It’s been quite some time since the tennis world has entered the final major of the year with this much excitement. All eyes—even those of people who don’t normally follow the sport closely—will be craning their necks towards New York City starting next week. On the men’s side, a trio of the establishment will try to vie for the title while a growing insurgence among the rank-and-file threatens to turn things on its head again. And on the women’s side, arguably the greatest female athlete of all time is simply trying to accomplish dual feats that will only further to grow her aura as an indomitable champion. Here is your men’s singles draw analysis, complete with a breakdown of each section with possible upsets and surprises.
Seeds: (1) Novak Djokovic, (14) David Goffin, (23) Roberta Bautista Agut, (25) Andreas Seppi
The world number one was one match away from being able to attempt what Serena Williams is currently trying to accomplish. If Novak Djokovic had beaten Stan Wawrinka in the finals of Roland Garros, we could be looking at the potential for two calendar grand slams in the same year. That’s not the case, but Djokovic is still looking to win his third major of the year. He’s been given a draw full of talented, but volatile players. Unseeded threats like Vasek Pospisil, Teimuraz Gabashvili, and Jerzy Janowicz lurk, but can any of them sustain enough hot play to dethrone the world number one? Don’t count on it.
Also here: David Goffin. Goffin looked for all the world to be on his way to beating Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati last week. He was up a double break on Novak in the deciding set. Then, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. David isn’t in the same weight class as Djokovic: he’s thinner and lacks as much of a punch on his groundstrokes as the Serb. So it gives real pause as to how a loss such as that one could impact Goffin’s confidence. He withdrew from Winston-Salem to be ready for the US Open—if he can look back on the second set and first half of the third set against Djokovic, he might be able to challenge him again in the Round of 16. But if he looks at what happened in the latter stages of that final set, he could fall victim to a premature upset.
Quarterfinalist: Novak Djokovic.
Seeds: (8) Rafael Nadal, (10) Milos Raonic, (18) Feliciano Lopez, (32) Fabio Fognini
The New York crowds have never seen Rafael Nadal play Roger Federer. Every year it was expected, one or the other crashed out early. With Rafa being seeded this low as a result of a lack of confidence and match wins, there was a chance he could have been put in Roger’s quarter, thus giving American fans a good chance of seeing these two play at the US Open. Alas, Nadal gets stuck with Djokovic—and that’s if he even gets that far. He’s been hit with a brutal first round match against Borna Coric, tapped by many to have top ten talent soon. He’s also got Fabio Fognini, a maddeningly inconsistent Italian who has the game to trouble and beat Nadal on clay, or Steve Johnson, who’s having a great summer on hardcourts, as a potential third round opponent. Further, Nadal’s conquerer in Cincinnati in Feliciano Lopez lurks as a Round of 16 opponent.
Gone Fishing. Mardy Fish is making his final appearance as a professional tennis player at the US Open this year. Fish hasn’t been a regular on the tour for three years due to anxiety and heart issues, so it’s hard to forget that for a short while he was the leading force for American tennis, even reaching the World Tour Finals in 2011. He opens against Marco Cecchinato of Italy in the first round and could face Feliciano Lopez in the second.
Quarterfinalist: Rafael Nadal.
Seeds: (4) Kei Nishikori, (16) Gael Monfils, (19) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, (26) Tommy Robredo
As it always seems to be with Kei Nishikori, his health will go a long way towards determining his success at a major. Last year he was healthy, and that helped him break through to his first major final, beating Novak Djokovic along the way as just one of several impressive scalps. This summer, he collected the title in Washington and stormed to the semifinals in Canada. Unfortunately, Kei looked listless in that semifinal as the injury bug hit him again. If he’s not healthy, it will be shown clearly in his first round as he takes on the diversified and unpredictable game of Benoit Paire.
Unseeded darkhorse: Alexandr Dolgopolov. Alexandr Dolgopolov’s claim to fame came at the US Open a few years back when he played fantastically entertaining tiebreak set with Novak Djokovic, eventually losing it 16-14 as well as the match. Most recently, the Ukrainian stormed his way to the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, eventually falling in three fantastically entertaining sets to… you guessed it, Novak Djokovic. Alexandr has a strange game, highlighted by his quick service motion and his buggy-whip forehand. He appears to be in form now, and that could mean good things for him in New York.
Quarterfinalist: Kei Nishikori.
