2014 US Open Week 1 Men’s Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The final slam of the season has arrived. It is one of the most wide open fields for a slam in quite a while in Flushing-Queens and this tournament is well worth watching to see who will emerge and eventually prevail. Here is a preview of all the action that will take place in the first week and beyond.
New York, NY, USA
August 25-September 7, 2014
Top 8 seeds
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (3)
3: Stan Wawrinka (4)
4: David Ferrer (5)
5: Milos Raonic (6)
6: Tomas Berdych (7)
7: Grigor Dimitrov (8)
8: Andy Murray (9)
The big news is that the defending champion, and perhaps the second most feared player in the draw, Rafael Nadal, is not playing this year due to a wrist injury. As a result, everyone moves up a spot on the seedline and former champion Andy Murray grabs the 8th spot. Other big names out include the year-long injured former US Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro, Tommy Haas, Nicolas Almagro, Alex Dolgopolov, and last among top 50 players, Florian Mayer.
1st round matchups to watch:
(28)Guillermo Garcia-Lopez vs. Rendy Lu
Two streaky players, who if on, are dangerous, the creative shotmaker Garcia-Lopez has momentum coming off the quarterfinals in Winston-Salem, while the baseline backboarder Lu has similar momentum by virtue of making the semis at the same event. Both players have toppled some big names this year: GGL has wins over Gael Monfils, Tomas Berdych, Alex Dolgopolov and most notably Stan Wawrinka. Lu beat Berdych in Cincinnati and also beat David Ferrer on a hard court in Auckland, as he earns his living on the concrete. Lu won their only hard court meeting in 2009 and I’d tip him as a slight favorite as long as he isn’t worn out from a 3 set semifinal loss in Winston-Salem.
(3)Stan Wawrinka vs. Jiri Vesely
Wawrinka has fared relatively poorly given his high seeding at the two hard court Masters events this summer. He was booted in this third match in Cincinnati and his second in Toronto, both by players ranked outside the top 20 (Julien Benneteau and Kevin Anderson). Thus, his sub-par results on hard courts after his Aussie Open triumph and his sometimes loss of focus in matches suggests he should be on upset alert against the young Czech Vesely, who has a big game, and is looking for a marquee win to establish himself further on the ATP tour. All that said, Vesely has had far superior results on clay than on hard courts this season, and because of that I’m still relatively comfortable saying Stan the Man will advance given the surface.
(21)Mikhail Youzhny vs. Nick Kyrgios
This match will be a big test for Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios. He has already made his breakthrough onto the ATP tour, and as a result he did not need a wild card to participate in the main draw here. However, he will have to face Youzhny, who is a two time semifinalist at the US Open and was a quarterfinalist last year. Even though he hasn’t played well this season, he does have a tendency to rise to the occasion in New York and this is their first meeting. It’s a hard match to pick, and Kyrgios is still going to have some growing pains but I’ve been bullish on the young Aussie for quite some time and I’m not backing off him now given his comparable showings in the US Open Series this summer. It will likely go five sets but I think Nick advances to the next round.
Pablo Andujar vs. Jack Sock
Sock had a strong start to his summer season home soil with consecutive semis in Newport and Atlanta, but he has cooled off since then and didn’t get past the second round in DC, Toronto, or Cincy. That said, a pair of losses to Milos Raonic, and a loss to eventual semifinalist Tommy Robredo in Cincy, doesn’t look that bad in hindsight and he could yet again find a hot streak at the US Open. Standing in his way is “Picasso” Andujar who primarily prefers clay and only has two hard court wins this season. That said, he’s not entirely a pushover and Sock will have to work win this best of 5 sets match. It could be a good tournament for the young American but he must begin with a solid result.
(29)Lukas Rosol vs. Borna Coric
Winston-Salem champ Rosol played some excellent tennis this past week, but he may be in trouble against the young qualifier Coric, a rising Croat who should approach this match trying to wear down a likely tired Rosol. Coric’s qualifying wins over Stefan Kozlov and Jimmy Wang are very credible and the 17 year old also has a quarterfinal in Umag on clay, and a Davis Cup win on indoor hard against Jerzy Janowicz that speaks to his hype. Rosol, if he can rest up enough, is favored, but I’m going out on a limb and picking Coric to get to the second round.
