With the conclusion of an exciting Wimbledon Championships on Sunday, tennis fans will now shift their focus to the hard court season. Although the Olympics in London will add an extra element this summer, the U.S. Open Series will still dominate the tennis landscape for six weeks until the U.S. Open begins on August 27.
The Series links together ten WTA and ATP tournaments, which all take place on the hard courts of North America. Players often face brutally hot conditions and compete for tournament titles and Series points.
The three male and female players who accumulate the most points in the Series earn a bonus at the Open. If a player finishes first in the U.S. Open series and goes on to win at Flushing Meadows, they win a $1 million bonus.
Two players to have accomplished the lucrative feat thus far: Roger Federer in 2007 and Kim Clijsters back in 2005.
Last year's triumph in New York by Australia's San Stosur meant that none of the top three finishes in the Series—Serena Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Maria Sharapova—took home the bonus. It could be a different situation this time around, however, with all three women among the favorites to win the Series and the U.S. Open.
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After capturing her fifth Wimbledon title on Saturday, Williams became an instant favorite to win the U.S Open. The 30-year-old American produced some of her best tennis in recent years during the second week at the All England Club and will be confident of adding to her three U.S. Open titles.
If Williams remains healthy throughout the entire series and continues to serve as demonstrably as at Wimbledon, there are few women who can challenge the most dominant female player of her generation.
Maria Sharapova will believe she can do just that, however, especially given her past success in New York. She won the U.S. Open in 2006 and is always a great competitor on the quick hard courts of North America. Her power game has the potential to crush opponents and, after her disappointing fourth-round exit at this year's Wimbledon, she will be looking to redeem herself.
Agnieszka Radwanska, the new world No. 2, will look to carry momentum from her breakthrough Grand Slam performance at Wimbledon when she heads across the Atlantic. Despite her less than stellar performance at last year's U.S Open, with a second round exit, Radwanska has the ability to replicate her stunning form on the grass as she switches to hard courts. Crucially, her new found confidence will make her a dangerous opponent against even the very best.
Finally, there is Victoria Azarenka. The world No.1 has a game built around power and has seen success against all of the top players on the WTA Tour. If she plays with confidence at the U.S. Open, she can be a serious challenger to add to her maiden Grand Slam victory in Australia earlier this year.
On the men's side, Mardy Fish, Novak Djokovic, and John Isner were the top three finishers of last year's U.S. Open Series. Fish is still recovering from a recent heart procedure but managed to reach the round of 16 at Wimbledon. He is expected to reach the final rounds of tournaments in the series and is capable of an impressive showing at the Open.
However, the favorites to win are still Rafael Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic. Federer, who has returned to the top of the ATP rankings, proved that he is still fit enough to defeat the young and dominant Djokovic and Nadal after he took home his record-tying seventh Wimbledon title. With five U.S. Open titles also in his bag, he knows what it takes to win at Flushing Meadows. If Federer can reproduce his form at Wimbledon, it would be unwise to bet against the Swiss taking home an incredible 18th Grand Slam title and a Series bonus.
In order to do so, he will have to get past an eager Djokovic who has had his best career results on hard courts. Djokovic, who was upset by Federer at Wimbledon and was edged by Nadal in the final at Roland Garros, will surely be fired up to perform in the Big Apple.
Nadal will also be looking to make amends for a shocking second round exit at Wimbledon. The Spaniard possesses the athleticism necessary to thrive in the U.S. Open Series and has also tasted victory in New York back in 2010. One can never count him out of the running for a Grand Slam title.
Two other players to watch are Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Murray, the Wimbledon finalist looks fitter and faster than he has in his entire career. Should he maintain his high level of play, the Scot could potentially reach his second U.S. Open final.
Often overlooked at Grand Slams, Tsonga could also be a real threat, having performed exceptionally all year. He reached the quarterfinals of the French Open and the semifinals of Wimbledon and has tasted victory against the top players at their best. Expect him to win a title in the U.S. Open Series and make the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open at the very least.