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Sep 14, 2018

Mats Wilander's US Open review

Which players disappointed?

Is Naomi Osaka a star in the making?

What have we learnt about the women’s game?

Mats Wilander's US Open review

The fourth and final Grand Slam of the year is now over. With plenty of tennis still left to play in the upcoming months, there’s a lot that can be learnt from those two weeks at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Read on for Mats Wilander’s 2018 US Open review.

We’ve just come off an incredible two weeks of tennis in New York. In amongst the high quality action we saw on court there was also of plenty of drama. The dust has now settled and it’s a good time to review the tournament and look ahead to the remaining events in the tennis calendar.

Two deserved finalists

The obvious standout performer on the men’s side of the US Open was the man who lifted the trophy, Novak Djokovic. Everyone within the game has been willing him on the get back to where he was a few years ago and now, after following up his success at Wimbledon, he seems to be getting even closer.

Djokovic looked more and more convincing as the tournament progressed. He might have dropped a couple of sets in the opening rounds against Marton Fucsovics and Tennys Sandgren but from his third round match against Richard Gasquet to the final against Juan Martin del Potro he never looked in trouble.

The biggest positive for Djokovic (beyond the two Grand Slam titles in little over two months) is the fact that he’s broken down a psychological barrier. There’s still more to come in terms of his ball striking and physical capacity on court but the crucial elements of an elite tennis player have always been there and from now until the end of the year he will be the favourite to win any event he competes in.

The other 2018 US Open men’s finalist, Kei Nishikori, can come away from New York with his head held high. Another one of the standout performers, Nishikori might not have troubled Djokovic but his performances against Marin Cilic and Philipp Kohlschreiber will have done him the world of good.

Which players disappointed?

In addition to Djokovic, the other two players that people would have been expecting big things from were Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. These two didn’t meet those expectations but I think their performance over the tournament as a whole was a disappointment and I would advise against reading into it too much for future events.

Federer was unfortunate in that he got caught up in the worst of the heat the surface played incredibly slow which would have hindered him. Nadal, on the other, looked a real threat but three physically demanding matches really took it out of him and he was just exhausted by the time he had to retire against del Potro in the semi-final.

The other big name at this year’s US Open was Andy Murray and in truth, he had nothing to lose. No one expected him to compete and he would have just been looking to get some competitive games under his belt. Murray will need a good six months of solid practice and time on the court before he threatens the other elite players.

The men on the fringes of the fringes of “the big four” failed to deliver again. Alexander Zverev will be frustrated at another missed opportunity at a Grand Slam and really he should be going to the third round. The young German could be one to watch for the remainder of the year as he always competes at regular tour events and has something of a point to prove.

A new female star in the making?

I don’t want to delve into the drama that ensued at the Arthur Ashe Stadium for the women’s final and would prefer to focus on the performances instead. First things first, Naomi Osaka deserved to be crowned the women’s US Open champion. The 20-year-old Japanese star in the making has shown potential for a while now and delivered on the big stage in emphatic style.

Osaka is probably the best chance the women’s game has of bucking the trend of struggling to assert any dominance after a Grand Slam win. Jelena Ostapenko, Sloan Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep have all failed to build on their maiden major win recently with Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza the only female multiple Grand Slam winners to emerge from the last four years.

Since winning the Indian Wells Masters event, Osaka has shown just how good her technique on the court is. She’s moved from being a big risk taker to someone who can adapt her game and play safe when she needs to. I have high hopes that this year’s women’s US Open winner be the one who can dominate for years to come.

If Osaka is to dominate the women’s game, she has a formidable advisory in Serena Williams. The 23-time Grand Slam winner has surprised everyone with how quickly she has come back from her break and how impressive she’s looked. Serena is still probably only at about 70-80% but has reached two Grand Slam finals in a row. If anyone doubted the American powerhouse before her return, they certainly won’t now.

What have we learnt about the women’s game?

This year’s US Open once again proved how unpredictable women’s tennis is at the moment (and has been for a couple of years). As I mentioned before, no one has really picked up the mantle in Serena’s absence. It’s now commonplace for the top seeds to fall in the early round - Simona Halep and Julia Gorges being two top ten seeds that failed to make it to the second round in New York.

There are obviously plenty of incredibly talented female tennis players on the tour and it’s hard to pinpoint a particular reason why no one has really stepped up and proved themselves to be the next big star in the women’s game.

Osaka is obviously the one to watch for the remainder of the year and the 2019 Grand Slams, but there are almost certainly a few surprise packages lurking in the women’s game that will likely come to the fore between now and the start of next year.

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