US Open Preview The Favorites Novak Djokovic Andy Murray Rafa Nadal

US Open

Photo courtesy of tenisconestilo.com.uy

The US Open draw has been made and the speculations as to who will win begin. The Tennis Review looks at the favorites- players who are US Open former champions and finalists, or who have won other slams and made other slam finals- and assesses their chances of winning big in New York.

Novak Djokovic, Champion 2011, 2015. Runner-up, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013.

For Novak Djokovic, in 2016, anything, it seems, can happen. The world No.1 can win a record 6th Australian Open title in the Open era, lose his Monte Carlo Opener to Jiri Vesely, complete the Career Grand Slam at Roland Garros (and the Non Calendar Grand Slam, at the same time, too), and fall in his Wimbledon third round match to Sam Querrey.

That Anything Goes nature of Djokovic’s season means it’s hard to draw much conclusion from the top seed’s US Open draw. On paper, it looks tough- Jerzy Janowicz, a big hitter who made the Wimbledon 2013 Semi-finals, in his opening round, Vesely in the second round, 28th seed Martin Klizan in round three, John Isner, potentially, in the last sixteen, and Marin Cilic in the last eight.

If Djokovic is still hampered by the injury that kept him out of Cincinnati, or if he is at all rusty, as he often is early on in slams, all those players have a shot at upsetting him.

The full scale of the Djokovic left wrist injury and its consequences on his backhand remain to be seen, and his cancellation of his practice session the morning of this US Open draw will be worrying for his many fans.

Injuries are part of tennis professional life, however, and one of the Serbian’s strengths is finding a way to win no matter how brutal the conditions, his own pain, or his opponent’s form, and now is the time for him to tap into that ability. Andy Murray is chasing him in the race to London, and this US Open would be a good time to remind everyone that while anything can happen, the thing that happens more often than not, in recent times, is Novak Djokovic winning the trophy.

Andy Murray, Champion 2012, runner-up 2008.

If the tennis Gods wanted to ensure Andy Murray reached his third US Open final, and were keen to make the year end No.1 ranking as exciting as possible, they did a pretty good job of it by delivering Murray up the draw they did.

Murray has been the man to beat in men’s tennis since losing to Djokovic in the Madrid final- winning Rome, where he beat Djokovic for the title,  finishing runner-up at Roland Garros, winning the AEGON championships, Wimbledon, and Olympic Gold in succession, and making the Cincinnati final.

That run, along with Murray’s appearance in the Australian Open final, means that while Murray may trail Djokovic by 5,535 points  (the equivalent of 2 slams, an ATP 1000, a 500 and 35 points to spare) in the 12 month ATP rankings, he is only 1215 points behind him in the race to London. With Murray only having fourth round points to defend in New York, and the recently-injured Djokovic defending 2000 points as champion, this US Open could really swing the momentum in the determined Scot’s favor.

Looking at Murray’s draw, it is hard to imagine him having a better chance to make a run at No.1 than he has right now.

Grigor Dimitrov and Feliciano Lopez could certainly take Murray past three sets in the third round, but they would both need to play one of the matches of their careers to cause an upset.

Gilles Simon in the fourth round is also troublesome, but does not have the tools to beat Murray outright, the Frenchman would need a lot to go his way to get the win.

What Murray would be really bothered by would be one of the tour’s committed go-for-broke hitters, and the only one in his section happens to be lined up for him at the first hurdle-Lukas Rosol.

The tennis Gods have been kind enough, however, to not draw Murray against an in-form big-hitter- Rosol, ranked 82,  has not won a main draw ATP match since beating Andrey Kuznetsov in the Geneva quarter-finals back in May.

Grand slams bring out the best in players like Rosol, however- the Romanian took Stan Wawrinka to five sets in the Roland Garros first round- and so considering their different styles of play and the big match occasion, the Murray-Rosol match is likely to be an entertaining one.

The two times they have played, Murray has won each time, and in three sets (the scoreline has always, oddly, been the same – 4-6, 6-3, 6-2).

Even if Rosol does not find some form and the match fails to deliver as an engaging sporting contest, the volatile relationship between the two could make things interesting.

Things heated up when the two met in Munich 2015. The match got a little personal when Rosol bumped into the Scot on a changeover prompting Murray to shout to Rosol across the court:

“No one likes you on the tour, everyone hates you”. (See Vine below).

How much Murray likes facing Rosol, one of the tour’s biggest hitters, in the opening round of a slam, (the stage most favorites are the most vulnerable), at a venue where the speed of the court depends on the court allocated and the time of day, will be one to watch play out. 

Juan Martin del Potro, Champion 2009.

With Roger Federer not in the draw, the player who will be receiving the most love at the Open will be Juan Martin del Potro.

The draw gave the wild card, a lot of love, too, dealing him countryman Diego Schwartzman in the opening round. 24 year old Schwartzman, who won a title this year in Istanbul, will be playing in only his tenth main draw of a slam, and has a 3-9 win-loss record in tennis’ biggest events.

Look who’s back 😀🎾🗽 @usopen pic.twitter.com/FZB6Zei62C

In the second round, things could get interesting- del Potro could meet Steve Johnson (19) who was critical of the 2009 Champion being awarded a wild card in case he beat an American player in the opening round. Johnson, ranked 21 in the world is in good form, but he does not have the big match experience or the Champion’s mentality of del Potro, and that should make the difference in that match.

In the last 32, del Potro could face David Ferrer (11), although Fabio Fognini could make it through that section. Ferrer is one of the best seeds- the Spaniard is below par- del Potro could have drawn. As for Fognini, he may have the shot-making skills to make life difficult for aggressive base-liners, but the Italian is inconsistent, and in a battle of wills is likely to come second.

