The big question mark in the US Open draw was in which quarter would No. 6 seed Novak Djokovic fall? And look what happened. He didn’t get Alexander Zverev, not Rafael Nadal and he didn’t end up in Juan Martin Del Potro’s quarter. Instead, he winds up with Roger Federer! Ahhhhhhhhh….
So that’s not good for the tournament, not good for their fans and not good for either player. But the news is good for the defending champ Nadal, former winner Marin Cilic and the underachieving Alexander Zverev who just hired Ivan Lendl. All three can breathe a bit easier knowing they won’t have to deal with the Wimbledon and Cincinnati champion until at least the semifinals, if not the finals.
What else does the draw hold? Let’s see.
RAFAEL NADAL QUARTER
Federer and Djokovic are extra bummed because Nadal also got a great draw. In Rafa’s section are 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson, French runner-up Dominic Thiem, there’s Denis Shapovalov, the struggling Jack Sock and the injured Roberto Bautista Agut. Sure, Thiem and Anderson are recent Slam finalists, but does anyone give them a chance at upsetting Nadal after getting waxed by him in those title matches? No. Sock? No. Shapovalov? No. Nadal opens against former French finalist David Ferrer who beat Nadal at the US Open a decade ago, but the veteran’s best days are well behind him. Then in the third round could be his trickiest match of the quarter. If the courts are quick, Gilles Muller is a dangerous player, or he could meet Karen Khachanov who could get a set. So other than Muller, I just don’t see any issues for Nadal.
The Pick: Rafael Nadal
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO QUARTER
The 2009 champion is the favorite in his section, but after a somewhat disappointing summer, one has to wonder where his game is at and more importantly (and ominously), how his wrist is. So I just can’t fully back him after hearing he recently had to undergo further scans on that left wrist. Speaking of injury, former winner Andy Murray could be an early third round foe for Delpo but he too is an unknown quantity. I think he wins his opener against James Duckworth but not the second round against Fernando Verdasco (or Feliciano Lopez). Borna Coric, Daniil Medvedev or Stefanos Tsitsipas are all in there as well, and I like Coric to beat the Greek in the third round, then knock out Verdasco who beats an ailing Del Potro. Grigor Dimitrov and Stan Wawrinka collide in the best first round on the board. I like Stan here to get through and keep chugging through big men Milos Raonic and John Isner, then beat Coric to return to the semifinals. He looked like he was back in form in Cincinnati, so I’ll lean his way if Del Potro isn’t 100%. If the Argentine is OK, then he’s my pick. But for now…
The Pick: Stan Wawrinka
ALEXANDER ZVEREV QUARTER
How much will Ivan Lendl bring to the table for Alexander Zverev? We are about to find out. Gifted with a good draw, the German has yet another shot to do some real damage at a Slam, but can he hold the nerves and take advantage? I’m still not sold. He should get out to week two for a first time, then run into Kei Nishikori, and that’s a tough match. Because of Lendl, I think he gets through it, but Marin Cilic knocks him out in the quarters. The former champ should have a good run with Frances Taifoe in the third, then David Goffin in the fourth. If the courts are fast, that should help. And in a nervy affair, Marin’s experience wins out over the Lendl-led Zverev.
The Pick: Marin Cilic
ROGER FEDERER QUARTER
We save the best for last. The last quarter is where we find Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. And both should get out to that mouthwatering quarterfinal showdown. Maybe Nick Kyrgios gets hot and serves Federer off the court in the third, or Lucas Pouille pulls the upset on the Serb in the fourth, otherwise I don’t see any big threat and even those are longshots given how Kyrgios and Pouille have been playing. So Federer-Djokovic it will be and I have to go with Novak here. Federer just hasn’t been that great at the US Open – hasn’t won since 2008 – and Novak’s been solid all summer, he seems to be playing with some renewed confidence, the mojo is back and he just blew out Federer in the Cincinnati final. That said, Djokovic didn’t look great in Cincinnati other than the final. But in best-of-5, which should help both guys, and in a head-to-head primetime clash, I just think Novak’s a little more match tough right now than Roger.
The Pick: Djokovic
Nadal d Wawrinka: Rafa keeps it rolling against Wawrinka who’s not physically ready…yet.
Djokovic d Cilic: Djokovic too sharp.
Djokovic d Nadal: They’ve alternated wins in their preview three US Open finals, and the trend this time points Novak’s way.
For some reason I am definitely not fully behind my Djokovic-Nadal pick. I’m just not sold on either. Rafa on a quick hard court in best-of-5 is vulnerable to the upset by a Muller or an Isner-type. Djokovic turned it on against Federer in the Cincy final, but otherwise didn’t look great.
The problem is, I just don’t see anyone else. Federer will play well but he’s getting old. Del Potro has an injury concern. Wawrinka I don’t think is back to 100% (and could easily lose in the first round), neither is Murray. Cilic was a wreck at times during the summer and the young guys just don’t look ready to step up. Tiafoe and Tsitsipas are intriguing, but maybe a year or two away, and I just don’t know about Zverev.
Regardless, here we go and I’m sure we’ll see some more surprises…what will they be?
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