This year’s U. S. Open couldn’t be more open.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams is pregnant and not playing, defending women’s champion Angelique Kerber has had mediocre, non-winning season, and no player has been able to dominate.
On the men’s side, the legendary Roger Federer has been king of the courts, Rafael Nadal is healthy and dangerous, but injuries have taken out defending champion Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori, plus a nagging hip injury puts a big question mark behind Andy Murray’s name.
There are several players in each draw who have a shot, many who are looking for their first Grand Slam. A look at five women and men with eyes on the prize.
Karolina Pliskova, Czech Republic
Rank: No. 1
Pliskova has risen to No. 1 in the world without winning a major, but she clearly has major talent. Pliskova, 25, has won three tournaments this year and reached the Open final last year by beating Serena Williams in the semifinals, losing to Angelique Kerber in the final. Can she consolidate that No. 1 ranking with her first Grand Slam victory?
Jelena Ostapenko, Latvia
Rank: No. 12
The 20-year-old Ostapenko won her first WTA tournament this year. It just happened to be the French Open where she beat Simona Halep. She’s an aggressive, all-out hard hitting player who will likely be a crowd favorite at the Tennis Center. Had a good run at Wimbledon, losing to Venus Williams in the quarters.
Elina Svitolina, Ukraine
Rank: No. 4
Almost as stealthy as Pliskova, Svitolina has risen dramatically in the rankings this season. Svitlolina, 22, proved her mettle in winning the Rogers Cup at Toronto two weeks ago. Because of rain delays, she had to play her quarterfinal and semifinal on Saturday, beating Garbine Muguruza and Halep. Then she toppled Caroline Wozniacki in Sunday’s final, all the while nursing a tender ankle.
Joanna Kontah, Great Britain
Rank: No. 7
Kontah first showed up in the majors when she made the fourth round at the U.S. Open in 2015, losing to Venus Williams. She also lost to Williams this July in the semifinal of her home major, Wimbledon. The 26-year-old is a bit of a late bloomer, overcoming battles with nerves to become a top 10 player. Two of her three wins on tour have come this season, and her best results are on hardcourt.
Venus Williams, USA
Rank: No. 9
Yep, Venus Williams. At age 37, having played professionally since 1994, having overcome the energy sapping condition Sjogren’s Syndrome, having survived the rigors of a demanding sport, Williams could be a contender again. She won the last of her seven majors at Wimbledon in 2008 and her last U.S. Open in 2001. But she has reached two Slam finals this year, losing to sister Serena in Australia and to Muguruza at Wimbledon. Watch out.
Alexander Zverev, Germany
Rank: No. 6
Zverev may be Germany’s best male talent since Boris Becker 30 years ago. This 20-year-old seems to have it all, and he proved it with a win over Roger Federer in the Rogers Cup at Montreal two weeks ago. At 6-6, he’s got the big serve and the big wingspan. He has five titles this season (same as Federer) and his first Grand Slam victory seems only a matter of time.
Grigor Dimitrov, Bulgaria
Rank: No. 9
Three titles this season include his first Masters 1000 title at Cincinnati last weekend. The 26-year-old performs well on hardcourts, having made the semifinals at Australia this year where he lost in a five-set struggle with Rafael Nadal. His style has sometimes been called Federer-lite, with a natural ability that never quite seems to be of major quality. This could be it.
Dominic Thiem, Austria
Rank: No. 8
Thiem has the nickname “Dominator” but he needs to prove that against the very best. At 23 he should be entering the prime of his career. He has wins over every top player in the game, but none over them deep into Grand Slams. Losses to Nadal in the finals of back-to-back claycourt tournaments in Spain this season suggest he’s getting there.
Marin Cilic, Croatia
Rank: No. 7
Cilic doesn’t fit into the young up-and-comer role, but the soon to be 29-year-old seems to be on track for a comeback after injury riddled seasons followed his 2014 U.S. Open title. When we last saw him, he was weeping during his Wimbledon final loss to Roger Federer in July, having suffered a debilitating foot blister. He hasn’t played since and has had an adductor injury. He could be rusty, but his feet could be well rested.
John Isner, USA
Rank: No. 14
Hey, at 32 the highest ranking American male player doesn’t have much time left to bag a Grand Slam, and in truth the odds are long that he ever will. But he’s had decent season with two titles in smaller events. In 2011 he reached the Open quarterfinals, his best finish in a major. With several top players out of the Open, and many others hobbling into it, the 6-10 tower of power might have his only chance.