Expert picks: Who will win the US Open?

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Some incredible storylines are set to make the US Open one of the more memorable majors when it gets under way on Monday.

Novak Djokovic is shooting for both the calendar-year Grand Slam and a men's record 21st major singles title, while titleholder Naomi Osaka returns to the Grand Slam arena looking to challenge the supremacy of world No.1 and reigning Wimbledon champion Ash Barty.

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Our panel of experts about all this, plus the many other threats for the title, ahead of next week's action.

Our panel

Lleyton Hewitt - former world No.1 and 2001 US Open champion
Jelena Dokic - former world No.4 and now tennis commentator
Alicia Molik - former world No.8 and now Australian Billie Jean King Cup captain
Wally Masur - former world No.15 and now Tennis Australia's Director of Performance
Nicole Pratt - former world No.35 and now Tennis Australia's Women's Team Coach
Simon Rea - former coach of Nick Kyrgios and Sam Stosur and now National Development Squad Coach

Is there a bigger storyline in the history of our sport than Novak Djokovic going for the Grand Slam in New York, as well as a men’s record of 21 majors?

HEWITT: “This is a massive opportunity for him to win the four majors in one year. He would be desperate to do it. They do love the underdogs in New York, so I think the crowd are going to enjoy someone pushing Novak and not just letting him win another major. And there's going to be Federer and Nadal fans there that aren't going to want to see him go clear of them in the majors list. There's so much weighing on this major, it's quite incredible. And it all comes down to the world No.1.”

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DOKIC: "It's major, it really is. Not that we didn't think he could do it; we've always thought he can probably get three in the same year, but whether he would get the French or not, that was always going to be hard. He was able to get over that (hump) this year, and that was such a huge confidence boost going into Wimbledon. A lot is on the line, I'm sure he would love to complete that calendar Slam.”

WOODBRIDGE: "To get to this point where Novak is, is extraordinary. But he was close to not making this happen; Taylor Fritz had him in the third round of the Australian Open, and he was down two sets to love to both Musetti and Tsitsipas at the French. Several times he's only been points away, or 10 minutes away, from not having this opportunity. Everything has fallen his way. Who knows what happens? That's why this script is going to be so riveting to watch unfold.”

In 2021, Novak Djokovic has already won (from L-R) the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles. (Getty Images)

MOLIK: "How exciting – everyone is going to be hanging on every match he plays. I couldn't imagine being in his shoes. What he's about to do, I think we all thought it was impossible in this day and age, with how good men's tennis is.”

MASUR: "There's nothing bigger in our sport than winning a Slam. And then winning all four in a calendar year, I mean, that's the holy grail, isn't it? Rod Laver's been immortalised for doing it twice, but it's huge. Serena was on the cusp of exactly the same thing (in 2015) ... and it was almost crippling. She got to the pointy end of the tournament and just couldn't find her best tennis.”

PRATT: "I think it's absolutely enormous, the magnitude of what he's potentially going to achieve. It's quite extraordinary to do it when there are so many quality names who have played this year, as well as this new generation.”

Can Djokovic do it? Or do you see anyone stopping him?

HEWITT: "He could have learned from the Olympics. He wanted to win a gold medal that badly, he wanted to win the Golden Slam. He's taken a few weeks off, which I think is a good decision for him, he's a good enough ball-striker, we know he's going to come out there and most likely dominate the first week. But he's got to get his head in the right frame of mind now, and he does get another opportunity – I think he's gonna have to analyse what happened at the Olympics and whether the emotions, and how badly he wanted it, affected him. He is the favourite going in, but there are some other players who are gonna push him.”

DOKIC: "We don't have a lot to go off as far as his hard-court form is concerned, but you still have to put him as the favourite, if you win three Grand Slams then you're the favourite (laughter). He has a target on his back, but he's used to that. His agility, the physicality, the shot-making, it's another level. I also feel like mentally, he's the strongest on tour. And even physically, I feel like he's the fastest and fittest player on the tour. If anyone can cause problems, that would be Tsitsipas, Zverev and Medvedev. It's just a matter of doing it against Djokovic over five sets in a Slam – this year it's been impossible.”

WOODBRIDGE: "Definitely he's the favourite. We assume he's fit, he's the cleanest ball-striker that's out there. I think his focus is extraordinary. I thought he handled Wimbledon really well. He's the one being hunted.”

READ MORE: Djokovic ready to rebound at US Open, says Woodbridge

MOLIK: "Djokovic is without a doubt the favourite for the US Open, and I think he will do it. What happened at the Olympics, where he probably had a bit of a mental let-down, I think is almost going to help him. I feel he's got almost more to play for now given that it just wasn't the way he anticipated his Olympics going. I really feel that will carry over for him, just having that extra drive."

