2020 US Open experts’ picks: Djokovic a heavy favorite, but can Serena make history?

It has been quite an unusual year of tennis. The US Open, usually the final Grand Slam of the season, is just the second after the coronavirus pandemic canceled Wimbledon and postponed the French Open until September.

Gone this year in New York are the fans, the defending women’s and men’s champions, Bianca Andreescu and Rafael Nadal, and a number of stars like Big Three legend Roger Federer. Still, Novak Djokovic once again plays the favorite in the men’s draw.

On the women’s side, with six of the top 10 women out of the draw, can Serena Williams finally win her record-tying 24th career Grand Slam, or will Naomi Osaka make another run?

There are many compelling storylines going into the 2020 US Open, which opens Monday in New York (watch on ESPN, ESPN2 and the ESPN App).

Our experts make their picks for the second Grand Slam in an unusual sports year.

Who will win the men’s singles title?

Jerry Bembry: Djokovic. We have no clue what players have been up to in their five months out of the spotlight. But as winner of five of the past seven Grand Slam titles — and with no Federer and Nadal — who else would you pick?

Pete Bodo: Djokovic seems to have picked up right where he left off, so with Nadal and Federer absent, and Andy Murray still not 100%, how can you pick anyone else?

Cliff Drysdale: Djokovic, no need to explain.

Brad Gilbert: Djokovic as long as he is totally fit. It is the field vs. him.

Luke Jensen: Daniil Medvedev will finish where he came one round short last year at the US Open and win. In 2019, he won more matches than anyone on the ATP Tour. Medvedev has the most balanced game in the business from his offensive and defensive skill sets. His nickname, “The Octopus,” is based on his ability to defend with his length. I feel Medvedev is more like the giant squid that is considered that most lethal predator in the water based on extreme brain power and overwhelming firepower. BOOK IT! Medvedev wins US Open 2020.

D’Arcy Maine: Djokovic hasn’t lost a match all year, and his two biggest rivals aren’t playing in the tournament. There’s no such thing as a safe bet in sports, but this just might be as close as you’re ever going to get.

Patrick Mouratoglou: Djokovic.

Pam Shriver: Djokovic. He is the best hard-court player, best returner, best mover and toughest mentally. Djokovic will close the major title gap as Rafa and Roger can hear Novak on their heels.

Rennae Stubbs: Medvedev. After last year I think he can go one further.

And on the women’s side of the draw?

Bembry: Osaka. Six of the world’s top 10 aren’t in New York. Sofia Kenin is the only reigning Grand Slam champion in the field. So why Osaka, who hasn’t really been the same since winning the 2019 Australian Open? Why not?

Bodo: Kenin is seeded No. 2, but she’s a bold and opportunistic player who already seems much tougher mentally than the top seed, Karolina Pliskova.

Drysdale: Serena.

Gilbert: Osaka. I am rooting for her after her tremendous leadership, but honestly I still think 30 to 40 women can win this wide-open tournament.

Jensen: I’m torn on this, so let me explain. My heart wants Serena to win her magical 24th. She has not played her best tennis leading into US Open. Three-set matches in Lexington and the Western & Southern Open gave her some really good pressure situations. Now with a few days off and the serve finding its groove, Serena is ready for a special run. I am torn because I feel as we say goodbye to legends to retirement, that Coco Gauff winning her first US Open would be more important for the game than Serena winning her 24th singles major. Coco has everything to do it from mental toughness, tactical expertise with the proven ability to come from behind, but will her second serve inconsistency be a problem that could stop her from a real run?

Maine: We’ve seen her fall in the last two finals in Flushing Meadows, but it still feels as if this is Serena Williams’ tournament to win. The 23-time major champion has struggled in the biggest moments since coming back after having her first child and attempting to tie Margaret Court in the record books, but the strange conditions and restrictions this year might actually suit her. The lack of fans in attendance could certainly ease the external pressure she puts on herself, and let her just focus on the match at hand. She has a tough road to return to the title match, but it feels as if this finally is the Slam where she secures her spot in history.

Mouratoglou: Serena.

