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2021 US Open: Men’s Outright Preview

Absolutely everything that you need to know about the men’s draw at the 2021 US Open.

Novak Djokovic celebrates winning the US Open
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Absolutely everything that you need to know about the men's 2021 US Open.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

2021 ATP Tour
Grand Slam Tennis
US Open Championships- Men’s Preview
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre, New York 
30th August- 12th September

The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. Peter Parker’s backyard. Whatever you want to call it, New York City is just the perfect venue for a potentially momentous week in men’s tennis. Novak Djokovic will be aiming to win his 4th US Open title and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the calendar Grand Slam. Surely there can’t be a better theatre for this drama than the infamously garrulous Flushing Meadows. Last year’s US Open was perhaps the most depressing sporting spectacle of the pandemic period. The atmosphere in New York creates perhaps the most hostile cauldron in all of sports. Last year’s event seemed to be taking place on an alien planet. There is some conjecture as to whether fans will be in attendance this year. In June, organizers had given the preliminary green light for fans to attend. However, the organizers have put a moratorium on fans for the qualifying matches this week. Let’s hope that’s just a precautionary measure and we can experience that iconic New York City insanity this year.

You would think that the tennis gods are laying this Grand Slam on a plate for the Serb. It’s been like the Suicide Squad in the men’s draw, with many of the heavily favoured seeds withdrawing in quick succession. Defending champion Dominic Thiem has been forced to withdraw due to a recurring wrist injury (he may actually require surgery to fix that problem). 2016 champion Stan Wawrinka has also decided to skip this event. More crucially, the other two members of the ‘Big Three’ will not be in attendance this year. Federer’s absence- while of huge sentimental import to the tennis world- doesn’t really carry the same weight as it once did. It’s Nadal’s shock announcement that seems to have paved the way for a possible Serbian procession. Nadal seemed to be growing stronger on these courts as they grew progressively slower over the past decade. A foot injury had cast doubt over Rafa’s involvement for some time. But there was an underlying feeling that he was perhaps acting out of an abundance of caution. Not so. Nadal’s absence means that destiny is surely on Djokovic’s side. Or does it? Despite the absence of his two greatest rivals, I think this year’s US Open will be one of the toughest assignments of Djokovic’s career.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

The Favourites- Djokovic 13/20 | Zverev 6/1 | Tsitsipas 9/1 | Medvedev 4/1

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Djokovic has actually been under a slight injury cloud for the past few weeks. While he has been out hitting in New York, he says that he is currently dealing with multiple injury issues. Could this be an act of political brinksmanship from the savvy Djokovic, an attempt to lull the draw into a false sense of security? I don’t think that the absence of Federer and Nadal will have much of an impact on Djokovic’s chances this year. Federer- the legend that he is- has been a somewhat impotent force at Grand Slam level of late. Furthermore, Djokovic’s victory over Rafa in Paris seemed to finally underline his dominance in that particular rivalry. The concern for Djokovic this week- aside from his consecutive defeats in Tokyo- will be the ascension of some of the other ‘NextGen’ talents.

Alex Zverev is unquestionably riding a wave of momentum this week. Back-to-back victories at the Olympics and Cincinnati speak to his growing Grand Slam credibility. Zverev has always been accused of having a slightly soft underbelly in these five-set marathons. But his body seems to be filling out (as evidenced by his vastly improved serve). The German has a cold ruthlessness in his game that has seen him pick up more consistent Grand Slam results. He reached the semi-finals in Melbourne last year and reached his maiden Grand Slam final in this very event. That heart-breaking five-set defeat to Dominic Thiem will have taught him everything he needs to know about the vagaries of Grand Slam combat.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has quickly developed the reputation as the tour’s man for all seasons. He is the epitome of consistency, able to transfer his momentum effortlessly from surface to surface. This has translated to noticeable improvements at Grand Slam level. Sure, he was embarrassed by Frances Tiafoe at Wimbledon. But he had reached the semi-final or better in his previous three Grand Slams. That includes a soul-destroying five-set defeat at this year’s French Open (Djokovic came from two sets down to outlast the Greek). But I think that Tsitsipas may struggle with the physical grind of the next two weeks. He has been a virtual ever-present on the tour this year and may find these next two weeks a bridge too far.

