There has never been a Grand Slam event in the Open Era that has had so many unknowns and absentees as the 2017 US Open – both among the women and the men.

Serena Williams is not playing as she nears childbirth and Victoria Azarenka is caught in a custody case that will prevent her from leaving California and her eight-month-old son Leo.

Among the men, Novak Djokovic, who has been in six of the last seven US Open finals (winning in 2011 and 2015), defending champion Stan Wawrinka and 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori are out and finished for 2017.

Also there have to be questions about the two biggest attractions remaining in the women’s and men’s fields – Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer.

Sharapova, on her return from a 15-month drug suspension, reached the semifinals of her first tournament last April in Stuttgart but was worn out physically and lost to Kristina Mladenovic. Two weeks later she was beaten 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 by Genie Bouchard after winning a tough match the previous day against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. A week later in Rome she defeated Christina McHale but then had to retire with a thigh injury in the third set of her match with Lucic-Baroni.

That problem kept her out through the rest of the clay-court season and all of the grass-court season.

Then, when she finally returned late last month in Stanford, California, she won a round against No. 80 Jennifer Brady before withdrawing with a left forearm problem.

She has played all of one match since May 16th in Rome. To think that the 30-year-old Sharapova could be a factor at this US Open, if she’s able to play, doesn’t make much sense.

There are also concerns about Federer. The resignation he showed in the final game of the Rogers Cup final in Montreal against Alexander Zverev seemed to reflect just how worried he was about the back injury that forced him to withdraw from Cincinnati the following morning.

He has had back problems in the past – right before successfully playing in the 2014 Davis Cup final in Lille, France, and during the summer of 2013 when he lost to No. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon, No. 114 Federico Delbonis in Hamburg and No. 55 Daniel Brands in Gstaad.

His legions of fans will hope the back doesn’t in any way affect his chances at the US Open but it could well be a critical factor.

Heading into Flushing Meadows 2017 the clear favourite on the women’s side is Garbiñe Muguruza. She has followed up her Wimbledon victory with a sparkling 9-2 record at summer hard-court tournaments capped by a title in Cincinnati beating world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals and No. 2 Simona Halep 6-1, 6-0 in the final.

Recent first-time Grand Slam winners – including Muguruza herself after the 2016 French Open – have not performed well with the newfound pressure of being a major champion. But the 23-year-old Spaniard has been impressive with her measured, overpowering game-style.

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, 20, looked to be escaping that fate of other recent Grand Slam winners when she had a good run after Paris – going 5-2 on grass, including reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals. But losses to two qualifiers – No. 68 Vavara Lepchenko in Toronto at Rogers Cup and No. 85 Alexandra Krunic 6-2, 6-4 in Cincinnati – have created doubts about the Latvian.

As for the other women, it’s a matter of the usual suspects along with a pair of big-hitting, maturing Americans who have showed a return to form of late – Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens. They could possibly emerge and capitalize on a fluid situation at their home Grand Slam.

As for Canadian content, Genie Bouchard is now ranked No. 74, and just has not had any results of late that would indicate she’s a serious threat.

Among the men, Federer is the big mystery. He was not at his best in reaching the Rogers Cup final earlier this month but there was a sense he was building up steam heading toward the US Open as he had before Wimbledon and to a lesser extent before the Australian Open in January.

But the back issue is a cloud on the horizon of what has been a dream-like year up until now.

With Djokovic out and Andy Murray highly questionable as a possible winner after not playing any hard-court events all summer following his hip problem during Wimbledon, there’s an opening for Rafael Nadal. But since winning the US Open in 2013, the 31-year-old Spaniard missed it in 2014, lost to Fabio Fognini (from two sets up) in the third round in 2015 and to Lucas Pouille in the fourth round a year ago.

He played an absolutely horrible game after breaking back to 5-all in the second set of a 6-2, 7-5 loss to Nick Kyrgios last week in the Cincinnati quarter-finals that set off alarm bells about his nerves at crunch-time.

The form player among the men is Zverev, winner in Washington and at Rogers Cup in Montreal, and the US Open would appear a perfect spot for the 20-year-old German to win the first of what could be several Grand Slam titles.

Dominic Thiem and Juan Martin del Potro could have a chance but both have played well below expectations on the North American hard courts.

