Ahead of the 2021 US Open, five Last Word on Tennis writers – Vithun Illankovan (@VitIllankovan), Fraser Learmonth, Jack Edward (@jackedward1994), Niranjan Deodhar (@DeodharNiranjan) and Jethro Broughton (@JethroLWOS) made their US Open predictions for the Men’s Singles tournament. We also have a separate roundtable for the women’s singles.
US Open Roundtable Predictions
Champion – Who will win the US Open?
Vithun: (2) Daniil Medvedev [RUS]
I was the only one at the Olympics roundtable not to predict Novak Djokovic to win Gold in Tokyo mainly because of the pressure from what he was trying to achieve and for the same reason I don’t expect him to be victorious in New York either. If this was an ordinary US Open for him, I think Djokovic could win this event with his C-game, like he famously did in the long but low-quality 2019 Wimbledon final against rival Roger Federer.
However, this isn’t just any US Open for Djokovic. He is trying to accomplish something which hasn’t been achieved by any man since Rod Laver 1969: the Calendar Grand Slam (winning all four Grand Slams in one calendar year). In addition, he is trying to win a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title. When Serena Williams on the WTA Tour had the chance to achieve the Calendar Grand Slam in 2015 (and tie Steffi Graf on 22 Grand Slam singles titles), she eventually crumbled under the media pressure in a semifinal loss to Roberta Vinci which was amongst the biggest upset in tennis history.
With so many former US Open champions across both singles draws out with injury (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin del Potro, Stan Wawrinka, Serena Williams and Venus Williams), an even larger percentage of the tennis media will be covering Djokovic and his tournament and quest for even more history. Whilst Djokovic is stronger mentally than Serena (over the past decade), I still think the pressure of the occasion will be too much for the Serbian just like it was at the Olympics.
The question is who will win the US Open instead and after his impressive performances in the Masters events after the Olympics (winning in Toronto and reaching the semi-finals in Cincinnati) I have gone for Daniil Medvedev. Out of all the other credible challengers, he has the most relevant Grand Slam experience having played in two hard-court Grand Slam finals, including one at the US Open in 2019. In fact, in the last four Grand Slam events played on hard courts, he has lost to the eventual champion on three occasions.
The one time he didn’t was because it was his first Grand Slam event after his maiden Grand Slam final and nobody recently has performed well under those circumstances (more on this in my early exit analysis) and he lost to a former champion anyway. Therefore I am going with the Russian to finally win a well-deserved first Grand Slam title!
Fraser: (1) Novak Djokovic [SRB]
No surprises here. Novak Djokovic will be the 2021 US Open champion and I think he will get there pretty comfortably. Aside from a remarkable meltdown at the Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic has been a cut above the rest in 2021. That is particularly true in Grand Slams where he is yet to lose a match this year and is the first man since Rod Laver to win the first three Grand Slams of the year. Add to that the fact that both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are missing from this year’s tournament and it’s hard not to think Djokovic is going to cruise to a calendar slam in New York.
Jack: (1) Novak Djokovic [SRB]
It was a toss-up between the top two seeds for me but I eventually settled on the world #1. Djokovic has an outstanding record against his early opponents so there should be no trouble for him reaching the latter stages. Against Alexander Zverev, over best of five sets, with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn the Calendar Slam? Djokovic would be my pick every time. If the final comes down to Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, that’s where things could get sticky but I’d still back the Serb given the stakes.
Niranjan: (1) Novak Djokovic [SRB]
Despite Djokovic losing last of his two matches against Alexander Zverev and Pablo Carreno Busta at Tokyo Olympics, it is difficult to imagine anyone beating the Serb over the course of five sets. He prefers playing on hard courts, is well-rested and is a 3-time champion at New York. He will be motivated to complete his Calendar Slam after winning all the three Slams so far this year. Djokovic will cherish the presence of the crowd at Flushing Meadows, drawing energy from them to deliver his best on the big moments.
Jethro: (2) Daniil Medvedev [RUS]
Unsurprisingly many are predicting Novak Djokovic to take the title here and complete the Calendar Slam. However, we’re in for a far closer tournament than some are expecting. Djokovic suffered a crushing end to his Olympic campaign, and it will be interesting to see how much that has affected him.
Medvedev has been an absolute machine once again in this year’s US hardcourt swing, and he has his eyes on the prize in New York. He may have suffered a disappointing loss to Rublev in the Cincinnati semifinals, but this was largely down to his collision with the on-court camera that hurt him and threw him off his game.
If Medvedev is to win the US Open, he will have to remain solid between the ears even in the toughest moments. He has all the weapons to beat everyone on tour, but his mental game which is often so impressive must be in peak performance mode.
The world #2 is a man on a mission, and while his draw isn’t exactly easy, it’s one where he should definitely make the final at least. The US Open is often the Grand Slam where anything can happen and the Big 3 have been far less dominant in the last 10 decade. Medvedev is the second-best player in the world right now, and this slam is one he is more than capable of winning.
Dark Horse – Who will go furthest in the draw, relative to their seeding (or ranking)?
Vithun: (19) John Isner [USA]
The American has compiled a 13-3 match record since Wimbledon, winning a title in Atlanta and reaching the semi-finals in Toronto. In addition, he is in a good eighth of the draw, with the two seeds ranked higher than him are both beatable opponents that prefer clay courts. 11th seed Diego Schwartzman usually only reaches one Grand Slam quarter-final each year and since he has already done that this year at the French Open is unlikely to do so here as well. Meanwhile 8th seed Casper Ruud has yet to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final in his career and may struggle under the pressure of being seeded in the Top 10 at a Grand Slam for the first time. Therefore, Isner has a great chance to make the last eight at his home Slam.
