US Open 2017: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer start as favourites but chance for young guns to shine
Top seed Rafael Nadal and five-time champion Roger Federer will look to continue their age-defying season but this US Open could prove to be a breakthrough one for stars-in-waiting.
When the curtains fell on the 2016 ATP season, these were the top-five seeds: Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori. Fast forward 12 months, and none of these players are going to participate in the 2017 US Open. Ravaged by injuries after a gruelling season, these high-profile withdrawals include the defending champion (Wawrinka) as well as last year’s runner-up (Djokovic).
As a result, the men’s draw at the final Grand Slam of the year wears a diminished look, making the US Open one of the most open Majors in recent times. Top seed Rafael Nadal and five-time champion Roger Federer will look to continue their age-defying season but this Grand Slam could prove to be a breakthrough one for the stars-in-waiting.
Here’s a detailed look at the men’s draw, with predictions on who could emerge from the four quarters:
It’s 2017 and Nadal is the World No 1 as well as the fittest contender among the big stars at a Grand Slam. Few people could have predicted this 12 months ago when Nadal crashed out in the fourth round and subsequently pulled the plug on his season. Now, he returns as one of the favourites after a great eight months that saw him pick his 10th French Open title.
However, despite the depleted draw, Nadal’s chances at winning the US Open are relatively bleak given his record at the hard court Slam. The Spaniard won at Flushing Meadows in 2010 and 2013, but has struggled to make the second week since. His struggles at Montreal and Cincinnati, where he lost to young guns Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios respectively, suggest that the coming two weeks won’t be a cakewalk.
Nadal has a favourable draw that starts with a first-round clash against Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic. He could potentially run into Fabio Fognini – the man who beat him over five sets at this very event in 2015 – in the fourth round. If Nadal manages to get past the Italian, he could face a tough quarter-final against Grigor Dimitrov, which would be a rematch of their Australian Open 2017 semi-final that the Spaniard won.
Dimitrov’s title at the Cincinnati Open was perfect preparation for Flushing Meadows and despite the presence of dangerous players like showman Gael Monfils and ninth seed David Goffin, his draw represents the perfect opportunity for the 26-year-old to make his third career Major semi-final.
First round match to watch out for: Tomas Berdych vs Ryan Harrison
Semi-finalist prediction: Dimitrov
Third seed Federer and sixth seed Dominic Thiem sit on opposite ends of the second quarter of the men’s draw. Had Murray pulled out before the draw was announced, Federer would have been bumped to the second-seed spot and been placed in the other half.
Federer and Nadal have never played against each other at the US Open – a glaring anomaly in their 13-year rivalry. Federer is hoping to win his 20th overall and third Grand Slam of 2017, a prospect that would have been unthinkable of a year ago. The 36-year-old reached the final at Montreal but lost in straight sets to 20-year-old Alexander Zverev. However, he strained his back and decided to skip Cincinnati.
If fully fit, Federer could easily make the last-four despite being dealt a draw that looks tough on paper. The Swiss ace is up against American youngster Frances Tiafoe in his first round, and could possibly face another NextGen star Kyrgios in the fourth round. The 22-year-old Australian defeated Federer in 2015 on clay and would be relishing a chance to face him again. What remains to be seen is if Kyrgios can stay focused for every round, especially against lesser known players.
Also in this quarter in Thiem’s section are former champion Juan Martin del Potro, Winston-Salem winner Roberto Bautista Agut and 30th seed Adrian Mannarino. The Austrian has made two Major semi-finals but they were both on his beloved surface, clay. In hard court Slams, Thiem has never progressed beyond the fourth round and it’s difficult to see him get past Federer if the two do meet in the last eight.
First round match to watch out for: Fernando Verdasco vs Vasek Pospisil
Semi-finalist prediction: Federer
Upcoming German star Zverev has had a splendid 2017 season – he has won five titles, including two Masters, and made his top-10 debut. And he has been awarded a top-four seeding for his consistent rise up the rankings and courtesy of the multiple withdrawals. However, Zverev is yet to prove his credentials at the biggest stages in the sport.
Zverev has never beaten a top-50 player in a best-of-five-sets match, and his lack of stamina still remains a key concern. His best showing came at Wimbledon a few months ago, where he ultimately lost in the round of 16. Can Zverev live up to his label of the next big thing is the question that’s going to be on everyone’s minds over the next two weeks.
In New York, Zverev’s first big test could come in the third round in the form of a resurgent Kevin Anderson. The South African has struggled with injuries this year, but has impressed in the last couple of months and even reached the second week of Wimbledon. If he makes the third round against Zverev, it would set up a rematch of the Washington final, which the German had won handily.
The third quarter is also packed with three American seeds – 17th seed Sam Querrey, 10th seed John Isner and 13th seed Jack Sock. And ironically, it also features Zverev’s elder brother, Mischa, who is seeded 23rd.
First round match to watch out for: Querrey vs Gilles Simon
Semi-finalist prediction: Zverev
Thanks to Murray’s last-minute withdrawal, former US Open champion Marin Cilic has been shifted to the bottom of the draw, and he faces American Tennys Sandgren in his first round. Cilic reached the final of Wimbledon, but was ultimately let down by his body in an injury-plagued performance. He knows what it takes to lift the trophy at Flushing Meadows, but will need to be fully healthy to have any shot at replicating the 2014 result.
This is one section that is up for grabs and could see an unexpected face make the semi-finals. After Cilic, the next highest seed is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, followed by Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta and last year’s quarter-finalist Lucas Pouille. It also features a few dark horses like the teenage Denis Shapovalov, American Steve Johnson and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Who can we see in the last-four? David Ferrer, who is enjoying a second wind in his career at the age of 35. The Spaniard has made one Major final and five semi-finals, but hasn’t progressed beyond the fourth round in his last six Slam appearances. He will be buoyed by his recent display on the hard courts – round-of-16 at Montreal and semi-final at Cincinnati. The NextGen may be knocking on the door, but this veteran looks good to hold them off for one more time.
First round match to watch out for: Kokkinakis vs Janko Tipsarevic
Semi-finalist prediction: Ferrer
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