Having said all of that, I still think that Danil Medvedev is the most immediate threat to Djokovic this year. The Russian just seems to have these North-American hardcourts nailed. I honestly believe that Medvedev was the only person in world tennis who could have pushed Nadal to five sets in 2019: Rafa looked unbeatable in New York that year. Medvedev had dominated the North-American hardcourt in 2019 and his performance here was just the cherry on the cake. The Russian enjoyed another semi-final run last year before closing out the season with back-back Masters 1000 titles on hardcourts. He reached the final in Melbourne earlier this year and he recently dominated the Rogers Cup. Medvedev seems to have the mental edge over Zverev and Tsitsipas in Grand Slam tennis. Could it be a case of From Russia to Love this week?

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Dark Horses: Carreno Busat 80/1 | Berrettini 18/1

Pablo Carreno Busta
Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

There are a slew of talented players hovering just below the upper crust of men’s tennis. The likes of Auger Aliassime, Hurkacz and Shapovalov have all experienced intermittent bouts of success this year. Andrey Rublev has dominated the ATP 500 whilst consistently failing to leave an impression on the main stage. But the candidates that I’ve selected in this bracket have two huge shared traits: Grand Slam pedigree and form. Pablo Carreno Busta breaks the mould of your prototypical Spanish clay-courter. The corrosive baseliner is a two-time US Open semi-finalist. Last year he memorably surrendered a two-set lead against Zverev in an epic semi-final showdown. Carreno Busta has enjoyed a consistent season, winning two ATP Tour titles as well as an unexpected Olympic bronze medal. That success in Tokyo included victories over both of this year’s pre-tournament favourites (Novak Djokovic and Danil Medvedev).

Matteo Berrettini is 25-5 since the start of the Serbia Open in April. The Italian is somehow floating beneath the radar this year despite that beautiful confluence of form and history: Berrettini reached the semi-finals here in 2019 to herald his arrival as a force in the men’s draw. Berrettini lost in the final of Wimbledon earlier this season, taking a set off of the indomitable Djokovic in the final. That gigantic serve and forehand are vividly reminiscent of former US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro (seriously, they could be doppelgangers). Berrettini has barely struck a ball in earnest since Wimbledon and this could prove beneficial in arguably the most physically taxing fortnight of the year.

Longshots: Khachanov 66/1 | Korda 80/1

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Karen Khachanov is one of the least glamourous members of this year’s Russian contingent. He has finally started to show some of the form that saw him claim that 2018 Paris Masters crown. He has reached two ATP semi-finals this season. However, it has been the last two months that have really wowed. He reached his 2nd Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, agonizingly losing out to Shapovalov in five brutal sets. He then won five consecutive matches in Tokyo to collect an unexpected Olympic silver medal. That included a routine dismantling of Pablo Carreno Busta in the semi-final (Carreno Busta was playing like a man possessed in Japan). Khachanov is physically durable and will be a nightmare early opponent this year.

This is one for the fantasists out there. The passionate New York faithful haven’t really had much to get riled up about on the men’s side for some time now. Men’s tennis was dominated by brash Americans for some time. McEnroe and Conners helped foment the adversarial atmosphere that remains to this day. They gave way to the more genteel rivalry between Agassi and Sampras (though their relationship would sour in the future). Andy Roddick was probably the last undisputed male icon in American tennis. They have virtually adopted Roger Federer as a de facto New Yorker over the past 15 years. But 21-year-old Seb Korda could be the next big thing. He will be looking to emulate sister Nelly, who won her maiden Major Championship on the LPGA tour this year (not to mention that lovely golden trinket in Tokyo). Korda has already shown Grand Slam potential in his brief career, reaching the 4th round at last year’s French Open and again at this year’s Wimbledon Championships. The big-serving Korda should be able to feed off of the fanatical support that he is guaranteed to receive this week.

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