2017 U.S. Open draw analysis

If Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face each other at the U.S. Open for the first time ever in 2017, it won’t be in the final. Federer, who lost out on the No. 2 seed to Andy Murray by a mere five rankings points, landed in Nadal’s half of the draw on Friday afternoon. It is a difficult top half, especially in Federer’s quarter—where Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, and Juan Martin Del Potro also reside.

The other side, meanwhile, is wide open (to an even greater extent, in fact, than it already was). Murray, who has not played since Wimbledon, withdrew from the tournament on Saturday afternoon. Making his debut as a top four seed at a Grand Slam, Alexander Zverev is now the highest-ranked player in his entire half.

Nadal’s quarter

Aside from seeing Federer land in his half, Nadal will not mind his draw one bit. The world No. 1 opens with Dusan Lajovic before a possible date with Tommy Paul, and his nearest seed is Richard Gasquet—against whom Nadal owns a 15-0 record. Should the Spaniard advance to round four, he may be able to further avenge his stunning 2015 U.S. Open loss to Fabio Fognini (Nadal has since defeated Fognini four times in a row). Tomas Berdych and Alexandr Dolgopolov are also possible opponents for the top seed in the last 16.

Similarly, Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov should not have any trouble in week one at the season’s final Grand Slam. Dimitrov could run into Andrey Rublev in round two before things get even more interesting at the start of the second week—likely against either Gael Monfils or David Goffin. Monfils and Goffin are both question marks from a physical standpoint, so Dimitrov is the only reliable player in his eighth of the bracket.

Best first-round matchup — Jeremy Chardy vs. (18) Gael Monfils

This will be the two Frenchmen’s third career meeting at the ATP level and their third in round one of a Grand Slam. Monfils prevailed at the U.S. Open in 2009 before Chardy got the job done in five sets at Wimbledon in 2016. Both players are heading into the year’s final major with question marks. Monfils has taken a step back this season and withdrew from Cincinnati due to illness. Chardy has not played since losing right away at the All-England Club to Tomas Berdych. If each man is close to 100 percent, though, this will be a fun one.

Best potential second-round matchup – (9) David Goffin vs. Steve Darcis
Best potential third-round matchup – (22) Fabio Fognini vs. (15) Tomas Berdych

Possible surprises – Nadal is in the midst of an outstanding season, but he is far from invincible. The world No. 1 has not advanced past the fourth round of the U.S. Open since he last won it in 2013 and his post-French Open effort includes losses at Wimbledon (to Gilles Muller), in Montreal (to Denis Shapovalov), and in Cincinnati (to Nick Kyrgios). Dimitrov taking advantage to reach the semis would not be a huge surprise. Berdych or Fognini taking out Nadal would be a much bigger one…but each would have a realistic shot.

Federer’s quarter

The top half of the draw is far more stacked, and Federer’s section is the toughest of the tough. It also includes Thiem (French Open semifinalist), Kyrgios (Cincinnati runner-up), Winston-Salem champion Roberto Bautista Agut, and 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro. Federer may not even have the easiest of openers against Frances Tiafoe, who accounted himself well in a 7-6(2), 6-3 loss to the Swiss earlier this season in Miami.

If the 36-year-old’s back is 100 percent, however, he should not have any real trouble in the first week. Tiafoe is not ready to pull off such a monumental upset and Federer’s next two opponents (likely veterans Mikhail Youzhny and Feliciano Lopez) are not overly dangerous. The question is will Kyrgios and Del Potro be able to play their way into second-week showdowns against the 19-time Grand Slam champion. Kyrgios vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber would be an intriguing third-rounder, while Del Potro has a tough path that could include Bautista Agut in the last 32 and Thiem in round four.

Best first-round matchup — Marcos Baghdatis vs. (WC) Taylor Fritz

Baghdatis and Fritz were one round away from playing each other in the Winston-Salem quarterfinals, but the Cypriot got bounced by Bautista Agut. Fritz was disposed of by the Spaniard one day later. Now the veteran and the youngster will do battle on a much grander stage in New York. Fritz is slowly rounding into form after spending the early stages of the season working on fitness as opposed to getting matches under his belt. Baghdatis picked up two decent wins in Winston-Salem and should take additional confidence from having reached the U.S. Open fourth round last summer.

Best potential second-round matchup – Fernando Verdasco vs. (31) Feliciano Lopez
Best potential third-round matchup – (33) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. (14) Nick Kyrgios

Possible surprises — With all 128 players in the men’s field, you can make an obvious case for why they won’t win the U.S. Open title. But with Federer, it starts and ends with his back problem. If—and only if—it’s a problem, the door will be open for others. And if that door opens, Kyrgios could be the one to capitalize. Of course, Kyrgios has his own recurring physical issues with which to handle. And don’t overlook Bautista Agut. If for some reason the Spaniard can face someone other than Federer (who is 7-0 in the head-to-head series and 16-0 in total sets) in the quarters, a semifinal showing is possible.

