2021 US Open Men's Singles Section-by-Section Preview
Seeds: 1) Novak Djokovic, 14) Alex de Minaur, 21) Aslan Karatsev, 27) David Goffin
Mikael Ymer - The 22-year-old enters the US Open fresh off of his first career ATP final at the Winston-Salem Open last week. His overall record for the year is just 16-13, but, in a relatively “cold” section, simply making a final the week before a slam is enough to get on the “hot” list.
Holger Rune - The Danish teen is quietly one of the hottest players on tour, naturally, because his success has come in Challenger events. Earlier this month he won Challenger events on the clay in San Marino and Verona. After going through qualifying this past week, Rune enters the tournament on a 13-match winning streak.
Jan-Lennard Struff - The typically consistent Struff has fallen into a rough stretch as he’s lost eight of his last ten matches. After getting a rare win in the first round at Winston-Salem, the German was crushed 1-6, 2-6 by Ilya Ivashka in round two.
David Goffin - The 27-seed has struggled throughout the 2021 season with just a 14-14 record. In his lone match during the North American Hard Court season, Goffin was easily defeated 3-6, 3-6 by Guido Pella in the first round of Cincinnati. Overall, Goffin has lost five-straight matches.
Aslan Karatsev - Karatsev was honestly a top-five player throughout the first quarter or so of 2021. However, as time passes, that run is looking more and more like a fluke. The Russian comes to Queens carrying a 3-7 record since May 19.
Taylor Fritz - At Wimbledon, the American made the third round just three weeks removed from knee surgery. Following Wimbledon, Fritz made semifinal runs in both Los Cabos and Atlanta. However, in his three most recent events (Washington, Toronto and Cincinnati), he is 0-3 with losses to Denis Kudla, James Duckworth and Albert Ramos Viñolas.
Alex de Minaur - It’s been a very disappointing Summer for the top ranked Australian male who is 1-4 since his title in Eastbourne. That drought includes a 1-6, 1-6 drubbing at the hands of Nikoloz Basilashvili in Toronto.
Biggest Storyline - Novak Djokovic, After A Layoff, Chasing History
I’ll be the first to admit that this US Open is somewhat lacking in the headline department in terms of quantity. However, there is no quality problem as all eyes will be on Novak Djokovic chasing both a record-setting 21st Grand Slam and the first Calendar Year Grand Slam on the men’s side since 1969. Djokovic’s overdue coronation as the greatest male tennis player of all time two weeks from today feels inevitable, but, after his meltdown at the Olympics, it will be interesting to see how he progresses through the early stages of the tournament. The section certainly wouldn’t be classified as overly difficult, but a potential path of Rune-Struff-Kei Nishikori-Karatsev is no walk in the park, especially if Djokovic, who was infamously defaulted for accidentally striking a lineswoman with a line drive at last year’s US Open, is on edge.
Best Round One Matchup: Novak Djokovic vs. Holger Rune - Djokovic has more Grand Slams (20) than Rune has years on Earth (18). The pair spent time practicing together earlier in the year and should definitely provide a fun matchup for the (100% capacity!) Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd. While this section isn’t the most impressive form-wise, there are plenty of good first round matchups. The battle between the struggling Taylor Fritz and the struggling Alex de Minaur as well as the fun matchup between the in-form Mikael Ymer and always entertaining Jenson Brooksby are both worth honorable mentions.
Best Potential Matchup: Novak Djokovic vs. Aslan Karatsev (Round Four) - Karatsev upset Djokovic in what was, at the time, a match of the year contender this April in Belgrade. That semifinal featured some brutal rallies and a ton of high-pressure moments. Karatsev’s aggressive style gives him at least a puncher’s chance against Djokovic on a hard court, which is more than can be said for about 90% of the draw. This potential matchup makes the cut over the seemingly more likely Nishikori vs. Djokovic round three faceoff because, if he gets to round four, it means that Karatsev has found some good form.
Player to Watch: Kei Nishikori - Nishikori seems to be a fixture in this section whenever I write these articles, but he really hasn’t been worth watching in 2021. The 31-year-old has uncharacteristically underperformed at Slams this year with just a 4-3 record. Despite these woes and, per usual, the fact that he has been battling the injury bug, the 2014 US Open runner-up deserves respect as one of the most dangerous, and experienced, unseeded players in the draw.
