Tennis

10 players who could make their mark at the US Open

With Rafael Nadal, Ashleigh Barty, and a host of other top names skipping the US Open due to COVID travel concerns, the Grand Slam has a more open feel to it than ever before.

By Nick McCarvel ·

Is this the year for a Cinderella story at the US Open?

The sports world is anything but normal as major events around the globe are either cancelled or held without fans and with strict COVID protocols for participants.

The US Open, one of the four Grand Slams, will be the first major event in tennis since the Australian Open in January.

The world looks very different to how it did in January, and so will the field for the US Open: Defending champion Rafael Nadal won’t participate in the men’s event, nor will women’s world No.1 Ashleigh Barty, both citing coronavirus-related # travel concerns as their reason for skipping. (Roger Federer is out, too, the Swiss star having had surgery and sidelined for the rest of the season.)

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Defending champ Bianca Andreescu of Canada pulled out this week, as injuries continue to hamper her young career.

But plenty of stars are still aiming to shine bright in New York City: Men’s world No.1 Novak Djokovic confirmed his participation earlier this week, and Serena Williams said way back in June that she was “excited” for the Open, where she’ll go for a record-tying 24th major title in her career.

We should also see the 2018 USO winner Naomi Osaka of Japan, who is based in Los Angeles.

What other names do fans at home need to be looking out for? Here are five women and five men who could make some big headlines starting the 31st of August.

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Coco Gauff, USA

US Open champ at 16? It’s not entirely out of the question for Gauff, who has already played into the second week of two majors, at Wimbledon 2019 and the Australian Open earlier this year. The Florida teen has become an outspoken advocate for social issues online, but she’s letting her tennis do the talking on court, saying she’s improved her mentality and her second serve during the time away from competition.

Kim Clijsters, Belgium

Thirty-seven years old, a mum of three, and out of the game for eight years? Yep, that’s Clijsters, the former world No.1, and four-time major champion in singles who made the most unlikely of comebacks starting earlier this year by playing two WTA matches in February. But ask anyone in tennis and they all agree: If Clijsters gets red hot, watch out!

Karolina Pliskova, Czech Republic

A former world No.1 herself and 2016 US Open runner-up to Angelique Kerber, the big-serving “Ace Queen” is arguably the best female yet to win a major. She owns 16 career titles, stands 1.86m tall (6-foot-1), and could be the No.1 seed in the tournament, with Barty missing and world No.2 Simona Halep expressing doubt on if she’ll attend.

Elena Rybakina, Ukraine

Perhaps the least-known player on our list, Rybakina is a hard-hitting 21-year-old who has skyrocketed from No.182 at the beginning of 2019 to world No.17 ahead of the US Open. She hits the ball with immense power, and has a stoic presence about her: You never know if she’s winning or losing. Lately, it’s been more of the former.

Sofia Kenin, USA

No one expected Kenin, just 21, to capture her maiden Slam at the Australian Open in January, but she did so with wins over Gauff, Barty and two-time major winner Garbiñe Muguruza, whom she faced in the final. Her biggest weapon: A won’t-lose mentality, which many credit for helping her to triumph at the AO.

Taylor Fritz, USA

Fritz, a highly-touted junior, has yet to have his “big” breakthrough moment, though he’s currently ranked a career-high No.24. The 22-year-old told Olympic Channel recently: "My expectations are so high right now... I'm fully expecting go deep at the US Open. Losing early doesn't seem like an option for me, even though I know it (can happen)."

Andy Murray, Great Britain

While he hasn’t been off tour for years and years like Clijsters, two-time Olympic gold medallist Murray has had a nightmare last few seasons, most notably with a hip injury that pushed him to the edge of retirement. But should the recently improved body hold up, the 33-year-old who has won three Slams himself can still hang with the best of the best.

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Daniil Medvedev, Russia

The men's world No.5 is 24 years old and had a breakout run last season, including a red-hot North American swing a year ago that was punctuated by his journey to the US Open final, where he stretched Nadal to five sets in a roller-coaster battle. The Russian can often look frustrated on court, but plays with a sort of confounding rhythm that throws off even the best.

Dominic Thiem, Austria

Like Medvedev, Thiem is part of a next generation of men’s players that has been trying to punch through a ceiling constructed by the Big Three, being Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. Thiem is a two-time runner-up to Nadal at the French Open, but made the Aussie Open final against Djokovic in January and has grown in confidence on hard courts since winning the Indian Wells event in March of 2019.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Greece

Joining Medvedev and Thiem is the long-haired, do-it-my-own-way Greek star Tsitsipas, who announced his big arrival by beating Federer at the Australian Open in 2019, and who won the biggest title of his career last November at the season-ending finals in London. Tsitsipas has a quirky presence on social media, but a tennis game the traditionalists love: A one-handed backhand that is pure as silk.

The 140th US Open takes place from Mon 31st August to Sunday 13th September 2020. Bookmark Olympic Channel for more.