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Ricky’s picks for Day 4 of the US Open Tennis, including Nadal vs. Fognini

Rafael Nadal faces Fabio Fognini in the US Open second round. Photo credit: Simon Bruty/USTA/US Open

By Ricky Dimon
Second-round action wraps up at the U.S. Open on Thursday, when Rafael Nadal and Fabio Fognini headline the schedule. Another intriguing encounter pits unseeded American John Isner against Holger Rune.

Here are my previews and picks for the two matchups.

Fabio Fognini vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Nadal vs. Fognini at the U.S. Open.” And Nadal fans surely do want to stop right there, as the first Nadal-Fognini meeting in New York resulted in one of the Spaniard’s most infamous losses ever. In the 2015 third round, Nadal squandered a two-set lead and ended up losing 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. On the bright side for the 22-time Grand Slam champion, this matchup has gone in his favor for the most part since that blemish six years ago. He has won eight of their last nine encounters, including five in a row on hard courts–most recently via a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 beatdown at the 2021 Australian Open.

Although Nadal is a heavy favorite to improve on his 13-4 overall lead in the head-to-head series, he does appear to be vulnerable at the moment. The 36-year-old dropped his only match in between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to Borna Coric in Cincinnati and he also surrendered a set to little-known wild card Rinky Hijikata on Tuesday night. But is Fognini playing well enough to capitalize? Maybe not. The 35-year-old Italian is saddled with a losing record this season (17-18) and has plunged to 60th in the rankings. He has played 11 consecutive tournaments without advancing past the second round. That is where Fognini finds himself after outlasting Aslan Karatsev in five sets on Tuesday night, and it is likely where his U.S. Open road comes to an end. With a match–and his first win since Wimbledon–under his belt, Nadal should be on course for significant improvement.

Pick: Nadal in 3

John Isner in action at the US Open. EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO

John Isner vs. (28) Holger Rune

The Rune-Isner matchup is a much different story, as this will be their first-ever meeting. Somewhat surprisingly, it is Isner who is actually the unseeded player in this contest. The 6’10” American is understandably on the way down at 37 years old, but he remains extremely dangerous–especially on hard courts in the United States. He is coming off a quarterfinal run in Cincinnati, where he upset Hubert Hurkacz before falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a three-setter.

Rune is up to No. 33 in the world thanks in part to a breakthrough quarterfinal performance at the French Open. Since then, however, the 19-year-old Dane has a horrendous 3-9 match record–even after beating Peter Gojowyczk in straight sets on Tuesday. Rune would much rather face Isner on clay, too, as that has been by far the youngster’s best surface in the early stages of his career. He already has a history of being unable to physically withstand long matches, so best-of-five situations are not ideal. Isner may not be playing well enough to destroy Rune like he did Federico Delbonis in round one, but the American has to be considered the favorite despite being lower-ranked.

Pick: Isner in 5

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