US Open Five Faces to Watch Khachanov Rublev Kokkinakis Chung Sugita

US Open

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The US Open draw is dealt, and while most of the attention will be on the top seeds, there are a few lower ranked players tennis fans will be keeping an eye on. The Tennis Review gives you five players to watch at this season’s final slam.

Karen Khachanov, seeded 25

US Open history: 2015, lost qualifying second round to Ivan Dodig; 2016, qualified to main draw and lost to Kei Nishikori in round 2.

Why he’s one to watch:

Khachanov has shades of another Russian, one who excelled at the US Open, Marat Safin, with his powerful serve and ground game. The 21 year old has climbed up to No. 29 in the world rankings from this time last year when, ranked 95, he had to qualify to enter the US Open draw.

A title win in Chengdu (hard courts), and reaching the Barcelona quarters, the Roland Garros last sixteen and the Halle semis have all contributed to Khachanov’s current career high ranking. That all surface ability bodes well for the Russian’s future as a future top five player, and also for his success at the US Open where the hard courts are fairly neutral and reward both great aggression and defense.

Khachanov falls in the aggressive category, and that mindset plus the fearlessness of youth mean none of the top 16 seeds are going to want to see him in their round of 32.

What draw was he dealt:

25th seeded Khachanov has drawn Marin Cilic (5), a bittersweet draw with Cilic being the 2014 US Open champion and reigning Wimbledon runner up, but also sidelined since SW19 with injury.

Andrey Rublev, ranked 54

US Open history: Qualified in 2015 and lost to Kevin Anderson in round 1, lost in 2016 qualifying 1st round to Miljan Zekic.

Why he’s one to watch:

19 year old Andrey Rublev has climbed from 186 in the rankings ( 22.08.2016) to his current ranking of 54 (career high of 49 after winning Umag), an ascent achieved on the back of winning a first career title, as a lucky loser, on Clay (Umag), reaching the Halle last eight (lost to Khachanov), reaching the semis of the Irving, Texas, Challenger, the final of the Rennes Challenger, and qualifying for the main draw at all three of this season’s slams, going as far as the Wimbledon second round.

The big-serving, big-hitting Rublev has not had the most successful lead in to this year’s US Open, playing just one match in the Cincy qualifiers and losing to Ernests Gulbis, but he did make the Winston-Salem second round (beat Darcis, lost Chung) and he has been working off court with countryman Marat Safin, no less, and that experience combined with winning Umag as a lucky loser should give him plenty of confidence to make his mark in his first ever direct main draw appearance in a slam.

What draw was he dealt:

In his first round, Rublev has drawn world No.48 Aljaz Bedene who has been remarkably consistent this year climbing up into the top 50 from a ranking of 101 at the start of the season.

If Rublev survives Bedene, who has not lost in the opening round of an event since Miami, he could face the in-form No.7 seed Cincy champ Grigor Dimitrov who, with more pressure on him than he has faced for a few years, could be ripe for an upset.

Hyeon Chung, ranked 49

US Open history: 2014, lost second round qualifying to Jimmy Wang, 2015 lost to Stan Wawrinka round 2, 2016, DNP.

Why he’s one to watch:

South Korea’s Hyeon Chung currently holds a career high ranking of 49 and has been working hard this US Open Series, playing in four events, and the Citi Open, a swing which saw him reach the Winston-Salem quarters, and earning wins over David Goffin, Feliciano Lopez, and fellow #NextGenATP player Rublev.

As well as being healthy and hard working, Chung has another factor in his favor, a taste for the big matches, making his way to the last 32 of this year’s Roland Garros where he took Kei Nishikori to five sets.

This season, Chung has also beaten Gael Monfils and Martin Klizan back to back to reach the Munich semis, and qualified for the Barcelona main draw, beating Alexander Zverev and Philipp Kohlschreiber before losing to Rafa Nadal.

That impressive list of scalps is a varied one style-wise. Chung’s game – aggressive consistent baseline tennis, high on margin for error, point construction and calculated risks – matches up well to most styles, meaning if he catches a top seed even slightly below par, the 21 year old is in with a chance to cause some damage to the draw.

What draw was he dealt:

Chung has drawn the veteran clay courter Horacio Zeballos in his opener and could face tenth seed and recent Cincy semi-finalist John Isner in the second round.

Thannasi Kokkinakis, ranked 223

US Open history: 2014, lost qualifying second round to Yoshihito Nishioka, 2015 lost 1st round to Richard Gasquet, 2016 DNP.

Why he’s one to watch:

Kokkinakis has plenty of motivation to go on a good run this US Open- this is his last time to take advantage of his protected ranking-and he also has the inspiration to go deep- after 19 months out of the game recovering from injury, he recently made his first ATP final in Las Cabos, beating Tomas Berdych on the way.

Currently ranked 223, the Australian was ranked as high as 69 (2015.06.08), and for good reason. The 21 year old has the height (196cm) to make his serve a weapon on any surface and the consistency to grind from the baseline and the power and aggression to take advantage of any short balls to come his way.

That style has served Kokkinakis well on hard courts with the Australian reaching the Las Cabos final, the 2015 Indian Wells last sixteen, and upsetting Ernests Gulbis in the 2015 Australian Open first round.

What draw was he dealt:

Kokkinakis has drawn another player coming back from injury, the former top tenner Janko Tipsarevic, in round 1, the 29th seed Diego Schwartzmann who is more at home on clay courts in round 2, and second seed and good friend Andy Murray in round three.

That is a good draw for the Australian and with his laid back and fun-loving personality ensuring him of crowd favorite status, if he can push his more experienced rivals close, he can rely on plenty of crowd support to help him over the line.

Yuichi Sugita, ranked 43

US Open history: Sugita has never appeared in the US Open main draw. Qualifying 1st round ’09, ’11-13; 2nd round ’15, ’16; 3rd round ’10, ’14.

Why he’s one to watch:

Peaking at an age pros used to consider retiring is as much a feature of the tour as teen phenoms once were, and Sugita, aged 28,after spending the first decade of his pro career ranked outside the top 100, finally broke through on 2016.02.09, winning the indoor hard Kyoto Challenger, and the Japanese is just recently hitting his stride, reaching a career high ranking of 43, winning the title in Antalya and the Surbiton challenger on Grass, and reaching both the Cincy and Barcelona quarters (as a qualifier).

Sugita’s favorite shot is the return, a shot which has become as important, if not more so, than the serve in the last few years, and with that in mind, plus his preference for faster surfaces, the Japanese, with Kei Nishikori sidelined with injury, may give his home country something to cheer about this US Open when, for the first time, the 28 year old competes in the main draw.

What draw was he dealt:

Sugita has drawn French wild card Geoffrey Blancaneux in round 1, and could face 26th seed Richard Gasquet in the second round, and if he scores the upset, top seed Rafa Nadal in the third.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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