By Victoria Chiesa
The US Open Series features five weeks of the best hard-court tennis in the world on the road to Flushing Meadows. Check back each week to see who claimed glory in the lead-up to the US Open.
Week 5: Connecticut Open and Winston-Salem Open
A pair of fast-rising young talents closed out the US Open Series in style in the final week, as Aryna Sabalenka and Daniil Medvedev were crowned champions.
A 20-year-old from Belarus, Sabalenka was one of the stories of the US Open Series even prior to her week in New Haven, as she knocked off Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki after saving match points in a dramatic match in Montreal, before reaching the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati by defeating two Top 10 players in Karolina Pliskova and Caroline Garcia, and two former ones in Johanna Konta and Madison Keys.
However, the Belarusian broke new ground on the campus of Yale University, as she claimed her first career WTA title with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Carla Suarez Navarro, after being a runner-up in three previous finals. Her hot streak against in-form players continued in New Haven, as she took out former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, defending New Haven champion Daria Gavrilova and No.5 seed Julia Goerges en route.
While Sabalenka won her first title, Russia's Medvedev doubled his overall trophy haul, as he defeated eighth-seeded American Steve Johnson, 6-4, 6-4 to win the second title of both his season and career. Johnson, who took out No.3 seed Kyle Edmund in the quarterfinals and former champion and No.3 seed Pablo Carreño Busta in the semifinals, didn't have enough left to take out the 22-year-old Russian, as he sought his fifth straight victory in an ATP final.
Top-seeded Czechs Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova won their first title as a team in New Haven, defeating Hsieh Su-wei and Laura Siegemund, 6–4, 6–7(7), 10–4, while Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau defeated James Cerretani and Leander Paes to win in Winston-Salem, 6–4, 6–2
Week 4: Western & Southern Open
Two players made very different kinds of history as the US Open Series wound through the state of Ohio in its fourth week, as Kiki Bertens and Novak Djokovic were crowned champions.
Bertens, who came into the event unseeded and ranked World No.17 on the WTA, defeated four Top 10 players over the course of the week to lift the biggest title of her career, as she stopped the winning streak of Montreal champion and World No.1 Simona Halep in the final, 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-2.
In three previous appearances in Cincinnati, the Dutch No.1 won a total of one match, but knocked off CoCo Vandeweghe, Caroline Wozniacki, Anett Kontaveit, Elina Svtiolina and Petra Kvitova before ending Halep's bid to become the first woman to win in Canada and Cincinnati in the same year since they moved to Premier 5 status in 2009. Australia's Evonne Goolagong Cawley achieved won consecutively in both cities in 1973.
Bertens was already the first Dutch player, male or female, to reach the singles final at the event, but also became the first unseeded player to win in Cincinnati since Vera Zvonareva in 2006. Though she led 4-1 in the second set after dropping the first against Halep, she was forced to save a match point in the ensuing tiebreak before scoring her first-ever win against a World No.1 in two hours and five minutes.
While Bertens did what no one from her country had ever done, Djokovic achieved with what no man - from anywhere - had in more ways that one.
The Wimbledon champion captured his first career title in Cincinnati, after five championship defeats, and handed Roger Federer his first career defeat in the Western & Southern Open final, 6-4, 6-4.
Out of the nine Masters 1000 events on the ATP World Tour, Djokovic had won the other eight, and became the first man to complete what's been dubbed the 'Career Golden Masters' with the win. He captured his 31st Masters 1000 title overall to move two shy of Rafael Nadal's record 33, and denied Federer his 99th career singles title.
The man from Switzerland had been a perfect 7-0 in finals at the Western & Southern Open, but in their first matchup since the 2016 Australian Open, it was Djokovic who scored his historic win in a tidy 84 minutes.
In doubles, Lucie Hradecka and Ekaterina Makarova won the title, defeating Elise Mertens and Demi Schuurs in the final, 6–2, 7–5, while No.4 seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares won their first Masters 1000 crown together, defeating Colombians Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah in the final, 4–6, 6–3, 10–6.
Week 3: Rogers Cup
The ATP and WTA World No.1s each made a statement to begin their summer hardcourt seasons, as Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep were each crowned champions north of the border in Canada at the Rogers Cup.
Halep defeated reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens in a marathon, 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-4 final in two hours and 41 minutes, while Nadal ended the run of Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-2, 7-6(4).
