My Dark Horses at the US Open
One of the most exciting aspects of playing tournaments—at any level—is checking out the just-released draw. Similarly, one of the most challenging aspects of writing about Grand Slam tournaments is predicting the winners and contenders. And . . . the dark horses.
Sometimes they’re called “dangerous floaters in the draw.” Think of unseeded but solid-stroking, strategic Shelby Rogers, who upset No. 1 Ash Barty at the 2021 US Open. Other times dark horses seem to come out of nowhere, as Qinwen Zheng did at the French Open when the little-known, 19-year-old Chinese took a set off of eventual champion Iga Swiatek.
Which dark horses will wreak havoc at this US Open? And if they upset a seed, can they use that confidence-building win to go far like both Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, the shock finalists, a year ago?
I’m picking six dark horses that have two things in common: they have excellent strokes, plus plenty of power.
Veronika Kudermetova, lodged in the weakest quarter of the draw and seeded No. 18, the 25-year-old Russian is having a career year. She’s whipped top-10 opponents Paula Badosa, Aryna Sabalenka, Ons Jabeur, and Garbine Muguruza, plus Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic. Veronika has also reached three finals and two semifinals.
Liudmila Samsonova, situated in the same part of the draw as Kudermetova, boasts the most momentum of any dark horse. The 5’11” Russian captured the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., and then dropped only 18 games in five matches to seize the Cleveland Open. The all-business Samsonova will likely face Fernandez in the second round, and don’t be surprised if Liudmila prevails.
Qinwen Zheng faces the toughest first-round foe among the trio in No. 16 seed Jelena Ostapenko, the surprise 2017 French Open champion with a go-for-broke style. However, Zheng can match her explosive groundstrokes, serves bigger, and defends better. If Qinwen eliminates Ostapenko, she could go far at Flushing Meadows.
On the men’s side, Sebastian Korda intrigues me because of his effortless power. Don’t be misled by his surprisingly low No. 52 ranking. The 21-year-old American thrashed Cam Norrie 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 at the Australian Open, stunned Carlos Alcaraz 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 at Monte Carlo, and outclassed Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2, 6-2 at Estoril. A first-round victory would likely pit him against 29th seed Tommy Paul in the second round.
Ranked even lower at No. 60, Jiri Lehecha upset No. 12 Denis Shapovalov for his first ATP Tour main draw career win en route to the 2022 Rotterdam semifinals as a qualifier. He also defeated Botic van de Zandschulp and Lorenzo Musetti there. Super-solid strokes and impressive composure make the 20-year-old Czech a threat to break through at Flushing Meadows. Jiri is a toss-up to beat Cristian Garin in the opening round and then would be a slight underdog against his likely second-round opponent, 18th-seeded Alex De Minaur.
Borna Coric is on the comeback trail. Derailed by injuries after ascending to a career-high No. 12 in 2018, the 25-year-old Croatian rebounded sensationally to win the Southern & Western Open at Cincinnati in mid-August. There he used a much-improved serve to upset Rafael Nadal, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Auger-Aliassime, Norrie, Roberto Bautista Agut, and Musetti. That tour de force skyrocketed his ranking from 152 to 29. If Coric reaches the third round, he’ll face Alcaraz.
Who are your favorite dark horses?