Fraser: (12) Felix Auger-Aliassime [CAN]
This is a tricky one because the new generation have gone a long way towards establishing themselves as contenders which means none of them can really be a dark horse anymore. With that in mind, I’m going to take Felix Auger-Aliassime. The young Canadian has already made eight ATP finals at just 21 years of age. He is yet to win one but has shown he has the game to mix it with the best in the world. He is also fresh of his best ever Grand Slam result at Wimbledon earlier this year. He made the quarterfinals there and I think he can go at least as far in New York. There is no real weakness in his game and the mental block he clearly has in finals shouldn’t apply in the same way to the latter rounds of a Grand Slam.
Jack: (13) Jannik Sinner [ITA]
Sinner has already been on the wrong side of some titanic five-set clashes in his short career – with his serve and general game constantly improving, this year’s US Open could be the tournament where those results start to go his way. Sinner has the game to beat anybody in the world and should he have to face Zverev in the fourth round, I could see the Italian squeaking through in a mammoth battle. Following that, I’d favour him to beat Karen Khachanov/Lloyd Harris/Pablo Carreno Busta/Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals to reach the semifinals.
Niranjan: (22) Reilly Opelka [USA]
The tall American is so far having his best season on the tour. After reaching the semifinal at Rome Masters earlier this year, the American was the finalist at Toronto Masters couple of weeks ago, defeating Bautista Agut and Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his title clash. On his current form, one can expect the big serving Opelka to excel at this year’s US Open and he should probably reach the round of 16 in New York if not any further.
Jethro: (25) Karen Khachanov [RUS]
Khachanov has been enjoying a huge resurgence in form this season. His brilliant performance at Wimbledon saw him just a set away from reaching the semifinals. After this, he went on to win the singles silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Khachanov hasn’t quite brought this form to the US yet, but he’s still a very dangerous player on these fast courts. He has no cakewalk of a draw by any stretch of the imagination, but is strong enough to take on his side of the draw. His first round encounter with Lloyd Harris will be a very tough match, but he should still win this.
He’s seeded to meet Shapovalov in the third round, but the Canadian is in bad form right now. Khachanov is certainly capable of winning this potential match, and he is also comfortably good enough to beat other players on his side of the draw such as Carreno Busta, Opelka and Korda.
The Russian may end up meeting Zverev in the quarterfinals, and this would be a hugely intense affair if it happened. Khachanov at his best can go far, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him do so.
Another potential dark horse is young American Jenson Brooksby, whose favourable draw could possibly result in a fourth round meeting with Djokovic.
Early Exit – Who will suffer the earliest exit, relative to their seeding (or ranking)?
Vithun: (18) Roberto Bautista Agut [ESP]
I really hope I’m wrong about this but I think the Spaniard is vulnerable of losing in the opening round at this year’s US Open. He only has a 4-3 record in Grand Slams this year and has lost in the opening round of two of the last three US Opens. In addition, he has an opening round match against the unpredictable Nick Kyrgios. Whilst the Australian may be one of the most overhyped players in Tennis history, Bautista Agut is the type of player Kyrgios upset due to the Spaniard’s quiet nature, the US Open crowd will likely be heavily on the side of Kyrgios.
Also due an early exit will be 6th seed Matteo Berrettini. The Italian has never made three Grand Slam quarter-finals in a row and eight of the last nine first-time Grand Slam finalists have failed to reach the quarter-finals at the following Grand Slam. Therefore an exit before the quarter-finals seems very likely.
Fraser: (11) Diego Schwartzman [ARG]
Diego Schwartzman. I hope I’m wrong, but Schwartzman’s second and third round opponents are likely to be Kevin Anderson and John Isner respectively. The courts at flushing meadows reward big serving and those are two of the biggest servers in men’s tennis, even if they are a bit past their primes. Schwartzman has had a brilliant run in slams over recent years but he struggled here last year and bowed out in the first round. I suspect he may struggle again this time, but I expect him to win at least one match before being taken out by one of the two men mentioned above.
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Jack: (7) Denis Shapovalov [CAN]
Shapovalov has been nowhere near his best after his brutal loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon, having failed to win a match since then. If he manages to scrape through the first few rounds, I think either Khachanov or Harris will get the better of him.
Niranjan: (18) Roberto Bautista Agut [ESP]
Roberto Bautista Agut has been off-colour on the tour for a while now, succumbing to multiple opening-round exits in the recent past. He faces the ever-unpredictable Nick Kyrgios in the opening round. Even though Kyrgios has played a lot of tennis off late, the Australian cherishes playing on the big occasions. At Wimbledon earlier this year, Kyrgios stunned the 25th seeded Ugo Humbert in five sets in his opening round and a repeat of that performance to upset the 18th seeded Bautista Agut is totally possible.
Jethro: (6) Matteo Berrettini [ITA]
It almost feels wrong to be predicting this after saying he could win Wimbledon a few months ago, but the Italian is clearly not in his best shape right now. In Cincinnati he struggled through his win against Ramos-Vinolas before being soundly beaten by an inconsistent Auger Aliassime.
Berrettini is clearly a bit rusty having had no match practice since the Wimbledon final, but his thigh injury is the bigger issue here. His movement in Cincinnati was much slower than normal and it’s hard to see him recovering fully in time to make a good run here.
The Italian shouldn’t be counted out entirely, but it’s hard to see him making the quarterfinals where he is also seeded to meet Djokovic. He faces a tough first round with Chardy and then he could face multiple dangerous players such as Fognini, Sonego and Hurkacz. I’m not convinced Berrettini can go beyond the fourth round. Another early exit could well be Denis Shapovalov, who is in shocking form lately and may have to play Karen Khachanov in the third round, which won’t be easy for him.
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