Serena Williams the surprise favourite as Novak Djokovic aims to keep the good times going: US Open talking points

The fourth and final grand slam of the season begins on Monday in New York

MASON, OH - AUGUST 14: Serena Williams serves to Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic during the Western & Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 14, 2018 in Mason, Ohio.   Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/AFP
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Williams downplays title chances

Serena Williams enters this year's US Open aiming to become the tournament's most successful female player of the Open era. The American is locked with compatriot Chris Evert on six titles, and in any previous year of her illustrious career, she would be the overwhelming favourite to win a seventh crown.

But Williams' stop-start season - a result of her tentative return to competitive tennis since giving birth last September - should, in theory, reduce her chances of success in New York. Indeed, Williams' preparation has been less than ideal: she suffered the worst defeat of her career in the first round in San Jose, before a second round loss in Cincinnati.

So it may come as a surprise that Williams, 36, is actually considered one of the favourites to win the final grand slam of the season. Even the 23-time major winner was somewhat taken aback by her pre-tournament status.


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Women's preview: Simona Halep finally feels like a 'real No 1' ahead of US Open

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"That I would be the favourite at this point, almost a year after having a baby, is quite interesting," she said.

As arguably the greatest player of all time, it would be foolhardy to write off Williams' chances, and she proved with her run to the Wimbledon final that she can be a contender at the biggest events.

While taking nothing away from that impressive showing at the All England Club, Williams was afforded quite a kind draw and did not face a top-20 player until the semi-finals.

She may not be so fortunate this time round, with sister Venus a potential opponent in the third round. Come through that and world No 1 Simona Halep is likely to await Williams in the last-16.

Of course, the draw could open up and Williams could produce another deep run, but there has been little in the build-up to suggest she warrants the favourite tag.

Djokovic looks to continue 'wonderful feeling'

epa06972648 (L-R) Tennis players, Madison Keys, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal participate at the '2018 Arthur Ashe Kids Day' at the 2018 US Open Tennis Championships at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, USA, 25 August 2018.  EPA/PETER FOLEY
Novak Djokovic, centre, is aiming to win his third US Open title. EPA

It's certainly been a rollercoaster season for former world No 1 Novak Djokovic. After prematurely returning from elbow injury in January, the 31-year-old Serbian embarked on a miserable run of results, culminating in defeat to unheralded Marco Cecchinato in the French Open quarter-finals.

But rising from the Roland Garros ashes, Djokovic bounced back in ultimate style to win Wimbledon, before making history as the first player to win all nine Masters 1000 titles with victory in Cincinnati, dismantling Roger Federer in the final.

Back up to No 6 in the world rankings, Djokovic is riding a wave of confidence that was sorely absent during the first half of the season.

"It's a wonderful feeling. It's been a couple of tough months for me with an injury but then winning Wimbledon and Cincinnati," Djokovic said.

Confident and having seemingly rediscovered the form that saw him dominate in 2015, Djokovic is rightly regarded as the man to beat as he bids for his third US Open title.

Chances of a first-time major champion?

Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, returns to Kiki Bertens, of the Netherlands, at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, in Mason, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Elina Svitolina is among the contenders for the US Open. AP Photo

Djokovic's return to the grand slam winners circle at Wimbledon was an ominous sign for the ATP Tour's young upstarts aiming to get their hands on one of the four biggest prizes in tennis.

Of the leading male players expected to contend, Rafael Nadal, Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro, Djokovic and Marin Cilic are all major champions.

Could Flushing Meadows crown a new grand slam winner in two weeks time? World No 4 Alexander Zverev leads the way, while local hopes are expected to rest on the broad shoulders on John Isner.

However, given the current landscape of the men's game, it's difficult to look beyond one of the former champions.

Equally, in the women's event, the top five seeds - Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens, Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova - possess major trophies, while Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, and of course Serena and Venus Williams are worthy contenders.

Of those still seeking their first piece of grand slam silverware, sixth seed Caroline Garcia and seventh seed Elina Svitolina appear the biggest threats, while Cincinnati champion Kiki Bertens and last year's finalist Madison Keys have the games to go all the way.

The women's tournament should offer more unpredictability than the men's, but ultimately the trophy is likely to end up in familiar hands.