Section Winner: Novak Djokovic - The world number one has a date with destiny, and there is no way anybody in this section is going to be the one to stop him. Unless there is another self-inflicted default on the way, he’ll roll safely into the quarterfinals.
Seeds: 6) Matteo Berrettini, 10) Hubert Hurkacz, 20) Lorenzo Sonego, 28) Fabio Fognini
Hubert Hurkacz - After winning his maiden Masters 1000 earlier this year in Miami, Hurkacz’s year began to spiral out of control as he struggled to get wins during the clay court and pre-Wimbledon grass court season. However, after his surprise run to the Wimbledon Semifinals (which included wins over Daniil Mevdedev and Roger Federer), the 24-year-old seems to be back on track. He didn’t have the strongest performance during the two North American lead-up Masters tournaments, but a quarterfinal run in Toronto and two additional wins in Cincinnati, paired with the Wimbledon run, are enough to get him a “hot” classification in a “colder” section.
Ilya Ivashka - The 27-year-old has already more than doubled his career high for wins in a season in 2021, and now he is fresh off of a run to the title, the first of his career, in Winston-Salem. In a relatively weaker section of the draw, Ivashka has a chance to ride this momentum into the third round or even, potentially, the second week.
Andreas Seppi - The veteran from Italy has struggled all season (5-10 in 2021), but he has been particularly bad throughout the post-Wimbledon Hard Court season. He has played in tournaments on the surface five of the last six weeks and only has one win to show for it.
Biggest Storyline - Matteo Berrettini’s Health
The world number eight looked like he had a legitimate claim to be the best non-Djokovic player in the world after his run to the Wimbledon final. However, the 25-year-old was forced to withdraw from both the Olympics and the Canada Masters with a thigh injury. Berrettini has played just two matches since the Wimbledon final, both in Cincinnati, a tough three-set victory over Albert Ramos-Viñolas and a comprehensive loss to Félix Auger-Aliassime. If he’s 100%, Berrettini, who first broke through on the Grand Slam level with a run to the semifinals at the 2019 US Open, is on the shortlist of true contenders for the title. If the thigh injury continues to hamper him, the Italian, even with an easy draw, could be looking at an early exit.
Best Round One Matchup: Matteo Berrettini vs. Jérémy Chardy - There really isn’t much to pick from regarding the first round in this section, so we’ll go with the match that will immediately allow us to see where Berrettini is physically.
Best Potential Matchup: Matteo Berrettini vs. Hubert Hurkacz (Round Four) - A rematch of their Wimbledon semifinal from earlier this Summer would make for a very compelling fourth round matchup. Regardless of who the two players are, the likely “prize” for the winner of this round four matchup is going to be Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
Player to Watch: Lorenzo Sonego - The crafty Italian has had a very strong 2021 season and has a real chance, due to Berrettini’s health concerns and the fact that we can’t lock Hurkacz into deep runs every week yet, to make his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Section Winner: Hubert Hurkacz - I’m just not confident enough to pick Berrettini due to his injury worries, I’m not ready to go out on a limb for Sonego, and I don’t really see anyone else in this section making a quarterfinal here (apologies to 2021 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Márton Fucsovics), so that leaves me with Hurkacz. With a very winnable section, the 10-seed should be able to build on his Wimbledon performance and establish himself as a consistent force at the Grand Slams.
Seeds: 4) Alexander Zverev, 13) Jannik Sinner, 17) Gaël Monfils, 31) Alexander Bublik
Alexander Zverev - Strictly on the tennis court right now, the 24-year-old is the hottest player on the planet. In his last two events, both on hard courts, Zverev has won a Gold Medal at the Olympics and then won his fifth career Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati. During his current 11-match winning streak, Zverev has racked up impressive victories over Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Casper Ruud.
Gaël Monfils - This one comes with an asterisk because the soon to be 35-year-old is simply relatively “hot” because of how bad his season started. Monfils, who was 3-10 before the North American Hard Court swing began, has found a little bit of form with four wins (over John Millman, Frances Tiafoe, Alex de Minaur and Dušan Lajović) in Toronto and Cincinnati.