The Cincinnati finalists – Grigor Dimitrov and Kyrgios – have the talent to win a big one but are still probably lacking in experience and maturity. Marin Cilic, champion in 2014, has missed the entire hard-court season and his hopes can hardly be viewed with any optimism.

That brings things around to the Canadians – Vasek Pospisil enters having lost four matches in a row, including 6-4, 6-4 to No. 218 John Patrick Smith in the Cincinnati qualifying last week. So he needs a quick re-set as does Milos Raonic.

The current world No. 11 has only played four matches on hard courts all summer  – losing in the quarter-finals in Washington to Jack Sock and then, with an injured left wrist, exiting 6-4, 6-4 at Rogers Cup in Montreal to No. 42-ranked Adrian Mannarino.

Raonic really hasn’t played up to the lofty level expected of him since his gritty, inspired performance in a 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-4, 8-6 loss to No. 21 Pablo Carreno Busta in the round-of-16 at Roland Garros.

A semi-freakish – the Australian never got past 30 on Raonic’s serve – 7-6(5), 7-6(8) loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis in the first round at Queen’s Club threw a wrench into Raonic’s preparation for Wimbledon and he never seemed to find his A-game at the All England Club – and that despite reaching the quarter-finals where he lost 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(4) to Federer.

A lack of match play heading into Flushing Meadows may compromise Raonic’s chances because his two best Grand Slam results – a Wimbledon final 2016 and an Australian Open semifinal 2016 – were preceded respectively by a final at Queen’s Club and a victory in Brisbane.

There seems to be lots of reasons why many players shouldn’t win the US Open this year, which means there will be one or two semifinalists who will be a surprise, and have an opportunity to create an even bigger surprise.



Seven Canadians will take part in the US Open qualifying, which begins Tuesday, led by the men’s second seed Denis Shapovalov and 20th seed Peter Polansky. The other men entered are Brayden Schnur, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Frank Dancevic.

Polansky, 29, has made eight previous appearances in the qualifying at Flushing Meadows – twice reaching the main draw.

The 32-year-old Dancevic is playing in his eighth US Open qualifying and has qualified three times.

Schnur, 22, Shapovalov, 18, and Auger-Aliassime, 17, are making their debuts in the qualifying in New York.

In the women’s draw, 17-year-old Bianca Andreescu is playing in her first US Open but third Grand Slam qualifying event in a row. She reached the main draw at Wimbledon this year for her Slam debut, but lost in the first round of qualifying at Roland Garros.

Francoise Abanda, 20, is in the US Open qualifying for the third time – she qualified in 2014 and lost in the first round to Sabine Lisicki. She qualified at the French Open and Wimbledon this year, making the second round at both tournaments.

There’s close to $3 million (US) in prize money for the total of 256 women and men in the qualifying as they vie for 16 spots (three rounds) in the two main draws. Admittance is free this week at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the event which ends on Friday.

Here  are some revolutionary changes being introduced in this year’s qualifying – including an on-court shot clock and legal coaching from designated courtside seats.



When Nick Kyrgios (above with mate Matt Reid) had his ultimate match point in a 6-2, 7-5 win over Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati last Friday, he took 45 seconds from the end of the previous point until he actually struck his serve to start the final point.

He didn’t get into a ready/serving position until 28 seconds had lapsed. He then proceeded to bounce the ball 16 times, stopped, and then bounced a further seven times. There were also two exhales and two racquet pumps before he finally swung and hit an ace to end the match.

It has long been a complaint of Tebbutt Tuesday that there’s no need to bounce the ball more than five times. That’s based less on the amount of time it wastes than on the unfairness to the receiver who is kept guessing about when his or her opponent is finally going to serve. The delays can be a distraction as receivers try to get primed to return but that’s not easy if there are so many false alarms in all the bouncing and twitches of the server, who gets to do so completely on his or her own terms.

The rules of tennis say play must be to the pace of the server but surely that doesn’t mean playing to the pace of some long drawn-out routine that keeps the receiver guessing for 10 or 15 seconds about exactly when the point is going to start.

Five bounces max should be the rule and a player – as in the Kyrgios case (but he isn’t alone and Nadal himself is a transgressor) – definitely shouldn’t be allowed to take 17 seconds between the time the service routine starts and when the ball is ultimately hit.

Like a baseball batter who can step out of the batter’s box if the pitcher takes too long, a receiver should have the right to step away if the server’s antics go on beyond a reasonable length of time.