US Open 2019 Men’s Preview Djokovic on Course for USO Trophy No.4

Canadian Open
Photo courtesy of www.artefak.org

By the time the U.S. Open comes around each season, everything—right from the Tours to player thinktanks and entourages, businesses of the sport, the partners involved, and of course the devoted followers—is at fever pitch.

And why not.

One: the host city, New York City.

Yes, the other cities to host a grand slam tournament have a unique charm all of their own, which is what brings us to point two.

The US Open marks the last major of the calendar year: so, that’s one last shot at glory for every professional tennis player.

It’s certainly not easy being a racquet-wielding athlete, and every single one of them will testify how much it would mean to win just one of the four majors, leave alone raking them all in by the plenty Djokovic style, and that holding aloft a Major trophy is what they all shoot for year-in, year-out.

Novak Djokovic, the top seed and World No. 1, comes in as defending champion.

Interestingly, this is the only non-Clay major tournament that the Serb has never successfully defended and that’s one box he will be seeking to check off by the end of the fortnight.

He enters Flushing Meadows having played a much lighter schedule following the epic victory at Wimbledon. Djokovic had opted out of the Canadian Open before making the semi-finals in Cincinnati (l. Daniil Medvedev).

Rafael Nadal, the reigning French Open champion, has also been managing his playing time. But more importantly, he secured the second seeding courtesy his first successful defense of a non-clay court title. Nadal’s triumph in Montréal (d. Medvedev) was his 35th at the Masters 1000 level. The Spaniard then withdrew from Cincinnati in order to prepare for the Open where he, like Djokovic, is seeking a fourth crown.

Roger Federer, meanwhile, seemed to make light of a soul-crushing defeat at Wimbledon. The Swiss spoke about a caravan trip that he enjoyed with his family in the aftermath of that final, while asserting the proverbial finish line wasn’t in sight just yet. The Swiss, who again overlooked Canada, saw his return to hard courts cut short by the fiery Andrey Rublev in Cincinnati. How much of an impact will that be, we will soon know.

The other name that has done rounds in this stretch of the season is the 6’6”, 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev. The powerful Russian hit a purple patch in an action-packed three-week stretch that culminated with the biggest title of his young career, in Cincinnati (d. David Goffin), besides runner-up finishes in Washington (l. Nick Kyrgios) and Montréal (l. Nadal). In so doing, he rose to number 5 in world, usurping compatriot Karen Khachanov as the country’s best player. It also marks the first time a Russian man is in the Top 5 since Nikolay Davydenko in 2010.

The draw ceremony took place August 22 and all eyes were on where the likes of Federer, Medvedev and the rest of the pack would fall.

The Tennis Review editor Christian Deverille and sports analyst Karthik Swaminathan dissect the men’s draw.

First quarter:

Djokovic will kick off proceedings against Roberto Carballes Baena and could face home-boy Sam Querrey in the second round, the American famously ousting Djokovic in Wimbledon 2016.

The Serb is seeded to face compatriot Dusan Lajovic (27) in the round-of-32 and either 16th seed Kevin Anderson (who has only played in Queens and Wimbledon since Miami) or 23rd seed Stan Wawrinka (who has also struggled since comeback from surgery) in the last 16.

The talented Pole Hubert Hurkacz, who is in Djokovic’s section for the fourth time this season, could meet Wawrinka in round 2, and it remains to be seen if he can cash in on the opportunity.

Awaiting our defending champion in the quarterfinal… could be Medvedev himself, who would by then be on an 11 match winning streak.

Other seeds in this section include Taylor Fritz (26), Nikoloz Basilashvili (17) and Fabio Fognini (11).

Christian’s pick: I’m going with Medvedev. He has the momentum and he’d face Djokovic in the quarters, which gives him a much better shot at getting the upset than if he were scheduled to meet the world No.1 in the semis or final.

This pick may be more wishful thinking than anything else, but sooner or later someone under 30 has to break through, and with Medvedev’s recent form, there’s no current stronger candidate.