Sam Querrey - After a strong run in the pre-Wimbledon grass season, the American was expected to be a sleeper contender at the year’s third major. After losing early (round two) at Wimbledon, his season has fallen apart. Querrey comes to Queens on a five-match losing streak.
Biggest Storyline - Alexander Zverev, On and Off the Court
Earlier this week, Ben Rothenberg published the second part of his interview with Olga Sharypova, Alexander Zverev’s ex-girlfriend, for slate.com. In the interview, Sharypova once again accused the world number four of domestically abusing her. Zverev, who continues to deny the claims, has received zero punishment from the ATP Tour, the ITF, or any sponsors, even though Sharypova first went public with these allegations in the Fall of 2020. Now, with both the second story and Zverev’s status as a contender at the US Open, the sport cannot remain silent any longer. On the court, the biggest storyline in this section will be if Zverev can continue his winning streak (all in best of three matches) into the best of five format, where he has often struggled. However, the biggest story will be how the tournament, the crowd, the other players, the press and Zverev himself react to the abuse allegations. With no legal action taken, yet, by Sharypova and an unclear, to say the least, guide for how to handle domestic violence accusations, the ATP and ITF can realistically continue to punt on addressing Zverev’s case. That being said, if pressure continues to mount from fans on social media, or if fellow players begin speaking out, the sport’s governing bodies may finally have to act. Considering he said that he will no longer be addressing the topic, it will be worth monitoring Zverev’s interaction with the press, as well as how ESPN and the tournament’s international TV partners covered him. It will be particularly interesting to see the New York City crowd’s reaction to Zverev (who is never overly loved or hated when playing around the world), as he plays after being accused of the horrible actions detailed by Sharypova, despite not currently facing any legal trouble.
Best Round One Matchup: Alexander Zverev vs. Sam Querrey - This first round matchup, presumably on Arthur Ashe Stadium, will be the first test to see how Zverev, the crowd and the media react to his situation. The match itself should also be interesting as Querrey, who has clearly been struggling, remains a tricky opponent who seems to peak during the Grand Slams.
Best Potential Matchup: Jannik Sinner vs. Alexander Zverev (Round Four) - Sinner enters the US Open very under the radar after his ATP 500 title in Washington, D.C. due to the fact that he went just 1-2 in the two lead up Masters tournaments. However, the 20-year-old is still the biggest threat in this section to Zverev. The two played in round four of last year’s French Open and the then-teenage Sinner came away with a four-set upset victory. Side note, an unrealistic, but honorable-mention-worthy round four matchup between Alexander Bublik and Gaël Monfils would surely be the fortnight’s most entertaining match.
Player to Watch: Gaël Monfils - The Frenchman is always a player to watch due to his signature flair, but given his aforementioned (relative) return to at least average form, maybe he can make a run to his first second week at a Grand Slam since the Australian Open in 2020.
Section Winner: Alexander Zverev - It isn’t the pick that I want to make, but Zverev, all things considered, is a heavy favorite in this section. Zverev has seemingly shaken off his past struggles at the first week of majors and, while Sinner in round four would be a very interesting test, should roll into his third Grand Slam quarterfinal of the year.
Seeds: 7) Denis Shapovalov, 9) Pablo Carreño Busta, 22) Reilly Opelka, 25) Karen Khachanov
Reilly Opelka - The tallest player on tour (6’11” or 7-feet-even depending on where you look) had the biggest moment of his career earlier this month in Toronto. The American served his way to his first career Masters 1000 final, beating Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov, Lloyd Harris, Roberto Bautista Agut and Stefanos Tsitsipas along the way before falling to Daniil Mevdedev in the final. Overall, Opelka has had a pretty disappointing season, but in this section, thanks to the run to the Masters final, he is the “hottest” player.
Denis Shapovalov - The 22-year-old surged to his best career result by making the Wimbledon semifinals. Since that match, where he lost in three very close sets to Novak Djokovic, he is on a four-match losing streak that includes losses to Vit Kopriva (who?) and Benoît Paire.
Lorenzo Musetti - Similar to Shapovalov, the 19-year-old from Italy burst onto the scene this year when went up two-sets-to-love against eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round of the French Open. Including that match, in which Musetti retired after losing the third and fourth sets 1-6, 0-6 and going down 0-4 in the fifth, the Italian has lost five straight.
