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BORIS BECKER: Beware of Novak Djokovic but expect shocks at the US Open

Novak Djokovic has taken a lot of criticism during the lockdown period and, knowing him as I do, he will be even more motivated than ever to win the title. The Serb is the natural favourite.

This will, however, be the most unpredictable Slam we have seen in many years and I expect there to be plenty of upsets in the first week. I think there will be some lesser names emerging at the business end of the tournament in both singles events, and that will be no bad thing.

I know we tend to say this before every major now, but hopefully it can be the turning point when younger players emerge.

One fascinating aspect is how the players react to the absence of crowds and I would see this as a leveller that should help the lower-ranked performers.

It is going to be very strange, for instance, playing at the giant Arthur Ashe Stadium. When you are down on the court it is almost scary how big it is and it is going to feel very weird for anyone to play in a 25,000-seat arena when there is no one in those vast stands.

The best players are used to feeding off the crowd and drawing energy in a positive way. Conversely, the less experienced can get fearful and if a match gets tight in a deciding set and the noise rises, they can wither.

It is another reason why there could be some strange results this fortnight.

In the troubled lead-up to the US Open I found myself wondering whether, if I was still a player, I would have travelled to New York to compete.

It was not a long debate: I would definitely have gone. In fact, after six months of not being able to play I would have swum across the Atlantic to get there.

If in your heart you are a competitor, and you have been starved of opportunities, why would you not be desperate to participate in one of the great events again after all this time?

Clearly not everyone has felt this way and I appreciate these are worrying times, but it is the same for everybody.

I have to say I am surprised and disappointed that six out of the top 10 women are not going to be there, and I hope they will come to regret it. In five years I do not believe people will look back on this Grand Slam and say ‘well, not everyone was playing’ – I do not go along with this idea of an asterisk being alongside the 2020 Open in the history books.

In time this will be recalled as one of the hardest events to win because of everything that was going on around it and the conditions it was played in. It is going to be huge for whoever wins the titles.

I am sorry that so many of the top women are not in New York. I am the first to appreciate how much they bring to these tournaments and think they should be paid the same as the men, but some of them have reacted a little bit selfishly.

No individual is bigger than the sport and we are talking about fighting for the future of the game, about saving a lot of jobs that depend on these tournaments going ahead. The US Tennis Association were between a rock and a hard place, and appear to have done a good job in creating the bubble and getting this on.

Obviously there is no room for complacency but I am sure they have made every effort to make the environment as safe as possible. We are in a tough best-of-five-set match against coronavirus and we have to find a way to get through it.

Some of the men are missing too, but I would exclude Rafael Nadal from criticism. He has done so much for the game and it is obvious that he wants to prepare for the postponed French Open – which has been shifted to a late September start – and give himself the best chance of winning a 20th Grand Slam. Given his age of 34, the problems he has had with his knees and ankles, plus the change of surface, then it makes sense for him to sit this one out and get ready for Paris.

It is a shame that the likes of Nick Kyrgios are not here either but I always expected him to cancel as I doubt he really loves the game.

For those that do, this is a great chance to win a very different and historic major. I applaud them for making the journey and will not be underestimating the achievement of those who end up doing well.

The courts at Flushing Meadows have been relaid by a new company and look quick, so beware the big servers. You would expect the likes of John Isner and Milos Raonic to do well in the men’s event, and the Canadian showed strongly last week. I also expect a good tournament from Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Among the women it should help top seed Karolina Pliskova, providing the pressure of trying to win her first Grand Slam does not get to her and, of course, Serena Williams as she tries to win her 24th. The women’s game at the moment is hard to predict. I am just glad that Serena has shown up. She is a champion and it shows her love of the game.

It will be great to see Andy Murray back in a Grand Slam field after all that he has been through, and he will come in encouraged by that win over Alex Zverev last week. In these unusual circumstances experience is going to count for a lot and one thing you can say about Andy is that he knows how to win. A lot of this fortnight is going to be about character and personality, and that is certainly something he does not lack.

It would not surprise me to see a couple of Brits do well. Dan Evans has taken a very positive attitude towards playing and that is going to help him. The speed of the courts should be in his favour as well. 

Jo Konta played well last week while Kyle Edmund likes hard courts, and if he can make his second-round appointment with Djokovic he will have nothing to lose. It is good to see all the Brits have travelled and are prepared for this event.

As for most working in the media, a strange fortnight awaits, with restrictions meaning very few are actually allowed on-site.

I spent the first hundred days of it at my home in London – that is the longest I have spent in one place since my early teenage years.

After a holiday I was in Dusseldorf last week launching my new clothing line but my location for the next few weeks is going to be Munich, where the Eurosport coverage is going to be based. There are going to be some very late nights, but bring it on.

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