovic has won only two matches in the two tournaments he has played since his triumph at the All England Club, and Murray, who lost in the quarter-finals of the same two competitions, has not won a title for more than 13 months.
Federer, who was beaten by Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, celebrated his 33rd birthday recently but has looked in excellent shape over the last fortnight. The Swiss reached the final in Toronto last weekend, when he was beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and was attempting to win the Cincinnati Masters last night for the sixth time. Having emerged from a tough draw with victories over Vasek Pospisil, Gael Monfils, Murray and Milos Raonic, Federer was facing David Ferrer in a battle of the golden oldies in the final.
If Nadal makes it to the start of the US Open next Monday – and the latest reports suggest his recovery is on track – he will face a huge task in the defence of his title, having not played a competitive match on a hard court for five months. When he won at Flushing Meadows last summer he did so after winning the hard-court titles in both Montreal and Cincinnati.
Djokovic’s form, mean- while, has plummeted since Wimbledon. The world No 1, who lost to Tsonga in Toronto and to Tommy Robredo in Cincinnati, might have had other matters on his mind this summer, having got married last month, but insists that he has trained more over his mid-season break than he had in the past. “I practised a lot,” he said. “I had more than enough practice.”
He added: “Many things are not clicking these two weeks on hard courts. It’s unfortunate, but it’s more than obvious I’m not playing even close to what I’m supposed to play. I have to keep on working and trying to get better for the US Open. In general I’m not feeling very comfortable on the court. I hope that comes with practice and with time.”
Murray’s results – he lost to Tsonga in the Toronto quarter-finals and to Federer at the same stage in Cincinnati on Friday – have not been calamitous, but considering his excellent pedigree on hard courts he would surely have hoped for better preparation in the build-up to New York, where he won his first Grand Slam title two years ago.
If the men’s title at Flushing Meadows appears to be a more open contest than usual, there is no doubting the pecking order at the top of the women’s game. Serena Williams has had her problems this year, especially in the Grand Slam events, but the 32-year-old American prepared for the defence of her US Open title in convincing fashion when she won the title in Cincinnati last night for the first time, beating Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 6-1.