ATP predictions: The US Open is wide open

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It’s easier to find reasons why top players might lose at the US Open than to explain why so-and-so might win. Here’s my breakdown of the men’s draw.

FEDERER: According to the New York Times, Mats Wilander and Brad Gilbert say Roger in 2017 is “better than ever”. Really? He wasn’t strong, healthy or fast enough to play clay court events he won a decade ago, and last week he withdrew from Cincy, an event he’s won 7 times, after blaming his Montreal loss to Zverev on back problems. During his six month hiatus, Roger improved his backhand because he had to; he’s not agile enough to run around it anymore. Roger is shortening points because he can’t defend as effectively as when he won his last US Open title in 2008. He’ll have longer rallies on the relatively cool nights and slow surface of Arthur Ashe. Roger would benefit from playing indoors under the new roof. But unless it rains a lot in New York, Roger might not last all two weeks, with Tiafoe, Querrey, Lopez, Del Potro, Karlovic, Thiem and Kyrgios lurking in his quarter. Federer himself says winning a third slam in 2017 would be “a joke”. Who can doubt him?

 

 

NADAL: The King of Clay hasn’t won a hardcourt title since Doha in 2014. He says he’s serving better now than when he won Montreal, Cincy and US Open in 2013. But he admitted he played “terrible” games against Nick Kyrgios in Ohio, and he complained about the balls. Rafa’s season, and career, is built around winning Roland Garros, “the most important event on the tour for me”, not winning hardcourt titles in the fall when he could be fishing in Mallorca. He lost to teenager Denis Shapovalov in Montreal, hit weak forehands short to Federer at Indian Wells and Miami, and blew a 3-1 5th set lead in Melbourne to Roger. Rafa is brutally honest with himself and the press, and he hasn’t built momentum going into New York. He says he has to work hard in New York to prove he deserves to be number one. He simply doesn’t have the swagger we saw during the clay swing toward La Decima in Paris. He won’t like seeing his nemesis Fabio Fognini in his quarter, along with Dimitrov, Berdych and Monfils.

 

 

MURRAY: He looked in worse shape at Wimbledon than Djokovic, Wawrinka, Raonic and Nishikori, who are all not playing New York. It’s hard to imagine a man with a limp, famous for hollering “I can’t move”, suddenly springing up to win 7 matches in two weeks on a bone-jarring surface. He’s not playing the Laver Cup, a tell-tale sign of his true condition. He might have already canceled the rest of 2017 if he didn’t have massive points to defend from his fall titles in Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris and London. Given his injuries, a US Open title would be his crowning achievement.

 

 

CILIC: Citing an adductor injury, Marin pulled out of Montreal and Cincy, giving him no match play before New York. During a record-breaking heatwave in the Balkans, he was seldom seen on his usual Zagreb practice court built to mirror the surface at Arthur Ashe stadium. Cilic looked resurgent last year after winning Cincy, then lost in straight sets to Jack Sock in the US Open round of 32. He was good in mid-2017, beating Raonic to win Istanbul and reaching the quarters (Wawrinka) in Paris and finals at Queen’s (Lopez) and Wimbledon (Federer). But on hardcourts this year, he lost to Jozef Kovalik in Chennai, Dan Evans in Melbourne, Taylor Fritz at Indian Wells and Jeremy Chardy in Miami. Since his spectacular US Open run in 2014, he’s only won hardcourt titles at Cincy, Basel and Moscow. He could win New York again, but also lose early if unhealthy against grinder Gilles Simon, Jack Sock, his fellow HTK member Borna Coric, or big servers Khachanov, Isner, Muller, Anderson and both Zverev brothers.

 

 

ZVEREV: Does he have the consistency to win 7 matches over 2 weeks? He basically did that by winning Washington and Montreal. Citing fatigue, he then lost to Francis Tiafoe in Cincy. He took Nadal to five sets at Melbourne round of 32, then lost to Steve Darcis in Davis Cup. His buddy Kyrgios knocked him out of Indian Wells and Miami. He beat Djokovic to win Rome, then crashed out to Verdasco in the opening round of Roland Garros. His net game is improving but still a work in progress. If he wins New York, we’ll be writing about a “changing of the guard” and “the dawn of a new era”. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a young player. Early matches versus Coric, Gulbis, Anderson or Muller could be tricky.

 

 

KYRGIOS: Like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Nick can go “anywhere, anytime”. He admits his problem is getting up for lesser players not named Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, and he has never beaten his hero Andy Murray. In Ohio he became the Kyrgios we always wanted, beating Karlovic, Rafa and Ferrer on courage and guts, then said he was thinking about going for ice cream during his final loss to Dimitrov. Nick will find it hard to turn down offers to party or play hoops in New York (and why not). He’s more likely to hit a tweener on match point than win the title. But with Nick, you never know.

 

 

THIEM: He could someday overtake Rafa on clay but he’s only won Acapulco on hardcourt. He lost on hardcourt this year to Dimitrov (Brisbane), Evans (Sydney), Goffin (Melbourne), Wawrinka (Indian Wells), Coric (Miami), Anderson (Washington), Schwartzman (Montreal) and Ferrer (Cincy). Domi has no reason to believe he can suddenly dominate everyone on hardcourt.

 

 

DIMITROV: There’s many reasons why he could convince himself to win New York. He built momentum by beating Del Potro, Isner and Kyrgios to win Cincy, his first Masters 1000 title. He looked good on hardcourts earlier this year. He won Brisbane, defeating Thiem, Raonic and NIshikori. He took Rafa to five sets in the Melbourne semi-final, then beat Goffin to win in his native Bulgaria. But he lost to Sock in Indian Wells, Pella in Miami and Jan-Lennard Struff in Monte Carlo. He blew multiple match points to Thiem in Madrid and couldn’t get a set off Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros. He unfortunately ran into Federer at Wimbledon, and lost to Medvedev in Washington and Haase in Montreal. He’s been up and down all year. Will he finally fulfill the high expectations set for “Baby Fed” after he won Wimbledon juniors a decade ago? I think so. I’m picking Grigor to win because he’s overdue, and if not him, either Berdych, Monfils, Delpo or somebody else healthy.

 

 

(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)

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