(6)Tomas Berdych vs. Lleyton Hewitt
It could very well be the last rodeo in New York for the former US Open champion Hewitt, who has been struggling for most of this season, and should be a somewhat sizable underdog against Berdych, a former semifinalist at the US Open. That said, Berdych is struggling and is just 2-3 in the US Open series, he has proven vulnerable to the upset, and Hewitt may just have enough fight and skill left in him for one last top 10 win in New York. I’m not picking it myself, but the opportunity exists.
(19)Feliciano Lopez vs. Ivan Dodig
I have a feeling this will be an under-appreciated match between two steady but not elite players. Lopez has been very streaky this season and he recently reached the semis in Toronto with two very notable wins over Milos Raonic and Berdych. Dodig had a good win over John Isner in Toronto, coming back from injury, and his loss to Ernests Gulbis in Cincy was in two tiebreaks. They have never met on hard courts but Dodig won on clay this season, and Lopez is the favorite I would think, given recent form. Dodig’s serve should keep him in this hard court match, but I have Lopez sneaking it out, and this match has five sets written all over it.
(14)Marin Cilic vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Cilic can’t be happy. He has improved his ranking up to being a top 15 seed, but even still, he drew an in-form and experienced player like Baghdatis as his round 1 opponent. Under the radar, Baghdatis won a pair of hard court challengers this summer and he is on a 10 match winning streak. On top of that, he has beaten Cilic twice in his career, both times on hard courts. Cilic has won their last two meetings though, which includes their most recent hard court meeting and he went 4-2 on the US Open series this summer with losses to Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer, neither of which were unexpected. Cilic should advance but don’t be surprised if this one goes four or five sets before Baghdatis lack of stamina will likely give way to Cilic.
Federico Delbonis vs. (WC)Noah Rubin
Kalamazoo junior champ, and as a result, US Open wild card recipient Noah Rubin, a NY/NJ metro area local star, has an excellent chance to win his first career grand slam main draw match at the senior level against Delbonis. The Argentine is a clay courter and he has only won one match on hard courts this season (1-7 record). Rubin will need to adjust to the learning curve quickly, but he is unlikely to get blown out at a minimum in this one. It will be interesting to see what the McEnroe-backed young gun can do.
Bernard Tomic vs. Dustin Brown
Another under-the-radar match. Tomic is 10-3 in tournament matches since Wimbledon, qualified in both Toronto and Cincy, along with the title in Bogota, and is looking to re-earn his credibility as a future star. In order to do so, he will need to win matches like this one against the big serving and streaky Dustin Brown, who is 9-5 overall on hard courts this season, but plays challengers as much as he does ATP. Tomic should advance, but Brown is a good early test of his form to see if he can surprise some people this year at the USO.
*Third round participant predictions are in bold
Novak, who has struggled to adjust after his Wimbledon triumph, suffering two shocking early losses in Toronto and Cincy, will look to regroup and win his second US Open title. He opens with Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in a match that should feature baked goods, given the Argentine would much prefer to be playing on clay, and he is more likely to get at least something resembling a competitive match against the winner of Gilles Muller/Paul-Henri Mathieu in round 2. Muller has been red hot on the challenger circuit all season, but he has taken a few weeks off, and though he has a big serve, I doubt he will challenge the excellent returner Djokovic, PHM likewise shouldn’t cause Novak much grief. Djokovic is likely to face an in-form player in the third round, as Winston-Salem semifinalist Sam Querrey is in his section, opening with Maximo Gonzalez, along with Garcia-Lopez/Lu. It’s understandable to think Novak may be vulnerable right now, but Querrey lacks the mental fortitude, Lu lacks the weapons, and Garcia-Lopez lacks the consistency needed to get a massive upset and upend the draw, so Novak should get through to the second week, perhaps without dropping a set.
