Six of the best primed for glory

 - Simon Cambers

Profiles of six players who could lift the title in New York

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka both looking sad during the trophy presentation at the 2018 US Open.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal warmed up for the US Open in perfect fashion with victory in Montreal and looks in great shape as he tries to win the title for the fourth time.

But besides the 12-time Roland Garros champion, here are the other players to watch over the next two weeks.

Naomi Osaka

Osaka’s performance in last year’s US Open final, when she kept her calm under the most intense of pressure as Serena Williams suffered a legendary meltdown, should go down as one of the all-time best from a woman playing her first slam final.

When she backed it up by winning the Australian Open at the start of this year, people had her all set to dominate the sport for the foreseeable future, with many predicting she would win 10 or more grand slams.

She may still do so, but the past six months has seen her struggle for form, confidence and belief as the pressure of being No 1 hit home and others took their chance. Her state of mind will be crucial to her chances of success in New York while her body, and in particular her knee, gives cause for concern.

But hard courts are her best surface and it might just help that she played, and lost to Serena Williams, when they met in Toronto earlier this month. There will be talk, of course, of last year’s final, but if she is fit and can focus only on her game, she can be a big threat once more.

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Serena Williams

The US Open seems to bring out the best and worst in Serena Williams. The American has won the title six times in New York but her last win was in 2014 and over the years, her biggest on-court meltdowns have been reserved for Arthur Ashe stadium court, none more so than in last year’s final when she lost her rag against Naomi Osaka.

Just under 18 months since she returned to the Tour after having her first child, Williams is still searching for the victory that would put her alongside Margaret Court on 24 grand slam titles, the all-time record.

Beaten in the final at Wimbledon by Simona Halep, and by Osaka in New York and Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon last year, the American has not won a title since the Australian Open in 2017, when she was pregnant, and the suspicion, or fear, is that there is always one player, at least, who is too hot at the time.

But 20 years on from her first slam win, which came in New York, Williams is focused on one thing alone, winning again.

Naomi Osaka holdinh her trophy with Serena Williams in the background US Open 2018©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Ash Barty

The summer of 2019 will be one that Ash Barty never forgets, the time she became a grand slam champion.

The Australian’s victory at Roland Garros, when she produced an unbeatable blend of power, precision, variety and guile, was near-perfect and the only surprise was that she didn’t carry it all the way through Wimbledon, when, having looked so good early on, she was taken out by the American Alison Riske in the fourth round.

Barty showed a welcome return to form when she reached the semi-finals in Cincinnati earlier this month and her projected quarter-final match with Serena Williams is a mouthwatering prospect. Beaten in the fourth round in New York 12 months ago, it would be a surprise if she does not go at least one better.

Novak Djokovic

Having won four of the past five grand slam titles, it is no surprise Novak Djokovic is the favourite to win the US Open for what would be the fourth time. Since he made his first final there, in 2007, Djokovic has not lost before the semi-finals and he has reached the final every time, but once, since 2010.

More importantly, he is back on top of the world and mopping up grand slam titles, just as he did in 2011, 2015, 2016 and last year. The winner in Australia at the start of the year, a fifth Wimbledon title – when he saved two match points in the final to edge out Roger Federer – put him on 16 grand slam titles, just two behind Rafael Nadal and four behind Federer. Suddenly, the all-time grand slam record seems achievable and that target is focusing Djokovic’s glare on the slams more than ever.

A semi-final loss to Daniil Medvedev won’t bother him too much and with a decent draw early on, he should be able to ease himself into the tournament before the bigger challenges, including Federer and Nadal, come later on.

Novak Djokovic passing by Roger Federer with his trophy at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Roger Federer

The best tennis players are masters of short-term memory loss; forgetting the most painful of defeats and somehow focusing only on the positives. But how Roger Federer recovers, mentally, from his near-miss at Wimbledon in July will go a long way toward determining how he does in New York and the rest of 2019.

Standing at 8-7, 40-15, on his own serve, with two points to win a ninth Wimbledon title, it seemed that time froze as he could not close out Djokovic. He went on a caravan holiday with his family to get away from the pain and though this one will surely hurt for a while, he has recovered from many tough losses in his career before.

An early loss to Andrey Rublev in Cincinnati may have left him a little under-done and though he won the title in New York every year between 2004 and 2008, he has not won it since. Last year, he was beaten in the fourth round by Australian John Millman.

This year, having been handed a decent draw in week one, he should go further, and the incentive of a possible semi-final against Djokovic might push him on, even at the grand old age of 38, to another final.

Daniil Medvedev

No one is in better form than the Russian, who has lifted his ranking from 16 at the end of 2018 to the top five and a No 5 seeding at this year’s US Open.

With his quirky style, deceptively good movement and increasing confidence, he will be the player no one wants to see in their section of the draw, which is bad news for top seed Novak Djokovic. If all goes to plan, the two men would meet in the quarter-finals and having won their battle in Cincinnati this month, Medvedev would not be afraid.

The problem for Medvedev, though, might be getting that far in the first place.

The Russian has yet to get past the last 16 in a grand slam, and he only managed to get that far once, at this year’s Australian Open, where he lost to Djokovic in a slug-fest. But this is a man whose star is on the rise and his game-style makes life difficult even for the very best.