Form guide: Ones to watch at the US Open

  • Matt Trollope

After a month of play on North American hard courts, a host of players are showing the kind of form that points to a strong US Open run over the next two weeks.

World No.1s Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty may be the favourites, but they are not the only players riding a wave of momentum and confidence into New York. 

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Below is a snapshot of the players, in alphabetical order, who could flourish at Flushing Meadows.

North American 2021 summer hard-court season results

Tournament Champion Finalist
ATP Atlanta John Isner Brandon Nakashima
ATP Washington DC Jannik Sinner Mackenzie McDonald
WTA San Jose Danielle Collins Daria Kasatkina
ATP Toronto Daniil Medvedev Reilly Opelka
WTA Montreal Camila Giorgi Karolina Pliskova
ATP Cincinnati Alexander Zverev Andrey Rublev
WTA Cincinnati Ash Barty Jil Teichmann
ATP Winston-Salem Ilya Ivashka Mikael Ymer
WTA Chicago Elina Svitolina Alize Cornet
WTA Cleveland Anett Kontaveit Irina-Camelia Begu

BARTY, Ash

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 5-0
Best 2021 summer hard-court result: Won Cincinnati
Best US Open result: 4R 2018, 2019
Ranking: No.1
R1 opponent: Vera Zvonareva

Barty suffered a let-down at the Tokyo Olympics after winning Wimbledon, exiting in the first round with a straight-sets loss to Sara Sorribes Tormo. But the way she rebounded in Cincinnati was telling; she stormed to the title without the loss of a set, beating three major champions along the way. Her form heading into the US Open has meant all members of our experts panel have picked her to win the women’s title. “It's not too dissimilar to Cincinnati I found,” Barty said of the conditions at Flushing Meadows. “I think there's obviously a little bit more humidity here in New York. It changes the way the ball flies through the air a fraction, how long it stays on your racquet. The similarities are there. There are a lot of things that feel similar.”

BENCIC, Belinda

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 3-1
Best 2021 summer hard-court result: QF Cincinnati
Best US Open result: SF 2019
Ranking: No.12
R1 opponent: Arantxa Rus

Switzerland's Bencic has been a gathering force on the tour since a first-round loss at Wimbledon. The 24-year-old beat the impressive quartet of Barbora Krejcikova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Rybakina and Marketa Vondrousova, all in three sets, to win singles gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Buoyed by that triumph, she then beat Vondrousova again en route to the Cincinnati quarters, where her nine-match winning streak was eventually snapped by countrywoman Jil Teichmann. Bencic's best Slam results have come at the US Open, where she owns a match-winning record of 72 per cent and where she reached her first major quarterfinal at just 17 years of age. 

COLLINS, Danielle

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 7-1
Best 2021 summer hard-court result: Won San Jose
Best US Open result: 2R 2019
Ranking: No.28
R1 opponent: Carla Suarez Navarro

Collins has been one of the WTA Tour’s in-form players of late. From late July through to early August, the American built a 12-match winning streak taking in titles in Palermo (clay) and San Jose (hard), plus wins over Cincinnati finalist Jil Teichmann and Romanian star Simona Halep in Toronto, before Jessica Pegula finally stopped her in the last 16. Collins will hope to translate that form to the US Open, where she is yet to show her best. “She's overcome some recent health struggles, she seems to be feeling healthy, confident and fit,” Simon Rea, former coach of Nick Kyrgios and Sam Stosur, told ausopen.com. “When she gets on a wave of momentum, she's got firepower and weapons, and she can do some damage with those.”

DJOKOVIC, Novak

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: Did not play
Best 2021 summer hard-court result: Did not play
Best US Open result: Won 2011, 2015, 2018
Ranking: No.1
R1 opponent: Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune

All eyes will be on the 20-time major champion as he goes for a first calendar-year Grand Slam. Djokovic may not have played since the Olympics, but history shows the world No.1 does not need much court time to find top gear. The Serb has already built a brilliant 38-5 record this season and is undefeated in Grand Slam play, winning the Australian, French and Wimbledon titles to put himself on the cusp of an historic achievement. “My preparations for US Open have gone well. I feel good on the court,” he said. “I took some time off after Olympics. Have not played Cincinnati, which was previously planned, because I just felt exhausted in every sense after that long summer.” Djokovic indicated at his pre-tournament press conference this exhaustion has since given way to motivation and inspiration as he prepares to launch his US Open campaign.

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Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic practises at Flushing Meadows ahead of the 2021 US Open. (Getty Images)

ISNER, John

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 11-2
Best 2021 summer hard-court results: Won Atlanta; SF Toronto
Best US Open result: QF 2011, 2018
Ranking: No.22
R1 opponent: Brandon Nakashima

The veteran American has always performed strongly on home soil and 2021 was no different; Isner captured a sixth career title in Atlanta and built a nine-match winning streak in reaching the Toronto semifinals. He arrives in New York having won 13 of his past 16 matches, and faces an Atlanta final rematch against Brandon Nakashima in round one. “The big-serving Americans Isner and Opelka, they've done really well in this hard-court season,” Jelena Dokic told ausopen.com. “The US Open is fast and high-bouncing – a lot of the big servers are going to have a big advantage.”