Seeds: (7) David Ferrer, (9) Marin Cilic, (17) Grigor Dimitrov, (27) Jeremy Chardy
The defending US Open champion lies here, but Marin Cilic has done absolutely nothing to inspire confidence that he’ll come even close to defending his title. Part of that is due to injury, as he missed a good chunk of this year. But when he has been on the court, Cilic looks more like the meek upstart with the flashes of potential from a few years back as opposed to the forehand-cracking, big-serve-bombing, major-winning champion from last September. If he can’t win it, what about David Ferrer, the little scrappy baseliner who can? Unfortunately, Ferrer has been out with a wrist injury since the grass court season. He’s pulled out of the last few events he’s entered at the last moment, so there’s no guarantee he’ll even play the US Open. If Ferrer’s not in full form, there could be a surprise in store for the draw.
Out of love, back in form? It happens to many players, particularly those who begin dating fellow athletes: they fall in love, and their game starts to regress. You could argue that’s the case with Grigor Dimitrov, who has been backsliding in 2015 after cracking the Top Ten last year. Recently, he and Maria Sharapova called it quits, but it doesn’t necessarily look like he’s out of his funk. He compiled a pedestrian 4-3 record on the North American hardcourts. Furthermore, the way he’s lost his matches raises concern about his confidence and mental state; while all three losses have been in three sets, he’s dumped the second set in tiebreaks in two of them and then gone on to lose the match. And in the case of his loss to Andy Murray in Cincinnati, Dimitrov consistently had leads on the Brit but couldn’t close him out. Does getting the opportunity to beat Murray give Grigor confidence, or does the fact he let multiple leads slip doom him?
Quarterfinalist: Grigor Dimitrov.
Seeds: (5) Stan Wawrinka, (11) Gilles Simon, (22) Viktor Troicki, (28) Jack Sock
The French Open champion—who has unfortunately been in the news for relationship reasons than his tennis as of late—sits atop this section of the draw. He’s been handed a pretty comfortable draw full of youngsters, especially Americans, that should allow him to reach the second week. That’s not to say he won’t be tested by them: Hyeon Chung is an ascendant player who has few discernable weaknesses in his game already at his age; Jack Sock (if he can get past Gilles Muller in Round 2) has a wicked forehand and serve that could prove troublesome.
Upset Alert: Tiafoe over Troicki. As someone who watched both players last week in Winston-Salem, this is a pick based on current form and recency bias. Tiafoe won a handful of matches as he ran through qualifying and nearly beat eventual Winston-Salem quarterfinalist Thomaz Bellucci. He was clearly exhausted by the end of his run, but he also looks like he has all the weapons to be a future star on the tour. Troicki, meanwhile, looked overmatched and hardly the same player he once was in his loss to Malek Jaziri in Winston-Salem. His shots lacked sting, and he repeatedly rushed the net to poor effect. If the American is rested, this could be a four or five set match that goes his way.
Quarterfinalist: Stan Wawrinka.
Seeds: (3) Andy Murray, (15) Kevin Anderson, (20) Dominic Thiem, (30) Thomaz Bellucci
From the very beginning of this tournament, Andy Murray will have his work cut out for him. His first round opponent is the most maligned player in the sport right now: Nick Kyrgios. Kyrgios brings his best tennis for the majors, and although he’s reportedly dealing with an injury and likely will try to be as subdued as possible, he could still bring the fireworks onto the court with his racquet. Beyond that match, Murray looks to have a pretty good draw to reach the second week.
Also here: Dominic Thiem. Thiem has made a move up the rankings this summer, as he stormed through to titles in Umag and Gstaad. The problem? Both of those titles were on clay, and when Dominic reached the hardcourts of North America, he dumped both of his first round matches. You could chalk it up to fatigue after having played three tournaments back-to-back-to-back and then having to fly to another continent, but Thiem will need to make sure he’s rested and comfortable on the courts of Flushing Meadows to ensure a long stay.
Quarterfinalist: Andy Murray.
Seeds: (6) Tomas Berdych, (12) Richard Gasquet, (24) Bernard Tomic, (31) Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
What should we make of Tomas Berdych? He continues to plug along and started off the season with a fantastic run to the semifinals of the Australian Open. Yet, he has failed to win a title this year, and most people think he’s simply content to be a player who lives up to his seeding—wherever it is—and do no more. If Berdych is to have a breakthrough here at the US Open, he doesn’t have a bad draw to do it. His first week opponents are full of players either slumping, returning from injury layoffs, or whose best days lay ahead. A fourth-round matchup with Richard Gasquet—himself another career underachiever—awaits if the Frenchman can get past Thanasi Kokkinakis in another intriguing first round match.
