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Tennis Picks • Ricky Breaks Down The U.S. Open Men’s Singles Draw – Djokovic, Thiem, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, and More

By Ricky Dimon

It will be a U.S. Open unlike any other. We got a taste of it with this past week’s Cincinnati Masters, with no fans in attendance at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, no linespeople, and players retrieving their own towels in between points. Novak Djokovic playing in basically an empty Louis Armstrong Stadium was weird; Djokovic playing in an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium will be even weirder.

The men’s draw is quite unusual, as well. Roger Federer (knee injury) and Rafael Nadal (fishing on his yacht in Mallorca) are out. That leaves Dominic Thiem making his debut as a top-two seed at a slam and both David Goffin and Roberto Bautista Agut as top-eight seeds.

Can anyone stop Djokovic in the top half of the bracket? Who will emerge from the bottom-half scrum? Let’s tackle those questions, and more.

Djokovic’s quarter

With Daniil Medvedev into the top-four seed range, nothing was going to make Djokovic’s draw particularly difficult except maybe a first-rounder against someone like Andy Murray and a third-rounder against Cincinnati runner-up Milos Raonic. Well, not of those possibilities came to fruition. From the standpoint of getting super hot on any given day, John Isner in the fourth round and Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals present the biggest danger for the world No. 1. Shapovalov and Goffin could face each other in the last 16, but Goffin may have a tough opener on his hands against Reilly Opelka.

Best first-round matchup — (7) David Goffin vs. Reilly Opelka

The head-to-head series stands at 1-1 and both previous encounters have gone the distance. Goffin prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in round one of the 2017 U.S. Open before Opelka pulled off a 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 7-5 upset on the indoor hard courts of Basel in 2019. The 6’11’’ American is coming off a quarterfinal run at the Cincinnati event, so he is obviously in stellar form. The bad news is he retired from his QF match against Stefanos Tsitsipas because of knee injury. If Opelka is 100 percent, this will be another intriguing contrast in styles.

Best potential second-round matchup – (28) Jan-Lennard Struff vs. Joao Sousa
Best potential third-round matchup – (12) Denis Shapovalov vs. (19) Taylor Fritz

Possible surprises – Djokovic retired from last year’s U.S. Open during fourth-round action against Stan Wawrinka. You have to think he will fully recover from whatever was plaguing him en route to the Cincinnati title, but either Isner or Shapovalov could capitalize if the top seed is still struggling physically. Most likely, though, any surprise would come on the other side of this section—perhaps Opelka (if healthy) reaching the quarters.

Tsitsipas’ quarter

Tsitsipas bowed out in the first round last summer at the hands of Andrey Rublev (yes, Rublev was unseeded at that time). As a top-four seed now, the Greek is expected to make it all the way to the semifinals. His draw is a friendly one, too. Borna Coric would be Tsitsipas’ toughest test on paper prior to the quarters, but even against Coric he would be an overwhelming favorite. The world No. 6 is on a collision course for the quarterfinals with Alexander Zverev. Right away, however, Zverev has to go up against two-time Grand Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson.

Best first-round matchup — (5) Alexander Zverev vs. Kevin Anderson

Not unlike Goffin vs. Opelka, this could be a first-round disaster for one of the top seeds. At the same time, it could also be a straight-set beatdown and/or a retirement. Anderson has struggled physically for more than a year now and he got clobbered by Tsitsipas 6-1, 6-3 in the Cincinnati second round after failing to recover from a three-set battle against Kyle Edmund. At 100 percent, though, Anderson—who has reached a U.S. Open final—can be extremely dangerous on this courts. The South African’s serve is always great; Zverev’s is…well…not great.

Best potential second-round matchup – (18) Dusan Lajovic vs. Jordan Thompson
Best potential third-round matchup – (4) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. (27) Borna Coric

Possible surprises — From a physical standpoint, there is no reason to think Anderson can withstand more than a few best-of-five matches in a row. He could take out Zverev and then fizzle, which would leave the bottom part of this quarter wide open. The winner of a potential third-round contest between Diego Schwartzman and Hubert Hurkacz has a real chance of reaching the quarterfinals.

Medvedev’s quarter

All signs point to Medvedev going a long way—again—at the U.S. Open. The 2019 runner-up’s preparation at the Cincinnati Masters was just about perfect. He played great at times but also lost early enough (to Bautista Agut in the quarters) to enjoy plenty of rest prior to the season’s second major. And the Russian’s draw may be even better than that of Tsitsipas. His nearest seed, Guido Pella, is not at his best on this surface and just got banned from playing Cincinnati due to a false positive coronavirus test incurred by his physio. Medvedev should sail into the last eight, at which point things could get tricky in the form or Rublev or 2019 semifinalist Matteo Berrettini.

Best first-round matchup — (14) Grigor Dimitrov vs. Tommy Paul

This is a rematch of an absolute thriller in the second round of this year’s Australian Open, won by Paul 6-4, 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-7(3), 7-6(3). Dimitrov is once again favored this time around, but he battled the coronavirus earlier this summer and probably still isn’t 100 percent in terms of conditioning (he was bad at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown and mediocre at the Cincinnati Masters). Paul’s form is a question mark, so this should be a wild ride complete with great shot-making and a whole host of unforced errors at the same time.

Best potential second-round matchup – Frances Tiafoe vs. John Millman
Best potential third-round matchup – (10) Andrey Rublev vs. (17) Benoit Paire

Possible surprises — There is not much room for real upsets in this section. Medvedev may be the biggest lock of the whole tournament to reach the quarterfinals. Rublev and Berrettini are in a section without any particularly notable unseeded entrants, so they are almost certain to face off in round for the U.S. Open for a second consecutive season. If you are looking for a modest surprise, back either Marton Fucsovics or John Millman to be Medvedev’s opponent in the last 16.

Thiem’s quarter

Thiem got blown out of his first Cincinnati match by Filip Krajinovic. If there is any good news, it’s that he is playing his first match on Armstrong and will presumably play on either Armstrong or Ashe the entire way (Armstrong has already been confirmed as playing slower than the outer courts, on which the Austrian lost to Krajinovic; Ashe will probably do the same). Still, Thiem is vulnerable and Bautista Agut has to go up against Tennys Sandgren in round one, so things could get crazy in this quarter in a hurry. It is by far the most intriguing section, also home to Raonic, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Karen Khachanov, Alex de Minaur, Marin Cilic, Dan Evans, Jannik Sinner, and Andy Murray.

Best first-round matchup — (11) Karen Khachanov vs. Jannik Sinner

It is another bad draw for Sinner in his second career appearance at the U.S. Open. Last year he lost to Stan Wawrinka in round one and this time he will run into Khachanov. Their first-ever meeting should be a good one. Khachanov peaked at No. 8 in the world in 2019, right around the time Sinner was establishing himself as one of the most promising up-and-comers in the game. The hitting is going to be absolutely huge in this one, and Sinner can hang with the Russian the whole way despite being a considerable underdog on paper.

Best potential second-round matchup – (15) Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Andy Murray
Best potential third-round matchup – (8) Roberto Bautista Agut vs. (25) Milos Raonic

Possible surprises — The surface is not great for Thiem, while Raonic Bautista Agut has to be somewhat fatigued (best-of-five situations also may not be ideal for the Canadian right after playing so much tennis this past week). Unseeded floaters like Sinner and Sangren could go a long, long way if they can pull off first-round upsets. In Thiem’s half of this quarter, Murray or Corentin Moutet could make some real noise in New York. Expect fireworks from start to finish throughout this section.

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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