As the final Grand Slam of the season, the 2014 iteration of the U.S. Open has plenty at stake for the players—as well as the largest payout in tournament history for the singles champions.
The tournament that dates back to 1881 is obviously historic, but those in charge want to continue to up the financial rewards for the players. In fact, Dave Haggerty, USTA chairman of the board and president, wants to see the number reach $50 million, per Andrew Eichenholz of Long Island Tennis Magazine:
Last year, to recognize the importance of the players and the key role they have in building our sport, the USTA shared our vision to reach $50 million in prize money at the U.S. Open by 2017. This year’s prize money increase continues the commitment to make the U.S. Open one of the most lucrative purses in all of sports.
Haggerty's goal is within reach—the purse received an 11.7 percent increase this year to bring the total to $38.3 million. The singles competitors, of course, take the bulk of the coin.
Here is a look at the singles breakdown and a prediction as to who will take home the top prize on the men's and women's side of the bracket.
U.S. Open 2014 Earnings Breakdown (Singles)
|Round of 16 (8)||187,300|
|Third Round (16)||105,090|
|Second Round (32)||60,420|
|First Round (64)||35,754|
Full tournament purse available at USOpen.org.
Men's Champion: Novak Djokovic
Look, things are bad right now for the world No. 1. Real bad.
But even when Novak Djokovic has a brief lapse of form, even when the draw seems curiously lopsided despite the absence of Rafael Nadal, he remains far and away the best player in attendance in New York.
Since winning at Wimbledon and securing the No. 1 seed, things have been rather bleak. He was unable to overcome the booming serves of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Rogers Cup and then went out and got upset at the Western and Southern Open by Tommy Robredo, the 16th seed.
The draw is quite difficult, with six top-10 seeds and three of the top five on Djokovic's side. A rematch with Tsonga might happen in the quarterfinals. A date with 2012 champion Andy Murray (who, were it not for a horrific season and equally difficult draw, would be in serious consideration here) is a possibility as well.
But as Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim points out when asked who can knock off Djokovic or Federer, the answer is rather obvious:
Same for Wawrinka, winner of the previous major played on hard courts. And Tsonga beat both Federer and Djokovic earlier this month. And sure, some Nick Kyrgios could get hot on any given afternoon. But it is -- to use the voguish term -- a big ask. Given the day off between matches, the best-of-five format and the surface that is free of the quirk of clay and grass and generally rewards the better player, I like the odds of the top two players surviving at a level commensurate to their seeding.
It is especially the case for Djokovic, who has even improved on an alleged weakness—his serve. The top-ranked star is firing off 6.6 aces per game and winning 88 percent of his service games.
As long as he enters New York with the mental side of things down and able to understand why he was upset in his past matches, only Federer stands in his way. But at that point, after rolling through a deadly bracket, one can only bet with Djokovic.
Women's Champion: Serena Williams
It sounds like an exaggeration at face value, but the only thing that can stop Serena Williams is…Serena Williams.
Look at the field. Petra Kvitova won at Wimbledon but has never reached the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows. Maria Sharapova has been a shell of her former self since a win at the French Open. Victoria Azarenka has hobbled through the season. Li Na is out with an injury. Simona Halep has been on a tear of horrible form. Eugenie Bouchard has reached three straight Grand Slam finals, but a miserable summer has ruined her form and confidence, having gone 1-3 since Wimbledon.
So no, Williams' bumbling loss at Wimbledon to Alize Cornet for her earliest exit since 2005 does not look so bad, especially now that she has been on a tear since, winning 12 of her last 13.
In pursuit of her sixth U.S. Open triumph, it would also be important to remember the home-court advantage built into the tournament.
“I love playing in the USA,” said Williams, per Steve Keating of Reuters. “Just feels so good to be an American and play in America. I love holding up the trophy. For me, there is no better feeling.”
As her recent performances show, if Williams is going to lose, she will do it early in the proceedings. If not, go ahead and write her in as the winner. A good way to salvage a strange season is with Grand Slam No. 18 on home soil.
Expect nothing less.
Info and stats courtesy of ATP's website unless otherwise specified.