As the 2018 U.S. Open approaches, the field of realistic potential men’s winners is once again considerably smaller than it is for the women. However, the three active all-time greats that have dominated the majors for the last several years are not overwhelming favorites as the world has become accustomed to. Here are some first round matches to watch.
(28) Denis Shapovalov vs. Felix Auger Aliassime- The very bright present and future of Canadian tennis will be on display in this battle of compatriots. Shapovalov is an electric shotmaker who already has a slew of big wins under his belt. The New York crowd fell in love with him during his run to the fourth round last year.
It looks like Aliassime has many of the same attributes. The 17-year-old is making his Grand Slam main draw debut. There is a considerable buzz surrounding him. He holds several “youngest ever” records in the minor leagues of the sport.
(8) Grigor Dimitrov vs. Stan Wawrinka- Dimitrov cannot be happy about this draw. He got the same draw in the first round of Wimbledon and lost. Wawrinka’s form has only gotten better since then as he continues to battle back from knee surgery. Dimitrov has struggled all year. Meanwhile, the three-time Grand Slam champion has a real chance to make a run if he can duplicate the Wimbledon result.
(1) Rafael Nadal vs. David Ferrer- Ferrer is a former Roland Garros finalist and World No. 3. The 36-year-old never really had the power or big shots like his contemporaries, but has always been rock solid and never beats himself.
Ferrer is one of the most universally respected players around. He has announced that this will likely be his final Grand Slam event. Obviously, this is not an ideal draw. Still, rest assured Ferrer will give everything he has on a big stage one last time against his more accomplished compatriot.
Mikhail Youzhny vs. Marcos Baghdatis- Baghdatis reached the final weekend of two majors 12 years ago. His Russian opponent has done the same twice at the U.S. Open with the most recent occurrence coming in 2010. There is something really cool about two veterans who know their best tennis is probably behind them competing against each other because their passion for the sport still exist.
Top half: Defending champion Rafael Nadal heads up the draw. The Canadian Open champion also finds himself not having to deal with chief rivals Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic until the final. However, there are some substantial bullets that the left-handed Spaniard may have to dodge.
Assuming that three-time major champion Andy Murray is not his usual self as he will be playing his first Grand Slam since Wimbledon last year, the biggest threat to Nadal is (3) Juan Martin del Potro. The 2009 U.S. Open champion has five career wins over Nadal on outdoor hardcourts and possesses a forehand that is one of the greatest shots in the history of the sport. The “Big Three” are who they are for a reason, but at this particular event, none of them appear to be untouchable at the moment. Someone like Del Potro who has had a great year and knows how to beat them may never get a better chance at winning another major.
Other than a Del Potro semi, the winner of Wawrinka/Dimitrov, last year’s finalist Kevin Anderson of South Africa, and Shapovalov are all noteworthy threats to Nadal in this half, but Del Potro is the biggest with two hardcourt titles on the year and he knows how to push Nadal around on this surface
Semifinal prediction: Del Potro d. Nadal
The bottom part of this half is getting all the attention. With sixth-seeded Novak Djokovic projected to face second-seeded Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, that is certainly understandable. However, Federer is not playing all that well at the moment. Based on their very recent meeting in the Cincinnati final, Djokovic would have to be considered a significant favorite in that match. Federer may also have to deal with talented but temperamental Aussie (30) Nick Kyrgios in round three. Under no circumstances, should the result of that possible match be considered a foregone conclusion. Kyrgios is beaten every legend of this era at least once.
With Federer and Djokovic so close together in this draw, there is also opportunity in this half. Someone is going to have to join one of those two in the semis. Realistically, it comes down to three names (4) Alexander Zverev, (7) Marin Čilić, and (21) Kei Nishikori. Zverev has struggled to make an impact at the majors in his young career and Nishikori has had a really nice bounce-back year from injury. Still, it is the 2014 U.S. Open champion that has become a regular at the business end of majors, especially on hardcourts. He has also played Djokovic much better as of late. The Serb has rarely been able to put together a complete match this year. It didn’t come back to bite him at Wimbledon or Cincinnati, the law of averages says it will here.
Semifinal prediction: Čilić d. Djokovic
Championship match: Del Potro d. Čilić
Coverage of the 2018 U.S. Open begins Monday at Noon ET on ESPN and all of its digital platforms. You can tune in to the Tennis Channel every morning to get ready for each day’s play as well. Be sure to follow me on Twitter below for all kinds of content relating to the grandest spectacle in tennis.