Shriver: Pliskova’s time to win a major has arrived. She stands to benefit from top players like Simona Halep and Ashleigh Barty not being in the draw. She will play most of her matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium where wind is limited and her big serve can shine even more. Pliskova won’t mind the calmer, quieter atmosphere.

Stubbs: Osaka. After her performances here in previous years, I think she’s once again the one to beat.

Which player will be the biggest surprise in the men’s draw?

Bembry: Dominic Thiem. How does the No. 2 player in the world make a surprise run? Well, the only thing that has eluded Thiem in his career is a Grand Slam win. Perhaps, in a draw opposite Djokovic and no Federer and Nadal, that’s the surprise that awaits him in the end of the US Open.

Bodo: Given the pathways available in each quarter of the draw, rising Polish talent Hubert Hurkacz seems to have the best chance to penetrate deeply enough to have people googling his name.

Drysdale: John Isner because the speedy courts suit his serving game.

Gilbert: Milos Raonic potentially could play Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round, and both are in great form. I probably would have gone with big fella Reilly Opelka before his knee issue.

Jensen: Jack Sock, USA. This powerful blow torch of ability to serve and forehand his way through anyone, has been training his tail off with personal coach Alex Bogomolov. Sock has the draw to get on a run. Don’t be surprised if a kid from Nebraska is the first American man to win a singles Slam since another Nebraskan, Andy “The Intimidator” Roddick.

Maine: There are a number of young players itching to finally win their first major, and certainly have as good a chance as ever before to do so in New York. But, with that said, I am picking none of those individuals here, and making a case for Murray. Yes, seriously.

Playing in his first tournament of 2020 last week at the Western & Southern Open, following his comeback from hip surgery, Murray beat Frances Tiafoe in his opener, and then knocked off world No. 7 Alexander Zverev in the second round. Sure, he then fell 6-2, 6-2 to Raonic, but it was still an impressive tournament run.

Do I honestly think he has a chance to win the tournament? No, not really. But I do think he could make a run into the second week and play spoiler along the way.

Mouratoglou: Filip Krajinovic.

Shriver: Bautista Agut is your surprise finalist from the bottom half. He gives nothing away, has one of the best forehands in the game and continues to improve each year.

Stubbs: Raonic. He loves these courts, and his run at the Western & Southern has him confident.

Which women’s player will make a surprise run?

Bembry: Gauff. She’s ranked No. 50 in the world and is unseeded at the US Open, but Gauff, already a household name in women’s tennis, plays bigger than her ranking and has as good a chance of anyone of winning this tournament.

Bodo: Garbine Muguruza is plopped down smack in the center of a quarter of the draw where the top two seeds are a struggling Serena Williams (No. 3) and an erratic Madison Keys (No. 7).

Drysdale: Victoria Azarenka because she is competing in a depleted field and she is mentally the toughest competitor.

Gilbert: This one is extremely difficult. I say someone outside the top 50 will probably make the semis, maybe even two players. That’s how wide open it is in the women’s field. I am rooting for one of the young Americans to be one of those two making a deep run.

Jensen: Kim “Hall of Famer” Clijsters. Having a return to professional tennis in 2020 after three kids and eight years off might be a stretch but having watched her play, train and study the players of today’s WTA Tour during the World TeamTennis season screams to the tennis world … LOOK OUT! If Kim is healthy, her high tennis IQ along with fearless fight makes her as dangerous as anyone in the US Open to make headlines.

Maine: Ons Jabeur. The 26-year-old had a Cinderella run in Australia — knocking off Johanna Konta, Caroline Garcia, Caroline Wozniacki and Wang Qiang before losing to eventual champion Kenin — and has had some notable results since the season resumed. She’s capable of beating the best players on any given day (just watch the highlights of her second-round match this past week against Keys if you need proof) and she has a powerful yet varied game that could propel her to victory in New York.

Mouratoglou: Clijsters.

Shriver: Muguruza will have a surprise run to another major final. The two-time major winner loves hard courts, and she showed us in Melbourne she is back and motivated to win more majors.

Stubbs: Muguruza. The US Open is a place she hasn’t had the success. Is this the year?

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