In the last 16, Dominic Thiem (8) is the scheduled opponent, one the Argentine beat in Madrid this Clay season. Thiem, who reached the US Open fourth round in 2014, has recently been suffering a hip injury and, after a busy season in which he broke into the top ten, may not have the energy needed to get past a confident del Potro .

Stan Wawrinka, who del Potro beat at Wimbledon, is scheduled for the last eight, Murray for the last four, and Djokovic the final.

A decent draw and fan favorite status means if  del Potro fires on his forehand and goes on a run, he will be both the Championship’s fairy-tale Prince, and its scene-stealing assassin.

Rafa Nadal, Champion 2010, 2013, Runner up 2011.

The last thing Rafa Nadal needs right now is a slam draw with five set matches versus the likes of Tomaz Bellucci, Alberto Ramos-Vinolas, Federico delBonis, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and Roberto Bautista Agut ahead of him.

Unfortunately for the Spaniard that is just what he got.

All of those players can tough it out with the best of them, and while Nadal is, historically, one of the toughest player to beat at the Slams, going into the upcoming US Open, he is a lot more fragile than he used to be. The fourth seed has been the top seed twice (2008, 2010), and this season will be only the second in the nine years he has been seeded (played eleven) that he has been seeded outside the top two.

Most of Nadal’s current ranking of five is built on his form from Beijing last season until his win in Monte Carlo this season. Nadal’s wrist injury forced him to withdraw before his last 32 match at Roland Garros and he did not return to the tour until the Olympics. Despite missing so much of the season, Nadal still managed to make the last four in Rio, losing to del Potro in a final set tiebreaker, and coming back from a set and 2-5 down in the Bronze Medal match versus Kei Nishikori to take the match to a third set.

The Rio performance is encouraging for Nadal’s US Open prospects- the Spaniard’s injury did not force him out of the event, and Nadal showed he could tough his way to the final stages of an important event without any warm-up.

Digging himself into the last eight of the US Open would be quite the achievement, and if he got there, Milos Raonic is his seeded opponent. Nadal leads Raonic 6-1 and if he improved on that in New York would be scheduled to face Novak Djokovic in the last four.

That prospect might not excite Nadal fans, but the Serb’s form is uncertain, and slam semis bring out the best in champions. Nadal is certainly a champion and still has plenty to give – just how much will be one of the stories of the Open.

Marin Cilic, Champion 2014.

Cincinnati Champion Marin Cilic, (7) has the kind of game which, if he is on, can hit through, nearly, anyone. He also has a tendency to be beaten by nearly anyone, too. Only back at Roland Garros, Cilic went from taking Wawrinka to two close sets in the Geneva final to losing in the first round to then ranked world No. 166 Marco Trungilliti.

Cilic the 2014 Champion, has drawn Jack Sock in round three, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in round four, and Novak Djokovic in the last eight. Cilic lost to Sock recently in the Davis Cup, leads Tsonga 5-1, including a five set win in the US Open ’15 quarters, and is 0-14 versus Novak Djokovic. Cilic’s last match versus the top seed was at last season’s US Open in which an injured Cilic could only win three games.

The Croat, however, has challenged Djokovic in some of their recent matches, but while he can take the world No.1 the distance, the world No.1’s stamina and retrieving skills get the better of him. The question is can Cilic’s new coach, Jonas Bjorkman, and the confidence from his recent Cincinnati win help him make a breakthrough versus the world No.1?

Players have earned their first wins in an unfavorable head to head many times over the years in the five set format of Slams, and if Cilic likes to make a first, it’s on hard courts in the U.S Summer.

Kei Nishikori, runner-up 2014.

Kei Nishikori has a difficult task ahead of him. Benjamin Becker, his first round opponent, is an experienced aggressive player. Philipp Kohlschreiber would be tough in the third round as would David Goffin (12) in the fourth.

The Japanese made the US Open semis in 2014, defeating Novak Djokovic on the way, and he would have to beat another reigning Wimbledon champion if he was going to repeat his ’14 run after drawing Andy Murray in the quarter-finals. The Scot has proven to be a bad match-up for Nishikori, leading him 7-1 and since returning to the top of tennis has won their last three ATP tour matches in straights, dropping no more than four games in one set.

Nishikori did push Murray to five sets in their recent Davis Cup match. If Nishikori can get inspired by playing at the scene of his most successful Slam run, he could make a match of it with Murray as when Nishikori is not over-hitting but finding the lines, he can beat anyone on tour.

Stan Wawrinka, Semi-final 2013, 2015.

Stan Wawrinka has the toughest opener. The Swiss will face tour veteran Fernando Verdasco in his opening match. In the third round he is drawn against Alexander Zverev (27) and in the last sixteen he is scheduled to meet Nick Kyrgios (14).

Everything needs to be clicking if Wawrinka is going to win his first US Open title. He needs to overpower his opponents and not let them take advantage of his long back swing on courts which will be, depending on which court and time of day, some of the tour’s fastest.

Milos Raonic, Last sixteen, 2012, 2013, 2014.

Milos Raonic‘s next step at a Grand Slam is a final showing, and he will do well to make it through his draw and take it.

The Canadian has Dustin Brown in the first round, and Gael Monfils (10) in the last sixteen, Rafa Nadal in the last eight and Novak Djokovic in the final.

Raonic has not been past the last sixteen at the US Open, and it will be a tough ask for him to improve that record this year with Monfils lined up in the round of 16. Monfils leads him 3-2 and recently beat him in the Toronto quarters. That match would be a great opportunity for both men, and their different styles and strong fast court games would likely provide a high quality match.

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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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