The draw is out for the men’s singles at the US Open and as ever it’s thrown up some very interesting first round matches and some trickier than usual openers for the top stars.
Andy Murray faces Nick Kyrgios, while Roger Federer must overcome Leo Mayer, and Rafa Nadal takes on young starlet Borna Coric, who beat the slumping Spaniard in their only career meeting so far.
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The exception is our tournament favourite Novak Djokovic, who has a virtual bye in Joao Souza, who hasn’t won a match at main level since losing an epic Davis Cup tie to Mayer on clay back in March.
Indeed, the draw couldn’t have been a great deal kinder for the world number one, who has Andreas Seppi, David Goffin, Roberto Bautista-Agut, Milos Raonic, Feli Lopez, Fabio Fognini and Nadal as the seeds in his quarter.
He could scarcely have picked them by hand better, with Raonic struggling for fitness and lacking matches and the rest lacking the hard court weaponry to trouble Novak, while Nadal looks well off the pace and a 55.00 shot.
Possible non-seeded opponents for Djokovic include Jerzy Janowicz, Fernado Verdasco, Vasek Pospisil, Coric, and who knows, perhaps Tommy Haas or Mardy Fish could roll back the years? Maybe not.
The second quarter in the top half looks like it might end up in a repeat of last year’s final in the 2015 quarter finals, with Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic on a collision course.
Those out to stop Nishikori’s bid for a second straight US Open final appearance include Benoit Paire, Tommy Robredo, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils.
Nishikori comes here, as he did last year, under an injury cloud, but it doesn’t seem like anything serious, and he looks to have a path to the semis that is within his capabilities.
Avoiding Murray is a plus for Nishikori and with Djokovic looking beatable at the moment and less than 100 percent we could be on for a repeat of the 2014 semi final.
Cilic must negotiate past Grigor Dimitrov, possibly David Ferrer or Jeremy Chardy and not much else in what is a nice draw for the defending champion. So much so that the 120.00 I highlighted yesterday has gone.
The bottom half of the draw is topped and tailed by Swiss players, with Stan Wawrinka in one quarter and Federer in the other and taking Stan’s quarter first he has Jack Sock, Viktor Troicki, and Gilles Simon, for seeded company at first and then he may well run into Murray.
The Scot has Thomaz Bellucci, Dominic Thiem and Kevin Anderson for company in his mini-section, but will probably be most concerned about Kyrgios in round one.
I’d expect Murray to have too much for the Aussie over five sets though and a Murray vs Wawrinka quarter final looks one to look forward to there.
Mayer is the highest ranked opponent at 33 that Federer has ever faced at a major and in terms of pure ranking the toughest possible round one encounter.
Seppi at rank 35 at the 2009 Australian Open was the previous highest ranked opponent that Fed has taken on in round one of a major, but it’s hard to see the erratic and chokey Mayer besting the Swiss over five sets on hard.
A second round against Marcos Baghdatis could be a lot of fun for the neutral if the Cypriot is fit and that would be their first clash since 2010 in Cincinnati.
Then it would be Philipp Kohlschreiber for Federer, who has to my mind one of the trickiest early draws I can recall him having at a major for many a long year.
After that he could get John Isner or Ivo Karlovic in what looks a perilous path to a possible last eight clash with Tomas Berdych or Richard Gasquet.
And given Fed’s lack of success on non-grass majors in recent times he looks one to avoid in the outright market at a skinny-looking 5.40 that’s largely based on his fine form in Cincy, where he has the perfect conditions.
It’s not quite the same in New York and he hasn’t made a final in Flushing since 2009 and not at any hard court major since winning the 2010 Australian Open.
His run to the title would possibly be Mayer, Baghdatis, Kohlschreiber, Isner/Karlovic, Berdych, Murray, Djokovic. If he does that at 34 years of age I’ll be almost as stunned as when Cilic won the title a year ago.
Is it written in the stars that Federer goes out early to facilitate yet another Isner/Kohlschreiber clash? It would be the fourth straight year they’ve clashed here, with the German having won all three so far.
So, looking at this draw it seems to me that Djokovic is a virtual certainty (fitness permitting) to make the last four, where he’ll probably face Nishikori (fitness permitting) in the top half.
In the bottom half Murray and Wawrinka will surely battle it out for a place in the semis, with the winner facing perhaps Federer, or maybe Berdych, whose route to the last four looks far better than Fed’s.
The Czech’s section looks simple, and only perhaps an in-form Gasquet could stop the Berdman from making the quarters, where he may face Federer, against whom he has had success on quicker surfaces – including here in 2012.
It all seems to point to a Djokovic/Murray final, but I prefer taking a chance on Nishikori at 23.00, with Djokovic coming here looking less than fit to me.
The Japanese star has a decent draw and on what we’ve seen from Djokovic so far this hard court swing the Serb is beatable and Nishikori has already proven he can do that on the big stage at this tournament.
Having made the final a year ago when supposedly injured I’m not too concerned about his hip issue and 23.00 looks a pretty decent price about Nishikori landing a maiden major in New York.
Back Nishikori at 23.00
Nishikori has a decent draw and on what we’ve seen from Djokovic so far this hard court swing the Serb is beatable and Nishikori has already proven he can do that on the big stage at this tournament