Biggest Storyline - The Young Americans
Section four is full of young Americans playing in their home Grand Slam. The section includes top rising Americans such Reilly Opelka (24-years-old, world number 25), Sebastian Korda (21 and number 45) and Tommy Paul (24 and number 53). While they, specifically Opelka and Korda, are the headliners, the section also features American Wild Cards (and cousins): Emilio Nava (19-years-old) and Ernesto Escobedo (25-years-old) and qualifier Maxime Cressy (24-years-old). Luckily for American tennis fans, these six players are spread throughout the eight matches in the section, meaning that we could potentially see all six reach the second round (long gone are the days of Agassi vs. Sampras in the US Open Final when we’re just hoping for a Cressy vs. Korda round two matchup).
Best Round One Matchup: Sebastian Korda vs. Nikoloz Basilashvili - Really not much to pick from here (while the battle of the teens between Musetti and Nava at least deserves an honorable mention), so I’ll go with the most promising young American in Korda against a former top-20 player in Nikoloz Basilashvili (who, despite being overshadowed by the Zverev allegations, is another example of the ATP’s lack of a domestic violence policy, especially considering the fact that he was arrested and that the case is in the courts).
Best Potential Matchup: Denis Shapovalov vs. Karen Khachanov (Round Three) - These two played an edgy/thrilling five-set-match in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. The winner of this potential third round match would have a great chance to get back to another Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Player to Watch: Sebastian Korda - The American fell 8-10 in a crazy fifth set to Karen Khachanov in the fourth round of Wimbledon, but after wins earlier in the tournament over Alex de Minaur and Dan Evans, Korda put himself on the map for casual tennis fans. Now, at home at the US Open, the 21-year-old has a chance to really break out. In this relatively open section, I like Korda’s chances to make the quarterfinals as much as any other unseeded player.
Section Winner: Karen Khachanov - Honestly, Khachanov was probably snubbed from the “who’s hot” section considering his Summer has consisted of a Wimbledon quarterfinal, an Olympic Silver Medal, and wins over Kevin Anderson, Cameron Norrie and Aslan Karatsev in the lead up Masters tournaments. The criminally underrated Pablo Carreño Busta is probably the “smart” pick in this section after his Bronze Medal in Tokyo, but I feel like I need to go with someone outside of the top ten. Opelka is probably the next smartest pick, but he burned me after I picked him to make the Quarterfinals this year at Wimbledon, so he’s out. Realistically, that leaves me with Korda, Khachanov and Shapovalov. Korda’s round two matchup with Carreño Busta scares me, and there is no way I’m taking the struggling Shapovalov, so that leaves me with the 25-year-old Russian. He is due for his first run to the Quarterfinals (or to the second week even) at a hard court Grand Slam, and I still vividly remember his third round loss to Rafael Nadal in an epic four-setter at the 2018 US Open. With his good form and his game being well-suited for the US Open courts, I think he can make a run.
Seeds: 5) Andrey Rublev, 12) Félix Auger-Aliassime, 18) Roberto Bautista Agut, 32) Filip Krajinović
Andrey Rublev - The Russian continues to establish himself as one of the tour’s elite players. Rublev’s 41 wins this year are the second most behind Stefanos Tsitspas, and he comes to Queens fresh off of his second Masters 1000 final of the year. Despite losing in the final, Rublev defeated Marin Cilić, Gaël Monfils, Benoît Paire and Daniil Medvedev in Cincinnati.
Emil Ruusuvuori - This definitely isn’t the sexiest pick, but Ruusuvuori has quietly put together a 10-5 record (including qualifying) during the North American Hard Court swing. He could be a difficult out as an underdog against the winner of Nick Kyrgios vs. Roberto Bautista Agut.
Roberto Bautista Agut - The 33-year-old has had a rare inconsistent season and has seen his record on the year slip to 25-20. Since Wimbledon, Bautista Agut is just 2-4.
Nick Kyrgios - The mercurial Kyrgios made headlines this past week when he withdrew from his highly anticipated Winston-Salem round one match against Andy Murray just minutes before the scheduled start time due to a knee injury. While the injury isn’t expected to keep him out of the US Open, Kyrgios did really struggle during the lead up tournaments, a place in the calendar where he typically flourishes. In Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Toronto, the 26-year-old could only muster one win.
