After a topsy-turvy Wimbledon that saw plenty of upsets, I think the U.S. Open will play out more to form. It's the last Slam of the year and I've got a feeling that the top men and women are ready to take care of business. I guess that means it's prediction time, so let's dive in without further ado:
Men's Singles Champion – Novak Djokovic
So far Novak hasn't had a stellar year by his standards (capturing three titles, including the Australian Open), but to me he's still the best player in the men's game right now and I think he's the best hard court player on the men's tour as well. Admittedly, he's got a tough road to the finals—if the seeds win through, he'd need to beat both Del Potro and Murray just to get into the finals—but he's got to be itching for another shot a major title after falling in the Wimbledon final to an inspired Murray. My guess is that he's going to come up big and he'll be carrying home a big piece of hardware at the end of the tournament.
Men's Singles Runner-Up – Milos Raonic
Surprised? To be honest, I came up with Raonic as much by process of elimination as anything else. Sure, it's a little bit of a bold pick but to me there just doesn't seem to be a clear cut favorite on that half of the draw. Federer has looked like a shadow of himself (just one title and one final this year) and rumors have him battling a back injury to boot. I don't know what kind of passion he still has in him, but from my standpoint he's certainly got nothing left to prove. Nadal has looked very strong in the U.S. hard court season, but his balky knees still concern me—especially during a grueling, two-week event. Despite his strong performance this year, I'm not sure he's quite got enough in the tank to really make a run at Flushing Meadows. Ferrer is always a steady presence, but I just don't think he's got enough firepower to get through some of the big hitters in his half. Gasquet has never emerged as the star he was projected to be and the same is true of Gulbis and even Verdasco. Nishikori is on the rise, but I think he faces the same challenges with big hitters as Ferrer. Isner may have a chance to make a deep run, but he's not really shown much lately, which—in my opinion—leaves Raonic and Janowicz as the two most explosive players on that half of the draw. Between the two I think it's probably a toss up, but I've seen Raonic make a few more waves than Janowicz so far, so I'll give Milos the nod.
Men's Dark Horse – Juan Martin del Potro
It's a little tough to call the sixth seed a dark horse, but since 2006, del Potro is the only man not named Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray to capture a Grand Slam. Truthfully, I feel del Potro should have more than one Slam to his name, but injuries have really slowed him down since his 2009 win at the U.S. Open. He seems like he's back and playing some of his best tennis ever. If he can keep his level up, I think he's got an outside chance to blow the whole field away and take home another trophy.
Women's Singles Champion – Serena Williams
Serena Williams has shown that there's still no one that can consistently stand against her when she's playing her best tennis. With 16 Grand Slam titles to her name, there's no one in the women's game even close to her championship pedigree. I used to really get on her for taking so much time off from tennis to pursue her other interests, but I think in the long run it has really helped her prolong her career. She's looking as strong as she ever did and the women's field isn't exactly full of consistent championship caliber performers. There are a few players who can definitely challenge her but I think Serena gets Slam number 17 in pretty routine fashion.
Women's Singles Runner-Up – Victoria Azarenka
I know, it's boring to pick the #1 seed to win and the #2 seed as runner-up but I'm having trouble envisioning too many other scenarios. With Sharapova out of the picture Azarenka and Kuznetsova are the only two women other than Serena with multiple Grand Slam titles. Kuznetsova is a good player, but her last Slam title was in 2009 and her results this year aren't what you'd expect from a player looking to make a deep run in a Major. Azarenka's the clear choice for runner-up. As long as she stays healthy and keeps her head together, she's got the firepower to dominate her half of the draw and cruise into the finals.
Women's Dark Horse – Agnieszka Radwanska
That's right; I just went one, two, three with my women's picks. In my defense, Radwanska really was going to be the fourth seed until Sharapova withdrew. If the seeds win through, Radwanska would have to beat Serena in the semifinals. Radwanska's weapons are somewhat limited, so I don't see that happening, but if someone can help her out by toppling Serena before that point, I think Radwanska's got a real chance. She's a veteran and she's played some of her best tennis within the past several years. Her results at the U.S. Open haven't historically been that great but her steady game should give her a good chance to make a run with a little luck.
What do you think? Let us know your predictions for the last Slam of the year!