US Open Preview The Favorites Testing Times for the First Picks on Paper

US Open

Photo courtesy of taringa.net

The US Open favorites are an unknown quantity this year with injuries, inexperience and unpredictability all raising questions concerning the potential champion’s fitness to come through and win the title. 

Roger Federer, seeded 3, champion 2004-08.

Roger Federer has not won the US Open since 2008 and has not competed in the championship match since 2009, his last significant success in New York now half his career ago.

However, with the current stage of his career mirroring the best moments of the first part, 2017 could be the year he gets his name engraved on the US Open trophy for the sixth time.

The last time Federer won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in the same season was 2007, just over a decade ago. In a fairytale revival tennis fans have been only too eager to watch play out, a third slam this season should not, unless the sore back suffered in Montreal is anything more than that, shock anyone, but would instead, be another of the very pleasant surprises Federer’s 2017 has sprung.

How the draw treated him:

If Federer’s back is bothering him, Frances Tiafoe could be a tricky opponent in the first round. Tiafoe is highly touted, very talented and a little experienced at pushing Federer, too, taking the Swiss to a tiebreak in the first set of their Miami match earlier this season.

The draw looks pretty straightforward from then on until the last sixteen where 14th seed and Cincy finalist Nick Kyrgios is scheduled, a tough prospect for the Swiss with the Australian already notching up a win vs Federer in Madrid ’15 and pushing Federer all the way in their Miami thriller back in the Spring, and with every one of their six sets contested going to a tiebreak.

Once into the quarters, Federer is drawn to meet sixth seed Dominic Thiem, but could find himself up against Juan Martin del Potro, seeded 24 and dealt a kind draw, the kind he deserves after his back luck draw-wise this season.

The semis is where another slice of history in the multi tiered chronicle 2017 has become could take place- the first Fedal US Open contest.

The US Open is the missing link in the Federer vs Nadal rivalry, and if Federer and Nadal, the slam champs of the season, the first and second in the race to London, get that far then they could be playing some of their best tennis which means learning what that missing link might have revealed will be a sight to see, and, if that match is a classic, could also mean that if Federer goes on to win the title, it may, arguably, end up being his greatest title win in New York yet.

Sascha Zverev, seeded four, second round 2016.

The last 20 year old to break through and win the US Open was Juan Martin del Potro in 2009, and if anyone is going to repeat that kind of youthful success this year, then it is going to be Sascha Zverev.

In a draw missing its defending champ (Wawrinka), two former champs ((Djokovic, Murray), and a former finalist (Nishikori), there is space at the top in men’s tennis and, awarded the fourth seed in the draw, Zverev has three big factors in his favor to help him not just fill the void in the short term but make it his in the long-term- the serve, the backhand, and, above all, the desire.

How the draw treated him:

Zverev faces qualifier Darian King in round 1, and will have a tough time in round 2 versus Borna Coric or Jiri Vesely. Kevin Anderson, who Zverev beat in the Citi Open final, is seeded for round three.

Zverev has had a bit of luck being drawn in the opposite half as Federer and Nadal and got even more fortunate with Andy Murray’s last minute withdrawal from the tournament, a development which means Zverev will find himself the favorite to win his quarter-final, 17th seed Sam Querrey his likely opponent.

In the semis, if the 20 year can hold his nerve versus Marin Cilic, who he leads 3-1, or eighth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a first slam final is Zverev’s for the taking, and, the way his season is unfolding, once he gets there, the momentum on his side, the milestone every young player dreams of stepping across will be within skipping distance- a walk up to the podium on Slam final’s day, the trophy handed to him, upon it, his name engraved.

Grigor Dimitrov, seeded 7 , fourth round 2016, 2014.

Right now, Dimitrov is the last man standing of the ATP’s 2014 Young Guns (Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic have both pulled out injured) and the 26 year old pulled even further away from them winning the Cincy Open, the first ATP 1000 trophy won by any of that trio.

The tennis world has been waiting a while to anoint Dimitrov as a Grand slam champion, and in Cincy he proved he had what it takes to come through an injury hit draw and matches in which he was the favorite. Dimitrov will face different pressures this Open, potentially facing three top ten opponents including Nadal, Federer and Sascha Zverev to win the title, but he has never gone into such a possible scenario with such a strong season behind him or as much confidence.

How the draw treated him:

Dimitrov plays qualifier Vaclav Safranek in round 1, and could face an intriguing clash with #NextGenATP player Andrey Rublev in round two or Aljaz Bedene, two players who have climbed from outside the top 100 to inside the top 50 this season. 27th seed Pablo Cuevas is scheduled for round 3, and either Gael Monfils (18) or David Goffin (9) could be waiting in the last sixteen.

