US Open: Men’s Singles Preview and Draw Analysis

Novak Djokovic sits atop the ATP rankings
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As the tennis fraternity heads to New York for the final Grand Slam of the year, tennis has restored a semblance of normality at last. There will be a full house at the 2021 US Open. However, the USTA tweaked its rules pertaining to the coronavirus protocols. Originally, fans did not need to show proof of vaccination to enter the grounds, but that has all changed in the past 48 hours.

And amidst all that, two of tennis’ iconic pillars will be missing the showpiece event at Flushing Meadows. Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will be joined in the treatment room by defending champion Dominic Thiem, who is still nursing a persistent wrist injury. That has left the door ajar for Novak Djokovic to win his fourth straight Grand Slam title in 2021–a feat achieved only once in the Open Era of men’s tennis. On that note, here is how we expect the draw to unfold in the next two weeks.

US Open 2021: Men’s Singles Preview and Draw Analysis

First quarter: who can stop Novak Djokovic’s Calendar Slam bid?

Top seed Novak Djokovic has won three titles at the US Open. A fourth here will steer Djokovic clear in the GOAT debate. The Serbian star starts his quest for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam against Norwegian qualifier Holger Rune.

Djokovic could play big-hitting German Jan-Lennard Struff in the second round. It is pertinent to note that it would be the seventh career meeting between the pair, and a fourth at Grand Slam level. Struff is 0-6 against the World #1 and has only managed to take a single set in the past. Djokovic’s projected third-round opponent is likely to be an off-color Kei Nishikori.

Moving on, Aslan Karatsev is one of only five players to beat Djokovic in 2021. And the Russian lurks in his section of the draw. Karatsev has fared dismally in recent weeks after a barnstorming start to the year in Australia. He has three wins from his last 11 matches but has cushy few rounds, to begin with.

It is worth keeping an eye on American wild card Jenson Brooksby, who could very well pull off a shock or two in this quarter. Brooksby reached his first ATP final in Newport last month. And he arrives in New York with six wins on hard courts under his belt. He plays a fatigued Mikael Ymer (finalist in Winston-Salem) before he targets a scalp in the form of #14 seed Alex De Minaur or compatriot Taylor Fritz. Brooksby vs Djokovic in the fourth round is a real possibility.

On the opposite side of the quarter, Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini and Poland’s top-ranked male player Hubert Hurkacz lead the chasing pack.

Berrettini has a manageable first-round match against Jeremy Chardy. He might need to clear a tough obstacle in the third round against possibly the in-form Ilya Ivashka who captured the Winston-Salem title. Aside from that, Berrettini and Hurkacz are almost nailed on to make it into the fourth round in a rematch of their Wimbledon semifinal.

Quarterfinal prediction: Djokovic (1) vs Hurkacz (10)

Second quarter: Zverev looks to wipe away last year’s failure

In one of the most bizarre US Open finals in recent memory, Alexander Zverev lost last year’s final to Dominic Thiem in five sets. But Zverev can easily lay claim of being the leading charge of a new wave of contenders this time. The German looks best placed to stop Djokovic’s historic bid this fortnight.

Zverev has won his past 11 matches, dropping just two sets in the process. But doubts linger on Zverev’s emotional state. He is subject of fresh domestic abuse allegations and he might be unsettled in his stay in New York. The big-serving German opens up against Sam Querrey who is winless in his past five matches. Up until the fourth round, Zverev has very little to worry about in this section.

Jannik Sinner could be his projected fourth-round opponent, but the Italian will likely need to take down a resurgent Gael Monfils before that.

The opposite quarter is as open as it could get. The likes of Pablo Carreno Busta, Reilly Opelka, and Denis Shapovalov will be vying for the opportunity to reach the quarterfinals.

But a name that could sneak into the last eight under the radar is that of Sebastian Korda. The lanky American is making his second main draw appearance at his home Slam, but has a battle on his hands. He opens up against the shotmaking machine Nikoloz Basilashvili. Should Korda avoid an upset, he is likely to run into Bronze Medalist Pablo Carreno Busta thereafter. Needless to say, Korda might have to do it all himself by taking out the aforementioned trio to reach his maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Quarterfinal prediction: Zverev (4) vs Korda

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Third quarter: Plenty of intriguing matchups with Tsitsipas and Rublev leading the way

Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are on course to clash for the ninth time in their careers. The head-to-head between the pair is currently tied at 4-4.

Third seed Tsitsipas has a won a tour-leading 48 matches in 2021, and looks set to hit 50 in the first two rounds. He plays former champion, Andy Murray, in a seemingly innocuous opening round. The Greek will then lock horns against a Frenchman: Adrian Mannarino or Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Tsitsipas’ first acid test should come in the third round. And it will be one of Cameron Norrie, Carlos Alcaraz, Arthur Rinderknech or Miomir Kecmanovic.

At the other end of the quarter, Rublev has a mix of big servers and finesse to contend with. Rublev’s troubles will begin in earnest against 42-year-old Croatian qualifier Ivo Karlovic. Retirement is imminent for Karlovic who admitted he could be playing his final tournament. Rublev’s poor record against big servers is well documented, but we don’t envisage a repeat of the same on Monday.

The Russian has a less harmful second-rounder against one of Pedro Martinez or James Duckworth. But his third-round opponent is likely to be the effervescent Frances Tiafoe who is no stranger to shocking top seeds at Grand Slams.

There is a marquee first-round match between Nick Kyrgios and 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut. We are unsure of Kyrgios’ physical condition coming to the US Open. The unpredictable Australian pulled out from his first-round match in Winston-Salem at the last minute, leading to a chorus of boos from the waiting crowd. The winner of this match could face Felix Auger-Aliassime as early as the third round.
Quarterfinal prediction: Tsitsipas (3) vs Auger-Aliassime (12)

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Fourth quarter: Can Medvedev regain Toronto form?

I guess the big question in this quarter is who can stop Daniil Medvedev? The Russian juggernaut will be pretty happy with how the draw panned out. He dodged all the major contenders until the semifinal. Medvedev will square off against Richard Gasquet in a comfortable opener. One of Quentin Halys, a qualifier, or Dominik Koepfer are unlikely to cause him a sleepless night in the second round.

The first big-name Medvedev could face will be the 2014 champion Marin Cilic. Cilic surrendered a two-set lead against the Russian world #2 at this year’s Wimbledon and will be keen to atone for that mishap. But the Croat might not get another bite of the cherry and could quite feasibly fall to veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber who has beaten him seven times from 11 meetings.

Elsewhere, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov is seeded a surprisingly high of 15th. He plays 2021 NCAA singles champion Sam Riffice – a wildcard entrant ranked 539 in the world. Dimitrov is Medvedev’s projected fourth-round opponent, but the Bulgarian might not make it that far considering his potential second-rounder against Alexei Popyrin.

On the opposite side of this quarter lies Casper Ruud. Norway’s in-form man is sitting at a career-high ranking of #11. Ruud has produced a series of eye-catching performances in the past month. His clay-court record outpaces that of hard courts, but he arrives in New York in fine fettle. Ruud registered wins over the likes of Opelka, Schwartzman, and Cilic at the last two Masters tournaments.

We are guaranteed an American representative in the second round in this quarter as John Isner drew wildcard Brandon Nakashima. The pair contested this year’s Atlanta final with Isner emerging victorious.

Quarterfinal prediction: Medvedev (2) vs Ruud (8)

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