Heading into the final slam of the year, it feels like we are back in the late 00s with a slam that will be taken by one of two men – Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. The tournament has been decimated by withdrawals over the summer from Kei Nishikori to former champions Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka – the last of which will be unable to defend his title this year.
The World No.1 spot, currently held by Nadal, will be up for grabs too with Federer able to take advantage should he make the final. With Murray withdrawing AFTER the draw was made, it created the situation where Nadal and Federer will be scheduled to meet in the semi finals now despite being the two highest seeds in the draw. Nadal doesn’t come into the tournament in the best of form, failing to build up his record breaking French Open title. He lost in the fourth round at Wimbledon before going just 2-3 at the two hard court masters in the past month. Those losses were to two much more youthful players in Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios and while best of five is a completely different thing, he should be expecting to beat both of them as a Number 1, even if he almost fell into the position as a result of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic falling apart.
With many of the secondary contenders out, it seems difficult to pick a part of the draw that could disturb the expected semi final between Nadal and Federer. Nadal likely opens against two players more at home on the clay in Dusan Lajovic and Taro Daniel before Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych in the next two rounds – assuming the draw holds with seeds. Gasquet was defeated for the 15th time in 16 meetings in Cincinnati, with the Spaniard comfortably winning in straights. Berdych has a slightly more admirable record with 4 wins but 19 losses against the top seed.
One of the best matches of the year was the Australian Open semi final between Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov. Nadal fought back from a tough position in the decider to win and make the final but it showed that Dimitrov was perhaps ready to take a step up and challenge for slams. Dimitrov has had a few downs since then but will be full of confidence after winning Cincinnati, even if his draw was up there with the easiest ever for a Masters 1000 winner. He was near unbreakable and fairly comfortable in his final victory against Nick Kyrgios. Gael Monfils and David Goffin wrap up the first quarter as potential threats although Monfils in particular has not looked great this summer. The former semi finalist is just 2-2 on hard courts post-Wimbledon.
Federer is an astonishing 35-3 this year and the favourite to win the event although there was slight concerns after he lost in the Montreal final to Alexander Zverev. Federer looked slightly injured in his tame loss to the rising German but there are no suggestions that the problem is still hindering him coming into New York. Until he likely meets Kyrgios in round four, it is the sort of comfortable draw that allows the Swiss to ease his way into the event. Frances Tiafoe is up first while a potential second rounder against an opponent he is 16-0 against in Mikhail Youzhny will be great for him. 31st seed Feliciano Lopez could be up in round three and he fares just as badly – losing all 12 meetings against Federer. There isn’t much to concern him in terms of round 4 opponents with Juan Martin Del Potro often failing to last the distance against some of the upper level players this year while Dominic Thiem is yet to make it past the fourth round in New York so far.
The bottom half of the draw will provide a major opportunity for someone to make the final. The most logical option seems to be Alexander Zverev who has pushed on in a big way this year with two Masters 1000 titles to his name – and with wins over Djokovic and Federer rather than taking advantage of a weaker opponent in the final. It is now time for him to take the next step at a slam and show he is worthy of his top 4 seeding. Currently, he has only made a fourth round of a slam once but that should change here. He was on a 10 match winning streak before losing in Cincinnati although it should be little to be concerned about given the amount of tennis he had played in the previous weeks. The first tough opponent he faces could be Kevin Anderson although the South African was defeated on the way to both of his titles this summer, with two straight sets wins for Zverev while getting broken just once.
All the home hopes are in this quarter too with John Isner, Sam Querrey and Jack Sock all top 20 seeds who will fancy they can make the semi finals and with Zverev struggling for consistency at slams so far. Sock and Querrey are yet to make the quarter finals of the US Open in their careers but both could well do so while a night session match between Isner and Querrey for a spot in the last 8 looks likely unless Karen Khachanov can take out Querrey in the third round.
It almost looks even more routine for former champ Marin Cilic in the bottom quarter of the draw although that assumes he is fully fit having not played since the Wimbledon final. It will be a shame if he hasn’t since he had looked in top form and would be favourite to make the final without those doubts. David Ferrer showed some good form in the US Open Series, taking Federer to three sets in Canada before making the semi finals of Cincinnati. The Spaniard is 4-2 against Cilic although the majority of those matches were longer than 5 years ago and not too reflective of the current performance levels of both men.
Qualifier Denis Shapovalov will hope to build on his great summer with a good run here although Daniil Medvedev is far from an easy first round matchup but in round two, Jo Wilfried Tsonga could be a vulnerable seed. He lost in both his openers at Montreal and Cincinnati as well as his previous outdoor hard court outing at Indian Wells in the spring. If Tsonga departs early, the quarter finalist from this section is anyone’s guess with Pablo Carreno Busta the other top seed here but far from a gimme on hard courts.
SF: Roger Federer def. Rafael Nadal
SF: Marin Cilic def. John Isner
F: Roger Federer def. Marin Cilic