Carrying the torch

Novak Djokovic @ 8/11
Daniil Medvedev @ 21/10
Alexander Zverev @ 4/1
Carlos Alcaraz @ 33/1
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Aryna Sabalenka @ 11/4 
Karolina Pliskova @ 4/1
Elina Svitolina @ 5/1
Emma Raducanu @ 15/2
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The doom-mongers who predicted the end of tennis as a sport of global interest when Roger, Serena and Rafa finally leave the stage, have been proved to be wildly over pessimistic given events at the US Open over the past week or so. It’s been one of the most enthralling, captivating and slightly bewildering Grand Slams for a long while, and we reach the quarter final stage, with perhaps even more surprisingly from a British perspective, the prospect of a new genuine star of the game coming from these shores.

So how good is Emma Raducanu? Very good. How good could she be? Your guess. But for those of us who were in Paris more than a year ago and saw the teenage Iga Swiatek carry all before her en route to the title, there’s something about Raducanu and the Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez that leads you to think we could have a champion this year who wasn’t even born when the Williams’ sisters’ domination of the game was well underway. It’s exciting and a huge boost for the sport in the short but especially the long term.

Many experts talk about Raducanu at 18 have many of the traits of Andy Murray at the same age. A resolution and a stubbornness, matched to a fierce competitive will and also a fearlessness to take chances. Her match against Belinda Bencic, the Olympic champion, will be the biggest of her life, and potentially a bridge too far, but don’t rule her out. We’re going to be talking about her for many years to come.

Meanwhile, another teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz, has been lighting up the men’s draw. A five-set victory to get him into the last 8 shows he’s got the resolve and the fitness to go all the way, but it may be too soon for a teenage triumph in a world of Djokovic and especially Medvedev.

Alexander Zverev is winning matches with supreme efficiency and very little fuss, but it’s the Russian who has truly ignited this tournament in terms of the quality of his play.  He demolished Dan Evans with ruthless brilliance, and it’s the speed of his play that can take the game away from his opponent. It’s a joy to watch for the neutral – no endless ball bouncing or mannerisms at the serve, just hit it – but it also means that the match is played entirely at his pace and rhythm, and when he’s on song, he’s almost untouchable.

Which leaves us with the man who is still eyeing the calendar Grand Slam, and a place in the history books. Djokovic is more vulnerable that he has been for a while. He’s lost sets to qualifiers and to wildcards, but he’s still there, and that’s the key thing. After his victory over Jensen Brooksby in the last 16, having been overrun in the opening set, Andy Roddick – an old adversary of Djokovic – posted a fascinating comment about what it’s like to play the 20-times Grand Slam champion. ‘He takes away your legs – and then he takes away your soul.’

No match against Djokovic, especially when there’s so much at stake, is won until the final point. Just when you think you might have him beaten, he finds something from somewhere, and your will is broken. His determination to surpass Roger and Rafa’s total of major wins, inspires him every time he walks on court. But that is where we started. No player – not even these greatest of great champions – is bigger than the sport. If Medvedev wins, and he’s been my tip from the outset, it might be the start of a new era when even Novak finds himself as just one of the contenders, rather than the main man.

With full stadiums, and a raucous atmosphere, this has been the first Grand Slam for almost 18 months, that has brought tennis back to life. Given the entertainment we’ve had over the first 8 days, the next 6 promise so much. And the fact that there’s British involvement is an unexpected, but genuinely exciting bonus.

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