In a matter of days, the US Open will crown a new major champion. After Felix Auger-Aliassime’s loss and Novak Djokovic’s default in the round of 16, we are guaranteed a winner born in the 1990s. It took a knee injury, a worldwide pandemic and a sizable mental cramp for the Big 3 to temporarily relinquish their tyrannical Grand Slam domination.
But who will make history on Sunday? A member of the much-hyped Next Gen? An underappreciated representative of the much-maligned Lost Gen? Or a 27-year-old in the prime of his career?
Down below, I am going to rank the eight remaining contenders based on their chances to go all the way to the title. That doesn’t necessarily entail a player ranked #4 here is better in a vacuum than someone ranked #6. It just means he has a more realistic shot at hoisting the trophy in New York. Matchups matter.
Everyone’s worst nightmare. Tennis governing bodies, broadcasting companies and fans would naturally despise this possibility. While the odds of pulling the plug on the tournament at this point are low, nothing can be ruled out in 2020, especially if the rumors about the bubble being somewhat porous are true. What if Stefanos Tsitsipas and Petra Kvitova felt the necessity to crash a wedding after squandering ten combined match points and spread the virus before flying out to Europe? (I’m sure they didn’t, but weirder things have happened in 2020.)
8. Borna Coric
The only former winner of the US Open junior event (2013) is the least likely to win it all? Someone who owns at least a pair of victories against all three of Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev? Absolutely. Kudos to Coric for not bending the knee against Tsitsipas and backing up that upset versus Jordan Thompson, but that forehand cannot be trusted to win three more matches at this level.
7. Alex de Miñaur
Don’t get me wrong. I want a relentless fighter like Demon on my team seven days a week. I could build a reasonable case that he could have a decent shot in any hypothetical final, but the lower half of the draw is stacked with terrible matchups for him. Given his well-documented work ethic, he may eventually develop into a bona-fide Slam contender, but he doesn’t have the weapons yet.
6. Denis Shapovalov
The Canadian has broken the fourth round barrier at a Major exactly three years after his original trip to the second week. Curiously, he will face the same rival who snapped that breakout run at the 2017 US Open: Pablo Carreño Busta. Shapovalov remains a regular contributor to the highlight reels and, although he’s grown tactically under Mikhail Youzhny’s tutelage, he is not in the same league as other contenders. El Shapo completed impressive comebacks against Taylor Fritz and David Goffin, but he would need to catch fire for 6-10 more hours to win the title. Highly unlikely.
5. Andrey Rublev
Just like the aforementioned Shapovalov, Rublev first burst onto the tour scene in the summer of 2017. Likewise, the Russian was known for obliterating balls as hard as possible. He still treats the balls with little affection but the good news for Rublev is that he uses his brain now. It looks like coach Fernando Vicente has injected some of the patience he had as a player back in the early 2000s. A two-time tournament winner in 2020, Rublev turned around a duel that appeared utterly complicated against the streaking Matteo Berrettini. The 22-year-old is re-seeded this low mostly because he’s 0-6 in sets against his quarterfinal foe: Medvedev. If he manages to upend his compatriot, the current version of Rublev has got a legit shot at the title.
4. Pablo Carreño Busta
Credit where it’s due: Djokovic acted foolishly because Carreño did a formidable job hanging in that first set. He always flies under the radar because he plays an unsophisticated brand of tennis and is quiet off the court. Will he win the tournament? Probably not. Nevertheless, he has a real chance of reaching the final. Shapovalov and Zverev are both high variance dudes who may beat themselves, while a semifinal against Coric would have all the ingredients to be a grueling battle. Then, Carreño would be a clear underdog on Sunday and he could take advantage of someone else’s nerves. Plus, just envision the following speech: “I want to dedicate this trophy first and foremost to my buddies Nick and Ben. This run was fuelled by your comments. You may now proceed to delete your Twitter accounts.” It would be so 2020.
3. Dominic Thiem
The 7-6 6-1 6-1 beatdown over Auger-Aliassime merits at least a round of applause. Thiem played at a sky-high level in the final two sets which, coupled with Djokovic’s absence, has vaulted him to top-contender status. Notwithstanding, I personally prefer to pump the breaks here. The No. 2 seed will likely overpower De Miñaur, but he’ll have trouble dealing with whichever Russian reaches the semifinal. Rublev can go toe to toe with Thiem off both wings. And it would be interesting whether Thiem insists on his ultra-deep return position against Rublev’s loopy second serve. Medvedev would be an even more daunting challenge for the 27-year-old away from clay. I see the reigning runner up bringing the battle to his terrain and inducing loads of errors from the world No. 3.
But even if Thiem advanced to the final, a title would not be a sure deal. Remember he is 1 and 6 in big finals (Majors, Masters, Tour Finals). His lone victory? A 3-6 6-3 7-5 win over Roger Federer at Indian Wells last year where the Swiss went 2 for 11 in break points. Away from clay, Thiem hasn’t earned his reputation as best of the rest just yet.
2. Alexander Zverev
Based on pure US Open performance, I’d rate Zverev lower. However, the German is the overwhelming favorite to reach the final in the (on paper) weaker half of the draw. For years, Zverev has carried a label of underachiever at Majors. Out of nowhere, he’s somehow turned himself into a Slam specialist this season. Thus, the Hamburg native stands at a deplorable 1-5 record in ATP sanctioned events, while boasting a robust 9-1 Slam record. 2020 strikes again, guys.
Zverev should fend off Coric in spite of his non-existing success versus the Croatian in New York. Not only did Coric defeat Zverev in their 2017 second round duel, but he also ended his title aspirations in the 2013 junior semis. Not the most inspiring precedents, but if Zverev is able to summon his peak level or close to it, he will sweep Coric off the court. Ditto against Carreño or Shapovalov. Lastly, Thiem, Medvedev or Rublev would pose a bigger task in the final, but the match would be on Zverev’s racket. When he is zoned in and serving well, he has an extra gear.
1. Daniil Medvedev
The No. 3 seed has unfinished business in New York after reaching the final last year. Among the eight quarterfinalists, Medvedev was the only one not to partake in any tournaments or exhibitions during the pandemic. He lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in the Cincinnati Masters, but he has stepped up his game at the US Open, having conceded zero sets to his four opponents. While a potential path featuring Rublev, Thiem and Zverev sounds nightmarish, the Russian is a man on a mission in the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Since turning into Medvedev with capital M in early 2019, Medvedev is 3-1 against that trio on hard, with the lone loss coming against Zverev at the World Tour Finals. He was completely gassed by then. He looked as fresh as a lettuce against Frances Tiafoe, though.
I demand answers on these two Medvedev's return winners. Especially forehand one. #USOpen
— Oleg S. (@AnnaK_4ever) September 8, 2020
Main Photo from Getty.