By John O'Donovan
The final grand slam event of the season begins on Monday in New York and is shaping up to be one of the most open in years.
Defending champion Rafael Nadal misses out as a result of a wrist injury while the form player is undoubtedly Roger Federer.
He has experienced a renaissance since the start of the summer and has reached the finals of the last four tournaments he has played in, winning the Cincinnati Masters last week.
There have also been clear signs of the younger generation breaking through this year with Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic reaching the semi-finals of Wimbledon, while Nick Kyrgios beat Nadal at SW19.
Ernests Gulbis, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori are all players on the rise and capable of winning tournaments.
Jo -Wilfried Tsonga is a dark horse and in good form having won the Toronto Masters two weeks ago, beating Federer in the final.
Novak Djokovic seemed set to dominate the remainder of the season after winning Wimbledon and regaining the world number one ranking.
American hard court is the Serb’s favourite surface, yet he has had a dreadful few weeks. He lost easily in Toronto in the third round to Tsonga and followed that by losing at the same stage to journeyman Tommy Robredo in Cincinnati.
He is recently married and is expecting his first child in the next few weeks, and though he insists his focus has remained on tennis since winning Wimbledon, his recent play suggests otherwise.
However, the Serb is a big-game competitor and he starts the tournament as favourite.
Federer will feel he has a real chance of winning an 18th grand slam event, which seemed very unlikely at the start of 2014 when many people were writing him off as a spent force.
He is playing in an incredible 60th consecutive grand slam, having not misses one since 1999. He may have turned 33, but he has had a great summer, including reaching the final of Wimbledon before losing in five sets to Djokovic. His first Masters title in almost two years came when he dismissed David Ferrer in Cincinnati last weekend. The Swiss player is reaping the rewards of changing from a 93-square-inch racket head to a 97-inch version that has made it easier to step forward into the court and take the ball on the rise, allowing effective net approaches. However, his backhand is still liable to break down at crucial moments and for this reason he may come up just short.
Andy Murray has gone through a torrid 12 months since winning Wimbledon last year. In that period, he has yet to reach a final or beat a top 10 player and has dropped from second in the world to ninth. He has developed a worrying recent habit of losing matches from winning positions, while his surprise coaching partnership with Amelie Mauresmo has yet to blossom. Don’t expect the Scotsman to challenge seriously for the title.
Tsonga is a player who is in a good run of form having won in Toronto where he beat Djokovic, Murray, Dimitrov and Federer along the way. It was the Frenchman’s first Masters title since 2008. His major issue has always been consistently producing his best tennis in back-to-back events and he proved this was a problem yet again when he lost to Mikhail Youzhny in the first round in Cincinnati. It is hard to know what to expect from Tsonga.
Three other three potential challengers are Dimitrov, Raonic and Stanislas Wawrinka.
Dimitrov has had numerous good results this summer, including winning Queen’s, beating Murray on his way to the Wimbledon semi-finals, and also reaching the semi-finals in Toronto. It’s just a matter of time before the Bulgarian wins a Masters or grand slam title.
Raonic is rapidly improving, having reached the semi-finals of the French Open, Wimbledon and Cincinnati last week. The US Open might come too soon for him however.
Wawrinka has the talent, but has failed to build on his Australian Open success and has had a very inconsistent year. He lost in Toronto and Cincinnati to Kevin Anderson and Julien Benneteau and he just doesn't seem to have the consistency required over the two weeks to win the tournament.
Ferrer is a player who regularly reaches the latter stages of grand slams but lacks the sufficient artillery to win them, while Kei Nishikori, although talented, suffers, like many of the other challengers, from inconsistency.
America’s big hope of ending their ten year major drought, their longest in history, rests with John Isner.
He has one of the biggest serves in the game but has only once made it to the quarter-final of a grand slam, in 2011 in New York.
This is an extremely tough event to pick a winner, with question marks next to the names of all of the favourites.
It is hard to separate Djokovic of Federer, but the Serb looks most likely to triumph. He has been a steady presence in the final weekend since 2007, reaching the semi-finals or better each of the last seven years. He has appeared in the final five times and has the mental strength to overcome his recent poor results.