It’s been three years since a non-‘Big Three’ member won a Grand Slam title, with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on a combined 11-major winning streak.
Stan Wawrinka was the last man to upset the applecart – beating Djokovic to win the 2016 US Open – and tennis is crying out for a rising superstar to really take the bull by the horns, down the legends of the sport and announce the arrival of the next generation.
Will it happen in New York? Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have been a cut above the competition at this level for some time, with the latter particularly dominant in recent times.
Indeed, Djokovic has won four of the past five Grand Slam titles – with only the French Open escaping his grasp – and he is the favourite to defend his title with good reason.
That said, it’s Nadal who appears to have come off best in the draw. He’ll avoid both of his greatest rivals until the final at the earliest, and other potentially testing obstacles – namely Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem and Nick Kyrgios – will eliminate each other before any potential semi-final clash.
Federer may have won more titles than three-time champions Djokovic and Nadal but it’s been 11 years since he last got his hands on the trophy, and Flushing Meadows has not been a particularly happy hunting ground in recent times.
“I’ve been there before, had some tough losses along the way, Federer said. “So many great wins, as well. I was just more upset rather than being sad.
“I think being upset made me get over that finals much easier than being sad, dwelling over it too much. Honestly, I’ve had a great run through the clay, on the grass as well, that I was not going to be too down on myself,” Federer added.
“I hope it’s obviously going to help me for here. The group of players who could actually win the title does feel rather small.”
Daniil Medvedev has been the most impressive player in the American hardcourt summer but is yet to offer much in best-of-five tennis. Should he crack that nut, he is capable of causing Djokovic problems in the quarter-finals.
One suspects Tsitsipas’ run would be too tough to overcome, while Alexander Zverev’s form is showing little signs of improvement. The idea of Kyrgios capturing the form that saw him win in Washington and reproducing it over best-of-five seems unlikely.
Dominic Thiem is probably the most likely to make a dent at this event and proved in 2018 he can prove a real match for high-end opposition on these slower hard courts. Still, the likelihood remains he would have to beat two members of the ‘Big Three’ back-to-back.
It’s a challenge no one looks set to complete any time soon. So, as ever, it appears to be a question of which of the three will win the title? Despite Nadal’s favourable draw, Djokovic still seems a cut above at Slams. He will be the man to stop.