US Open 2014: Sky Sports pick five players who could spring a surprise at Flushing Meadows
By Razwan Mirza - Tweet me: @RazMirza. Last Updated: 23/08/14 3:19pm
Stan Wawrinka upset the odds to win his maiden grand slam at the Australian Open, but two of the 'Big Four' struck back with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic winning the next two major titles.
Given the fact that Nadal, Djokovic, Roger Federer and Britain's Andy Murray have shared an incredible 39 of the last 43 slams between them, Wawrinka's achievement was all the more remarkable.
Gaston Gaudio (French Open 2004), Marat Safin (Australian Open 2005), Juan Martin Del Potro (US Open 2009) and 'Stan The Man' in January are the exceptions.
Federer won five in a row at Flushing Meadows since 2004 before being upset by Juan Martin del Potro in 2009. Nadal (2010,13), Djokovic (2011) and Murray's famous victory in 2012 have all followed since the Argentine's win.
Is there anybody in today's game that could possibly upset the odds on the hardcourts of New York at the final major of the year?
Here, we look at five superstars of the game who have the potential to cause an upset or two at the US Open ...
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Sky Bet odds: 22/1)
The Frenchman has struggled to find his best form in the last few years after much promise having reached the final of the Australian Open in 2008. But the appointment of Thierry Ascione and Nicolas Escude as his new coaching team has helped instil a new-found confidence in the world No 10.
Tsonga single-handedly ousted top-ranked Novak Djokovic at the Toronto Masters in July before dowing Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov and then stunning 17-time grand slam champion Roger Federer in the final. It was his first ATP Tour title of the season, breaking an 18-month title drought since winning in Marseille - his 11th overall and his first Masters success since winning in Paris six years ago.
"I think for me it's going to be a new motivation because just last year I always lost against those guys and it was really frustrating for me," he said. "A win against Federer, it's good for me, it's good for my ambition and it's good for my career."
Although the victory helped the 29-year-old jump back into the Top 10, elation soon turned to despair for Tsonga as he crashed out in the first round of the Cincinnati Masters the following week, succumbing to Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets. That may have left him deflated, but the rest would do him some good and his shadow boxing celebrations should be back on show in 'The Big Apple' come the the US Open.
Grigor Dimitrov (Sky Bet odds: 16/1)
It's been a breakthrough year for the young Bulgarian prodigy who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals, just weeks after claiming his first-ever grass court title at Queen's Club. He earned the tag 'Baby Federer' following his triumph at the All England Club and the US Open as a junior. The athletic and agile 23-year-old, who has reached a career-high ranking of eight, stretched Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open quarter-finals in January where the Spaniard was taken to four sets.
It's now common knowledge that he is dating one of the richest and most glamorous women in tennis, Maria Sharapova, but despite all the media spotlight he is making an impact on the ATP circuit, becoming the first Bulgarian to win a World Tour title in the Open Era in Stockholm and then capturing the Acapulco crown in March and Bucharest title in May.
The physical weaknesses that stopped Dimitrov making the most of his huge talent have gone, and there is now a belief that he belongs with the best. "I have worked really hard to start winning titles," he said in Bucharest. "I have put in enough effort, time and sacrifices to get here." The cultured right-hander, who is mentored by eccentric Australian coach Roger Rasheed, demolished Andy Murray in the Wimbledon quarter-finals before bowing out to Novak Djokovic in the last four. "I played against a future star, he is already a top player with quality shots and a great touch," said the Serb following his 6-4 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (9-7) win on Centre Court.
His country feel they may have found a new hero after Hristo Stoichkov - a former footballer who led the national side to the 1994 World Cup semi-final. And they may just be right because this could be the tournament where the Haskovo-born player steps up and reaches a grand slam final for the first time in his career.
Milos Raonic (Sky Bet odds: 22/1)
Born in Podgorica, Montenegro, Raonic moved to Canada with his family at the age of three and started playing the game at the age of eight. He has since grown into a 6ft 5in powerhouse of a sportsman. The 23-year-old has won the SAP Open title in San Jose three years in a row, as well as claiming ATP Tour titles in Chennai and Bangkok, but his form this season has been nothing short of exceptional.
