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August 25, 2019

Djokovic the man to beat despite tricky draw


August 25, 2019

Unlike the three other majors, the US Open hasn’t had similar sustained dominance by a single player from the ATP tour. Where the Big Three, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, have respectively dominated Wimbledon (8), Roland Garros (12) and the Australian Open (7), to become the single most successful male players at those Grand Slam events, no one has more than five US Open titles in the Open era.

In fact, no one has managed to defend the US Open title since Federer won his fifth on the bounce in 2008, which put him level with Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras with most majors in New York in the Open era. Since Federer’s win 11 years ago, five different men have won the US Open – Rafael Nadal (3), Novak Djokovic (3), Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Stanislas Wawrinka.

This year, Federer will once again go for a sixth US Open crown, which will give him the overall lead in the Open era, and put him just one behind seven time Amateur winners William Larned, Richard Sears and Bill Tilden. And the US Open draw has opened up nicely for the Swiss maestro to go better than the quarterfinal and Round of 16 finishes of the last two years.

Federer is in Djokovic’s half, which could give us all a scrumptious semifinal between the two, and a rematch of this year’s Wimbledon final which the Swiss agonisingly lost. However, while that potential semi would be a massive challenge for Federer, his quarter isn’t exactly loaded with landmines.

Lucas Pouille, the Australian Open semifinalist this year and quarterfinalist at Cincinnati last week, is Federer’s projected third round opponent. Cincinnati finalist David Goffin could meet the Swiss in the Round of 16. Pouille and Goffin have a combined one win over Federer in 11 matches.

The potential quarterfinalist for Federer could be seventh seed Kei Nishikori or Borna Coric. Federer lost back to back matches against Coric last year, but has won both their encounters in 2019. Nishikori has three wins over Federer in 11 matches, but not a single one at a Grand Slam event.

Unlike Federer, Djokovic has a much trickier quarter. He could meet American Sam Querrey as early as the second round, with 2016 US Open champion Wawrinka or 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson the potential opponents for the World No 1 in the Round of 16.

The pick of the projected quarterfinals could see Djokovic face the in-form player of the North American swing Daniil Medvedev, who made finals in Washington and Montral before winning Cincinnati last week.

The fifth seeded Russian won his first ATP 1000 title in Cincinnati after beating Djokovic in the semifinal. He has, in fact, won the last two encounters between them, and gave a great account of himself in a four-set loss to Djokovic at the Australian Open this year as well.

In the other half, Nadal might be relieved to see both Djokovic and Federer in the other half, but his half has a perilous mix of the Next Gen and older foes. His first two opponents are likely to be Australian with John Millman facing the Spaniard in the first round and Thanasi Kokkinakis the next projected matchup. The highlight of the careers of both Millman and Kokkinakis thus far is beating Federer in 2018.

Nadal’s third and fourth round opponents could see him meet familiar faces in Fernando Verdasco, John Isner or Marin Cilic – both Verdasco and Cilic have hard court Grand Slam wins over Nadal. The projected quarterfinal opponent for the World No 2 is sixth seed Alexander Zverev, who has had a year to forget after winning the World Tour Finals at the end of 2018, and is still struggling to make any inroads at majors.

The final quarters has three of the finest Next Gen talents, in Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios. Since making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon 2014 and Australian Open 2015, Kyrgios hasn’t made the final eight at a major. Many feel the next year or so would be make or break for the Australian, if he is to fulfill his undisputed potential.

Meanwhile, both fourth seed Thiem, the back-to-back Roland Garros finalist, and eighth seed Tsitsipas are gradually making progress in their careers, and are projected to meet in the quarterfinals at the US Open.

Tsitsipas made the Australian Open final this year beating Federer en route, while Thiem beat Djokovic at both the previous to French Open events and won Indian Wells and Barcelona this year after beating Federer and Nadal. Those kind of wins against the Big Three would be crucial, should either of them make it to the semis from a quarter that also has Robereto Bautista-Agut.

Big Three have won all of the previous 11 majors. They’re shoo-in to make it three successive years, and 12 majors on the bounce, without anyone other than Djokovic, Nadal or Federer winning a Grand Slam title.

However, if there’s any major event where an underdog might spring a surprise, it’s at Flushing Meadows. But it’s hard to look past Medvedev and Thiem to provide any kind of challenge to the Big 3.

Of those three, Djokovic would be the favourite despite getting the toughest quarter. However, he might have to beat Federer and Nadal in back to back matches to become the first male player to defend the US Open in 11 years.