The US Open is the last Grand Slam of the calendar year, but for many players, it will feel like their first serious chance to make significant moves on one of the biggest stages in tennis.

In recent years, the other three Slams have felt like closed shops. Novak Djokovic has excelled at the Australian Open, Roger Federer is still the man to beat at Wimbledon and Rafael Nadal has transformed the French Open into a formality.

The US Open is where the two champions with one Slam title to their name enjoyed the pinnacle of their career, with Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic stunning the favourites in 2009 and 2014 respectively.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have shared the three Slams so far in 2018, but the US Open could be the time for a new name to join that esteemed company.

 

Time For The 'Nearly' Men To Become Champions?

Djokovic, Federer and Nadal head the betting market for the US Open in that order, with these three greats familiar to the pressure that comes with being favourites.

This trio may dominate the shortest prices, but behind them is the usual collection of experienced professionals who have enjoyed moderate success on the ATP tour but who have failed to make the jump from contender to champion.

Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori have both lost Grand Slam tournament finals, and will look back and rue those defeats as missed opportunities. Since Raonic stunned Roger Federer in the semi-finals at Wimbledon 2016 only to roll over in straight sets to Andy Murray, the big-serving Canadian has struggled for fitness.

Nishikori formed the other half of that unlikely final in 2014, with Cilic too consistent on the day. Nishikori is another who has struggled with fitness, while Murray is as long as 10/1 because of his recent injury issues.

While it would be unwise to discount players of the calibre of Murray, Raonic and Nishikori, it would also be audacious to predict a title run without being able to depend on their fitness.

In that case, it may be more prudent to look at those nearly men who are in better shape at this time. Kevin Anderson definitely fulfils that criterion, with the South African coming off a swashbuckling run to the Wimbledon final to add to his final at last year's US Open.

Neither final performance has seen Anderson bring his best, but he can draw on the experience of the 6-3 6-3 6-4 defeat to Nadal last year to enhance his chances this time around. There are odds of 33/1 available for the defeated finalist to go one better, with the same price available for Grigor Dimitrov to finally live up to his early-career potential.

Being touted as the heir to Federer cannot be easy for a young player, but Dimitrov has combined his artistic shot-making with increased mental fortitude in recent months.

Victory at the ATP World Tour Finals last year served to show his ability to manage big matches as well as propelling him to a career-best ranking of 3rd. A semi-finalist at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open, peak Dimitrov is as good as anyone else on the tour.

The only question is if peak Dimitrov can appear for two weeks at Flushing Meadows, but 33/1 makes the Bulgarian an interesting proposition.

 

The Next Gen Stars Ready To Break Through

It is not unreasonable to suggest that anyone outside of the magic trio of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic can be perceived to be an underdog and a shock winner.

Alexander Zverev is 9/1 to make the US Open his first Grand Slam title, with the poster boy for the Next Gen players touted as a world number one in waiting. The hype machine has been working overtime around Zverev for the past couple of years, and not without justification.

Zverev became the fifth active player to have at least three Masters 1000 titles to his name when he strolled to success in Madrid earlier this year. The other four players are Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray: this bodes well for Zverev.

Yet the German has struggled to impose himself upon a Grand Slam. His quarter-final run at the French Open may have demonstrated his resolve, with Zverev coming back from 2-1 down in sets to claim victory in three consecutive rounds, but it also showed that he has a tendency to yield sets to significantly inferior opposition.

This left Zverev too fatigued to put up stern resistance against the first player of serious quality that he faced, with Dominic Thiem easing to victory in straight sets.

Of course, Zverev may well end up winning the first Slam in which the stars align; it won't matter that he hasn't been beyond a Grand Slam quarter-final if his ability can compensate for inexperience, and he has shown consistently at the Masters 1000 level that it can.

The two closest players to Zverev in the Next Gen rankings could be rivals to the German for years to come, but they are much further behind Zverev in terms of development.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has come on leaps and bounds this year, but the Greek teenager looks like he may do his best work away from hard courts. His first-round defeat at the Australian Open is testament to this, giving the other Next Gen contender Denis Shapovalov a routine 6-1 6-3 7-6 victory.

The Canadian will be confident about his chances at the US Open having powered to the round of sixteen last year after making it through qualification.

Shapovalov has all of the technical ability required to make it to the top, but bringing it together consistently alongside mental resilience may still be beyond the 19-year-old at this early stage of his career.

Odds of 40/1 reflect both his potential and doubts over his current ability, but you may be unlikely to get such long odds on Shapovalov for too many more Grand Slams in the years ahead.

 

The American Stars Hoping To Shine

The US Open hasn't hosted a home champion since Andy Roddick in 2003, and there are certainly no American players of the calibre of past winners Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi who shared 6 US Open titles in the 1990s.

Of course, there are few players of the calibre of Sampras and Agassi from any country. What the United States do have is a set of emerging talents as well as a veteran who has stepped up his game in recent months.

John Isner has reached a new career-high ranking of 8th this year, with the ace machine still able to boom down unreturnable serves but adding new depth to his all-round game.

This took him to the brink of a Wimbledon final, with a 7-6 6-7 6-7 6-4 26-24 a pretty dignified way to lose a Grand Slam semi-final. Isner hasn't exactly excelled at the US Open, reaching the quarter-final in his best showing in 2011.

Since then, Isner has suffered the quirky ignominy of losing to Philipp Kohlschreiber in three consecutive third rounds, and on his last two outings, he has fallen as heavy favourite against Mischa Zverev and Kyle Edmund.

A price of 33/1 shows a belief that Isner has the game to make any opponent uncomfortable, as well as a concern that Isner hasn't exactly adapted to home comforts in the past.

Jack Sock made the ATP World Tour Finals last year, supporting the theory that he could be the next great American hope. Sock has since set about disproving that theory by winning just 6 out of his first 22 matches in 2018, so that doesn't bode well even at a substantial price of 125/1.

Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Jared Donaldson head a collection of young Americans that are showing great promise, with American fans hoping that one of those will become the next Sampras rather than the next Sock.

Donaldson can be grabbed at odds of 600/1 for those looking to place their faith in youth, but it's Isner who gives the United States their strongest chance of a US Open title.

If he can avoid Kohlschreiber, 33/1 will represent interesting value on a player on the cusp of a Grand Slam final last time out, while the same price for last year's finalist, Kevin Anderson, also appeals.

However, it's difficult to look beyond Zverev at 9/1 for a player to end the domination of the old guard.

 

*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*

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