Novak Djokovic is inevitable. Like the Marvel supervillain Thanos from the Avengers movies, there seems to be no one capable of taking apart the World No 1 as he begins his quest for a 17th Grand Slam title at the 2019 US Open. Rafael Nadal learnt it the hard way at the Australian Open when Djokovic took the Spaniard apart piece by piece in a devastating finale. Roger Federer learnt it in a heart-breaking way as Djokovic dug deep to emerge triumphant against Federer and the 15,000-odd fans backing the Swiss in the Wimbledon final.
The Serb has come to New York as the favourite to defend his title and win a remarkable fifth Grand Slam title in the span of 13 months after recovering from an elbow injury. With Federer’s all-time men’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles in his sight, Djokovic is looking his destructive best.
Federer, battling age — the 38-year-old is aiming to be the oldest player to win a Slam in the Open era — and Nadal, battling his body, have once again emerged as the closest contenders to Djokovic with a host of dreamers hoping to dent if not end the trio’s monopoly over the Slams at the last Slam of the year.
Djokovic’s path to the semi-final is a relatively easy one with the Serb up against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena in the first round followed by a potential second-round clash against the local Sam Querrey. The American had stunned everyone when he beat Djokovic in the third round at 2016 Wimbledon. The pair met in the first round in Cincinnati which saw the World No 1 brush aside Querrey in straight sets.
Kevin Anderson’s withdrawal through injury has made Djokovic’s task easier but he still may face a challenge in the fourth round from either 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka or the Hubert Hurkacz. The 22-year-old Pole comes into the tournament on the back of a morale-boosting title win in Winston-Salem where he beat Benoit Paire in the final to win his first ATP title.
Fresh from winning his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, fifth seed Daniil Medvedev opens his US Open campaign against India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran. The 23-year-old Russian is expected to breeze through to the quarter-finals but he faces a potential fourth-round challenge in the form of the mercurial Fabio Fognini. The Italian has never made it past the fourth round at New York and Medvedev may end up keeping it that way.
Medvedev had beaten Djokovic in the semi-finals on his way to the Cincinnati title in stunning fashion. After seeing his second serve being taken apart by Djokovic in the first set, Medvedev caught Djokovic off guard by firing in first serves on every point. That all-out strategy worked wonders. The pair are drawn to meet in the quarter-finals but it may end up being difficult for the Russian to replicate his all-out game over five sets against a player of Djokovic’s calibre.
Semi-finalist prediction: Novak Djokovic
Five-time champion and third seed Roger Federer headlines the second quarter which also includes seventh seed and 2014 runner up Kei Nishikori, 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic and 12th seed Borna Coric among others.
Federer has come to New York a month after his soul-crushing loss to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. The Swiss maestro squandered two championship points in the decider in the longest Wimbledon final. The 38-year-old admitted to struggling with his loss saying that he was “more upset than sad” which, he said, helped him get over the loss sooner. Federer played in Cincinnati in the run-up to the US Open but suffered a shock 62-minute third-round loss to Andrey Rublev robbing him of valuable court time.
Federer hasn’t made it to the US Open finals since 2015. He sat out of the 2016 edition through injury; was knocked out in the 2017 quarter-finals by Juan Martin del Potro and suffered a shock fourth-round exit at the hands of the unheralded John Millman last year.
He begins his campaign against the Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal with the likes of Lucas Pouille, David Goffin potentially waiting for him in the second and third rounds respectively. Goffin, the 15th seed Belgian, was knocked out in the first rounds in Washington and at the Rogers Cup but bounced back by reaching the final in Cincinnati.
The bottom half of the corner features Coric, former World No 3 Grigor Dimitrov, Raonic, the talented Australian Alex de Minaur and Nishikori. Coric is expected to reach the third round where he could face 21st seed Raonic, the winner of which may end up facing Nishikori in the fourth round. The Japanese star was knocked out in the first round by compatriot Yoshihito Nishioka in Cincinnati but later revealed that he had breathing problems during the match. He has reached the quarter-finals at all three Grand Slams this year and will be hoping to beat Federer for the first time in a major should they both reach the quarter-finals.
Semi-finalist prediction: Roger Federer
Perhaps the most exciting one of all, the third quarter is a mixture of exciting young talents and veterans capable of punching above their weight on their day. Best friends and Canadian flag-bearers Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov meet in the first round for the second year running. Auger-Aliassime had retired midway through the third set last year but is the favourite this time around. The 19-year-old has reached a career-best ranking of 19 while his compatriot has slipped to World No 38 due to a sub-par 2019. The winner of the clash is drawn to meet the 13th seed Frenchman Gael Monfils in the third round followed by a potential fourth-round meeting with fourth seed Dominic Thiem.
Thiem, seeded fourth at Flushing Meadows, featured in the match of the tournament last year when he stretched Rafael Nadal to the limit in a classic quarter-final match. He doesn’t have it easy this time around either with one of eighth-seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Washington Open champion Nick Kyrgios being potential opponents in his quarter-final. The mercurial Australian is seeded to meet Tsitsipas in the third round and will have the upper hand given he had beaten the Greek in the semi-finals at Washington.
Thiem, even though has had some good results on hard court, has a game more suited to clay than the comparatively quicker New York courts. Tsitsipas and Kyrgios are arguably better hard-court players than Thiem. The Greek announced himself on the big stage in Melbourne this year when he blew past Federer in the quarter-finals. An excellent mover on court, the 20-year-old may end up coming out on top against Theim should they meet in the quarter-finals.
Semi-finalist prediction: Stefanos Tsitsipas
Second seed Rafael Nadal and sixth seed Alexander Zverev headline the fourth quarter with the duo expected to set up an exciting quarter-final clash. Nadal begins his campaign against Millman before potentially facing the dangerous Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round and countryman Fernando Verdasco in the third. American hope John Isner will be expected to brush past Spanish qualifier Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round. However, the big-serving American could face a tough challenge against 2014 champion Marin Cilic, who will be eager to make amends for his poor season with a strong run in New York.
Zverev has a tougher route to the quarter-finals with the likes of Frances Tiafoe, Benoit Paire and Diego Schwartzmann being potential opponents. The German was expected to build on his 2018 ATP Finals victory but has fallen woefully short of expectations. His only title came in at Geneva while his best performance at a Major was his quarter-final run at Rolan Garros. For someone who was supposed to be the torchbearer of the NextGen and the one to break the hegemony of the Big Three, Zverev, it seems, has been bogged down by the weight of expectations. The 22-year-old is tenth in the qualification rankings for the ATP Finals and a poor showing at Flushing Meadows will see him miss out on a chance to defend his year-ending title.
Unlike last year, Nadal arrives in New York relatively injury-free and to go with another Roger’s Cup title. The Spaniard had rung in the changes ahead of the Australian Open this year and they paid off as he strolled into the finals before being taken apart by Djokovic. However, given his intense style of play, it might be no surprise if he struggles with knocks and niggles playing on the hard-courts of New York. Nadal had arrived relatively injury-free last year but two taxing matches against Karen Khachanov and Thiem took a severe toll on his right knee forcing him to retire against Del Potro in the semi-final. He has been given a kinder draw this year and barring any injuries, Nadal should be able to give Djokovic a tough fight for the title.
Semi-finalist prediction: Rafael Nadal
Updated Date: Aug 26, 2019 16:01:40 IST