KERBER, Angelique

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 4-1
Best 2021 summer hard-court result: SF Cincinnati
Best US Open result: Won 2016
Ranking: No.17
R1 opponent: Dayana Yastremska

After a lacklustre start to 2021, three-time major champion Kerber has rediscovered a rich vein of form, winning 14 of her past 16 matches and returning to the top 20. She arrives at the US Open – where she is a former champion as well as semfinalist in 2011 – fresh off a semifinal run in Cincinnati, where she beat quality opponents in Maria Sakkari, Elina Svitolina, Jelena Ostapenko and Petra Kvitova before falling to top-ranked Barty. The German looms as a potential fourth-round opponent for Osaka, but has a tough opening-round assignment in Yastremska.

“Karolina Pliskova's playing well. When she's hot, she's hot, and it's hard to stop her.”
Wally Masur

MEDVEDEV, Daniil

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 8-1
Best 2021 summer hard-court results: Won Toronto; SF Cincinnati
Best US Open result: Finalist 2019
Ranking: No.2
R1 opponent: Richard Gasquet

The in-form Russian, who has won 40 matches in 2021, came within two wins of a rare Canada-Cincinnati Masters double before countryman Andrey Rublev stopped him in the Cincinnati semis. Before that, he looked imperious in dismantling Isner and Opelka in his final two matches in Toronto, and he thumped Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1 6-1 in the Cincinnati quarters to take his winning streak to eight. Medvedev has compiled an impressive record at Flushing Meadows, backing up his run to the 2019 final with a semifinal finish in 2020.

OSAKA, Naomi

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 1-1
Best 2021 summer hard-court result: 3R Cincinnati
Best US Open result: Won 2018, 2020
Ranking: No.3
R1 opponent: Marie Bouzkova

She has played only five matches in the past three months and has yet to hit top gear since winning the Australian Open, but the defending champion has nevertheless won two of the past three US Opens and has a first-strike game perfectly suited to Flushing Meadows’ quick hard courts. “I know I haven't played that many matches. I know that I haven't even gotten to a quarterfinal. Actually I feel pretty happy with how I'm playing. Like, I thought I played two really tough matches in Cincinnati,” said Osaka, who fell to Teichmann in three sets after beating Coco Gauff a round earlier. “I feel pretty confident with where I am right now. Of course I'm not, like, declaring that I'll do amazing here. I'm the one-match-at-a-time like person. Hopefully it will work out in the end.”

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Naomi Osaka talks to the media at Flushing Meadows ahead of her US Open title defence. (Getty Images)

PLISKOVA, Karolina

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 7-2
Best 2021 summer hard-court results: Finalist Montreal; SF Cincinnati
Best US Open result: Finalist 2016
Ranking: No.4
R1 opponent: Caty McNally

Since dropping out of the world's top 10 on the eve of Wimbledon, Karolina Pliskova has been a player transformed. The Czech, who reached her first Grand Slam final at the US Open five years ago, has won 15 of her last 19 matches and vaulted back inside the top five after an impressive summer hard-court swing. “Pliskova's playing well,” Wally Masur told ausopen.com when identifying threats for the title. “When she's hot, she's hot, and it's hard to stop her.”

TSITSIPAS, Stefanos

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 6-2
Best 2021 summer hard-court results: SF Toronto, Cincinnati
Best US Open result: 3R 2020
Ranking: No.3
R1 opponent: Andy Murray

The Greek star opens against former champion Andy Murray in the best of the first-round matches at a major tournament where he is yet to fire. But that could change in 2021, given his lead-up form on North American hard courts. Tsitsipas was close to reaching the finals in both Toronto and Cincinnati, before being pipped in three-set semifinals. But he will take confidence from those weeks, and from his stellar 48-14 win-loss record in 2021, as he seeks to continue an incredibly consistent, successful season.

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ZVEREV, Alexander

2021 North American summer hard-court win-loss record: 5-0
Best 2021 summer hard-court result: Won Cincinnati
Best US Open result: Finalist 2020
Ranking: No.4
R1 opponent: Sam Querrey

The Olympic gold medallist and Cincinnati champion takes an 11-match winning streak into the US Open, where last year he served for his first Grand Slam title before ultimately going down in a fifth-set tiebreak to Dominic Thiem. Serving huge and playing aggressively from the back of the court, Zverev has dropped just two sets since Wimbledon. “It has been a pretty incredible month for me,” said the German. “Obviously winning the gold medal is something that you don't even dream about as a tennis player because it's just so surreal in a way. It's incredible. I mean, the feeling that gave me, and also the Cincinnati week has been pretty good. I feel well. I hope I continue this wave here in New York and we'll see how it goes.”