Jonathan Newman and James Rogers are the hosts of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. In the The Body Serve Diary, Jonathan and James write conversationally about the various happenings in the wild world of tennis.
Check out the men's and women's singles draws.
JN: In our last diary, we wrote a lot about Simona Halep and that disastrous Cincinnati final: another missed opportunity at becoming world #1, another let down in a big match, and how apologetic she was afterwards. Here we are, five days on, and she’s drawn Maria Sharapova in the first round of the U.S. Open. If you’re Simona, what are you thinking right now?
JR: I am, as they say, shooketh. I can’t pretend to ever know what Simona Halep is thinking, so I have no idea. Does she see it as an opportunity to show her stature in the game? Does she see it as terrible luck? Maybe both. I say she has a very good chance to win this match, and gain confidence from taking out Sharapova for the first time ever. Simona is in match shape and playing some of her best tennis ever, just not in finals. Maria, of course, has the x-factor and the fact that she has a lot to prove.
JN: The whole “popcorn match” thing is woefully overdone at this point, but this one fits the bill. I can only hope the organizers have the good sense to feature this at night under the Ashe lights, and not opt for some nonsense like “Sandgren making his main draw debut.” We still don’t know how healthy Sharapova is. She withdrew from Cincinnati (where she was slated to play a first round blockbuster too against Ostapenko) to be ready for this moment, so we shall see. I’m with you, this is a match Halep should win; she’s played enough quality tennis this summer to be able to pull it off without much fuss. Can we talk about Sasha Zverev, his overrated hair, and his overly friendly draw?
JR: That’s very much a child’s haircut, and he needs to usher it into 2017. The draw is cushy: he could have Isner, Sock, Khachanov, Cilic, or his own brother in the quarters. Murray is the other big seed in his half, and his health is questionable. I have to remind myself not to pick someone until they put in a great performance at a major. In a Masters or a 500 tournament, I would take Zverev over any of those players, but he needs to prove it in a major. I think this draw has given my perennial pick Jo Tsonga a good chance to go far; it’s the best chance he’s had in years.
JN: You really are a sucker for punishment, bless you. Tsonga, of course, is coming off a first round loss in Cincinnati to Karlovic, and a first round loss in Montreal to Querrey before that. It seems like forever ago, but he does have three titles thus far in 2017, and made the quarters in Australia. OK, maybe it’s not so far-fetched as I initially thought. Back to Zverev, he wants it so badly, and has the game and big stage moxy to back up that desire. I would be equally unsurprised if he wins or crashes out early like he did in the French Open first round. How many times do hard draws end up opening up, and easy draws become minefields? Seems like all the damn time.
JR: That’s the thing: often the exciting first-round match-ups are duds, or the projected tough matches never materialize later in the draw. Both men’s and women’s tennis is very deep. With the Big Four/Five’s dominance slipping a little, it’s easier to see the unexpected happening. That said, do you have any dark horses? I have Feliciano, Delpo, Kohlschreiber, and Donaldson for the men.
JN: You know what? I’m going with Kevin Anderson to maybe come through Zverev’s section if the German falters, old man Ferrer, and Kokkinakis. Isn’t it crazy how last year’s champions are pretty much all but forgotten? I doubt anybody would have picked Kerber to defend her title, and that was compounded by drawing Osaka in a brutal first round match. Stan, of course, is giving us updates from his hospital bed, and will be out for the rest of the year. This feels like the wide open Slam to cap a season of wide open Slams; anybody who tells you they know what’s going to happen is LYING! Even the two big favourites on the men’s side -- Federer and Nadal -- start the event with big, big questions surrounding their readiness to get the job done.
JR: These are strange days in tennis, there is no denying. Here’s the thing, though: the only truly surprising Slam winner this year has been Ostapenko. Otherwise, they’ve gone to veterans or, like Muguruza, someone who’s been talked about forever. That last year’s two men’s finalists are gone is very odd. I think Pliskova has as good a chance as anyone to repeat her runner-up finish. Although Kerber lost her first-round match in Cincinnati, I think she was showing signs of life against Makarova, and the feeling of being done wrong could spur her on a bit.
JN: Points well taken. If we are to pick favourites, I think you start with Muguruza, Pliskova, and Venus, then make the case for twenty or so other players. I’ve seen countless pieces already trying to tell me who stands the best shot on the women’s side, and so many of them ignore Venus...STILL! Have we not gotten past this yet? She’s a two-time Slam finalist this year; let’s be better than that, shall we?
JR: Let’s shall. Venus is playing better than a lot of top 10 players this year, having reached a final at a major she typically doesn’t fare well at (Australian) and one at her old stomping ground (Wimbledon). Venus was dealt a wickedly bad draw, though, facing Woz in the 4th before staring down the barrel of Muguruza or Petra in the quarters. Like you said, though, draws frequently turn out to mean very little. So we shall see. If Venus’ play in that badminton exhibition against Rafa is any indication, she is here and ready. Shall we quickly say a word about the guys? How about Rafa and Roger’s draws?
JN: Let’s. But first, a reminder that Venus is 7-0 lifetime against Wozniacki, and Petra has shown next to nothing starting with Wimbledon. Muguruza is the real threat for her in this quarter, but she too will have to overcome her 2-4 career record at Flushing Meadows. As for Fedal, Rafa’s draw is quite favourable while Roger is staring at Kyrgios in the fourth round. Still, Nadal’s summer swing doesn’t inspire much confidence, and his record at the U.S. Open in the last five years, save for winning in 2013, has been one of upsets and absences due to injury. I wonder too if he has something going on physically that has led to his tentative play in recent weeks. Federer’s chances will hinge solely on the state of his back. If he’s healthy, I don’t think the draw in the early rounds matter too much.
JR: The men’s game is a mystery to me at the moment. Nadal was clearly neither happy nor playing particularly well in the two summer events. Federer’s health is unclear; RF insider Mary Joe Fernandez didn’t seem confident today, though she might have been trying to throw us off the scent. Simply, I wouldn’t be surprised if Federer won, in the absence of other big-time contenders. As for Rafa, MJ said that if he gets through the first week, he will pick up steam and become tough to beat. I agree completely: if Fognini or Berdych fail to take him out early, then Rafa could be in for a strong showing. The forehand can always start popping when he has the comfort of best-of-five.
JN: Any other draw etceteras we should take care of?
JR: Let’s save the rest for the pod! Tune in for our deep dive on that Alt-Sandgren-Sir Andrew Murray opener!