Biggest Storyline - Rublev vs. A Great Field
It may be disrespectful to consider 12-seed Félix Auger-Aliassime as part of the “field”, but after going just 4-3 in the lead up hard court events, I think it is appropriate. Rublev, who is a two-time US Open quarterfinalist, is a solid favorite in this section. However, the rest of the “field” is made up of the uber-talented Auger-Aliassime (who should have enhanced confidence after making his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon), Bautista Agut and Kyrgios who are very dangerous if they get hot, and sneaky floaters like Ruusvuori and Frances Tiafoe. While Rublev should be the favorite here, this may be the deepest section in the draw.
Best Round One Matchup: Nick Kyrgios vs. Roberto Bautista Agut - Kyrgios is always a headliner, and this matchup against a top-20 player in Bautista Agut has potential to be one of the highlights of the first round. It will be a very interesting contrast in styles between the aggressive Kyrgios and the more patient Bautista Agut in the 8:15 PM match on Louis Armstrong Stadium on the tournament’s first night.
Best Potential Matchup: Andrey Rublev vs. Félix Auger-Aliassime (Round Four) - Given the aforementioned depth in this section, there are plenty of great potential matchups. However, the winner has to be Rublev vs. Auger-Aliassime in a battle between two of the sports’ best young stars.
Player to Watch: Frances Tiafoe - The 23-year-old American always embraces the big stage and has been very solid throughout the North American Hard Court swing. That sets him up as a sleeper in this section, especially with a very manageable draw for the first two rounds, to challenge Rublev, who he would face in round three. Tiafoe is no stranger to Grand Slam upsets, so he cannot be ruled out as a potential threat to win this section.
Section Winner: Andrey Rublev - Despite all of my talk about the potential that other players in this section have, Rublev remains the most known quantity here. It may not be the easiest path, but I like Rublev to make his fifth career Grand Slam Quarterfinal, and push for his first career Semifinal.
Seeds: 3) Stefanos Tsitsipas, 16) Cristian Garín, 23) Ugo Humbert, 26) Cameron Norrie
Stefanos Tsitsipas - The world number three bounced back nicely after disappointing early exits at both Wimbledon and the Olympics. While he would have surely loved at least one finals appearance (especially considering he lost in Cincinnati from a double-break up in the third to Alexander Zverev), Tsitsipas still made the semifinals at both lead up Masters tournaments. Throughout those two weeks, he picked up nice wins over Ugo Humbert, Karen Khachanov, Casper Ruud, Sebastian Korda, Lorenzo Sonego and Félix Auger-Aliassime.
Cristian Garín - The 16-seed is surely better known for his clay court prowess (he’s just 15-29 in his career on hard courts), but there is just no way a player with his talent should be winless on any surface like he is so far this year (0-4 on hard). That includes losses in his first match at both Toronto and Cincinnati.
Cameron Norrie - This may be harsh considering Norrie, who has been one of the best surprises of the year, did win a title in Los Cabos back in the end of July. However, since then he is just 2-4, far off from the great pace he set for himself throughout the first half of the year.
Miomir Kecmanović - I really thought the young Serbian was primed for a breakout year in 2021, but has been completely unable to put things together. Overall this year he is 12-19, and that includes four-straight losses, three of those coming on North American hard courts.
Biggest Storyline - Can Stefanos Tsitsipas Cruise Into the Quarters?
If Stefanos Tsitsipas wants to be one of the faces of men’s tennis once the “Big 3” fade away, he needs to start dominating the early rounds of Grand Slams. Roger, Novak and Rafa spent year after year eviscerating their early round opponents, playing their way into shape, and making quarterfinal after quarterfinal. If Stefanos wants to take the place of those legends who only need to be addressed by one name, he needs to copy that formula. He’ll have a chance to start here at the US Open in an extremely easy section.
Best Round One Matchup: Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Andy Murray - While nobody will be picking 2012 US Open Champion Andy Murray to win this match (it’d be a surprise if it’s even competitive), it is still obviously the pick here in this section. It is the marquee men’s match on the tournament’s opening day schedule, however it is being played during the day, rather than the first night session, which surprised me.
