WILL EVANS serves up tennis tips as he casts his eye over the men’s section of the 2021 US Open draw. Are any of the ATP’s tyros capable of halting Novak Djokovic’s bid for a season Slam sweep?
THE TOP CONTENDERS
Djokovic’s price to win the US Open is razor-thin by Grand Slam standards – yet he still looks good value. With Nadal and Federer withdrawing injured, the world No.1 is the undisputed star attraction as he chases the first men’s Calendar Slam since 1969 and a record-breaking 21st major title. The 34-year-old Serbian, who won the last of his three US Opens in 2018, is also out to atone for his fourth-round disqualification at Flushing Meadows last year. Djokovic has featured in nine of the last 12 Grand Slam finals, winning eight. He’s collected all three in resounding fashion in 2021 and it’s hard to see anyone spoiling his grab for history.
Medvedev enjoyed a breakout run to the US Open final two years ago, gallant in a five-set loss to Nadal. He backed that up with a semi-final appearance in New York in 2020 and reached the Australian Open final this year, where he went down to Djokovic in straight sets. The 25-year-old Russian arrives in outstanding form, winning the Canadian Open and making the Cincinnati Masters semis. Being in the opposite half of the draw to Djokovic – who Medvedev has won three of his last five against – is an obvious advantage and he shapes as the next-best bet.
Zverev has belatedly developed into a consistently outstanding performer at Grand Slam level, making the semis in three of the last six majors. He went down to Dominic Thiem in a five-set heartbreaker in last year’s US Open final. Winning the Olympic gold medal then beating Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev on his way to the Cincinnati Masters title last week is a huge boost for the 24-year-old German ahead of this campaign.
Tsitsipas is another of the chasing pack to produce some handy hard-court form prior to the US Open. The Greek 23-year-old made it to the semis in Montreal and Cincinnati. It’s been a big year for Tsitsipas on the Grand Slam stage, reaching his third major semi at the Australian Open and his maiden final at the French Open. Won’t meet Djokovic until the final and has won two of his last three against potential semi-final opponent Medvedev.
The latest of the young bucks to break through for a maiden Grand Slam final, Berrettini went four sets with Djokovic in the Wimbledon decider. The 25-year-old Italian was a US Open semi-finalist two years ago. A grass and clay specialist, he has had a limited hard-court build-up – Berrettini skipped the Olympics and exited in the second round of the Cincinnati Masters.
BEST AUSSIE CHANCE
Ranked 85th in the world, the always-entertaining Kyrgios has been handed a tough draw. He’ll face 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut first up, while 12th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime looms as a potential third-round opponent and he could meet fifth seed Andrey Rublev in the fourth round. Kyrgios again captured the imagination with some stirring early-round performances at Wimbledon before retiring at one set all in his third-round clash with Auger-Aliassime. He arrives in New York on a three-match losing streak – but that’s considerably more of a build-up than the 26-year-old has enjoyed prior to his recent Grand Slam appearances. Could spring a couple of upsets but it’s difficult to see him going deep. Kyrgios has never been beyond the third round of the US Open, while his last Grand Slam quarter-final appearance was in 2015.
Italian wunderkind Sinner has surged into the top-15 during a big 2021. The 20-year-old – a surprise French Open quarter-finalist last year – made the final of the Miami Open earlier this season before a fourth-round appearance at Roland Garros. Sinner exited in the first round at Wimbledon but taking out the recent Washington Open has certainly made him one to watch over the next couple of weeks.