It is the abundance of star names not playing in this year’s U.S. Open that have dominated the headlines as the relentless schedule of the ATP tour appears to finally be taking its toll on a handful of the big-name players. Andy Murray’s late withdrawal from the year’s final Grand Slam last Saturday meant that he joined Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and reigning U.S. Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka amongst the high-profile absent list in New York.
With the five most successful players of 2016 falling by the wayside, round one has already been full of incident and drama with temperamental 14th seed Nick Kyrgios going down in four sets to compatriot John Millman and 19-time major winner Roger Federer taken the distance by American teenager Frances Tiafoe under the Arthur Ashe lights.
As aforementioned, looking down this year’s men’s draw at the U.S. Open, the first thing that stands out is who is missing, but it does provide a real opportunity for players that have previously gone under the radar to shine and make a deep run in the Big Apple. Will the Federer and Rafael Nadal renaissance inscribe another chapter to their storied rivalry or is there an adversary out there ready to tear up the script?
Winning in Australia after a six-month sabbatical shattered any illusion that the Swiss maestro should hang up his racket and an historic eighth Wimbledon crown merely cemented his status as the greatest player of all time. The 36-year-old is a five-time champion in New York, but it now nine years since his last triumph here.
Concerns lingering about the stiff back that troubled him in Montreal may be put to rest after pulling through that five-set thriller against Tiafoe which maintained his unblemished record in U.S. Open first rounds. If his rejuvenated backhand begins to sparkle, then Federer has a genuine shot at winning three Grand Slams in a season for the fourth time in his incredible career.
Back at the summit of the game for the first time in three years, the Spaniard continues to exhibit his trademark tenacity and doggedness which saw him lose in a classic final Down Under to his great rival, before romping to an unprecedented 10th title at Roland Garros. Underwhelming results in Cincinnati and Montreal suggest that the onerous campaign may be catching up with the left-hander.
Despite being a winner here in 2010 and 2013, Nadal has struggled here in recent years, capitulating from two sets up to Fabio Fognini in the third round in 2015 and in the fourth round to Lucas Pouille last year. Is scheduled to meet Federer in the semi-finals and despite playing against each other 37 times, this remains the only major where they are yet to lock horns. Could this be the year?
Ones To Watch
The 2014 champion was the beneficiary of Murray’s retraction as he shifted to the Scot’s number two seeding and is in the opposite side of the draw to Roger and Rafa.
Needed four sets before finally outgunning American Tennys Sandgren in the opening round as he won his first match since the heartbreak of his injury-hampered Wimbledon final loss. A big-hitter who can take the racket out of his opponent’s hand – needs to continue to shake off the rust and play his way into the tournament.
Won impressively in Cincinnati last weekend to lift his first ATP Masters tournament and there are correlations with his form coming into the Australian Open at the beginning of the year where he pushed Nadal all the way in a high-quality semi-final.
The Bulgarian is the very essence of a confidence player which means he remains frustratingly inconsistent, but if Dimitrov can strike while the iron is hot, he has the ability to live up to the hype which surrounded his potential a few years ago.
The big-serving American won’t get a better chance than this to make in-roads at his home Grand Slam. The 10th seed proved too strong for Pierre-Hugues Herbert in their first round clash and Isner’s level of tennis has severely risen during the summer hardcourt swing, winning in Atlanta and reaching the semi-finals in Cincinatti (where he didn’t lose his serve once).
The 6ft 10in goliath has landed in the Cilic/Alexander Zverev quarter and if he can get past bogeyman Philipp Kohlschreiber (a player who has beaten him three times in this event), the 32-year-old could enjoy a fairytale run in New York with his best result coming in 2011 when he made the quarter-finals.
Juan Martin Del Potro
The lovable Argentine shot to fame at the 2009 U.S. Open when a then-20-year-old Del Potro blasted his way past Nadal and Federer back-to-back to stun the tennis world. Sadly, injury problems have hampered his career ever since and he has struggled for form this year with just one Top 10 win under his belt.
However, he along with Dominic Thiem are potentially the most dangerous players lurking in Federer’s quarter of the draw. Strolled to a straight-sets win in his opening encounter and showed flashes of his former self. For how long can this resurgence last?