It was a rematch of this year's French Open final to begin championship Sunday in Montreal, and Halep authored another comeback to claim her third title of the season. In Paris, the Romanian rallied from a set and a break down to claim her first Grand Slam title over Stephens, and she needed to save a total of four set points en route to winning the opening set in this championship match.
With the win, the Romanian claimed her second career title in Montreal, having also won the title in 2016 over another American in Madison Keys.
The story of the week in Toronto was Tsitsipas, who had a career week despite having his 20th birthday celebrations dampened somewhat with a championship defeat. Greece's No.1 defeated four Top 10 players - French Open finalist Dominic Thiem, Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, defending champion Alexander Zverev and Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson - en route to his second career final, and first at Masters 1000 level.
The World No.1 proved too much for the breakout star, however, as he captured five of the first six games in the first 30 minutes of the match and hardly looked back from there. The young Greek did put up some late resistance after dropping serve to begin the second set, as he broke Nadal as he served for the match and even held a set point in the 11th game.
Nonetheless, Nadal navigated his way past the threat, and won five of the last six points in the tiebreak to secure his fifth title of 2018, and first off of clay courts. He also defeated Tsitsipas to win Barcelona earlier this year.
In doubles in Montreal, Ashleigh Barty and Demi Schuurs won the title, defeating Latisha Chan and Ekaterina Makarova in the final, 4–6, 6–3, 10–8, while Henri Kontinen and John Peers also needed a match tiebreak to win in Toronto, defeating Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus in the final, 6–2, 6–7(7), 10–6.
Week 2: Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic
Two players seeking their first career WTA title came through to the final in the first week of women's action on the road to the US Open, but only one could come away as the winner.
That proved to be fast-rising Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu, who captured the trophy at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic with a 6-1, 6-0 win over Greece's Maria Sakkari.
Buzarnescu's rise through the WTA ranks has been the story of the past 12 months, as the Romanian was ranked well outside the world's Top 100 at this time last season at World No.142.
With her run to the title on the campus of San Jose State University, the 30-year-old is assured of making her Top 20 debut in the rankings on Monday, as she'll sit squarely at No.20.
Though both players were looking for their first WTA title on the California coast, the Romanian had the edge in experience in finals this season. She was contesting her third championship match of the season, having finished as runner-up at the first two, as the 23-year-old Greek woman was competing in her first-ever WTA final.
Greece's No.1, who upset Venus Williams in the quarterfinals and was two games away from defeat against another American in Danielle Collins in the semifinals, was unable to author another comeback in the championship.
Sakkari totaled 34 unforced errors over the course of the match, as the No.5 seed broke serve five times and never looked back after winning the first five games of the match.
Top seeds Latisha Chan and Kveta Peschke earned themselves a title in doubles, as they took out Ukrainian twin sisters Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadiia Kichenok, 6–4, 6–1.
Week 1: BB&T Atlanta Open
The BB&T Atlanta Open has long been John Isner's house, and at the close of the first week of the US Open Series, the American put his name alongside the game's greats.
In a rematch of the 2017 final, top-seeded Isner defeated No. 8 seed Ryan Harrison, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, to claim his second title of 2018.
Atlanta has been Isner's most successful stop on the ATP Tour: he has now won five of his 14 career titles in the Georgia capital, and he has played in eight finals in Atlanta in his career. With the victory, the 33-year-old American joins Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe as American men to win a singles tournament at least five times.
Playing in his first event since losing a historic, but heartbreaking, Wimbledon semifinal, Isner's second straight title run in Atlanta unfolded as the inverse of a year ago. In 2017, the American did not drop a set en route to championship glory, including a win over Harrison in the final.
Twelve months later, however, the top seed was stretched to three sets in each of his last three matches against Mischa Zverev, Matt Ebden and Harrison.
The younger American beat Isner at his own game in the opening set, as Harrison dropped just five points on his own serve to claim a set lead in the pursuit of his second career title.
Harrison converted the lone break point he held in the first set en route to winning it, but that proved to be the only game the No. 8 seed won on return in the match.
Harrison went 0-for-4 on break-point chances in the second set, while Isner's serve got hot at the right time in the decider.
The top seed served eight of his 21 aces for the match in the final set, lost just five points on serve and never faced a break point. Conversely, the world No. 9 broke once in each of the second and third sets to rally his way to a victory in just under two hours.
Harrison was unable to come away with a doubles title in Atlanta as well, as American Nicholas Monroe and Aussie John-Patrick Smith edged him and Rajeev Ram in a match tiebreak, 3–6, 7–6(5), 10–8.