Man, this 2006 ATP season has been something.
Roger and Rafa -- and Garbine Muguruza -- are obvious storylines at the U.S. Open. With Wimbledon over, it's worth taking note of other players on both the WTA and ATP Tours. These are the players I will be watching with extra measures of curiosity in the North American hardcourt summer:
Angelique Kerber owns a distinct place in the story and the fabric of the women's tournament at Wimbledon. Though she lost a big hunk of points after losing in the fourth round, and though she tumbled out of the No. 1 ranking, she actually played reasonably well. Moreover, she played the eventual champion -- Muguruza -- into form in what many consider the best women's match of the tournament.
Kerber might have done something very rare: Lose the No. 1 ranking and simultaneously rediscover belief in her game. Phrased differently, she might have successfully hunted down her best tennis while no longer being the most hunted person on the tour in Serena Williams' absence. If Kerber -- no longer burdened by that "" next to her name -- resumes playing like her 2016 self these next two months, we will all know when and where the liberation began.
The only question: Can she advance this process, which seemingly received a kick-start against Muguruza?
Karolina Pliskova will be asked about the World No. 1 ranking to no end between now and the start of the U.S. Open. Dealing with that constant barrage of questions will represent a new test for Pliskova, whose run of good results at majors ended at three (2016 U.S., 2017 Australia, 2017 French) when Magdalena Rybarikova ambushed her on Centre Court two weeks ago. Some players wear that "" more comfortably than others. Pliskova will get to try it out.
Anett Kontaveit won the first set against Muguruza in France but fell in three. She served for the match twice against Caroline Wozniacki at Wimbledon and went 0 for 2, losing in three sets. Kontaveit is a familiar contradiction in tennis, regardless of gender: She has a big game but comes up small in high-pressure situations. Yes, she is only 21, so these "teachable moments" are to be expected. Nevertheless, will Kontaveit avoid a third straight "slip-through-her-fingers" loss in New York? If she loses another excruciatingly close match in the first week, her trust in her game will be an open question heading into 2018.
Now, to the men...
"I'm so tired of learning."
Alexander Zverev offered that classic quote after his loss to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon. Losing after being up one set and a break, and then two sets to one, was bad enough. What was worse is that Zverev twice failed to force tiebreakrers (in sets two and four) after getting to 5-5. Getting broken twice at the very end of a set revealed a continued vulnerability in big moments. Zverev -- if he wants to stop learning -- will need to start applying his lessons.
Tomas Berdych -- like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and others -- could have a profound opportunity to make a run if he is not in Federer's or Nadal's quarter of the draw in New York. Berdych received and made use of an ideal draw -- and the Djokovic retirement -- to unexpectedly defend his Wimbledon semifinal result from 2016. Berdych's game had been in the dumpster, but he cleaned up his tennis and made Federer work very hard for a straight-set semifinal victory. There's a great chance that with Djokovic and Murray hurting, two semifinal berths in New York could go to relative outsiders on the ATP Tour. Berdych stands at the head of this group. In his 30s, can he create magic and redefine his career before it's too late?
Dominic Thiem was a fish out of water on grass. Hardcourts offer a truer bounce. Is Thiem ready to show he can do something on a non-clay surface? If he doesn't do anything of note at the U.S. Open or in Australia, the idea that he's a one-surface specialist will gain some traction, fair or not. Thiem is also not the young pup Zverev and Nick Kyrgios are. Thiem needs a good non-French Open major result to catapult him into a higher tier heading into 2018.
Various other quick-hitting Wimbledon thoughts:
CoCo Vandeweghe disappeared against Rybarikova in the quarterfinals. CoCo still hasn't kicked the habit of being extremely erratic. Her mental game is still not there yet.
Jelena Ostapenko hits the Mason, Ohio, Applebee's... and then New York. Can't wait. Her Wimbledon quickly reshaped the nature of her French Open win. She offers every appearance of a player who is here to stay. That was a highly impressive run to the quarters at the Big Dubya.
Can Svetlana Kuznetsova either sustain her game or get a kind-enough draw (Muguruza was brutal at Wimbledon) to return to a major semifinal? She and the rest of the tour get one more shot without having to worry about Serena. (We'll see about Australia 2018, but this *could* be the last Serena-free major...)
Victoria Azarenka gets a chance to properly build to -- and prepare for -- a major. Will everything come together for her this summer? A Pliskova win would be a very good thing for the WTA. An Azarenka win would be the BEST thing for the WTA (though Kerber and Ostapenko championships would also generate enormous amounts of buzz).
Finally, Roger Federer should play Canada, if only for this reason: His two post-Australia segments of the tennis season (separated by his two-month break) both began with weird losses in lower-tier tournaments. Canada is not a lower-tier tournament, but the point remains that Federer lost a match in a return from a multi-week (or longer) break. He then won his next two tournaments each time. More precisely, he won the next event after his loss without losing a set -- Indian Wells after his Donskoy loss; Halle after his Tommy Haas loss. He then doubled his fun and decided not to lose a set at Wimbledon.
Federer -- merely by playing Canada (he should not try to place any emphasis on his result there) -- can work out the kinks before his Cincinnati-New York swing. If he picks up a weird loss, it will feel like a good sign.