Tennis fans saw the best Nadal-esque performance not on clay in 2017. Can Rafa bring it back for 2018?
The U.S. Open is upon us. Thus far in 2018, three former No. 1s have won Grand Slams. So will one of tennis’ Big Three—Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic—repeat for the final major of 2018? Or will another ATP player finally pull an upset?
Just a year ago in Flushing Meadows, it was Nadal who hugged the champion’s trophy, defeating Kevin Anderson in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
While that road to the finals wasn’t easy, Nadal’s road to the finals didn’t include a matchup against the former champion Stan Wawrinka, who was out with injury. Novak Djokovic was also out of the tournament due to an injury.
Meanwhile, Federer was upset in the quarterfinals by Juan Martin del Potro. Although for all the meaningful matches between the Swiss and the Spaniard, they’ve never met in New York. But that’s beside the point.
Nadal already added to his long Slam resume this season when he picked up his 11th title at Roland Garros, defeating Dominic Thiem, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. Will New York be next?
Who is this Kevin Anderson?
The guy that Nadal beat in Flushing Meadows last year—Kevin Anderson—yeah, his name sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Well, he is ranked No. 5 in the world, but it’s likely because the South African also made it to this year’s Wimbledon finals, where he lost to Novak Djokovic almost uneventfully, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6.
That could be because the man had nothing left in the tank after he dueled out a hell of a match against American John Isner. It took more than 6.5 hours and the 50th game in the fifth set to determine the winner. The fifth set alone took three hours and it was the longest semifinal match (and second-longest match) in Wimbledon history. 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9) 6-4, 26-24.
But Vegas didn’t even give Anderson Top 10 odds to win this year’s U.S. Open, and he’s seen some miles this season. Besides German Alexander Zverev, Anderson is tied for the second-most tournaments played this season with 20. But quantity doesn’t always translate to Grand Slam victories.
The Rest of the Field
So beyond Rafa, who should you keep an eye on to make a run for the finals this year?
Novak Djokovic – Djokovic won his fourth Wimbledon title and his first Grand Slam title since the 2016 French Open when he won Wimbledon this year. He beat South African Kevin Anderson, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6. Djkovic is having a hot summer. After winning Wimbledon, he went on to win the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, the warm-up for the U.S. Open. He defeated Marin Cilic and then Roger Federer in the final two rounds, respectively, besting Federer in the finals 6-4, 6-4.
Alexander Zverev – Despite having an early exit at the Western & Southern Open after losing in the quarterfinals in three sets to Robin Haase, 7-5, 4-6, 5-7, Zverev has won three titles in 2018. Just none of them in a Slam.
Juan Martin del Potro – The World No. 3 has won three titles this season, but he lost in the last Slam (Wimbledon) in the quarterfinals in a close-five setter to Rafael Nadal, 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-4, 4-6, 4-6. He had already lost to Nadal in a Slam this season too. The two faced in the semifinals of the French Open. Nadal obviously went on to take the title, but beat del Potro in straight sets. DePo also lost to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open.
Roger Federer – At the start of the year, Roger Federer defended his title at the Australian Open in a five-set final against Marin Cilic, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Federer was also the defending champion at Wimbledon, but he lost in the quarterfinals to Kevin Anderson. In his final tune-up match before the Open, Federer made the finals of the Western & Southern, but lost to Djokovic in straight sets. Rog last made it to the finals in 2015, but hasn’t won it all in Flushing Meadows in a decade.
Who Loves Hard Court the Most
We’re not so sure The Fed can walk away with it all
Rafael Nadal won it all in 2017, 2013, and 2010, beating Novak Djokovic in ’13 and ’10. Novak Djokovic won it all in 2015, defeating Federer, and 2011, defeating Nadal.
And Federer has won it all in Flushing Meadows five straight years, but that was from 2004-2008.
So while we’d like to say that Australian Open victory on hard court Down Under will translate to the end of the season hardcourt tourney in America. We’re not so sure The Fed can walk away with it all, especially after just losing to The Joker in a hardcourt final.
And while we’d love to see Rafa repeat, Djokovic is the only one of the three to defeat both of his Big Three opponents in the final Grand Slam of the year. Now that he’s back from injury, The Djoker is just getting started again.