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Tennis • Ricky’s preview and pick for the first U.S. Open men’s semifinal: Zverev vs. Carreno Busta

Pablo Carreno Busta in action against Denis Shapovalov during their match on the ninth day of the US Open Tennis Championships.

By Ricky Dimon

It is often said that it’s better to be lucky than good. Well, Pablo Carreno Busta has been both at the 2020 U.S. Open.

There is no reason to dive back into it; everyone knows what happened in the fourth round. But perhaps the most infamous default from a tournament in tennis history is not the only reason why Carreno Busta is in the semifinals. The 27th-ranked Spaniard was playing great against Novak Djokovic prior to the incident (up a break 6-5 in the first set) and followed that up with a 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 0-6, 6-3 victory over Denis Shapovalov on Tuesday night. This is actually Carreno Busta’s second U.S. Open semifinal appearance, having previously made it to the same stage at the 2017 event.

The 29-year-old’s reward is a second career contest against Alexander Zverev on Friday. Their only previous meeting came two years ago in the semis of another huge tournament, with Zverev prevailing 7-6(4), 6-2 en route to a runner-up performance at the Miami Masters.

Although Masters 1000 and year-end championship success is nothing new for Zverev, he is just now starting to find consistency at Grand Slams. The seventh-ranked German reached a quarterfinal for the first time at the 2018 French Open, accomplished the same feat one year later at Roland Garros, and advanced to a semifinal for the first time at the Australian Open earlier this season. Zverev again finds himself in the last four of a major following wins this fortnight over Kevin Anderson, Brandon Nakashima, Adrian Mannarino, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, and Borna Coric.

Alexander Zverev in action against Borna Coric during their match on the ninth day of the US Open Tennis Championships.

Although there is pressure on Zverev as the favorite in this match, Djokovic’s ouster really opens the door to a first slam title for Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem. It’s not like the 23-year-old is suddenly expected to win the entire tournament just because Djokovic is gone.

Zverev should relax after battling his way through Tuesday’s roller-coaster ride against Coric even though he was far from his best. This match will be in the No. 5 seed’s hands against the counter-punching Carreno Busta, just like it was on Shapovalov’s racket in the quarters. Shapovalov could not get the job done, but Zverev has far more experience in this kind of situation.

As good as Carreno Busta is playing, this is still a guy who needed five sets to beat Yasutaka Uchiyama in the first round. The edge goes to Zverev, but he will have to minimize double-faults and probably has to get across the finish line prior to a fifth set against an opponent who will be willing to stay out there for as long as it takes.

Pick: Zverev in 4

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