13 seed and top American John Isner is nursing an ankle injury, as he continues to be unable to stay healthy, and as a result of that, even if he does participate it appears unlikely he will make a deep run even with a favorable draw. He opens with qualifier Marcos Giron of UCLA, and if he gets through that, he faces the winner of Mikhail Kukushkin/JL Struff. In the second round, it’s possible he will renew his rivalry with Philipp Kohlschreiber. In the third round for the third consecutive US Open, Kohli has to beat qualifier Facundo Bagnis in round 1, who is a fighter, and also the Michael Llodra/Daniel Gimeno-Traver winner.
Llodra is playing his final US Open and was given a wild card as a result. His silky smooth serve and volleying style will be missed on tour. Kohli is just 1-3 in his last four matches and has not had a strong season but the weak draw and an injured Isner should allow him to reach the second week. In the third round of the US Open in both 2012 and 2013, he knocked out Isner in five and four sets respectively in memorable matches.
Former US Open champ Andy Murray will be looking to, in some ways, salvage his season with a strong run at the US Open this year. He opens with Robin Haase, who he has played in the early round of Grand Slams twice before (2011 USO round 2 and 2013 AO round 1) and I expect him to have little trouble before a possible third round meeting with Fernando Verdasco. Radek Stepanek/Mathias Bachinger is his slated round 2 opponent and given Bachinger, a qualifier, favors clay, and Stepanek has lost 4 straight matches on hard court surfaces, Murray should get to the third round without dropping a set. It is fair to note Stepanek beat Murray at London Queens this year but Murray dominates the h2h otherwise. The 31 seed Verdasco played just two matches on hard courts this summer, as he fell in round 2 of Cincy, and he opens with the steadily improving Blaz Rola who has a below .500 record at the ATP/Grand Slam level this season. Look for Verdasco to find form and beat both Rola and Andrey Kuznetsov/Bradley Klahn to set up a meeting with Murray. Kuznetsov has some talent but he hasn’t prepared for hard courts this summer. Murray has only lost to Verdasco twice, and hasn’t lost to him since he was at his peak level in 2009, while winning many more head to head meetings, thus Andy should get himself into week 2.
One of the most watched players this US Open will be Toronto champ Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after falling by the wayside for months, Tsonga put himself back in the conversation about US Open contenders with top quality play in Toronto that was a flashback to previous big showings for the Frenchman. He’s seeded 9th and his path to week 2 begins with the, frankly, washed up Juan Monaco, and then the winner of James McGee/Alexandr Nedovyesov. McGee is one of the nicest guys in pro tennis and he’s finally getting to make his grand slam main draw debut in New York. His qualification run is a big step for him personally, and for Irish tennis as a whole, and it’s great to see him doing so well. Tsonga should cruise through to round 3 without dropping a set, and if he can stay healthy, always a big question mark with him, he should setup a meeting with Julien Benneteau, his countryman, at that stage. Benny was a surprise semifinalist in Cincy and he has a win at IW over Tsonga this season. Though he clearly has talent left to display, Tsonga should still make the second week, and a dark horse run by Benneteau is likely to be averted. Benny first must beat his erratic countryman Benoit Paire and the Andreas Beck/Pablo Carreno Busta winner in the first two rounds.
Wawrinka/Vesely will face Thomaz Bellucci/Nicolas Mahut in round 2. Mahut played some quality tennis in Winston-Salem which included a win over Cincy semifinalist Tommy Robredo, but Wawrinka should get to the third round. It is notable that Wawrinka can’t afford to overlook Mahut, as the Frenchman has won both their head to head meetings. Wawrinka is likely to face Donald Young in the third round, but the American must first defeat Blaz Kavcic and Jeremy Chardy/Alejandro Falla. All four players have a case for the third round, but the Young/Chardy winner should be the deciding contest. Chardy has a lone hard court win over Young, but he is in questionable form. Young beat Wawrinka in five sets at the 2011 US Open, and I’m sure he’d love to do so again but his form honestly doesn’t indicate to me he is in the place to do that right now, and I have Wawrinka making the second week, probably dropping multiple sets en route.
