WILL EVANS serves up tennis tips as he casts his eye over the men’s section of the 2022 US Open draw. Novak Djokovic’s immigration-enforced withdrawal has thrown the battle for the trophy wide open – but who is best placed to capitalise on the opportunity?
THE TOP CONTENDERS
The path for Medvedev to become the first men’s player to successfully defend the US Open title since 2008 just got a whole lot easier following Djokovic’s confirmed absence. The Russian, controversially forced to miss Wimbledon because of world politics, overwhelmed Novak in last year’s final to claim his maiden grand slam. Since then, he has reached the Australian Open final, climbed to the world No.1 spot and won his first tournament since his US Open triumph, taking out the Los Cabos Open earlier this month. Medvedev made it to the semis of the Cincinnati Masters and looks to be in excellent shape. Clearly the player to beat and great value at this price.
Nadal is a four-time US Open winner, most recently saluting at Flushing Meadows in 2019. The reigning Australian and French Open champ has the opportunity to collect three slams in a calendar year for the second time in his career (he achieved the feat in 2010) and become the first player to win both hard-court majors in the same season since Djokovic in 2015. The 36-year-old’s level of performance is no concern, but his fitness is. Since pulling out of his Wimbledon semi against Nick Kyrios, Rafa’s only outing was a loss to Borna Coric in Cincinnati. A first-up clash with Aussie wildcard Ricky Hijikata should allow Nadal to blow out the cobwebs, but things get tricky in the second round against either Fabio Fognini or Aslan Karatsev.
An 18-year-old Alcaraz captured the world’s attention with a quarter-final charge at last year’s US Open. The clay specialist emerged as a bona fide grand slam contender since by winning four tournaments in the first half of 2022 – including the hard-court Miami Open – but is yet to take another step forward on the big stage, losing in the quarters at the French Open as a warm favourite and getting rolled in the fourth round at Wimbledon. The Spanish phenom has made another couple of clay tournament finals since Wimbledon but his lead-up form in North America has been modest. A soft early draw should allow Alcaraz to regain some momentum and he’s certainly a chance over the next fortnight.
Following his stunning run to the Wimbledon final, Kyrgios will be the most watched player at the US Open for several reasons: his brilliant tennis, his explosive behaviour and the irresistible prospect of the sport’s enfant terrible grasping a grand slam title opportunity that seemed to have passed him by. Kyrgios is as magnetic as he is polarising and is in the form of his life. In his first foray since Wimbledon, the 27-year-old won the Washington Open and beat Medvedev on his way to the Canadian Masters quarters. But 23rd seed Kyrgios’ championship price eased out following the US Open draw with a fourth-round clash against Medvedev on the cards. He faces good buddy Thanasi Kokkinakis first up as he aims to get past the third round at Flushing Meadows for the first time.
If you’re looking for value in the field of men’s contenders, it’s hard to go past the gifted Tsitsipas. A third-round victim of Kyrgios’ at Wimbledon, the world No.5 defeated Medvedev in the Cincinnati Masters semis before going down to Coric. The US Open has been the 24-year-old’s least successful major, bombing out in the third round in the past two years. But his three Australian Open semi-final appearances in the past four years are testament to his hard-court qualities, while he reached the French Open final in 2021. A saloon passage to the quarter-finals, on paper at least, puts Tsitsipas right in the US Open frame.
A potential quarter-final opponent for Tsitsipas, 10th seed Fritz is the best American men’s hope at the US Open and should get to at least the fourth round without much trouble. The 24-year-old took Nadal to five sets in his first grand slam quarter-final at Wimbledon last month and has produced some handy hard-court results in recent weeks, most notably wins over Kyrgios and Andrey Rublev in Cincinnati. Big-serving Fritz won the Indian Wells Masters in March and has a solid all-round game, but he probably lacks the X-factor to upset the big dogs if he goes deep in New York.
The 25-year-old has endured an injury-hampered couple of season, missing five of the past six majors. But he made a big pre-US Open statement by storming to the Cincinnati Masters title, beating top-10 guns Nadal, Felix Auger-Alissime, Cameron Norrie and Tsitsipas – the latter three in straight sets – along the way. Croatian Coric made the quarter-finals in his last US Open visit in 2020 and shapes as a thorny third-round opponent for Alcaraz.