There are still two weeks to go before the U.S. Open, but we already have our heavy favorites to win the season’s final major: Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.
The combined men’s and women’s tournament in Cincinnati this week will offer a significant opportunity for the other top players to display the class necessary to overcome Djokovic or Williams. But regardless of the outcome, the game’s most in-form champions will be tipped to win seven straight matches in Flushing Meadows.
Each racket wielder is in ominous form.
Djokovic, as the world knows by now, has dominated the year in ways that even Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have not approached during their careers. The Serbian’s numbers from 2011 speak for themselves:
• No. 1 ranking (with a lead of 2,080 rankings points on No. 2 Nadal)
• Nine titles (including the Australian Open and Wimbledon)
• 53-1 record (16-1 versus top-10 foes)
• First or second ranking in all four major return-of-service metrics, including 39 percent of return games won
Characterized by bend-but-don’t-break toughness, the 24-year-old Djokovic’s run is reaching historic levels, with no sign of an ebb entering the Open, where he is a two-time finalist.
Williams, the 13-time major champion whose most recent major trophy came last year at Wimbledon, was out of competition for nearly a year following that victory because of ailments that included a lacerated foot and a blood cot in her lungs. But with her consecutive hardcourt victories at Stanford and, on Sunday, in Toronto, the former No. 1 built a new perch for herself above the rest of the WTA tour.
Never mind that Williams turns 30 next month and is ranked No. 31. Prior to her consecutive titles this month, Williams hadn’t won a non-major tournament since the Tour Championships in Qatar back in October 2009. Williams is known for discounting the smaller events (of which she has won only 26) so she could peak for the Slams. The evident new motivation should frighten her opponents — and, along with the superlative play of Djokovic, thrill spectators at the Open.
Max J. Dickstein (mdickstein[at]am-ny[dot]com) is amNY’s sports editor.