The section below Wawrinka is stacked, as the Kyrgios/Youzhny winner will face Sergiy Stakhovsky/Andreas Seppi, and then likely Tommy Robredo/Vasek Pospisil in round 3. Pospisil, a finalist in DC, has hard court credentials, but he’s been inconsistent all year, while Robredo always seems to rise to the occasion for the Grand Slams and he had that shock run in Cincy after a ho-hum season overall. Robredo opens with Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and Pospisil opens with Simone Bolelli in round 1. I tend to believe Pospisil is rounding into form and I’m making a judgement call and picking him over Robredo to reach the third round. It could easily go the other way, though. Kyrgios vs. Pospisil would be a thrilling third round encounter, and in my own bracket I have Pospisil making the second week. Really, any of the likely third round matchups in this section look to be quality.
Another much talked about player is DC champ, Toronto quarterfinalist and Cincy semifinalist Milos Raonic, who won the US Open series this season. Milos, like Tsonga, is considered an outside favorite to win the title, and his early path runs through qualifier Taro Daniel, who will be playing in front of a home New York crowd, and the Peter Gojowczyk/Benjamin Becker winner. The big serving Becker has had USO success before, and he’s having an excellent season by his standards. However, the rested Raonic should outserve them all en route to the third round and then the Manitoba Missile should grab a win over Coric/Rosol or Igor Sijsling/Victor Estrella. Kei Nishikori, the 10 seed, who hasn’t played since DC, is his most likely opponent in the round of 16. Nishikori will need wins over USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge winner Wayne Odesnik, and Sock/Andujar to reach the third round. Sock perhaps could find form and do the same. Sock/Nishikori should be strong favorites against one of Leo Mayer/Albert Montanes/Tobias Kamke/Matt Ebden in round 3 though, in what is perhaps the weakest section of the draw.
After facing the undersized Damir Dzumhur, Cincy finalist and two time US Open semifinalist David Ferrer could be in trouble against the winner of Tomic/Brown in round 2. That said, Ferrer is 2-0 against both Brown and Tomic, and thus is still likely to advance, even on upset alert. In round 3, Gilles Simon is Ferrer/Tomic/Brown’s most likely opponent. The 26 seed has not had a good season and is below .500 on hard courts this year, but he faces qualifier Radu Albot and the Delbonis/Rubin winner for his first two matches, thus a forgiving draw should allow him to get through. If Rubin can exceed the hype, perhaps he could make the third round. Ferrer should blow through whoever he faces in the third round regardless and book himself a place in the second week. At least, that is how I have it my draw. I have Tomic/Brown doing the same for what it’s worth.
Cilic/Baghdatis will face a qualifier, either Ilya Marchenko or Marco Chiudinelli in round 2, and I’d expect Cilic to get through to the third round where he should face off with Kevin Anderson. Jerzy Janowicz, who has finally found his form these past couple of weeks after a miserable 2014, is in this section, but coming off a grueling and disappointing Winston-Salem final, he should only be rested enough to get past Dusan Lajovic in round 1 before falling to the fresher Anderson, who plays somewhat similar, and was a quarterfinalist in both DC and Toronto. Anderson seems to be struggling mentally at the moment but Pablo Cuevas in round 1 and the Janowicz/Lajovic should be contests that allow him to find his game again. Cilic has a win over Anderson in Delray Beach this season and I think he will get his second win over the South African number one this year at the US Open, booking himself a spot in week 2.
Berdych/Hewitt will face Martin Klizan/Steve Darcis in round 2. The Belgian shark qualified and did so in under-the-radar fashion. Berdych is 2-0 against Klizan and should get through to the third round to face the winner of Santiago Giraldo/Alex Kudryavtsev. Giraldo has had a strong season, but he has struggled this summer and he opens with the slumping Teymuraz Gabashvili, while the qualifier Kudryavtsev will face his countryman Evgeny Donskoy. That round 1 meeting could go either way but Alex has the h2h edge. I expect a Giraldo/Berdych third round contest. It would be their first h2h meeting, and Giraldo could make it a battle, but Berdych is still most likely to make the second week.
