Editor's Note: This preview was written prior to Andy Murray's withdrawal from the US Open on Saturday.
Looking down this year’s men’s draw at the U.S. Open, the first thing that stands out is who is missing: The finalists from 2016, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, both ended their seasons after Wimbledon due to injury.
The second thing that stands out is where the top players who are in New York have landed. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, champions at the first three majors of 2017, are both in the top half, along with Dominic Thiem and Nick Kyrgios. Andy Murray, until recently the No. 1 player in the world, has the bottom half largely to himself. His strongest competition, if the seeds hold, will come from Alexander Zverev, but that won’t be until the semifinals.
Will the lopsided quality of these brackets determine which of the Big Four, and which of the Next Genners, survive until the final weekend? Let’s take a look at how the next two weeks at Flushing Meadows might play out.
Nadal’s reascension to No. 1 comes just as he’s begun to falter for the first time this season. Since the French Open, he has lost before the semifinals at three straight events. While he’s the top seed in New York, this time most of us would probably agree with Rafa’s own inevitable assessment that he isn’t the favorite. Judging by his recent form, no match can be deemed a sure thing for Nadal right now; but facing 79th-ranked Dusan Lajovic probably isn’t a bad way to start. In their only meeting, at Roland Garros three years ago, Rafa lost four games over the course of three sets. The first foreseeable trouble for Nadal could come in the fourth round, where he might face either Tomas Berdych or Fabio Fognini.
Also here: Grigor Dimitrov. The Bulgarian, who looked so solid winning in Cincinnati, would seem to be ready to take advantage of a Nadal stumble. Dimitrov has a manageable draw to the quarterfinals.
First-round match to watch: Berdych vs. Ryan Harrison. The American has lost all three of his meetings with the Czech, but he has pushed him in two of them.
Welcome back to New York, Roger Federer—hope you’re feeling better: Of the Top 4 seeds, we’ve given you the toughest draw. Federer, who missed last year’s Open with a knee injury, will start against young American Frances Tiafoe in what will surely be a night match either Monday or Tuesday. We know that a meeting between the 36-year-old and the 19-year-old will be entertaining, but it could be competitive, too. Tiafoe pushed Federer to a first-set tiebreaker in Miami this spring.
After that, the road could get rockier for Federer. If things go as planned, he’ll play Feliciano Lopez in the third round, Kyrgios in the fourth round and Thiem in the quarters. Also lurking near Thiem is the man who beat Federer in the 2009 Open final, Juan Martin del Potro.
Sleeper: Sam Querrey. The Wimbledon semifinalist could be heading for a third-round clash with Kyrgios. They’ve split two matches in 2017.
First-round matches to watch: Federer vs. Tiafoe
Fernando Verdasco vs. Vasek Pospisil
Taylor Fritz vs. Marcos Baghdatis
So far, Zverev has been brilliant everywhere but at the Grand Slams. This year he’s won five tournaments, including two Masters 1000s, and entered the Top 10. But he has yet to reach the quarterfinals at a major, and his career record at the Open is 1-2. The German has been the hottest player of the summer, and he may have the easiest draw of the Top 4, but can we really pick him to go all the way already?
I don’t know about winning the title, but Zverev is a heavy favorite to make the semis. The second seed in this section is Marin Cilic, who missed the summer circuit with an adductor injury and may still be shell-shocked after his loss in the Wimbledon final.
Also here: John Isner, Jack Sock, Gilles Muller, Karen Khachanov, Mischa Zverev (a brother vs. brother matchup with Sascha couldn’t happen until the quarters)
First-round matches to watch: Borna Coric vs. Jiri Vesely
Sock vs. Jordan Thompson
Cilic vs. Gilles Simon
Semifinal: A. Zverev
If Murray needs any more incentive to get over his hip injury, he should take a look at his draw; there’s definitely light at the end of this particular tunnel. The second seed in Murray’s section is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who lost his opening matches in Montreal and Cincinnati. If form holds, Murray’s road to the semis will go through Diego Schwartzman, Lucas Pouille and Tsonga. That seems doable, even on an imperfect hip.
Sleeper: David Ferrer. The 21st seed has been back in (little) beast mode of late.
Semifinals: Kyrgios d. Dimitrov; Murray d. Zverev
Final: Murray d. Kyrgios
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