Zverev’s quarter

Zverev’s reward for his first-ever top four seed is a rich one. Not only is he the highest-ranked player in a quarter of the draw, but he is now the only man in the top 10 in his entire group of 32. That’s because world No. 7 Marin Cilic, who had been a potential quarterfinal foe for Zverev, moved into Murray’s spot at the bottom of the bracket when the Scot pulled out. But even with Cilic elsewhere, the 20-year-old German may have to contend with the likes of other big hitters such as Muller, Sam Querrey, Kevin Anderson, John Isner, and Karen Khachanov.

All eyes will be on Zverev to see how he copes with the pressure of being among the favorites at a slam, but the story in this section is a massive opportunity for the host nation. Arguably the United States’ three best men right now—Isner, Querrey, and Jack Sock—find themselves in an incredibly soft part of the draw. There is absolutely no reason why the fourth-round matchups in this section can’t be Zverev vs. Sock and Isner vs. Querrey.

Best first-round matchup — Jiri Vesely vs. Borna Coric

Coric and Vesely have already squared off four times—twice in 2016 and twice in 2017. The head-to-head series stands at 3-1 in favor of Coric, but they have split a pair of clay-court encounters this season. This is an interesting contrast in styles, with Vesely looking to impose his will with big lefty serves and a heavy dose of forehands while Coric counter-punches and tries to play his way into backhand-to-backhand rallies. The 20-year-old Croat has gotten the best of Vesely for the most part, but conditions in New York could help the Czech.

Best potential second-round matchup – (25) Karen Khachanov vs. Ernesto Escobedo
Best potential third-round matchup – (23) Mischa Zverev vs. (10) John Isner

Possible surprises — Where do we start? When a guy who owns a mere 11-9 lifetime match record at Grand Slams—including 1-2 at the U.S. Open—is the highest-ranked player in a section, you know it is completely and utterly up for grabs. Based on both current form and the draw, this is unequivocally Isner’s best-ever chance to make serious noise at a major. But it would still be a surprise if he does, because the 6’10’’ American has always underwhelmed in best-of-five situations due to his inability to avoid long matches.

Cilic’s quarter

Just when you thought a half of a Grand Slam could not get any softer, Murray pulled the ripcord. With the Scot gone, the 64 men on that side have combined to reach a total of four major finals in their careers (Cilic two, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga one, and David Ferrer one). Like Murray, Cilic has not played since Wimbledon—unable to defend his 2016 Cincinnati title. It looks like he is ready for the U.S. Open and his draw is great, but Diego Schwartzman in the third round or Ferrer in the last 16 could bring about the end of Cilic’s fortnight. Tsonga may run into trouble against Shapovalov in round two or against Steve Johnson or Kyle Edmund on Labor Day Weekend.

Lucas Pouille, a 2016 U.S. Open quarterfinalist, has been a disaster since capturing a grass-court title in Stuttgart. The Frenchman’s slump most recently saw him lose to Jared Donaldson in Montreal, and he will likely face Donaldson again on Wednesday—if he survives his opener versus Ruben Bemelmans. Speaking of slam quarterfinalists, Pablo Carreno Busta has cooled off (mainly due to injury) since the French Open. But the unseeded group near him is uninspiring at best, so either he or fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas should reach the fourth round.

Best first-round matchup — Nicolas Almagro vs. Steve Johnson

This is a matchup of French Open doubles partners, who have gone head-to-head in singles once. Their only previous encounter also came in the first round of a major, with Almagro surviving a five-set battle at the 2013 Australian Open. The Spaniard’s Roland Garros doubles campaign with Johnson marks one of the last times he has taken the court. He has not played since suffering a nasty injury at the French Open against Del Potro, which forced him to retire immediately. Home-court advantage in the United States and hard surface favor Johnson, but Almagro cannot be discounted if he is back to 100 percent.

Best potential second-round matchup – (29) Diego Schwartzman vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis
Best potential third-round matchup – (16) Lucas Pouille vs. (21) David Ferrer

Possible surprises — The semifinalist from this quarter is 100 percent guaranteed to be surprising…which means it won’t be surprising. The surprise is inevitable. Cilic and Tsonga, the two highest-ranked players in the section, have combined to win zero matches since Wimbledon. Throw Carreno Busta and Pouille into the mix and the four highest-ranked players here have combined to win three matches since Wimbledon. Watch out for seeds Ferrer and Schwartzman. From the unseeded contingent, Johnson, Donaldson, and Shapovalov may make the move.

5 Comments on 2017 U.S. Open draw analysis

  1. My take on the best first round and possible second and third round matchups.
    Nadal’s quarter:
    First round – Berdych vs Harrison
    Second round – Monfils vs Young
    Third round – Goffin vs Monfils
    Federer’s quarter:
    First round – Verdasco vs Pospisil
    Second round – Verdasco vs Lopez
    Third round – Kyrgios vs Kohlschreiber
    Zverev’s quarter:
    First round – Querrey vs Simon
    Second round – Coric vs A. Zverev
    Third round – Muller vs Sock
    Cilic’s quarter:
    First round – Shapovalov vs Medvedev
    Second round – Shapovalov vs Tsonga
    Third round – Pouille vs Ferrer

  2. I said it multiple times in last few weeks. At least one unseeded player will make the quarters. And you know I’m eyeballing that Tsonga section?

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