Best Potential Matchup: Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Ugo Humbert (Round Four) - I don’t see a more intriguing potential matchup than the Murray vs. Tsitsipas first round match, but for completeness I’ll pair the 3-seed with Ugo Humbert. Humbert is probably the only player in this section that can really challenge Tsitsipas, and they have a history of playing tight matches against each other. They have already played twice on hard courts this Summer. At the Olympics in Tokyo, Humbert came from a set down to upset Tsitsipas in the third round. Then, the two played in Toronto where Tsitsipas won in three sets despite losing an epic 28-point second set tiebreaker. Additionally, they played on an indoor hardcourt last year in Paris where Humbert won 7-6, 6-7, 7-6.
Player to Watch: Carlos Alcaraz - The 18-year-old from Spain is one of the tour’s elite teenage players. This past week at Winston-Salem, Alcaraz looked like he was well on his way to his first career hard court ATP final, but he fell apart and lost to Mikael Ymer in two. Regardless, as long as that loss doesn’t hang over him as he comes to New York, Alcaraz, who does have a tough matchup against Cameron Norrie in round one, probably has more upside than anyone other than Tsitsipas in this section.
Section Winner: Stefanos Tsitsipas - My bracket is super chalk so far, but this is an easy pick. The 23-year-old is becoming a much better best-of-five player, and is seeking his first career second week at the US Open. While there is sure to be some drama along the way, Tsitsipas should not have much of a problem navigating through this section.
Seeds: 8) Casper Ruud, 11) Diego Schwartzman, 19) John Isner, 29) Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Casper Ruud - The 22-year-old surged all the way up to world number eleven this summer after winning three consecutive ATP 250s on clay. After the quality, or lack thereof, of his opponents in those tournaments were called into question, he silenced some critics with runs to the Quarterfinals (featuring wins over Marin Cilić, Reilly Opelka and Diego Schwartzman) at both Toronto and Cincinnati.
John Isner - The veteran American really struggled to start 2021, but he has turned his fortunes around on the North American hard courts. Following Wimbledon, Isner made the semifinals at Los Cabos, won his sixth title in Atlanta, and then went 6-2 in the two Masters lead ups with wins over Jannik Sinner, Cameron Norrie, Andrey Rublev and Gaël Monfils.
Brandon Nakashima - The 20-year-old Nakashima came out of nowhere to reach his first career ATP final at the Los Cabos Open, and then made his second final in Atlanta the following week. Despite going just 2-2 in Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati, the two finals runs (which included wins over Milos Raonic, John Isner and Sam Querrey) are enough to get the young American on the list.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - I hate to do this to one of my favorite players ever, especially since he hasn’t even played since Wimbledon, but he’s in a section that lacks “cold” players and is 1-8 in 2021.
Biggest Storyline - A Wide Open Section
It feels like we get one of these sections in every Grand Slam. Ruud is obviously an underrated hard court, but it wouldn’t shock anybody if he lost in the first two rounds. Diego Schwartzman has made two US Open Quarterfinals, but he went just 3-2 (including a two-set loss to Ruud) in Toronto and Cincinnati. Isner is the favorite due to his good form and experience, but he hasn’t even made the second week of a major since the 2018 US Open. This vulnerability among the top seeds in the section makes other players like the 29-seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 2017 US Open Finalist Kevin Anderson, and even Nakashima worth mentioning when it comes to potential quarterfinalists.
Best Round One Matchup: John Isner vs. Brandon Nakashima - The 36-year-old American Isner and the 20-year-old American Nakashima split their two matchups this Summer. Nakashima upset the veteran 7-5, 6-4 in the Los Cabos semifinals, while Isner got revenge the next week 7-6, 7-5 in the Atlanta final. These are clearly two of the top four (you could make the case they are one and two) contenders in this section, so this first round match will be crucial. Also, I have to give an honorable mention to the matchup between one of my favorite young players, Caper Ruud, against one of my favorite older players, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in what may potentially be the 36-year-old’s final US Open match.
Best Potential Matchup: John Isner vs. Kevin Anderson (Round Three) - There aren’t many rivalries or storylines that intrigue me when it comes to potential matchups in this section, so I will go for a potential Isner vs. Andersron clash. Of course, the two played the 6 hour and 36 minute epic in the 2018 Wimbledon semifinals that is the second longest men’s singles match ever and essentially caused Wimbledon to change their tiebreak format. Luckily, with a tiebreak at 6-6 in the fifth at the US Open, we won’t get anywhere near that again.
