By E.J. Crawford
The 2016 Emirates Airline US Open Series has reached its halfway mark, taking a week’s respite for the Olympics before the world’s best men and women return for the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, followed immediately afterward by the men’s Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina and the women’s Connecticut Open in New Haven.
Rogers Cup champion Simona Halep is in the driver’s seats in the Series women's standings by virtue of her victory in Montreal – at what is a Premier 5 tournament for the women. Trailing close behind her is Rogers finalist Madison Keys and Bank of the West Classic winner Johanna Konta.
The men's standings are a bit more scrambled. Novak Djokovic has the lead right now based on his victory at the Masters 1000 event in Toronto, but he pulled out of Cincinnati with a left wrist injury and isn't scheduled to play Winston-Salem. Unless that changes, the world No. 1 won't score points in the requisite two events, taking him out of the running for the 2016 Series men's crown. The potential beneficiaries are the men currently in second place, Rogers Cup runner-up Kei Nishikori and BB&T Atlanta Open champion Nick Kyrgios.
In the Series Bonus Challenge Standings, Masters 1000/Premier 5 winners earn 100 points and the runners-up earn 70 points – this applies to the Rogers Cup and Western & Southern Open – with 70 and 45 points gong to the winners and runners-up, respectively, of the other Series events.
Players must earn points in at least two tournaments – meaning they must reach the round of 16 at Rogers/Cincinnati or the quarterfinals in Stanford/Atlanta/Winston-Salem/New Haven – to qualify for the 2016 Series title, and those that earn points in three events double their total points. (Click here for a full explanation.)
So what does that all mean? Better to be Halep, Kyrgios and Nishikori than anyone else, but the 2016 Series title remains most definitely up for grabs.
Let’s break it down by favorites, contenders and possible sleepers for the 2016 Series men’s and women’s titles:
Halep, Kyrgios and Nishikori are entered in Cincinnati but not New Haven or Winston-Salem, so if they want to cement their advantage, they will need to do it in the Queen City. Still, a run to the final or better might be enough for any of them – particularly Halep – to wrap up the Series title with a week to spare.
Joining Halep as perhaps a co-favorite among the women is Konta, who is entered in both Cincinnati and New Haven, giving her an excellent chance to double her points.
Like Konta, Dominka Cibulkova, currently seventh in the Series standings, is entered in both Cincinnati and New Haven. Other potential title challengers slated to play both include Petra Kvitova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Roberta Vinci – all of whom have already registered points in one Series event – while Keys will be coming back to compete in the Connecticut Open. Also keep an eye on 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, currently in fifth place in the Series standings and set to be the top seed in Cincinnati.
Behind Kyrgios and Nishikori, the three men currently tied for fourth place in the Series standings – John Isner, Gael Monfils and Stan Wawrinka – are all entered in Cincinnati, so a run there could propel them to the top spot. Also keep an eye on Kevin Anderson, the Toronto quarterfinalist who is slated to compete in both Cincinnati and Winston-Salem, and American teenager Taylor Fritz, who reached the quarterfinals in Atlanta, recently received a wild card into Cincinnati and has also committed to play in Winston-Salem.
Donald Young earned points in Atlanta and is scheduled to compete in Winston-Salem, making him a potential Series title threat if he can qualify for the Western & Southern Open main draw and score points there. And Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon are among those scheduled to play in both of the final men’s Series events this year, meaning they still have a chance to make an impact.
On the women's side, rising star Daria Kasatkina earned 25 points in Montreal and is scheduled to play in both Cincinnati and New Haven, making her a potential contender if she can post a couple more good results. Others in the same boat include Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elina Svitolina and defending Series champion Karolina Pliskova.
Editor's Note: This article was published 8/9 and updated 8/10 to reflect Djokovic's withdrawal from Cincinnati.