He is known for his huge serves and bludgeoning groundstrokes but openly admitted that he needed to start playing with more 'grit'. It seems to have worked too! He reached the quarter-finals at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Portugal this year before losing out to Novak Djokovic in his first Masters semi-final in Rome. The Canadian has improved his movement and overall game thanks in large part to the services of former top three player and recently retired Ivan Ljubicic.
"Being coached by Ivan will really offer a new dimension to my game," said Raonic. "He brings such a vast knowledge of the game and his recent experience on Tour is a major plus for my development. We both come from aggressive styles of play so he can definitely understand the mentality I have on court and areas where I can improve."
Raonic went down to a straight-sets defeat to Roger Federer in his first grand slam semi-final at Wimbledon, although he rebounded by beating his fellow countryman Vasek Pospisil in the first all-Canadian tournament final in ATP history in Washington after which he climbed to a career-high No 6.
Ernests Gulbis (Sky Bet odds: 66/1)
Gulbis comes from wealthy stock with his book-collecting parents naming him after Ernest Hemingway. His father is a wealthy investment banker while his mother is an actress. He attended the Niki Pilic academy in Munich as a teenager and became good friends with Novak Djokovic. Gulbis described his belated dedication to tennis as "jumping on the last train" and just a few years ago and after reaching the semis in Rome he immediately flew home to Riga, arriving at one o'clock in the morning, before going straight to a nightclub.
He was also reported to have blown £43k in a casino, but the tennis tearaway has put his party days behind him and is spending more time on the practice courts, and it seems to be paying off after he discovered his best form in the past 18 months and climbing to a career-high 10 in June. He claimed the biggest win of his career as he stunned Roger Federer to reach the French Open quarter-finals before bowing out to eventual finalist Novak Djokovic.
The player, who was known for his huge serve and also used to smash up to 70 rackets a year, secured his third ATP Tour career title at Delray Beach and his first since 2011 before triumphing in the St Petersburg Open last year. He landed his fifth career title in Marseille when he upset second seed and defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to the Open 13 crown. Afterwards, he outlined his long-term ambitions in the game. "My long-term goal in tennis isn't to be top 20. It's to be No 1. Anything less than that wouldn't make me fully satisfied. I don't want to get to 30 years old, look back on my career and say I didn't make something of it. I think (the top players) feel threatened by my game, because they know if I serve well and I'm aggressive, then it's tough to play against me. I don't feel I'm in the same league as the (top four) yet, I need to prove it. Game-wise, I think that I can be."
He won his sixth career title and first on clay when he captured the Nice crown - just a day before the start of the French Open - but suffered a second round exit to last year's Federer-slayer Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon. His form has dipped in recent months, but he will hope to regain some confidence ahead of the US Open.
Nick Kyrgios (Sky Bet odds: 125/1)
The 19-year-old Canberra star announced himself on the world stage when he beat world No 1 Rafael Nadal to make the quarter-finals at Wimbledon this summer. He is regarded as 'the next big thing' in Australia and has the ability to play hard, accurate shots which is not surprising seeing as he stands at 6ft 4in tall.
The teenager was a promising basketball player, but decided to focus on tennis when he was 14. He won his first ITF junior tour title at the age of 15 and by 2013 he had gained the No 1 junior ranking as well as winning the Australian Open boys' junior title.
At this year's first major Down Under, the proud Australian of Greek and Malaysian heritage gave a glimpse of the future after falling short in a five-set thriller against Benoit Paire in the second-round. Krygios' had led by two sets to love before he began cramping and although he showed plenty of exuberance and courage, it was the Frenchman who fought back to progress. After recently being cleared of permanent nerve damage in his elbow, his coach Simon Rea said he has no worries about the player's ability to cope with the rigours of the tour. He took a three-month stint overseas in order to help him fully recover from injury after playing in Memphis - even training with tennis legend Roger Federer.
Kyrgios earned his third title of the year and a Wimbledon wild card after winning the Nottingham Challenge event and then saved an amazing nine match points to get past Richard Gasquet at the All England Club before his famous win against 14-time grand slam champion Nadal. "You have to believe that you can win the match from the start and I definitely did," said Kyrgios, who struck 37 aces and hit 70 winners in his 7-6 (7-5) 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 victory on his Centre Court debut. He eventually suffered a four-set defeat to Canadian eighth seed Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals.