US Open 2018 Preview: Returning stars add spice to men’s draw

The final grand slam event of the year is here. The big four are all in the draw, but the bounce of the ball may not go their way on Queens' hard courts...


This year, the US Open celebrates 50 years of professional tennis. Here’s another remarkable milestone: it has been a decade since Roger Federer lifted the trophy at Flushing Meadows.

Back in the days when Luiz Felipe Scolari was in charge of Chelsea, a 27-year-old Federer completed his streak of five-in-a-row in Queens, New York.

For Roger to add to his career haul of 20 majors this fortnight, he must complete one of his toughest assignments. Novak Djokovic, who has beaten the Swiss the last three times at the US Open, will probably stand across the net from him in the last eight.

Meanwhile, at the top end of the draw, defending champion Rafael Nadal will be quite pleased with his path to the second week as he has avoided the unseeded landmines of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.

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Outside the very familiar foes, we can expect decent showings from former winners Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic, and Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson.

The hard courts of Flushing Meadows are a great leveller. Prepare yourself for a shock or two.

Top Half

Expect Rafael Nadal, who just conquered Toronto, to comfortably navigate his way to the second week. While the promising Karen Khachanov could be tricky in the third round, the unfazed Spaniard commands their head-to-head with a 4-0 record. Kyle Edmund or Jack Sock are projected to meet the three-time champion in the following round but both men are struggling for form and may not get there.

One man who certainly should advance to the business end is Kevin Anderson. The South African, now at a career-high ranking of five, shares a segment with seeds Dominic Thiem, Roberto Bautista Agut and Denis Shapovalov. Anderson is the best of that group and should progress to meet Nadal in the last eight. It there is to be a hiccup, it will probably involve Steve Johnson or Shapovalov. Home favourite Johnson has found some form at Winston-Salem this week and can feed off the home crowd.

Juan Martin del Potro, favoured by those who love a violent forehand, is the standout name in the second quarter. The Argentine’s start is manageable but there could be an interesting lurker in the third round: Andy Murray.

The Scot is of course far short of his best tennis at the moment but Delpo won’t enjoy facing a player of his calibre in the first week. If the Tower of Tandil reaches the fourth round, he will probably meet Toronto’s breakout star Stefanos Tsitsipas or possibly Borna Coric.

The final quarter-final place in the top half could go anywhere.

Grigor Dimitrov is the highest seed here but he’s well short of last season’s form. The Bulgarian has also been drawn against Stan Wawrinka in the opening match which is the stuff of nightmares.

Wawrinka, champion here two years ago, is the wildcard of the section. Since returning from knee surgery in May, progress has been slow for the Swiss. There has been a recent uptick in form though with wins over Nick Kyrgios and Kei Nishikori in recent weeks.

The two biggest servers in the field round out this section. John Isner tends to struggle at Flushing Meadows but has had an outstanding campaign overall. I like where Milos Raonic is at the moment so long as he can stay healthy. The Canadian took a set off Djokovic in Cincinnati and could well bludgeon his way to the last eight.

Bottom Half

Let’s move downstairs where Roger Federer has been handed a brutal draw.

The first two rounds should be straightforward for the 37-year-old but Nick Kyrgios could be a considerable obstacle in the third round as all three of their previous encounters have gone the distance. A fourth round opponent for Federer is hard to predict but his quarter-final foe looks nailed on: Novak Djokovic.

Aug 18, 2018; Mason, OH, USA; Novak Djokovic (SRB) returns a shot against Marin Cilic (CRO) in the Western and Southern tennis open at Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t heard, the Djoker is back. The 31-year-old is up to no.6 in the world after three finals from his last four appearances including a 13th career slam at Wimbledon. Djokovic will fear no one in his quarter as he enjoys a 14-1 head-to-head record over fellow seeds Richard Gasquet and Pablo Carreno Busta. He has never faced the remaining seed Lucas Pouille.

The remaining quarter should be entertaining with 2014 champion Marin Cilic likely to progress to the semis, possibly at the expense of Sascha Zverev.

When the Croatian gets hot, there’s very little anyone can do about it and it took Nadal and Djokovic to end his runs in Toronto and Cincinnati respectively. Zverev will try to rebound from his early loss at Wimbledon and has added some steel to his camp in the shape of Ivan Lendl. Murray’s former coach made it to eight finals in a row at Flushing Meadows in the 80s so he knows a thing or two about this place.

Apart from that pair, keep an eye on David Goffin, Kei Nishikori and the unseeded Alex de Minaur.

Goffin found form in Cincinnati with a run to the semis though a shoulder problem has hampered him since. Nishikori is a former finalist here and has the game to do some damage despite a shortage of wins lately. Finally, Australia’s de Minaur is a spiky 19-year-old who recently catapulted himself into the world’s top 45 with a run to the Washington final.

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