That fourth round will be a real test as to how Dimitrov is able to handle the pressure of being one of the favorites for a slam for the first time. Monfils leads Dimitrov 4-1, including two wins at the US Open (2011, 2014), but this would be their first meeting since Dimitrov has hit some of his career best form. Dimitrov has a better match up in Goffin, leading him 3-1, but that one defeat happened in their last match, a three set win for the Belgian in Rotterdam this season, a time Dimitrov seemed to suffer a let down after his early season success.

Should Dimitrov make it to his scheduled last eight spot, which would be the furthest he would have gone in the US Open, a rematch of the Australian Open semi with Rafa Nadal could take place, a match which, if the tournament has not delivered an all time classic, could be the one to do so.

Nick Kyrgios, seeded 14, third round 2016, 2014.

Kyrgios continues to arouse the curiosity if the tennis world, and his recent trip to the Cincy final, his first ATP 1000 final, will have only served to arouse curiosity even further.

Was that breakthrough a real step forward, or are Kyrgios and his fans about to take another step back this US Open? No one knows, but we can be certain it will be entertaining finding out.

How the draw treated him:

Kyrgios faces fellow Australian John Millman in round one, either Malek Jaziri or Thiago Monteiro in round two, Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round and none other than Roger Federer in the fourth, a showdown likely to be played under the lights on Arthur Ashe over the Labor day holiday, and one the big match loving Kyygios will work hard not to miss.

Rafa Nadal, top seed, Champion 2010, 2013

Rafa Nadal is certainly back- the Australian Open finalist, the Roland Garros champion, the world No.1- but for one of the greatest of all time players, there is back and then there is back and the question going into this US Open is just how back is he?

In his best years, seasons in which he has finished the year end No.1, Nadal has won multiple slams (2008, 2010, 2013) and with the race to year end No.1 with Roger Federer very close, (just 500 points separate them in the ATP rankings going into this US Open), victory this US Open still might not seal the deal, but would give Nadal plenty of confidence to have a strong enough showing in the final swing of the season- one in which he has performed better in in recent years than he did earlier on his career– to end the year No.1 for the fourth time.

Nadal has not been as sharp in this season’s NYC lead in as he has in previous US Open winning years- last 16, Montreal; Quarters, Cincy– but he was under a lot of pressure in Montreal to grab the No.1 ranking, and Nick Krygios is a tough match up for him on fast hard courts. This Open, if Nadal does end up facing an inspired young gun with nothing to lose or a skilled hard courter playing smart tennis, he will be in trouble, but so will his opponents who, if they thought defeating Nadal in best of three at an ATP 1000 was tough, will find that beating him in best of five at a slam is a reward that only comes in the most punishing manner.

How the draw treated him:

A struggling Nadal will not relish a possible meeting with Fabio Fognini, his 2015 conqueror, in the fourth round, but that could be the match in which his hard court champion’s form finally clicks under the pressure.

The top seed will need that click to happen if he is going to get past Grigor Dimitrov in the last eight- the Bulgarian will be in the mood to avenge that Australian Open semi-final defeat- and then negotiate a possible semi with Roger Federer who has beaten him on hard court three times this season (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami).

Marin Cilic, seeded 5, champion 2014.

Cilic’s Wimbledon final appearance was a bittersweet one, the achievement one he was clearly proud of, his biggest feat since winning the 2014 US Open title, but a feat he did not showcase his full abilities in, a foot blister and the occasion overwhelming him.

With the psychological scars and the physical ones still  too raw to have healed- Cilic has not played since Wimbledon– little can be expected of the former champ, an unknown quantity at the best of times, but, as one of the few active slam champs in the draw, the Croatian has to be given a shot because when Cilic is on, his shots are of as high a quality as anyone else in the draw.

How the draw treated him:

After Andy Murray’s withdrawal, Cilic has taken his place in the draw, and will probably be relieved to face world No.104 Tennys Sandgren and not Gilles Simon who he was originally drawn to play. Cilic will not underestimate Sandgren, though- the American will have the crowd’s support on a show court and is match fit having played 12 matches since Wimbledon.

Florian Mayer, if the 2016 Halle champ beats Roberto Dutra Silva, could be awkward in the second round, Thanassi Kokkinakis will be one to watch in the third, and Lucas Pouille (16) or David Ferrer (21) will help us learn just how much Cilic has bounced back.

Cilic’s last eight match is scheduled to be versus 8th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who he played and beat at the same stage in 2015, and if he can  repeat that win, he could face Sascha Zverev, a player who he has struggled with in the past, but if Cilic beat Zverev over five sets and exploit the German’s inexperience on that slam semi-final stage, Cilic will show us he has not only recovered from his SW19 loss, but that he may have even grown.

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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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