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2019 U.S. Open Tennis Draw Analysis: Djokovic In Tough Quarter, Nadal Sitting Pretty In Bottom Half

By Ricky Dimon

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were in the same quarter of last year’s U.S. Open draw. That matchup never happened. They could not be in the same quarter this time around as fellow top-four seeds, but the two recent Wimbledon finalists did land in the same half. While Djokovic and Federer are on a collision course for the semis, Rafael Nadal is on the other side with Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Nick Kyrgios.

Ricky breaks down the U.S. Open men’s singles draw:

Djokovic section

The best top-four seed (Djokovic) and the best 5-8 seed (Daniil Medvedev) make this a tough section of the draw. Medvedev is completely on fire, having made it to three consecutive finals in Washington, D.C. (runner-up), Montreal (runner-up), and Cincinnati (champion). The fifth-ranked Russian could first run into trouble in the third round against either Taylor Fritz or Yoshihito Nishioka, while Fabio Fognini and Nikoloz Basilashvili are potential fourth-round foes.

A Djokovic-Medvedev rematch (Medvedev pulled off a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 upset in the Cincinnati semifinals after also beating Djokovic in Monte-Carlo) is probable but not a lock. Even Djokovic could be tested prior to the quarters, as he may have to face 2016 U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the last 16. Wawrinka and 2017 runner-up Kevin Anderson were on a collision course for the third round, but Anderson unsurprisingly pulled out due to recurring injury problems.

Best first-rounder — (11) Fabio Fognini vs. Reilly Opelka

From a talent standpoint, Fognini can beat anyone on any given day (see: vs. Nadal at the 2015 U.S. Open as one example). The same can almost be said of Opelka—not because of natural talent but because he owns one of the biggest serves on tour. The 6’11’’ American recently upset Wawrinka at Wimbledon and he can be similarly dangerous on hard courts at home in the United States. If Opelka’s onslaught of serves puts Fognini in a foul mood, an upset could be in the cards.

Possible surprises – If Djokovic gets knocked out prior to the quarterfinals, it will be at the hands of Wawrinka. Medvedev, of course, is more likely to falter. He has been playing an incredible amount of tennis over the past month and while a week off in between Cincinnati and the U.S. Open helps, it is not an automatic lifeline. An in-form Fritz or the Fognini-Opelka winner could eventually capitalize.

Federer section

Federer probably would have preferred to be in Nadal’s half rather than Djokovic’s, but he certainly cannot complain about his quarter. His road to the second week will likely go qualifier-qualifier-Lucas Pouille, which should not cause any serious problems. Guido Pella, David Goffin, and Pablo Carreno Busta are possible fourth-round opponents for the Swiss. Goffin is coming off a surprising runner-up performance in Cincinnati.

The other side of this quarter could go in any number of directions. Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic are almost always less than 100 percent, Borna Coric has been dealing with physical problems of his own, and Christian Garin has no business being seeded at a non-French Open slam. This is wide open for an unseeded floater to make some serious noise and perhaps face Federer in the quarterfinals.

Best first-rounder — (19) Guido Pella vs. Pablo Carreno Busta

Pella produced his Grand Slam breakthrough at Wimbledon, making a run to the quarterfinals. Carreno Busta is a former U.S. Open semifinalist (2017). The Spaniard is not in the kind of form that carried him to the Nitto ATP Finals as an alternate entry two years ago, but he currently finds himself in the Winston-Salem quarters and is never an easy out. This will be a baseline slugfest between two players in fine form.

Possible surprises — Don’t laugh; Grigor Dimitrov has a chance of reaching the quarterfinals. All of the seeds in that eighth of the bracket are vulnerable and first-round opponent Andreas Seppi is also slumping. If the Bulgarian can work his way into the tournament at the expense of Seppi and Coric, confidence could lead to bigger and better things. An even more likely unseeded quarterfinalist, however, is Atlanta champion Alex de Minaur.

Thiem section

This by far the most intriguing section of the draw, and not just because there is no obvious favorite being Big 3 free. Thiem is joined by Tsitsipas, Kyrgios, Roberto Bautista Agut, Gael Monfils, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov, and Cincinnati semifinalist Richard Gasquet. It will be wild right from the start, when Tsitsipas runs into Rublev in the opening round and Auger-Aliassime goes up against Shapovalov in an all-Canadian affair.

Both Thiem and Tsitsipas know a thing or two about flaming out in the first round of a slam. It just happened at Wimbledon, where the Greek went down to Thomas Fabbiano. It is none other than Fabbiano whom Thiem will play in his U.S. Open opener. The Auger Aliassime-Shapovalov winner could eventually get Monfils in the last 32 and Thiem in the fourth round. If Tsitsipas scrapes past Rublev, he could eventually meet Kyrgios in the third round and Bautista Agut in the fourth.

Best first-rounder — (18) Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Denis Shapovalov

Auger-Aliassime vs. Shapovalov in the first round for a second year in a row? You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Perhaps it is fitting, as the 2018 U.S. Open showdown between these good friends and fellow Canadians never reached the real finish line. Auger-Aliassime retired due to illness while leading 7-5, 5-7, 4-1. Shapovalov was a considerable favorite at the point in time, but now the tide has turned with Auger-Aliassime ranked 19 spots ahead at No. 19 in the world.

Possible surprises — Would any top-four seed making it to the semifinals constitute a surprise? Given that Thiem is much better on clay and the rest of his quarter is littered with danger, the answer may be “yes.” But it could definitely happen. The Austrian’s draw through three rounds is friendly, two out of the Monfils-Auger Aliassime-Shapovalov group will be gone early, and either Tsitsipas or Kyrgios will also be ousted in week one. Also look for Shapovalov and Rublev to go a long way if they pull off first-round upsets.

Nadal section

Perhaps no one will like his draw more than Nadal. It is true that the second-ranked Spaniard is kicking off his campaign against the man who beat Federer and reached the quarterfinals last year (John Millman), but lightning is not going to strike twice. Nadal should sleepwalk into the second week before going up against either John Isner or Marin Cilic. Both Isner and Cilic can be extremely dangerous, but they are shadows of their former selves at the moment.

Isner and Cilic could easily bow out prior to the fourth round, just as Zverev may not make it far enough to meet Nadal in the quarterfinals. The sixth-ranked German awaits an in-form Radu Albot in round one, perhaps followed by either Frances Tiafoe or Ivo Karlovic and then Benoit Paire. A fourth-rounder against Montreal semifinalist Karen Khachanov would also be rough. Khachanov, Paire, or Diego Schwartzman are arguably the most likely quarterfinal foes for Nadal.

Best first-rounder — (6) Alexander Zverev vs. Radu Albot

Zverev has reached back-to-back French Open quarterfinals. But that’s it; that’s the entirety of his good news at Grand Slams throughout an otherwise impressive career. The 22-year-old German is just 4-4 lifetime in main-draw action at Flushing Meadows, with especially disappointing losses the last two seasons to Coric (2017) and Philipp Kohlschreiber (2018). Albot boasts a 27-19 record in 2019 and he is the kind of player who will make Zverev work extremely hard—maybe too hard.

Possible surprises — Albot beating Zverev would not be that big of a surprise. But it could open the door for a deep run by Tiafoe, who began his season with a quarterfinal finish at the Australian Open. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is slowly rounding into form and may have a chance to beat Khachanov in the last 64. Also watch out for Jan-Lennard Struff, who has a great shot at emerging from the Isner-Cilic section. In this quarter, no seed other than Nadal is safe.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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