US Open 2014: Sky Bet's Tim Clement offers an in-depth preview and his title contenders
By Tim Clement - Twitter: @Tim_Clement_
Last Updated: 24/08/14 7:26pm
Novak Djokovic will begin the US Open as the favourite but significant question marks hang over all of the major contenders in New York.
The world No 1 is just 11/8 to lift the trophy despite losing early on in both Toronto and Cincinnati, an indication of just how difficult it is to put faith in his rivals.
Roger Federer is considered his main opposition with recent form on his side, reaching finals at Wimbledon and Toronto before claiming the Cincinnati Masters title.
However, at 33, it would be an incredible feat for the 17-time Grand Slam champion to still be producing his best tennis in a fortnight’s time amid the five-set format and testing conditions.
Andy Murray faces his greatest challenge since he triumphed here two years ago, ending that agonising wait to win a Grand Slam final at a fifth attempt with a five-set victory over Djokovic.
The pair are seeded to clash in the quarter-final after the Scot was handed a nightmare draw, prompting his odds to almost double from 7/2 to 11/2.
Toronto Masters winner Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could await in the fourth round, while Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka is a potential semi-final opponent.
While beating the top players comes part and parcel of winning major titles, the Scot’s first week is also littered with dangerous opponents, starting with first-round clash against Robin Haase.
Murray is without a victory over a top 10 player in over a year and has not even made a final since his Wimbledon triumph last year, while he had to come from two sets down to beat Haase at Flushing Meadows in 2011.
Rising stars Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic are given 16/1 and 22/1 chances respectively and might see this as their best chance to win a slam given the aforementioned questions over Djokovic, Federer and Murray along with the absence of reigning champion Rafael Nadal.
Here’s an in-depth overview of the event, the contenders and the conditions they’ll be attempting to conquer.
Rafael Nadal continued his rampant campaign, beating Novak Djokovic in four sets to land his 10th title of 2013. The Spaniard had also won the Masters events in Montreal and Cincinnati to consolidate his status at the helm of the men’s game. Andy Murray was returning as reigning champion after his historic triumph 12 months prior but was overpowered by an inspired Stan Wawrinka, who then took Djokovic the distance. Richard Gasquet was the other surprise semi-finalist but caused Nadal no such troubles. Roger Federer’s wretched 2011 form continued as he was dumped out by Tommy Robredo in the fourth round.
Andy Murray is the major loser from the draw, with the prospect of having to beat four of the top six favourites to lift the trophy. The draw looks heavily weighted to the top half, with the bottom half lacking a grand slam champion in over two years. The third quarter looks particularly weak, with opposable top seeds Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer joined by Ernests Gulbis and Marin Cilic. Roger Federer is paired with his supposed heir, Grigor Dimitrov, although the Bulgarian has a testing section containing Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and an in-form David Goffin.
As standard on the US Open Series, Deco Turf II is the hard court variation in use. It’s classified as medium paced by the ITF, although the humid conditions increase the flight speed of the ball. The humidity of a New York summer adds to intense physical challenge presented by the grand slam best-of-five format, extending recovery time between points. Temperatures are forecast to be around 25c and peaking at 30c over the fortnight, although they’ll feel far warmer with high humidity, with more rain expected around the middle weekend, having already disrupted qualifying.
The contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
The world No 1 is considered the man to beat on hard courts, boasting a tour-leading 90 per cent win ratio on the surface over the last 12 months and six titles, double of any other player. However, he has only triumphed here once before, in 2011, while he was well below par in the events leading up to this year’s instalment, suffering third-round exits in Toronto and Cincinnati. The general consensus in that the Serb has endured somewhat of a lull following his Wimbledon triumph and wedding, with his short odds suggesting the bigger stage will bring the best back out of him.
Far from the fallen star of 2013, Federer is the resurgent force on the ATP Tour. After losing finals at Wimbledon and the Toronto Masters, the elder statesman of the game landed his first 1000 event title in two years in Cincinnati. Rafael Nadal’s absence arguably benefits the Swiss more than any over player, having lost their last six grand slam meetings, trailing 23-10 in their head-to-head. Federer once dominated this event, winning it five successive times between 2004 and 2008 but has failed to even reach the final since being overthrown by Juan Martin de Potro in 2009.
The Scot’s loss of form has been well documented, with a whole host of contributing factors seeing him arrive in New York as the world No 9. The 27-year-old has failed to find his top form consistently since back surgery last September, with the departure of Ivan Lendl undoubtedly having a significant impact. Murray has showed glimpses of producing his best tennis of late, leading eventual winner Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 3-0 in a third set in Toronto, before letting a double-break slip against Federer in Cincinnati. Murray certainly has the quality and fitness required to win his second title here but he’ll need to find the sort of consistently absent to date in 2014 if he’s to conquer an incredibly difficult path.
As a reigning grand slam champion, Wawrinka must be taken seriously but his form has been far from encouraging. The world No 4 has failed to reach a final since his Monte Carlo Masters triumph, suffering disappointing third-round and quarter-final defeats to Kevin Anderson and Julien Benneteau in Toronto and Cincinnati. The 29-year-old will hardly be happy with being placed in the same half of the draw as Djokovic and Murray but he, like Murray, needs to improve his consistency considerably if he’s to make it that far.
Those suggesting it is just a matter of time before the Bulgarian claims his first title at one of the big events are having to be patient. The 23-year-old suffered a second-round loss to big-hitting Pole Jerzy Janowicz in Cincinnati, failing to maintain momentum from his semi-final appearances at Wimbledon and the Toronto Masters. Dimitrov is actually yet to register a main-draw victory at Flushing Meadows, losing in five sets here to Portuguese No 1 Joao Sousa last year. The draw opens up for him if Federer suffers an early exit but he certainly won’t be looking that far ahead given his previous failings here.
Best of the rest
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic are considered next in the betting at 22/1 apiece, justifying their prices for very different reasons. Tsonga tore up the form book to triumph in Toronto, doubling his tally of victories over top 10 players for the year by beating four of them. In contrast, Raonic has reached the quarter-finals or better at nine events this year but still has the same amount of titles as the Frenchman. Out-of-form Tomas Berdych and Cincinnati Masters finalist David Ferrer are dismissed at 40/1 and 50/1 respectively despite their section of the draw being wide open. Ernests Gulbis, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic all have the quality if not the form to make decent runs, while the only seeded American, John Isner, is a hefty 125/1, having been forced to withdraw from Winston-Salem due to a sprained ankle.
I’m going for Federer to land his 18th grand slam at Flushing Meadows, a triumph which would surely settle the debate over whether he is indeed the greatest of all time. The Swiss maestro is looking as fit as we’ve seen since his very peak and boasts the most impressive recent form. Djokovic warrants his place at the head of the betting but 11/8 is just too short given his results since Wimbledon. Sky Bet also taking on the world No 3 so 3/1 looks a good price for Federer to reign again in New York.
Barry Cowan offers up his predictions in our US Open podcast preview: