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Road to the Open: Wimbledon recap

September 11, 2015 - Roger Federer in action against Stan Wawrinka (not pictured) in a men's singles semifinals match during the 2015 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY. (USTA/Garrett Ellwood)

It’s three down, one to go. With Wimbledon now behind us, all eyes turn to the summer season and its culmination: the 2017 US Open. Before we head to the US Open Series and the summer hard-court season, let’s first take a look at where we stand coming out of the two weeks in Britain’s capital city:

Roger the Great

Stunningly, Roger Federer’s 2017 campaign now ranks with his all-time best. He sat out the clay-court season, ceding the stage to Rafael Nadal, once again his rival for the best player in the world, but in the events he has played, he has dominated.

Federer’s record eighth Wimbledon men’s singles title – and preposterous 19th Grand Slam singles title – was his fifth title of the year in seven tournaments played, alongside victories at the Australian Open, Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami, and the grass-court tune-up in Halle.

His 7-0 record at Wimbledon – he became just the second player in the Open era to win the championship without dropping a set – ran his record on the season to 31-2. By comparison, from 2004 to 2007, when the mighty Fed was at his most dominant, he went 74-6, 81-4, 92-5 and 68-9, respectively. But that, of course, was 10 years ago.

Perhaps most telling, Federer has won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in the same season on three occasions: 2004, 2006 and 2007. All three times he went on to hoist the US Open trophy as well. So yes, until further notice, he is your US Open favorite.

Muguruza’s time to shine

Garbiñe Muguruza struggled with expectations following her 2016 French Open title. She stumbled at Wimbledon a year ago and again at the US Open, losing in the second round both times, and left this year’s French Open in tears following a fourth-round defeat to Kristina Mladenovic.

Through it all, her talent has endured, the ability to step into the court and pound ground strokes, hammer serves and cover the court like few her size (6 feet) are able to replicate. At Wimbledon, the Spaniard put all of her wondrous gifts together once again, dropping only one set – to top seed Angelique Kerber in the round of 16 – on her way to a second Grand Slam singles title.

Anointing Muguruza as the US Open favorite would be premature – she has just a 2-4 career singles record in New York – but there is no question she has the game to succeed on Flushing’s concrete floors. With a growing maturity, and newfound confidence, the 23-year-old has all the tools to dominate the women’s game for years to come.

August 29, 2016 - Garbine Muguruza in action against Elise Mertens during the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Appreciating Venus

Her age – 37 – tells you Venus Williams may have only a few trips to Flushing Meadows left. Her game indicates otherwise. Coming out of Wimbledon, Venus’ disappointment at missing out on a first Grand Slam singles title in nine years – she lost to Muguruza in the final – must be tempered by how well she is playing, particularly on the big stages.

Venus is now the only woman to reach two major finals this season – she lost to sister Serena in the Australian Open final – and she also advanced to the semifinals in Miami and the quarterfinals in Indian Wells and Rome. Throw in her return to the Top 10, and Venus is in good stead to make a run at the US Open title this summer. The 2000 and 2001 US Open champion will certainly be on the short list of title contenders, a stunning turn from just a few years ago, when she was struggling with Sjogren’s Sydrome – an autoimmune disease she is still managing – and laboring to make it into the second week of majors.

Venus will certainly enter the 2017 Open as the fan favorite and sentimental pick. But she might just end up as something even more meaningful: the women’s singles champion.

Looking out for No. 1

The battle for the No. 1 seeds at this year’s US Open will be among the most interesting stories to follow during the summer season. Unlike in past years, where Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams had the top spot sewn up – or last year, where it was a two-woman race between Serena and Kerber – the No. 1 spot is very much up for grabs in 2017.

Among the men, Andy Murray held on to No. 1 post-Wimbledon despite his quarterfinal exit, but his hold on the world’s elite ranking is shaky. Nadal is currently No. 2 and not defending many points this summer, Federer continues to surge toward the top and Djokovic and Wawrinka both have outside shots with outstanding summers.

The women’s rankings are even more hotly contested. Karolina Pliskova departed Wimbledon as No. 1 despite losing early at the All England Club, but it’s a tenuous lead over Kerber and Simona Halep, who has twice this summer come within one victory of claiming the top spot. Add in Muguruza, Venus, newly minted No. 4 Johanna Konta and No. 6 Elina Svitolina, and as many as a half-dozen women could make a run at No. 1 by summer’s end.

August 30, 2016 Sam Querrey in action against Janko Tipsarevic during the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Open champs, rising stars and a 29-year-old breakout American

For the 2017 US Open, all eyes will be on the men’s Top 5 – the quintet of US Open champions Djokovic, Federer, Murray, Nadal and reigning winner Wawrinka – and while Federer and Nadal will understandably enter as the favorites (they far outpace all other men in ranking points earned this year), Wawrinka’s early loss at Wimbledon and the ongoing ailments of Murray (hip) and Djokovic (elbow) could open the door for another player to break through.

In this case, it could be a fellow Open champion. 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic has enjoyed an outstanding 2017 and seems to be edging closer to becoming the dominant force many tabbed him to be years ago. After a slow start to the year, he won Istanbul, reached the final at Queen’s Club, the semifinals in Acapulco and Den Bosch, and the quarterfinals at the French Open and Monte Carlo. And while blisters – not to mention the greatest men’s player of all time – prevented him from displaying his best form in the Wimbledon final, his trip to the title tilt reinforced that he is more than just a one-hit wonder.

Also look out for rising stars Dominic Thiem and Alex Zverev, both of whom are due for a breakout US Open, and American veteran Sam Querrey, the Wimbledon semifinalist who already owns wins this year over Murray, Nadal and Thiem and who might become the next in a line of players (Kerber, Wawrinka) to come into their own as they bear down on age 30.

Four to watch for in New York

When searching for potential 2017 US Open women’s singles champions, don’t sleep on a pair of two-time finalists or some of the sport’s rising stars.

Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka both reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, with Woz matching her best showing at the All England Club and Azarenka acquitting herself nicely in her first Slam since having a son in December. The two are at their best on cement, and are beloved by New York fans, a good recipe for a run deep into this year’s draw.

Among the younger set, 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko bucked the recent trend of first-time Slam champs falling flat in their next major, backing up her French Open title by ousting No. 4 seed Svitolina to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals. And 2016 US Open quarterfinalist Ana Konjuh, 19, continues to move up the women’s rankings after banking her first trip to Wimbledon’s second week.