Take a Bow: Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 US Open champion, is retiring after the Australian Open next year. Hewitt is nowhere near his prime; he’s not even close to the solid player he was just a few years back. But surely there will be fans out to catch him before he disappears from the ranks of professional tennis players. He opens against the unknown Aleksandr Nedovyesov, and there could be poetic justice as he could lose and pass the torch to the next generation of Australian men with an encounter against Bernard Tomic in the second round.
Quarterfinalist: Tomas Berdych.
Seeds: (2) Roger Federer, (13) John Isner, (21) Ivo Karlovic, (29) Philipp Kohlschreiber
The world wants to know: is Roger Federer going to employ his kamikaze second-serve return tactic in Flushing Meadows? Roger unleashed it en route to the Cincinnati title, and both fans and commentators loved seeing him rush in recklessly against even some of the world’s best servers. A look at Roger’s draw indicates that he’s got a bit of a rough time: he opens against world number 33 Leonardo Mayer, then could face Marcos Baghdatis in the second round, and then any number of dangerous players in the third round. Kohlschrieber is the seed, but Alexander Zverev and Jared Donaldson are talented, improving youngsters, and Lukas Rosol is a hard-hitting veteran.
Aces Wild? The two leading ace players on the tour, John Isner and Ivo Karlovic, are both situated here and could face off in the third round. Both players had a great summer; Isner won a title in Atlanta and reached the finals in Washington while Karlovic reached the finals of Newport and proved to be a brutal out in both Canada and Cincinnati. If the two play each other, it could produce the shortest-ever five-set match.
Quarterfinalist: Roger Federer.
The tail end of business
What can we expect from Rafael Nadal against Novak Djokovic? If the two face off, as it is slated to happen here, might we get another excellent New York battle between the two? Many expected it to be an epic showdown in Paris, and Djokovic completely dismantled the then-defending champion in the quarterfinals. That was on Rafa’s favorite surface, and not at the major where he’s historically put up dud results. Fans probably shouldn’t be expecting much of a change in Nadal’s form; he looked shaky in his two hardcourt warm-ups while Novak did manage to reach the finals of both Canada and Cincinnati. In the other top half quarterfinal, if Nishikori’s healthy—and if Dimitrov isn’t dwelling on the past—their quarterfinal encounter could prove to be a really good match. It’s better in an instance like this to go with recent form and pick Kei, but had Dimitrov pulled off any of the wins from which he lost while ahead, couldn’t we be talking about how the Bulgarian’s recent form is just as solid? A Novak-Kei matchup would be a repeat of the semifinals from last year at the US Open. One thing that stuck out from last year’s encounter was that it seemed Novak looked flat during parts of that match, something he seems to be doing with alarming frequency in the last year or so. Don’t expect for that to happen again (though, it wasn’t expected that he’d look that way during parts of the French Open final this year but it happened). Djokovic should be considered the favorite to reach yet another US Open final.
In the bottom half of the draw, with all of the top seeds having reached the final eight, it ensures fans of some solid and tasty matchups. Stan has the weapons to blow Andy Murray off the court, but Murray is also one of the best defensive and steady players on the tour. With the title in Canada that includes a win over his rival Novak Djokovic bolstering his confidence, it seems hard to think he’d lose his focus and cool against Wawrinka. As for Federer-Berdych, it’s already been mentioned. Can we really expect Berdych to pull off the upset? Federer looked absolutely great in all facets of the game in Cincinnati. He’s rested and he’s focused, and it’s quite possible a few of his second-serve rush returns would absolutely throw Tomas off his game. In the semifinals, a Federer-Murray match sounds like it should excite everyone, until you see the stats. Murray hasn’t beaten Roger since 2013; he’s lost five straight to Federer; and in all five of those matches, Murray has won a single set out of the thirteen played. The Scotsman has had all sorts of trouble against Roger’s serve of late and simply can’t seem to break it. If their 2015 Wimbledon encounter is any indication, the sets will be tight, but in the end, Roger will prevail.
It’s a rematch of the Cincinnati final. It’s a rematch of the Wimbledon final. Two different surfaces and two different results. Which one should we go by? In Cincinnati, Roger looked dominant against Novak. But in London, outside of a slip-up in the second set, Novak looked to be in control that entire final. As many are pointing out, Cincinnati is a best-of-three match: Roger can afford to exert more energy in games because the match is more finite. But in a longer encounter, where Federer has to win three sets against the world number one, it simply looks less likely to happen.
Final Prediction: Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer in five sets.