Thursday, August 27, 2015

US Open Draw: Youth meets experience in first round of the US Open

Over the past decade in tennis, first round matches for the real grand slam contenders have almost always been unbearably boring to watch, even to the point where many tennis fans have been upset that the stars of the game are getting coverage instead of what is happening on the outside courts. However, at the 2015 US Open, some of the early round matches could produce some great drama.

During this decade of dull first round matches, four players have dominated the tour: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal. Meanwhile though, a large group of young guns have been showing what the next generation in tennis is going to be all about. Players like Nick Kyrgios, Borna Coric, and Hyeon Chung have showed immense amounts of talent. At the 2015 US Open under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, they are going to get to show if it is all hype or if there is substance to the idea that this group is the one to replace the Big Four.

Two massive first round matches will break in the tournament right away as 18-year old Borna Coric takes on 14-time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal and 20-year old Nick Kyrgios goes toe-to-toe with Rogers Cup Champion and two-time grand slam title-winner Andy Murray. Then, in the second round, 19-year old Hyeon Chung will play two-time grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka.

Most exciting match ups per round
1st Round: Rafael Nadal vs. Borna Coric
2nd Round: Hyeon Chung vs. Stan Wawrinka
3rd Round: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Gael Monfils
4th Round: Milos Raonic vs. Rafael Nadal
Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal
Semifinals: Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer
Final: Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer

Toughest Path: Rafael Nadal

If Nadal was in a slump, it isn't going to be helped by the draw he received. The Spaniard always needs a little more time that other top players to find his top level at tournaments, which is what makes Coric particularly dangerous as a first-round opponent.

However, what makes his draw particularly tough is his quarterfinal opponent, which could be Djokovic. Nadal has not failed to reach at least the semifinals of the US Open when making the trip to New York since 2007. However, he also hasn't beaten Djokovic on hard courts since the 2013 US Open final, losing 6-of-7 matches against the Serb in total.

Fabio Fognini and Milos Raonic also stand in the way of Nadal's run to the quarterfinals. Raonic has been battling injuries in the past months, but his serve is his biggest weapon, and that has remained just as lethal for the most part.

Meanwhile, Fognini is also very dangerous as he has beaten Nadal twice already this year. Nadal fans will point out that both of those losses were on clay, while Fognini struggles on hard courts and that Nadal did avenge those two losses with a straight-set win over the Italian in the Hamburg final. However, straight-set does not mean straight-forward as Fognini had several chances to take a set in that match. Fognini also gave Nadal a run at the 2013 Beijing quarterfinals, before the Spaniard pulled out the victory.

Easiest Path: Novak Djokovic

The No. 1 seed couldn't have asked for a much better draw. He opens against Joao Souza, who is a stranger to hard courts. He will then likely play Pospisil, who is a far more dangerous opponent, but has never really come close to beating a player like Djokovic at a major.

His third-round match could be against Andreas Seppi, who has gone into an injury-induced slump and wouldn't be much of a threat on hard courts anyways. Teymuraz Gabashvili would be the more dangerous third-round opponent, but Djokovic's defensive abilities present the perfect foil for the Russian's playing style.

Djokovic's fourth round opponent will likely be David Goffin, who nearly beat Djokovic at Cincinnati, but after taking a double-break lead in the deciding set, the Serb swooped in with six consecutive games won to end the threat. That momentum would certainly carry over to a rematch at the US Open.

Djokovic could get any number of players in the quarterfinals. The seeded players that he could face are Nadal, Raonic, Feliciano Lopez, or Fabio Fognini. Nadal and Raonic have both had very bad summers due to injuries and neither is truly at 100 percent going into the tournament - one doubts if Nadal will ever be 100 percent again. Meanwhile, Fognini is a clay specialist. Lopez beat both Nadal and Raonic in Cincinnati, so he is looking at a dream draw, but he has only won one set against Djokovic in his career.

The Serb's semifinal opponent could also be just about anyone. The two top seeds, Kei Nishikori and David Ferrer, both pulled out of Cincinnati with injuries. Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, and Tsonga could all be potential semifinal opponents for Djokovic. Against Cilic and Dimitrov, Djokovic has a combined record of 18-1. Against Tsonga, the Serb's record isn't nearly as dominant, but at grand slams, Djokovic has won eight consecutive sets against he Frenchman.

Big Picture: With the way that this draw worked out, it is very hard to look past any of these early matches, but two players dodged the big match ups: Djokovic and Federer. The Swiss has won all of his last 10 sets against Murray, who is his expected semifinal opponent, and while Wawrinka and Berdych are both capable of taking out Federer, that would be hard to imagine based on their recent form.

Federer and Djokovic are no strangers to meeting at Flushing Meadows. They did so in Djokovic's first career final at the 2007 US Open. They then went on to meet at five consecutive US Opens with Federer winning three, and Djokovic winning each of the last two after saving match points.

Overall, Federer now leads their series history 21-20 after defeating Djokovic in straight sets at Cincinnati. Just two years ago, who would have thought that a 34-year old Roger Federer might be the favorite to win the 2015 US Open? Djokovic may be the odds makers favorite, but Federer certainly has a great chance to walk away with the trophy.

More teenagers in New York: In the first round, Frances Tiafoe will take on Viktor Troicki, who has been in a small slump over the last few weeks, while playing a packed schedule. At just 17 years old, Tiafoe has already reached a career-high ranking of 271, and last week in Winston-Salem, the teen American earned his first ATP World Tour level victory.

In Federer's quarter of the draw, Thanasi Kokkinakis will play Richard Gasquet, who seems to be a magnet for these young Australians to play against. The 19-year old Kokkinakis is one of the youngest players in the top 100, coming in with a ranking of 70. He already has four grand slam victories, but Gasquet presents a huge challenge for taking the fifth.

Federer's potential third-round opponent Jared Donaldson will play Lukas Rosol in the first round. Donaldson just reached a career-high ranking at No. 146 in the world at just 18 years old. This is his second career main draw appearance at a slam. He received a wildcard into the US Open main draw for the second straight year after failing to qualify at each of the previous three majors this year.

In qualifying, there is a host of promising teenagers still alive looking for those few main draw spots still available. In that group is Alexander Zverev, Noah Rubin, Yoshihito Nishioka, Reilly Opelka, Andrey Rublev, Tommy Paul, and Elias Ymer.

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