"If anyone can cause Djokovic problems, it's Tsitsipas, Zverev and Medvedev. It's just a matter of doing it over five sets in a Slam – this year it's been impossible.”
Jelena Dokic

MASUR: "I'll tip him to do it, but with a proviso – I think there's opportunity for certain players to beat him. Maybe the moon will have to align with the stars to a certain degree, because we talked about that AO final, and Medvedev was on the rise, but come the big occasion, if Djokovic is rested and fit, over five sets, look out – it's a tough assignment to beat him.”

PRATT: "The only disappointment for Novak this year has been not winning a gold medal at the Olympics, and I think he can put that down to the fact that it's best of three sets. Grand Slam tennis, best of five, is a completely different beast. And Novak can handle it. I'm sure he's already rehearsed (in his mind) what it's going to be like to win, or be in a position where he is going to win, and then go through a process of being able to deal with the nerves that will come in. If nerves are there, he'll overcome them.”

REA: "I think he's certainly the obvious favourite. A medium-fast hard court, he seems to have conquered his issues with the heat along his journey. There's not many weaknesses to be found any more. I think there's every chance the calendar-year Grand Slam gets done. I think Medvedev is someone who could certainly trouble him, with his unorthodox game and the fact he's a shrewd tactician. Zverev's form is great, so he's going to come in with plenty of momentum.”

How will defending champion Naomi Osaka fare after withdrawing from Roland Garros and skipping Wimbledon?

DOKIC: “She could potentially play herself in. She has that type of game. US Open is a fast surface which suits her. I would love to see her win at least two or three matches and then see her form after getting some confidence and matches under her belt. The question is: will she get the opportunity to win two, three, four matches? This is not the US Open last year where ... it was still kind of fresh, she was off the tour six months and so was everyone else. Now, everyone else is playing so much more. So she comes up against someone who's had a lot of matches and who is feeling good, it could turn into a bit of problem.”

READ MORE: Dokic optimistic about Osaka's US Open chances 

WOODBRIDGE: "I think this tournament is going to be really difficult for her to defend. Since Paris, it looks like she's been struggling to find form, and you can tell there's a lot on her mind – there's not the freedom in her game and in her personality. I hope that's she's able to turn it around. She's going to get a lot of support, so there will be positivity, but with that, there will be a lot of extra mental energy that she has to use even before she gets to the court.”

MOLIK: "Osaka is different now given what she's gone through, and what people now expect of her. I think that's obviously showed with the amount of pressure that she's been under, and what she's been feeling mentally. I haven't seen enough top-level consistent tennis from her to win the title. There's a bit of vulnerability that I don't think I've seen before. For me she's not one of the favourites. She's not blasting her way through matches and closing them out quickly, like she has done when she's won titles.”

Naomi Osaka
In her return to the tour after two months away, Naomi Osaka fell in straight sets to Marketa Vondrousova in the third round of the Olympic Tennis Event in Tokyo. (Getty Images)

MASUR: "As good as these top players are, when you look at their results, and when they play their best tennis, they've had a volume of matches. The US Open is Osaka’s best surface for sure, and if her power game is on song, she'll be awesome. By the size of the draw and her seeding, she'll have some leeway in the early rounds to find form, and if she does, she's absolutely one of the favourites. But I'm always wary of a player that just doesn't have a lot of matches.”

PRATT: "I think the fact she’s won two US Opens, it kind of brings back those feelings and emotions. And I think that might, to a certain degree, block out some of the losses that she's had in the last few months, and all of the media attention. It's one thing winning a few matches, but it's winning those matches back-to-back-to-back which I think is really relevant. She did lose early in Cincinnati. I question whether she's had enough matches.”

REA: "It's hard to get a read on Osaka. She's sort of a bit like Serena in her younger days – if you're going to get her, perhaps the early rounds is the time to do it. Osaka has had all kinds of pressure on her shoulders both on and off court in recent months. Anything's possible; she's too good a player for me to discount. If she's able to navigate her way through the first week, I absolutely have her as a threat to win the title right now.”

Who will win the women's singles title at Flushing Meadows?

HEWITT: “Ash Barty’s going to be the favourite going into New York, for sure. Once you start winning those big tournaments, as Ash has been able to do the last two or three years, and she's got to world No.1, there's that target on your back every single week. But for her to win Wimbledon, then lose early at the Olympics, but then (rebound and) be able to have that high and win Cincinnati... she's doing incredible things at the moment.”

