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Saturday, 26 August 2017 09:47 AM BST
Five things to watch at the US Open looks ahead to the 2017 US Open, the final Grand Slam of the year. READ MORE

The US Open begins at Flushing Meadows on Monday with a host of storylines swirling around Flushing Meadows. Will Roger Federer win his third Grand Slam title of an incredible 2017 and take his overall tally to 20?

Will an injury-free Rafael Nadal win his second slam of the year and his third US Open title overall?

Can Andy Murray win the title despite no match practice since Wimbledon or will someone like Sascha Zverev crack the big time?

And on the women’s side, with no Serena Williams, can Angelique Kerber rediscover top form to retain her title, will Karolina Pliskova go one better than last year or could Venus Williams, at 37, win her first Grand Slam title in nine years?

Let’s take a look at five of the major talking points going into the final Grand Slam of the year.

Will Federer complete “joke” third slam win of 2017?

With Novak Djokovic, defending champion Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic all missing through injury, many seem to be giving the title to Federer without a ball being hit in anger. 

The way his year has gone, that’s fair enough, given his stunning win at the Australian Open and then his cruise to an eighth Wimbledon title just last month. On that form, he is undoubtedly the man to beat but even he said (after Wimbledon) that winning a third Grand Slam of the year would be “a joke”.

Of course, he deserves favouritism but it won’t be easy, despite the withdrawals. He is now 36, he has not won the US Open since 2008 and hard courts, though good for his game, are tough on the body and if his back, which reared up in Montreal last time out, is not 100 percent, then things are going to be tough.

Nadal, who pushed Federer all the way in Melbourne, is the world No.1 and chasing his second slam win of the year and Murray will believe that he can win a fourth slam title if things go his way after his recent hip trouble. Behind them, the likes of Sascha Zverev, an improving Nick Kyrgios and former Wimbledon junior champion Grigor Dimitrov are all dangerous.

What is for certain, though, is that if Federer wins his third Grand Slam title of the year, it will crown one of the most remarkable years in sporting history. “If Roger wins this, this will be one of the great stories in the last 50 years or ever,” said former No.1 John McEnroe, speaking on behalf of

“This is an amazing thing, what he's done at his age. He won three five-setters in Australia. It's not exactly cool down there, either. He played Wimbledon without losing a single set. I've watched tennis for 40, 50 years. I've never seen anything like this.”

Can Andy Murray bounce back from injury to win a fourth Grand Slam title?

Everything depends on whether Murray has shaken off the hip injury that hampered him so much at Wimbledon, where his title defence ended at the quarter-final stage. If it has, then even with no matches since then, he will be confident of a good showing, and so far, the signs in training are encouraging. “I think he’s fit,” former British No.1 Greg Rusedski told BBC Radio 4 on Friday.

“He wouldn’t have gone to the US Open to play otherwise. Murray looks really good, I’ve watched his (training) programme, with his team around him. I think he’s going to have a good US Open, if the draw is favourable.”

And the draw has been very kind to Murray. He’s avoided Federer and if he is healthy, he has a clear path through to the semi-finals, where Sascha Zverev may well be waiting.

Will Sascha Zverev upstage the big guns?

Talking of Zverev, the 20-year-old German is head and shoulders above the so-called “Next Generation” in the men’s game, with five titles in 2017 propelling him into the top 10.

With Djokovic, Wawrinka and Nishikori out, he will be seeded fourth in New York and his wins in Washington and Montreal make him the form player too. Brad Gilbert, a good judge of form and talent, believes he is ready to win, if things go well this fortnight.

“He's never made it past the round of 16 but I do think that Zverev is ready to win a major,” said Gilbert, who was speaking on behalf of “I think he's that capable. If Fed is healthy, he's my first choice, and I would say Zverev is my second favourite to win the tournament.

Britain’s Greg Rusedski agrees, telling BBC Radio 4: “He is incredible. He beat Djokovic in the final in Rome and Federer in Montreal, he has won two Masters Series. He’s the real deal”.

Who will break out of the pack to claim the women’s title?

Eight, that’s right, eight women go into the US Open with a chance of taking the world No.1 ranking. It’s a remarkable state of affairs, with Karolina Pliskova, the current No.1, under big pressure from Simona Halep, who is just five points behind her.

The battle for No.1 includes Wimbledon singles champion Garbine Muguruza, rising star Elina Svitolina, a rejuvenated Caroline Wozniacki, defending champion Angelique Kerber, Jo Konta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams, who at 37 is trying to win her first slam title in nine years.

Muguruza is perhaps the favourite, having backed up her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon by winning the warm-up event in Cincinnati. The Spaniard has the power, athleticism and mental strength to succeed, although she has never been past the second round before. 

But – and it’s a big but – there is a good case to be made for any of those also chasing the No.1 ranking.

Halep has shaken off her French Open near-miss pretty well; Svitolina has won five titles this year and is due a big Grand Slam run; Wozniacki is a two-time US Open runner-up in good form; Kerber is battling back to the form that gave her the title last summer; Konta has now been to two Grand Slam semi-finals and has the game to prosper in New York; 2004 winner Kuznetsova is always tough to beat and Williams reached the final in Melbourne and at Wimbledon.

Former world No.1 Chris Evert believes Muguruza is the stand-out player right now and it’s hard to argue with her.

“In the past, she's been a little fragile mentally, but at the same time, on paper, you'd have to pick her,” Evert said on an ESPN conference call.

And then there is Pliskova, who has not done much wrong since reaching her first Grand Slam final in New York 12 months ago.

A semi-finalist in Paris and a quarter-finalist in Australia, she has the serve and the power to go well, she loves the courts and with her confidence boosted by claiming No.1 spot for the first time, she will believe she can win it.

Sharapova’s blockbuster; A first Federer-Nadal

All of the leading women will surely have been hoping to avoid Maria Sharapova in the draw but one of them was always going to be unlucky, and that misfortune belongs to Halep, who will take on the Russian in a blockbuster first round match. How Sharapova performs, having played only one tournament since May, is anyone’s guess but the pressure will be on Halep.

And for all the joy Federer and Nadal have given the US Open over the years, the pair have never met at Flushing Meadows, their 37 clashes coming everywhere but New York. That could change, though, if the pair get to the semi-finals, which would be a nice boon for the fans.

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