Raising The Roof

The US Open starts next week. The last major of the season is looking ahead to the future with a mixture of excitement and perhaps, reluctance. While the long awaited and much needed roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium is now in place ready for use, New York’s favorite player won’t be there to play underneath it.

With its mixture of fashion, celebrity, and glitz, the US Open has so much going on, sometimes the actual tournament feels like the undercard. It’s been hard to ignore the steady stream of press releases touting such new offerings as an oyster bar, deluxe dining options from world-class chefs, shopping experiences, and even 80s mega music star Phil Collins! The US Open is the place to be for celebrities, and those that think they are celebrities, to be seen over the next two weeks. Even both U.S. Presidential candidates are rumored to be making special appearances, though Donald Trump’s from a few years ago didn’t exactly earn him a warm welcome.

But yes, there’s actual tennis to be played for those not distracted by all of the hype and hoopla. Although Manhattan’s most desired dinner party guest won’t be there this year.

Roger Federer, and his ongoing recovery from knee surgery, forced the former five-time champion to not only skip New York but also shut down the rest of his season. Though Federer has said he will be back for 2017, his absence in New York leaves a void in the event and just adds another dose of reality that Federer’s playing career is slowly starting to wind down. Whether New York tennis fans, or the sport itself for that matter, are actually prepared to deal with that reality is still TBD. Or to put it another way, if this were the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, tennis is still very much working through the opening stage of denial.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic a few months ago was being predicted as a near lock for winning the calendar year Grand Slam. But after an early loss at Wimbledon and in Rio, things have taken an unexpected turn for the Serbian star.

Djokovic, admitting to having resolved, in his words, “private issues” after Wimbledon, is also dealing with a wrist issue that is starting to appear more and more serious. While Djokovic said he is getting closer to being 100%, how all this impacts his title defense remains to be seen.

Someone who knows all about wrist issues is the man who beat Djokovic at the Summer Games.

Juan Martin del Potro went on to claim a silver medal and now, thanks to a wildcard, finds himself in the main draw. While the former champion floats as a dangerous opponent for many seeded players, the question if del Potro can last long enough in the best three out of five set format is what many are wondering. Despite that, the “Tower of Tandil, was handed a kind draw and with Federer’s absence, del Potro may yet become New York’s darling for the two weeks.

Andy Murray, Wimbledon champion and Gold medalist in Rio, looms as the man with the best shot at winning the title other than Djokovic. Though Murray just had his recent 22 match win streak snapped in Cincinnati at the hands of former US Open winner Marin Cilic, the Scot certainly has the game and the fitness to go all the way again. Rafael Nadal, back playing in New York, could just as well hold up the trophy again. But how truly healthy is Nadal remains the key question.

The women’s event has its own dose of uncertainty hovering over it, especially with regards to the top WTA ranking. Serena Williams enters as the top seed and still No. 1 – but barely.

Williams almost found herself knocked off the top perch by Angelique Kerber last week in Cincinnati, and would have been, had the worn out German not blinked at her opportunity in the final against Karolina Pliskova.

Kerber, because she is not defending as many points as last year, could pass Williams based on results in New York. But Garbine Muguruza or Agnieszka Radwanska could also climb to the top, although each would basically have to win the title outright to do so.

Several other American women may well raise the trophy themselves. Venus Williams, a two-time winner, has enjoyed a solid season and with the right breaks in the draw just might find herself in the final again. But many are pointing to, and hoping for, Madison Keys to finally have her breakthrough at a major. If the hard-hitting Keys can keep her errors down and stay consistent for the fortnight, she could well win the title and at last lay claim that she is the true heir apparent to the Williams Sisters.

With long range forecasts showing sunny skies over New York, the long awaited roof may not get much use at all. As far as making predictions for the winners, with the 2016 tennis season being so unpredictable all year, a little more uncertainty and a few more surprises, especially in the finals, is likely the most accurate forecast of all.

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