Defending champion Stan Wawrinka is out with a season ending knee injury, Novak Djokovic’s elbow has him eyeing 2018 and Andy Murray pulled out Saturday with a bad hip. Thus, the Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal domination of 2017 appears poised to continue at the U.S. Open. Before we get there, here are a few openers worth watching.
(15) Tomáš Berdych vs. Ryan Harrison- Harrison has had a really nice year highlighted by winning his first title and reaching career-high ranking. The once highly touted American has also become notorious for tough first-round draws at majors over the years. This is tough, but winnable. Berdych is on the downside of a really solid career. The former top ten mainstay still has his good days, but is now scrapping to stay in the top 20.
Taylor Fritz vs. Marcos Baghdatis- Baghdatis was a surprise finalist at the Australian Open way back in 2006. He has always been quite the showman and is still capable of producing some very good tennis every now and then.
His much younger American opponent has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career, but has struggled to stay healthy. The 13 year age gap alone will make this fun.
(17) Sam Querrey vs. Gilles Simon- A tough draw for the seeded American who is coming off his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon. Even after a small post Wimbledon lull, he has the weaponry to do well here.
Simon is a former top ten player. In an era dominated by pace, he gives his opponents absolutely none. He is always a tricky and uncomfortable matchup for anyone,
Top Half: It feels like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have played at every big event for every big title for the better part of the last 15 years. The one major exception is this event. The two legendary rivals have never faced off in any round in Flushing Meadows.
They cannot meet in the final this year, but the semis. That is really the big storyline for the entire event. Quite frankly, everyone involved in the sport will be at least a little disappointed if it does not happen.
This half does feature two players who are very capable of upsetting everyone’s projection. 14th seed Nick Kyrgios and 24th seed Juan Martin del Potro both could cause problems for Federer in the fourth round and quarterfinals respectively.
Kyrgios appears to be turning the corner after blowing Rafael Nadal off the court on his run to the finals of Cincinnati. There is not a shot that the temperamental Aussie can’t hit and hit well. He even invents shots sometimes with mixed results, if his head is screwed on straight, he can beat anyone.
Minus the head case gene, del Potro is very similar to Kyrgios. Injuries have prevented the Argentine from recapturing Grand Slam glory like he did here in 2009, but his forehand is still one of the best shots in the sport. It allows him the ability to catch lightning in a bottle on any given day.
At the end of the day though, beating the best three out of five sets at a Grand Slam is a different ballgame than the regular tour events. Federer and Nadal are who they are for a reason. After all these years, they are still head and shoulders above 99.9% of their peers.
Semifinal prediction: Federer d. Nadal
Bottom Half: No Federer, no Nadal, no Djokovic, no Murray, and no Wawrinka. There is a massive opportunity here for someone to reach a Grand Slam final.
If there is a favorite to step up, it is German fourth seed Alexander Zverev. It is a matter of when, not if for the 20 year old. He announced his arrival by winning two Masters Series titles this year, including Canada over Roger Federer just a few weeks ago.
Again, this part of the draw is really anyone’s for the taking after Murray’s late withdraw. Many of the seeds in this half are dealing with injuries of their own including former champion Marin Čilić.
Many will try and make a case for American veterans John Isner and Sam Querrey. However, they each have a bad habit of getting into long matches early in the Grand Slams. This is not a recipe for making a deep run.
That leaves one of the most respected players around. 35 year old David Ferrer has made a career out of grinding matches out and wearing opponents down. The former top ten fixture appeared to be done after dropping out of the top 30 early in the year.
However, the Spaniard enjoyed a nice little rebirth over the summer. This included picking up a small title in Sweden and a run the semis in Cincinnati. He is playing as well as anyone in this half. Also, he has to be aware that this might be his last real shot to go deep into the second week of a major.
Semifinal prediction: Zverev d. Ferrer
Championship: Federer d. Zverev
The U.S. Open begins Monday at 11 AM ET on Tennis Channel with ESPN taking over coverage two hours later. I will tweet out my full brackets for each singles draw before the start of play. You can follow me on Twitter below.