All summer long, USOpen.org will take a look at who will walk away with the 2014 men’s and women’s singles championship trophies, broken down into those who could make a daring run from deep in the seeds (the sleepers) to those poised to break through (the challengers) to the ones most likely to take home the trophies (the favorites).
This week we’ll take a look at some of the potential challengers in the 2014 US Open men’s draw.
Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal have been the elite players in the men’s game for most of the past decade, but there have been some signs this year that other players are beginning to break through. This was most notable at the Australian Open, where Stanislas Wawrinka won his maiden Grand Slam title, but others have mounted a challenge as well.
With an array of veterans (noted below) proving they can contend deep into Slams, plus the semifinal showings at Wimbledon by a pair of 23-year-olds – Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic – could this be the year someone joins Juan Martin del Potro (2009) in breaking the Big Four’s 11-year grip on the US Open championship trophy?
Here are the potential candidates:
Tomas Berdych: Berdych has been ranked in the Top 10, without interruption, since July 2010, making him one of the most consistent performers in the men’s game. The 28-year-old Czech has also reached the semifinals or better at each Grand Slam event, including the 2012 US Open, showing he has what it takes to compete with the best in the world. The question is whether he can channel his inner Wawrinka and find a way to break through for his first Grand Slam title. He has the game to do it, and the US Open courts reward his big serve and forehand.
Grigor Dimitrov: No longer burdened by the “Baby Federer” moniker, Dimitrov has harnessed his talents and come into his own in 2014. He reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the semifinals at Wimbledon and has demonstrated his versatility by winning tour titles this year on three different surfaces (clay, grass and hard). For all his acclaim, Federer took some time to conquer his first Slam. The Bulgarian has never advanced past the first round at the US Open in three tries, so a 2014 title would be a surprise – but as with Federer at 2003 Wimbledon, it could also be a sign of things to come.
David Ferrer: There is perhaps no more dogged competitor in the men’s game than Ferrer. Though widely recognized for his success on clay courts, the 32-year-old has reached the semifinals at the US Open on two occasions and the quarterfinals a year ago. (He also is a five-time quarterfinalist at the Australian Open.) His grinding approach is particularly effective as the weather gets warm and less fit players struggle. A few things will need to break his way if he is to contend for a title, but the Spaniard is a surefire pick to gutting out five-setters into the second week.
John Isner: Armed with the biggest serve in the game, Isner is a contender everywhere and on every surface. But throughout his career, the American’s greatest successes have come on home soil – six of his eight ATP crowns have been won in the U.S. – and on cement – five of those eight have come on hard courts. Moreover, he is a 2011 US Open quarterfinalist who has reached the third round or better in six of seven trips to Flushing Meadows. A return trip to the second week is well in reach for the 6-foot-9 boomer, but he will have to fortify his return game to play into Finals Weekend.
Milos Raonic: After three years of knocking on the door, Raonic has finally broken through in 2014 to establish himself as a contender at Grand Slam events. The Canadian did so most emphatically at Wimbledon, advancing to the semifinals, and he also reached the quarters at Roland Garros. Equipped with perhaps the best serve in men’s tennis and booming ground strokes that are tailor-made for Flushing’s hard courts, Raonic has reached the fourth round at the US Open each of the last two years. Expect him to advance a bit deeper this year – perhaps even into his first Grand Slam final.
Stanislas Wawrinka: Over the last two years, Wawrinka has turned himself from a perennial challenger into a legitimate threat to win the world’s biggest events. It started at last year’s US Open, where he controlled much of the match before falling to Djokovic in a five-set semifinal, and into the Australian Open, where he defeated both Djokovic and Nadal to win the title (something no other man has done at a major). The 29-year-old Swiss added a Masters Series crown in Monte Carlo for good measure and will enter this year’s Open knowing he has what it takes to claim the championship.