Lopez/Dodig will face Steve Johnson or qualifier Tatsuma Ito in round 2. This is a hard to predict section given Johnson has a h2h win over Lopez in Delray this season, and both players have shown good form. Steve has cooled off a bit since reaching the quarters in DC and the third round in Cincy, but he’s still having a career year. Forced to choose, I’m going with Lopez, the veteran, into the third round to face Ernests Gulbis, the 11 seed. Gulbis opens with the last direct entrant, Kenny De Schepper, in round 1, and then Dominic Thiem/Lukas Lacko in round 2. Thiem and Gulbis are close friends and they share coaching teams, along with being hitting partners. Gulbis has a lone win in qualies 2 years ago in Winston-Salem over Thiem, but the young Austrian is much improved since then and much more experienced. That said, he’s out of form having lost three straight matches and though I have him beating Lacko in what should be a competitive match, I don’t think he will trouble Gulbis, who is entering the US Open quietly this time.
Federer, The Cincy and Toronto champion, who has dominated this summer with Nadal absent and Djokovic MIA, is a co-favorite for the US Open title this go around. He will open with Marinko Matosevic, who is a somewhat challenging round 1 opponent, but regardless he should get through to round 2 against Sam Groth/Albert Ramos. The big serving Groth is also unlikely to take a set off the Swiss Maestro and look for Federer to perhaps meet Ivo Karlovic in the third round. Karlovic is struggling, and Federer beat him in Miami this season, his fifth win in a row over one of the best servers of all time. Karlovic’s path to round 3 runs through Jarkko Nieminen and Marcel Granollers/Jurgen Melzer. This section has four very experienced, but out of form players in Karlovic, Nieminen, Granollers and Melzer. All of them have the credentials to reach the third round, and Nieminen showed a bit of a boost in form in Winston-Salem. It’s nearly impossible that I’ll get this perfectly accurate, but in my own bracket I have Nieminen upsetting Karlovic against the odds, Melzer surviving Granollers given the surface, and then Nieminen dispatching Melzer. Federer should reach the second week without dropping a set, or perhaps playing one four set contest in three matches.
Cincy quarterfinalist and 15 seed Fabio Fognini opens with Andrey Golubev and then should face the Pere Riba/Adrian Mannarino winner. Given the weak draw, Fognini should reach the third round, even while being inconsistent and combustible. His first real test of the tournament should come against Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA will face dirtballer Andreas Haider-Maurer and then Tim Smyczek/Filip Krajinovic in round 2. Krajinovic qualified and Smyczek is a competitive hard court player so that match is a bit of a toss-up. Regardless, RBA is superior in terms of talent and even though he hasn’t been exceptional lately he still should get through. RBA/Fognini is a really hard contest to pick. They have met a bunch of times and have a split h2h this season on clay. They also have split outdoor hard court meetings overall and Fognini beat RBA in Miami this season. I see that match going five sets, and even though his form has been poor, I think RBA is more consistent over five sets compared to Fognini and I have the Spaniard into week 2.
7 seed Grigor Dimitrov, a semifinalist in Toronto, and another much talked player outside of the top 4 seeds, will open with Ryan Harrison just like he did at Wimbledon this year. Harrison injured himself in Winston-Salem and Dimitrov should cruise through to face Dudi Sela/Carlos Berlocq. Dimitrov will need to watch out for David Goffin in round 3. The Belgian underdog went on an exceptional 20+ match win streak that was snapped in Winston-Salem at the Quarterfinals stage and he is in tremendous form at the moment. Dimitrov has 3 career wins, all in clay court challengers and futures over the Belgian, and given this is hard court, Dimitrov is still the favorite to advance, but I see Goffin taking a set. Goffin’s path to round 3 is a first round match with his countryman, qualifier Niels Desein, and then a match with the Frank Dancevic/Joao Sousa winner.
