It took Serena Williams a year to get her 22nd major title, the one she needed to tie Steffi Graf for the most in the Open era. She got it at Wimbledon last month, after tough losses late in the previous three majors. We think Williams has a 55 percent chance to get her 23rd title much faster, at the U.S. Open in New York two months after her Wimbledon triumph.
For the first time, FiveThirtyEight is forecasting a tennis tournament. (Read more about our methodology.) And it’s potentially a historic one: Williams is the favorite to win her seventh U.S. Open, which would complete her remarkable run at Graf’s record after turning 30. Williams has younger rivals, including two who beat her in Grand Slam finals this year, but we aren’t giving any of them better than a 9 percent chance at the title. Also looming: Roberta Vinci, the Italian who upset Williams in the U.S. Open semifinals last year but who has beaten only one top 10 player since then. Williams could face Vinci in the final — a round that we think Vinci has a 1 percent chance of reaching.
Aiding Williams’s chances is the absence of the two women who have been the most consistent among her rivals over the past five years: Maria Sharapova, the five-time major champion who is serving a suspension for using a banned substance, and Victoria Azarenka, the two-time major champ who announced last month that she is pregnant and will resume playing after her baby is born. Sure, neither woman has beaten Williams at a major in the past 12 years, but you have to stretch to find a big threat to the dominant No. 1. Her toughest competition at this event might be her older sister, Venus, who is the No. 6 seed at age 36 and took a set off her younger sister in a quarterfinal meeting at last year’s Open. Or it could be her tricky first-round match against Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted Serena Williams from the 2012 Australian Open and has beaten top 10 players eight times at majors; we give Makarova a 6 percent chance to win the match. Williams’s other obstacle might be her right shoulder. Inflammation caused her to skip a pre-Open tournament in Cincinnati (our forecast doesn’t directly account for injuries).
We’re forecasting every match of the 2016 men’s and women’s U.S. Open tournaments. See our predictions here »
Less is at stake in the men’s draw, because of a series of near misses.
Had Novak Djokovic won at Wimbledon, he’d be going for his sixth straight major title and trying to become the first man to sweep all four in one year since Rod Laver did it in 1969. But American Sam Querrey upset Djokovic in the third round.
If Querrey’s win had sparked a great run, Americans might hope to see the first win at the U.S. Open — or any major — by an American man since Andy Roddick in 2003. But Querrey has lost more matches than he has won since that upset, and we don’t give him or any other American man even a 1 percent chance of reaching the final.
If Andy Murray had won in Cincinnati a week ago, he’d be entering the Open on a 23-match winning streak, with the potential to make it 30 by winning his second major in a row. But he lost in the final to Marin Cilic.
And if Roger Federer were playing the Open, we’d give him a decent shot at winning a record 18th major title and the first major title by a man 35 or older since Ken Rosewall won the Australian Open in 1972; our rating system thinks Federer is better than every active male player besides Djokovic and Murray. But Federer isn’t playing any more this year; he’s rehabbing a knee injury.1
There are still plenty of open questions to answer at the Open. Can Rafael Nadal win his first big event on hard courts in three years and pass Pete Sampras to rank second in career major titles? (We give him a 6 percent chance of doing so.) Will Djokovic overcome the wrist injury that caused him to skip Cincinnati and win his 13th major title, resuming his dominance of the tour? (57 percent) Will Murray win his fourth major title, tying Rosewall, Jim Courier and Guillermo Vilas on the Open-era list and giving him two in the same season for the first time? (17 percent) Can Stan Wawrinka win his third after an inconsistent start to the year? (2 percent) Can Milos Raonic become the first Canadian man to win a major in singles, or can Kei Nishikori become the first man representing an Asian country to do so? (3 percent and 7 percent) If either one does, it’d be the first big title won by a man born in 1989 or later and the first real sign of a crack in the dominance of the old guard of men’s tennis. It could happen, but our model suggests a triumph by Djokovic or Murray is almost three times more likely than a victory by anyone else.
Check out our U.S. Open predictions.