Player to Watch: Casper Ruud - The Norwegian has to be the pick here. I typically shy away from picking the section’s top seed as the player to watch, but the eighth-seeded Ruud is a unique case. Yes, he has gotten a ton of points due to his clay court success, but he is also an underrated hard court player, both things can be true. Fair or not, Ruud may need to make a run to the quarterfinals here to finally start getting respect as a top tier player on tour. As a bonus pick, and more of a sleeper, I really like Nakashima as a threat to win the section if he can beat Isner in round one.
Section Winner: John Isner - It is a little bit risky because, as previously mentioned, Isner shockingly hasn’t made the second week of a major in three years. Assuming he survives the tough test against Nakashima in the first round, Diego Schwartzman in round three is the only player in the section with the return skills to really challenge Isner’s serve. With this draw, the section is really on Isner’s racket. If he serves as well as he has throughout the Summer, Isner should get to his third US Open Quarterfinal.
Seeds: 2) Daniil Medvedev, 15) Grigor Dimitrov, 24) Dan Evans, 30) Marin Cilić
Daniil Medvedev - The world number two, once again, had a strong showing during the pre-US Open swing. In Toronto, he won his fourth career Masters 1000 title (all on hard court, one indoor) and then in Cincinnati he crushed Pablo Carreño Busta, the man who beat him in the Olympic quarterfinals, 6-1, 6-1 before running out of gas and falling to Andrey Rublev in three sets in the semifinals.
Grigor Dimitrov - The 30-year-old went just 2-3 in Washington, D.C., Toronto and Cincinnati and is 14-13 so far in 2021. This does not bode well for the Bulgarian who is defending his semifinals points from 2019.
Biggest Storyline - Can Daniil Medvedev Cruise Into the Quarters?
If Daniil Medvedev wants to be one of the faces of men’s tennis once the “Big 3” fade away, he needs to start dominating the early rounds of Grand Slams. Roger, Novak and Rafa spent year after year eviscerating their early round opponents, playing their way into shape, and making quarterfinal after quarterfinal. If Daniil wants to take the place of those legends who only need to be addressed by one name, he needs to copy that formula. He’ll have a chance to start here at the US Open in an extremely easy section. (Yes, I did copy the Tsitsipas section word-for-word. No, it isn’t because this is the last section and I’m tired of writing, it’s because Medvedev and Tsitsipas truly are in the same boat here).
Best Round One Matchup: Daniil Medvedev vs. Richard Gasquet - When this match is on, find someone who has never watched tennis before and ask them who they think the world number two is. Gasquet’s beautiful game will ultimately be no match for Medvedev’s unconventional form, but the contrast in styles Monday night on Ashe will be very interesting to watch. Also, it is really the only first round match in this section that is even remotely intriguing.
Best Potential Matchup: Daniil Medvedev vs. Marin Cilić (Round Three) - With a real lack of options, it either has to be this matchup or Medvedev vs. Dimitrov in round four. Dimitrov constantly lets me down, and Medvedev crushed him in the 2019 US Open semifinals, so I’ll go for the Russian against Cilić. The two played earlier this Summer in round three of Wimbledon where Medvedev came back to win from two sets down.
Player to Watch: Grigor Dimitrov - I guess it has to be Dimitrov because, when he’s on he’s really on, but he hasn’t even been remotely close to “on” since the Australian Open. Regardless, in a section that is very weak outside of Medvedev, I’ll go with the three-time Grand Slam semifinalist. Unlike pretty much everyone else in this section, there is at least a realistic scenario where Dimitrov, and not Medvedev, reaches the quarters.
Section Winner: Daniil Medvedev - Chalk again, but another easy pick. Medvedev made the final in Queens in 2019 and got to the semifinals last year, there is no reason, especially with this draw, to believe that he won’t make it three deep runs in a row. As is often the case with Medvedev, as long as he can keep himself composed, good things will happen. He will be the prohibitive favorite in any match he plays in this section, as well as in the quarterfinals.
My full, official predictions for both the men's and women's draws will be out later today. Also, be sure to check out Serve & Volley with Jack and Joe where Jack Ravitz and I did a full preview of both draws.