Richard Gasquet, the 12th seed, withdrew in Toronto. As a result of that, he is getting almost no attention going into the USO, even though he was a semifinalist last year, a career result for him. Gasquet opens against Denis Istomin in round 1. Istomin isn’t an easy out but Gasquet has a 3-1 h2h advantage and a win this season over the Uzbek on grass. Denis the Menace is a disappointing 2-4 this summer during the US Open Series and he is likely to bow out in round 1. An interesting contest will take place between Dmitry Tursunov, who hasn’t played a tournament match since Wimbledon, and Alejandro Gonzalez, who for a South American player is a competent hard court competitor. Tursunov is a far more accomplished player but with rust/health in question, Gonzalez should be a slight favorite to meet the winner of Gael Monfils/Jared Donaldson in round 2. Monfils lost 3 set matches to Djokovic and Federer in Toronto and Cincy, and he appears to be playing well. I expect him to roll past Gasquet/Istomin, along with Donaldson and Gonzalez/Tursunov, to reach the second week. Lastly, keep an eye on young Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, who I had the pleasure of interviewing earlier this year at the Tallahassee Challenger. Yoshi is making his grand slam main draw debut, and with dirtballer Paolo Lorenzi as his maiden opponent, he has an excellent chance to improve his record to 1-0 in Grand Slam main draw matches. The winner of Nishioka/Lorenzi will face Gasquet/Istomin in round 2 and Nishioka is perhaps the most dangerous qualifier in the draw.
Dark Horses (one for each quarter of the draw): Julien Benneteau, Vasek Pospisil, Bernard Tomic, and Gael Monfils
Dark horses are hard to come by in the first quarter. I don’t think Benneteau will go beyond the third round, but if he does upset Tsonga he would make the fourth round. I have Pospisil in the quarters, and I’m bullish on his chances. Tomic would need to upset Ferrer and get through Cilic but he could have a shock run to the quarters or even the semis as an unseeded player, and Monfils, if he can beat Federer, would find himself in the semifinals, but that is a tough ask.
Week 1 predictions (round of 16 matchups and picks)
Djokovic d. Kohlschreiber
Tsonga d. Murray
Pospisil d. Wawrinka
Raonic d. Nishikori
Gulbis d. Berdych
Ferrer d. Cilic
Monfils d. Dimitrov
Federer d. Bautista Agut
Djokovic and Federer should have limited competition in the fourth round, Tsonga/Murray could go either way, but Tsonga just beat Murray in Toronto when Murray was ahead, and I just can’t trust Andy this season to win key matches like this. He hasn’t proven yet this year that he’s reliable and confident enough to do so. Pospisil has had horrible luck against Wawrinka. They were slated to play twice this season early in the year, but Pospisil had to retire in Chennai during the match and he had a back injury that caused him to walkover before their slated AO match. I know I’m going against the odds but I’m bullish on Vasek to reach the quarters. Raonic is in better form than Nishikori and he beat him at Wimbledon this year, Gulbis beat Berdych at the French and Tomas’s form is suspect. Ferrer/Cilic is another hard judgement call, I’m thinking Ferrer has superior mental fortitude to get over the hump. Monfils has beaten Dimitrov at the USO before and I’m bullish on his form compared to the Bulgarian.
My Full Tournament Picks
Djokovic d. Tsonga
Raonic d. Pospisil
Ferrer d. Gulbis
Federer d. Monfils
Tsonga upset Djokovic in Toronto, but I feel in a best of 5 format that Novak will come out on top. It’s a hard pick to make and it is likely to be a closer match compared to some of their previous contests. Raonic has 2 big wins over Pospisil and he should get a third, Ferrer-Gulbis is likely to be competitive but I think Ferrer survives the test. Monfils may push Federer to five, but like we saw in Cincy, he doesn’t have that extra gear right now to finish the match off.
Djokovic d. Raonic
Federer d. Ferrer
Djokovic and Federer have both dominated the h2hs and that should continue.
Federer d. Djokovic
Federer came close to winning their meeting in the Wimbledon final, and all of their contests have generally been competitive, with Novak out of form this summer, and Federer on fire, I think he will grab what may be his final slam at the USO.