Karthik’s pick: Hard to look past Djokovic. He has made the semi-final at Flushing Meadows every year since 2007, barring 2016 when he did not participate. While he could have his hands full with Medvedev (who even took a set when they played in Melbourne earlier this year) and a spirited Wawrinka or Hurkacz, it is almost customary to see him raise his game at majors—especially in the last few rounds.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

Hubert Hurkacz v. Jeremy Chardy

(11) Fabio Fognini v. Reilly Opelka

Marton Fucsovics v. (17) Nikoloz Basilashvili

Second quarter:

Roger Federer kicks off against a qualifier in round 1 and then either another qualifier or Damir Dzumhur in round 2.

His seed for round 3 is Lucas Pouille (25), but any one of Adrian Mannarino, Philipp Kohlschreiber or Dan Evans could make it through that section to meet the Swiss.

Goffin (15), Pella (19), or 2017 semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta, who Pella faces in round 1, could await in the fourth round.

Seventh seed Kei Nishikori looks to have a relatively straight forward path to meet Federer in the last 8, though his lackluster run into the event (early losses in Montreal and Cincy) could indicate a dicey first few rounds as he plays his way into form.

Nishikori’s section also feature his 2014 young Gun comrades in Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic, the unseeded Bulgarian and 21st seeded Canadian potentially playing each other in round 3.

Christian’s pick: Nishikori. He’s not coming in on the back of any form, match wise, but he has a strong record in New York and is a great best of five sets player. Federer really struggled with conditions in New York last year and Nishikori could exploit that should they meet.

Karthik’s pick: Federer really couldn’t have asked for a better draw following his truncated hard court warm-up post Wimbledon.

Nishikori and Coric have troubled him in the past, but over five sets, it is the Swiss who will still hold the competitive advantage.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

Philipp Kohlschreiber v. (25) Lucas Pouille

Nicolas Jarry v. (21) Milos Raonic

Cristian Garin v. Christopher Eubanks

Third quarter:

Rather than labelling this section the “group of death”, we’d say it is has ‘melee’ written all over it.

Dominic Thiem, the highest seed in this section, hasn’t found his rhythm yet. The 25-year-old will start his campaign against Thomas Fabbiano and could face Sascha Bublik, the 22-year-old Russian-born Kazakh, in the second round ahead of a possible third round against Kyle Edmund.

Gael Monfils or Felix Auger-Aliassime, the youngest player in the Top 100, could lie in wait in the fourth round.

Meanwhile, Stefanos Tsitsipas—the second-highest seed here—opens against the mercurial Andrey Rublev and could face Nick Kyrgios in the third round. A bruising last 16 clash against Roberto Bautista Agut is a realistic possibility. Who’d be the last one standing? We dare say even a crystal ball wouldn’t get this right!

Christian’s pick: Dominic Thiem. The US Open plays quite similarly to Roland Garros in how the ball grips on the court and then bounces high, exactly how the Austrian likes his bounce, giving him plenty of time to take huge cuts with those powerful strokes.

Karthik’s pick: Man, I’ve never been put in a spot like this before. But remember this is a glimpse of non-Big-3 tennis. I’m going to stick my neck out and say Agut. He has made immense strides this year and, among others, has had a decent post-Wimbledon showing: quarterfinals in Gstaad (albeit clay), Montréal and Cincinnati.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

Denis Shapovalov v. (18) Felix Auger-Aliassime

(8) Stefanos Tsitsipas v. Andrey Rublev

Steve Johnson v. (28) Nick Kyrgios

Fourth quarter:

Rafa Nadal has John Millman in round 1, a qualifier or Thanassi Kokkinakis in round 2, 32nd seed Fernando Verdasco in round 3, and John Isner (14), or 22nd seed Marin Cilic in round 4.

In the quarters, the second seed is projected to face Sascha Zverev (6), though Karen Khachanov or Diego Scwartzman might be safer bets to reach that stage.

