I'm a big tennis fan. I can remember pretending I was Jimmy Connors -- I was definitely a Connors guy over John McEnroe -- when practicing against one of those boards every weekend back as a kid. I still play the game. It's great exercise and generally free (unlike golf in both categories).
But watching tennis? I really only care during majors and pretty much solely on the men's side. It's not a sexist thing, it's that the men's draw has been much more interesting for years. While American men are an afterthought, watching the foursome of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal compete against one another in most semifinals/finals is great theater. The women's side is boring because Serena Williams nearly always wins, and she has no rival -- at least since sister Venus faded from the elite a few years ago.
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But at this year's U.S. Open in New York, the final major of the year that starts Monday, I will tune in for every Serena match (the women's final already has sold out, ahead of the men's). That's because she is looking to become the first player, male or female, to win the calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graff in 1988. Williams already has the Serena Slam, having won the past four majors. That started at Flushing Meadows a year ago when she beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-3 in the final. Williams has followed with titles at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year.
Serena, who needs to be SI's Sportsperson of the Year, is an absurd 48-2 this season and comes off a title at the Cincinnati hardcourt warm-up tournament where she beat Simona Halep in two sets in the final. I've never seen tennis odds like this: Serena is the -125 Bovada favorite for the U.S. Open and the second-favorite, Victoria Azarenka, is way down at +800.
Williams' draw won't be a cakewalk. The first two rounds (she opens with Vitalia Diatchenko, a Russian ranked 86th) shouldn't be a huge problem, but Williams' third- and fourth-round opponents could be two top young American players: Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. Although another fourth-round opponent could be 18-year-old Belinda Bencic, who beat Williams a few weeks ago in Toronto. Sister Venus could await in the quarterfinals, but I'm not sold that she will get that far. Third-seeded Maria Sharapova (+900 to win) would be the semifinal opponent if things go to form. But Serena totally owns Sharapova, who hasn't played since Wimbledon. Williams has won 17 straight matches vs. the Russian.
The No. 2 seed Halep (+1200) is in the other half of the draw along with No. 4 Wozniacki (+2500). Halep wouldn't play a Top 15 seed until a potential match against No. 14 seed Timea Bacsinszky in the fourth round. Wozniacki hasn't won a match in her past three tournaments.
This looks like a Halep-Williams final, and Serena is 6-1 all-time against Halep. I don't see how Serena is derailed.
On the men's side, it's a shame that No. 1 Djokovic was upset in the French Open final by Stan Wawrinka, or Djokovic too would be going for the calendar-year Grand Slam. His only title in New York was in 2011 and he lost in the final in 2012 & '13. Djokovic was knocked out in the semis a year ago. Last year was a rather non-descript final, with Marin Cilic beating Kei Nishikori.
Djokovic, the -120 favorite, appears on a crash course with No. 8 Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Nadal has had a lousy year by his standards but is 20-1 in his past 21 matches here (didn't play in 2014 or '12) and won in 2010 & '13. If Nadal (+1400) doesn't win this title, it will be the first time he didn't win a Grand Slam tournament in a season since 2004; this is his lowest seed at the U.S. Open since then. No. 4 Nishikori could face Djokovic in the semis and that's who beat Djokovic in that round in 2014.
Nadal leads Djokovic 22-20 all-time but lost to the Serb in the French Open quarterfinals on by far Nadal's favorite surface. Nadal could get knocked out in the fourth round by No. 10 Milos Raonic. One concern regarding Djokovic is that he didn't win either hardcourt warm-up in Montreal and Cincinnati, losing in the final in both.
No. 2 Roger Federer (+400) looks to win his sixth U.S. Open, which would be the most in the Open era. He's currently tied with Connors and Pete Sampras with five. Federer hasn't won here since 2008 but did just beat Djokovic in Cincinnati for that championship. Federer is in the half of the draw with Murray (+350) and Wawrinka (+1200). Those latter two are set up to meet in the quarterfinals, with Federer looking at No. 6 Tomas Berdych in that round.
Just for giggles, I'll mention the top American, No. 13 John Isner (+15000). I give him no chance of winning. But if he gets through three rounds, he likely will face Federer.
I'd like to see one last Nadal-Federer final, but Nadal simply doesn't look right and he wasn't good in the hardcourt warm-up events. So I'll go chalk here for the final as well but say Federer takes the title over Djokovic.
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