DOKIC: "Ash Barty is the favourite, there's no doubt. I think if you go off form and consistency this year ... that win at Wimbledon is such a great confidence boost. It would have been very draining after Wimbledon, and then trying to focus for the Olympics. But I feel like she's in the best possible form this year and going into the US Open. The fast surface does suit her game; that slice is gonna skid through. And so will her serve. She moves so well, the forehand will come off the court really well.”

WOODBRIDGE: "The favourite's got to be Ash Barty. Five tournament victories. The Olympics was disappointing, but that was a quick turnaround off of winning Wimbledon. She has a new challenge through, because she now has to absorb the players coming at her. But Cincinnati just proved that if she's in form and the other players are not there, she can beat them quite quickly. Also, when her form hasn't been great, she has managed to find a way through. Just look at her head-to-head with the top 10 at the moment, and she's got everybody covered. But she does have contenders (to deal with).”

Ash Barty
World No.1 Ash Barty beat three major champions and did not drop a set en route to winning the WTA Cincinnati tournament, her 13th career title and fifth of 2021. (Getty Images)

MOLIK: "I think the favourite has to be Ash, doesn't it? Her form in Cincinnati, goodness gracious, it was scintillating, it was awesome. Her last competitive match prior was a little bit of a let-down at the Olympics, and mentally to turn herself around and get herself in the right frame of mind, to not just compete at the highest level, but play some incredible tennis so quickly, just shows that she's in that right mental space for New York.”

MASUR: "Ash stormed through at Cincinnati and is playing really well. She's got dimensions to her game; when she's fit and feeling well, she can find a way to dismantle opponents. She’s right there again. I think she's my favourite. For an Australian to win Wimbledon, on the big anniversary of Evonne winning it, I can't image the high, and then you've just got to hit a bit of a wall, and she did at Tokyo. But now she's climbing back up again and seems like pretty good timing, doesn't it?”

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PRATT: "The favourite has to be Ash Barty, for the reason that she's obviosuly won Wimbledon ... and then backed up and won Cincinnati. She can relax, refresh and go into the US Open, for me, both the No.1 player in the world and the favourite.”

REA: "I'm going to go with the obvious; Wimbledon champion Ash Barty. Her 2021 campaign ... has been nothing short of remarkable. To be as dominant as she was in Cincinnati, I think she gets conditions to suit again in New York. I think she had a little let-up at the Olympics, but it obviosuly hasn't harmed her. I think Ash is a very real chance of going back-to-back, Wimbledon and the US Open.”

Who are the biggest under-the-radar threats for the titles?

DOKIC: “Some of the girls who have played well this year, anyone from Rybakina, to Krejcikova – she's got a game for every surface – and Pliskova, I feel she's coming through after Wimbledon, has continued to play well. And then look at what Giorgi did in Montreal; she likes the fast surface. Can someone like that come through and do well in the second week?”

WOODBRIDGE: "There's guys that can have a good tournament, but I don't know if they can get that next level. Davidovich Fokina could be a floater, because he played very well at the French. Keep your eye out for a US Open breakthrough from him. He’s also a junior Wimbledon champ.”

MOLIK: "Rybakina impresses me. Sakkari I think can have a great run, she's been playing some good tennis. Even Belinda Bencic. Andreescu, you can never put it past her, she's a great pressure player. Pavlyuchenkova’s quite amazing that she almost seems to be getting stronger the later her career gets. Kerber has done well to find better form this year too.”

"The US Open is Osaka’s best surface, and if her power game is on song, she'll be awesome. But I'm always wary of a player that just doesn't have a lot of matches.”
Wally Masur on Naomi Osaka

MASUR: "Now we're seeing a spread. Zverev, Medvedev and Tsitsipas have emerged, and they're playing better, more often, sort of consolidating. Don't discount Rublev, or Berrettini, with his big game. There's a bit of bandwidth there in the men's game, but it's solid bandwidth, these players are arriving. That generational change is happening now. Don't be surprised if one of those guys lights it up.”

PRATT: "She's not necessarily a dark horse in that she won the French Open, but when it comes to hard-court tennis, Krejcikova is someone to watch. Rybakina is dangerous, she's got a big game and she likes a faster hard court. Another is Bencic; she's riding high from a gold medal, which I think was a surprise for a lot of people. But she's played fairly consistent tennis this year.”

REA: "Jannik Sinner has been incredibly impressive over the American hard-court season. And the American men have got a lot of momentum; Jenson Brooksby, Brandon Nakashima, Reilly Opelka, and then the old journeyman, John Isner, continues to win a lot of matches on the American hard-courts. I think US tennis has got a lot to be excited about looking forward to the next fortnight.”