Here are five men and women to watch at this year’s U.S. Open:
1. Rafael Nadal
The Spanish Bull swept to the Open title last September in an injury-depleted field. In an attempt to save his body, which has suffered many ailments, the top seed skipped the Cincinnati event last week after winning Toronto. These hardcourts are not his best surface as they are for Novak Djokovic, but never count out his will. Nadal has won here three times, but Djokovic just took him out at Wimbledon. An Open victory would give Nadal 18 majors and rekindle talk he may just catch Roger Federer for most Grand Slams, leaving him two behind.
2. Novak Djokovic
Six months after elbow surgery, the Serbian is peaking. He was at his defensive best to top Federer in the Cincy finals and his serve is almost back to precision.
3. Roger Federer
The Swiss Maestro won five straight Opens from 2004-08 but hasn’t captured one in 10 years. The No. 2 seed will be the fan favorite again — still the most enjoyable player to watch with his elegant strokes. Too bad he gets sixth-seeded Djokovic so early — in the quarters.
4. Kevin Anderson
Legend Rod Laver said this week the tall 32-year-old South African is his darkhorse, complimenting his improved groundstrokes. Anderson proved his trip to the Open finals last year was no fluke by getting to the championship round at Wimbledon. Nothing wrong with a late bloomer.
5. Juan Martin del Potro
You wish a new-generation player such as Alexander Zverev would step up, but more likely old reliables like the 2009 Open champion from Argentina will be there near the end. Three years ago, the Federer slayer thought of retirement because of all those wrist issues but carried on and now is the third seed with big strokes built for Ashe Stadium.
1. Serena Williams
This looks to be too Herculean a task after a poor Open tuneup season with a vicious draw that could have her play sister Venus in the third round, No. 1 Simona Halep in the fourth round and Garbine Muguruza in the quarters. Though Williams traipsed to the Wimbledon finals, she’s been inconsistent. And what will she have left in the tank despite all her success here as a six-time Open champ?
2. Angelique Kerber
Tough to bet against the German in this spot after beating Serena at Wimbledon in the finals and with a 2016 Open title on her résumé. Also has a good draw and enough grit to do well here for years.
3 Sloane Stephens
The defending U.S. Open champion still is an enigma. How do you lose eight straight matches after winning the Open? The quirky but speedy slugger won it last year with nothing to lose, and now the pressure will be on. If she isn’t always motivated, she’s become a smarter player and shown glimpses of being a repeat Slam champion with French Open and Montreal finals berths.
4. Simona Halep
Despite her No. 1 ranking, finally winning her first Grand Slam at the 2018 French Open and cruising through summer, she showed she still can crack in big spots, blowing the match in Cincinnati final last Sunday against Kiki Bertens.
5. Madison Keys
If she harnesses all that brute power and her wrists are healthy, Keys, a 2017 Open finalist, could win this whole thing. Maria Sharapova and Keys are each represented by New Jersey agent Max Eisenbud, who now boasts a third standout talent on his roster who could become the next teenaged Grand Slam titlist — Colts Neck, N.J., product 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova.