Sports

Way-too-early predictions: Will Sinner, Swiatek, Alcaraz or Sabalenka win again?

The year’s second major concluded over the weekend with Iga Swiatek taking home her fourth French Open title and Carlos Alcaraz winning his first.

It was another impressive run for the 23-year-old Swiatek, who faced match point in her second-round clash against Naomi Osaka and then never gave up more than six games in a match the rest of the fortnight. On Saturday, she needed just 68 minutes to defeat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-1 and earn the fifth Grand Slam trophy of her career. She now trails only Venus Williams for the most major titles among active players.

Alcaraz, 21, won his third major title with a marathon 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Alexander Zverev on Sunday. He became the youngest man to win three majors since Rafael Nadal did so in 2007 and just the seventh man in history to win a Grand Slam on every surface.

So far in 2024, four different players have claimed major singles trophies, with Aryna Sabalenka and Jannik Sinner having been triumphant at the Australian Open to start the season.

With weeks until the start of Wimbledon, and the Olympics and the US Open not far behind, it’s time to start thinking about the year’s remaining most coveted hardware — and which players have the best chances to claim it. Here’s who should be the top contenders at the two remaining majors and the Olympics:

Wimbledon

When: July 1-14

Where: Wimbledon, England

2023 champions: Carlos Alcaraz and Marketa Vondrousova

Top men’s contenders in 2024: Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Taylor Fritz

Before we get any further, let’s start with who isn’t currently on this list: Novak Djokovic, the seven-time champion at the All England Club, will likely miss the tournament as he continues to recover from knee surgery that he underwent last week following his withdrawal ahead of the French Open quarterfinals. If he does somehow make a faster-than-anticipated recovery, he of course would immediately be considered among the favorites.

But, assuming Djokovic isn’t there, Alcaraz — who shocked Djokovic in the final last year — will be one of just two former champions in the men’s field, alongside Andy Murray. While Alcaraz has struggled with a forearm injury this season, he certainly appeared to be back to full health during his championship run in Paris. In 2023, Alcaraz won the lead-in title at Queen’s Club — in just his third grass-court tournament ever — and his form on the surface only got better with every match he played at Wimbledon. It’s hard to think he won’t keep improving on grass this year, too.

Then there’s Sinner, the new world No. 1, who reached the semifinals last year and has made himself a contender in every tournament he plays this season. Medvedev had the best Wimbledon run of his career in 2023 as he reached the semifinals and said his game was finally clicking on the surface. And there’s Rublev and Fritz. Neither has ever advanced past the quarterfinals at any major, but both have reached the round at Wimbledon and have played for titles on the grass before. Maybe, just maybe, the All England Club could be the site of their biggest breakthroughs yet.

Top women’s contenders in 2024: Vondrousova, Elena Rybakina, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, Aryna Sabalenka, Ons Jabeur

Vondrousova stunned the field — and those watching — in 2023 as she knocked off seeded player after seeded player before upsetting Jabeur in the final. She hasn’t quite been able to replicate her success in 2024, but she did reach the quarterfinals in Paris and has proved she knows how to find a way to win, no matter the odds, at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, the 2022 champion, will also be looking to get back on track after an up-and-down season and a series of health issues. Despite her struggles, she has won three titles this season and reached the quarters at the French Open. When she’s at her best, she is tough to beat, especially on grass. Swiatek has yet to fully find her rhythm on grass — she had her best result at the All England Club with a quarterfinal run in 2023 — but with her surging momentum and confidence, it wouldn’t be surprising if she did just that this year.

And, let’s not forget Gauff, who has reached the semifinals at the three past majors and has twice reached the fourth round at Wimbledon. Having enamored the British crowd with her debut in a major main draw at the event in 2019, she remains a crowd favorite. Sabalenka is a two-time semifinalist at the tournament, including in 2023, and Jabeur has played in the Wimbledon final the past two years and has made it clear how much she wants to win the title.


Olympics

When: July 27-Aug. 4

Where: Paris

2021 champions: Alexander Zverev and Belinda Bencic

Top men’s contenders in 2024: Djokovic, Zverev, Alcaraz, Sinner, Alex de Minaur, Grigor Dimitrov

Because the Olympic tournament is a best-of-three-set format, it can provide some unexpected results and takes away the advantage a player like Djokovic has in a major when it comes to endurance, stamina and experience. But, even so, if Djokovic is healthy and able to play, it’s hard to think he won’t give everything he has in Paris. Likely not having to make the challenging transition from clay to grass and then back to clay like most of his peers will be doing, Djokovic will presumably return to Roland Garros — a site he knows well — completely focused on winning Olympic singles gold, one of the only things he has yet to achieve in his storied career. He had arrived in Tokyo on a quest for the elusive “Golden Slam” in 2021 but ultimately fell in the bronze medal match.

Zverev, the defending gold medalist, has shown just how good he is on the red clay and that he clearly has what it takes to go far at both the Olympics and at Roland Garros. Alcaraz and Sinner will be making their Olympic debuts in Paris and have both expressed their excitement for playing for their respective countries on the world’s biggest stage. (Alcaraz is also hoping to team up with Nadal in the doubles draw.)

And then, because it’s the Olympics and anything is possible, de Minaur and Dimitrov are both having strong seasons — including quarterfinal appearances in Paris for both — and a run to the medal podium feels within reach.

Top women’s contenders in 2024: Swiatek, Gauff, Danielle Collins, Jasmine Paolini, Sabalenka

While the set format doesn’t change, the Olympics has been a place for surprise winners on the women’s side as well. Bencic, the reigning singles gold medalist and doubles silver medalist, had never reached a major final before she won in Tokyo. Monica Puig, the now-retired 2016 gold medalist, never advanced past the fourth round at a Grand Slam during her career. So what will happen this time around?

Bencic will not be defending her medal as she is on maternity leave, opening the door for a new player on top of the podium. With the event being held at Roland Garros, Swiatek — the “Queen of Clay” if you will — is the overwhelming favorite and has made it clear she can withstand any pressure and expectations. Her father competed at the 1988 Olympic Games in rowing so she should be more than prepared for the hype that comes with the event in her second appearance.

Gauff, who won the French Open doubles title on Sunday, has spoken openly about how much an Olympic medal would mean to her, and she very well might be competing in all three draws (singles, doubles, mixed doubles) in order to give herself the best shot at achieving that goal. Gauff’s fellow American Collins will be making her Olympic debut in her final season on tour before retiring and has been one of the hottest players on tour in 2024 with titles in Miami and Charleston. An Olympic medal would be a fitting going-away present for someone who has been such an important part of the country’s contingent at various team events over the years. She seems to thrive under pressure; why not in Paris?

Sabalenka will be competing as a neutral athlete as Belarus is barred from representation, but she certainly could contend for a medal. Paolini, who reached the French Open final in singles and doubles and is having the best season of her career, could build on her momentum in both draws and emerge with some new hardware.


US Open

When: Aug. 26-Sept. 8

Where: New York

2023 champions: Novak Djokovic and Coco Gauff

Top men’s contenders in 2024: Djokovic, Alcaraz, Medvedev, Sinner, Ben Shelton

The 2024 season hasn’t started the way he had hoped, but Djokovic will return to New York as the defending champion. He earned his 24th major title at the tournament last year — tying Margaret Court’s longstanding record for the most of all time — and he will most certainly be trying to end his year by making even more history. It’s impossible to predict how Djokovic will be faring or how his knee will be feeling, but one thing is certain, if he’s playing at the tournament, he will do everything he can to win.

In three appearances at the tournament, Alcaraz’s earliest exit was the quarterfinals (during his debut in 2021) and he won the title in 2022. One of the best in the game on the hard court and a showman who thrives in front of a raucous crowd, it’s hard to think Alcaraz won’t make a deep run if he’s healthy. Medvedev, the 2021 US Open champion, reached the final in 2023 and seems to almost always find his best level in New York.

Having won the titles in Melbourne and Miami this year (and the 2023 Canadian Open), Sinner has also proved to be one of the biggest threats on the surface. The US Open remains the only major in which Sinner hasn’t reached the semis — but expect that to change this year.

Of course, anyone who watched the tournament in 2023 saw Shelton have his breakthrough, star-making turn as he advanced all the way to the semifinals. Still just 21, the American and former NCAA champion might just have the best chance to snap the almost-21-year drought among his countrymen for major titles. It’s hard to think of a more tantalizing place to do just that than New York.

Top women’s contenders in 2024: Gauff, Mirra Andreeva, Swiatek, Sabalenka, Naomi Osaka

Gauff won her first major title at the tournament last year and since then has become one of the most consistent players on tour. While there will be even more attention on the 20-year-old this time around, Gauff has shown she can handle it and will look to become the first back-to-back women’s champion since Serena Williams did it in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

But it won’t be easy. The US Open has had six first-time major champions hoist the women’s trophy since 2015, including Gauff, and can often be unpredictable at the end of a long season. Could someone like Andreeva, the 17-year-old prodigy who reached her first major semifinal in Paris, become the latest surprise champion? As Emma Raducanu, the qualifier who went on to win the title in 2021, can attest, anything is possible in New York.

But, as an elite group has become dominant in women’s tennis as of late, players like Swiatek (the 2022 champion) and Sabalenka (the 2023 runner-up) could emerge victorious at the end of the fortnight.

And finally, there’s Osaka, the two-time US Open champion who looked resurgent in her second-round thriller against Swiatek in Paris. She returned from maternity leave at the start of the season, and even she couldn’t help but feel optimistic about her chances on her favorite surface after the narrow loss to Swiatek.

“I’m a hard-court kid, so I would love to play [Swiatek] on my surface and see what happens,” Osaka said. “Yeah, I also said in Australia that I’m kind of setting myself up for September anyway.”

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