It’s, for Nadal, a perfect draw- he matches up well against the opposition, but they’re all tough players who’ve played their fair share of big matches and gotten some upsets.

So, the three time champion will go into week 2 tested, but he won’t be run so ragged, as he was last year after that brutal last eight Thiem encounter, that his vulnerable body gives up on him in the semis.

Christian’s pick: Nadal. He has been so consistent this season- he’s leading the ATP Race to London- and with Montreal under his belt and the draw he’s been dealt, this quarter is his for the dissecting.

Karthik’s pick: Nadal, like his Big 3 colleagues, won’t be complaining with what the draw gods have dealt him. A seemingly straightforward route, as we’ve seen with Djokovic and Federer, with a potentially tricky quarterfinal against Khachanov. With the likes of Isner and Cilic yet to find their range, and the third quarter pretty much a free-for-all, the World No. 2 will look to ease his way in to business end of the fortnight.

Three-to-see first-round matches:

(6) Alexander Zverev v. Radu Albot

Vasek Pospisil v. (9) Karen Khachanov

Martin Klizan v. (22) Marin Cilic

Semi-final 1:

Christian’s pick:  Medvedev d. Nishikori.

These two have had some good contests and this one could be the best yet. Medvedev has the slight edge due to the confidence he’s picked up this Summer and the fact he still doesn’t have the Japanese’s big match scars.

Karthik’s pick: Djokovic d. Federer

Yes, the Swiss came within a hair’s breadth at SW19 but instead succumbed to the Serb for a fifth consecutive time. Their faceoff in Paris last year was close too.

Djokovic is a rock mentally and while conditions here will favour him more, the longer the match goes, the more the odds are stacked against Federer.

Semi-final 2:

Christian’s pick:  Nadal d. Thiem.

Thiem has come a long way this year, but Nadal is not going to let a US Open final versus a Djokovic or Federer coming in off a tough last few rounds run away from him. Especially not versus a man who has his number now and then on Clay, but who’s yet to beat him in three out of five at a Major.

Karthik’s pick: Nadal d. Bautista Agut

A doff of the hat to ‘RBA’ for the season he has had. And should this match materialise, expect him to give it his all like he did against Djokovic in London. But dislodging his famous countryman in a grand slam semi-final is among the tallest of orders. For the record, Nadal is a ridiculous 26–6 in the final four at majors and didn’t lose even one semi-final between French Open 2010 and French Open 2018. Trivia: can you recall whom he has lost to, and when?

Final:

Christian’s pick: Nadal d. Medevedev.

Asking Medvedev to beat the Big 3 back to back, and the final match to be in his first slam final is one ask too many.

Nadal has too much game where it can hurt Medvedev, notably from the back of the court- Medvedev won’t be going backhand to backhand cross court with Nadal, on the Russian’s best side in the safest pattern; he’ll be going to the Nadal forehand, a place where so many, Medvedev himself in Montreal a couple of weeks back, get burned.

Karthik’s pick: Djokovic d. Nadal

Yes, they haven’t met here since 2013. Yes, Nadal has beaten Djokovic twice in finals here (as opposed to one defeat). Yes, percentage-wise, Nadal has the better record in finals here (3–1 v. 3–5). Yes, Nadal seemed absolutely dialled in earlier this month. And yes, Nadal could benefit from being in the non-Big 3 half.

But there is a reason why he has not taken a set off Djokovic, leave alone beating him, on hard courts since that victory in 2013.

And their most recent face-off on hard court was at the Australian Open. In the final. And what an almighty thumping that was.

While the conditions here might give Rafa a better look-in, it will take a brave man to bet against Novak. And I am ok with not taking that punt. 

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Karthik Swaminathan

Karthik Swaminathan is a burgeoning sports analyst; his views on top-tier tennis and cricket events, including Grand Slams and the World Cup, have been featured on live television. Karthik has also been published on leading magazines and web portals such as Wisden, Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated. His other interests include astronomy, darts and anything tech.
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