By Ashley Marshall
Few sporting events can match the excitement, star power and unpredictability that the Emirates Airline US Open Series has to offer.
In the 11 years since the Series began in 2004, nine different men have won the men’s title and as many different women have claimed the women’s crown. Only Andy Roddick (2005-06) and Rafael Nadal (2008, 2013) have won the overall Series title more than once on the men’s side, and Serena Williams (2011, 2013-14) is the only repeat champion among the women.
But while there’s now an incentive for players to compete in multiple Series events – since 2014, players earn double points if they earn points in three tournaments – the different tiers of events that make up the Series leads to a diverse player field – and thus wildly diverse results.
Last year alone, John Isner (Atlanta), Milos Raonic (Washington), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Toronto), Roger Federer (Cincinnati) and Lukas Rosol (Winston-Salem) won the five men’s events. And only twice in 11 years has one player won more than one Series event in the same summer – Nadal in 2013 (Cincinnati, Montreal) and Juan Martin del Potro in 2008 (Los Angeles, Washington).
On the women’s side, nobody has won three Series events in the same summer in the past decade, and only three (Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki) have won multiple events in the same year in any of the past six seasons. Moreover, seven different players – Dominika Cibulkova, Sam Stosur, Victoria Azarenka, Serena, Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwasnka and Kvitova – have won the past nine events.
Making the Series even more unpredictable is that previous tour success does not necessarily translate to success in the Series. In fact, of the current Top 10-ranked male players, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Marin Cilic are all looking to win their first Series event, as are such women’s stars Lucie Safarova, Ekaterina Makarova, Carla Suarez Navarro and Angelique Kerber. Outside the Top 10, Eugenie Bouchard and Sabine Lisicki are other big names without a Series title.
So with a first-time champion more likely than not in 2015, who are the best candidates to claim a maiden Series title?
A good place to start is Isner (pictured above). The towering American won back-to-back titles in Winston-Salem in 2011-12 and is the two-time defending champion in Atlanta, and he has finished as the overall Series runner-up in each of the past three years and third in 2011. David Ferrer, who finished fourth in the Series standings in 2014 after reaching the quarterfinals in Toronto and the final in Cincinnati, could make another deep run this year, and Kevin Anderson, the top seed in Atlanta, could also be a contender, especially if he plays three of the four events and benefits from double points.
On the women’s side, while Serena has had the most recent success among the women – and will be the favorite again this year considering she will likely play Stanford, Toronto and Cincinnati – several players can be considered threats to be a first-time winner.
Current world No. 3 Halep lifted the trophy in New Haven in 2013 and No. 6 Lucie Safarova cannot be overlooked despite being upset by American CoCo Vandeweghe at Wimbledon. Radwanska, last year’s Toronto champion and a two-time series tournament winner, has finished in the top three in the overall standings in three of the past four years, and Azarenka and Angelique Kerber finished second to Serena in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Among the other American women, Madison Keys will play in at least Stanford and New Haven and Vandeweghe could score well if her grass-court form carries over to the hard courts. Sloane Stephens is a candidate to score double points after also committing to play in New Haven, while Varvara Lepchenko and Alison Riske will look to open their account in Stanford where Serena looks to defend her crown.
The Emirates Airline US Open Series begins on July 27 (Atlanta) for the men and Aug. 3 (Stanford) for the women. The Rogers Cup features a men’s tournament in Montreal and a women’s competition in Toronto running concurrently in Week 3 on Aug. 10 and Cincinnati gets underway the following week on Aug. 16. New Haven (women) and Winston-Salem (men) round out the US Open tune-up events beginning on Aug. 23 prior to the start of the final Grand Slam of the season, which starts Aug. 31.