NEW YORK—Has there ever been a half at a men’s major like the bottom half of this year’s US Open draw? With Andy Murray’s withdrawal and Alexander Zverev’s second-round flame-out, the barn door has officially been flung wide open.
On one hand, that’s not great news for fans of the top players, or for tournament officials, who may soon find themselves with Mikhail Kukushkin or Paolo Lorenzi headlining their night sessions. But for those of us who have been waiting for new faces to show themselves late in Slams, or who enjoy imagining what it would be like to see this or that journeyman make it to the semis or final of a major, it could be fun. When virtually anyone can make the final of the US Open, there’s an added layer of tension to each match, even those in the early rounds.
So who might take advantage of this opportunity of a lifetime? Here are five players whose fortnights have become a lot more intriguing over the last few days.
Can this newly minted Wimbledon semifinalist come up with his second Slam breakthrough of the year? It would require a big step up. Querrey has lost in the first round at the Open the last two years, and has never been past the fourth. He’ll be favored in his match Friday against Radu Albot, but not if he has to face his friend and doubles partner John Isner on Sunday. Still, the confidence Querrey must have gained at Wimbledon should give him a chance.
The most obvious sign that we’re in a new world at the Open? Isner, who has been to the quarters once in 10 tries, is among the betting favorites to win it all. For now, he’s probably just happy not to have to see Philipp Kohlschreiber across the net from him; at one point, the German beat him here three straight years. But Isner may still find himself with a case of déjà vu. This time he’ll play another German in the third round, Mischa Zverev, in the night-session on Ashe. That could be his toughest match until the semis.
The 20-year-old Croat turned himself into the tennis-playing version of a buzzsaw against Zverev. Coric was beyond-determined to knock his fellow young-gunner off. Now, can he match that intensity, or at least avoid the letdown that seems likely? He’ll need to keep his level up. His opponent on Friday is Kevin Anderson, who has won both of their matches in straight sets.
The 18-year-old Canadian lit up the Wednesday night session like few Ashe Stadium rookies ever have. Like Jelena Ostapenko on the women’s side, Shapovalov played with a youthful daring and joy that has largely been missing from the men’s game in recent years. By the end of his straight-set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, many of us thought he was playing well enough to win the whole enchilada. Shapovalov will back in Ashe to continue that quest on Friday, against Kyle Edmund. The Brit won their last meeting. We won’t mention how it ended.
Like Isner, Cilic is near the top of the betting favorites here. Which isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. He won this tournament in 2014, and while his performance in the Wimbledon final this year was forgettable at best, he did make it there. Cilic, who has turned himself into a consistent late-round presence at the majors, is the No. 5 seed, but he took over Murray’s No. 2 draw. As you may remember, it’s a nice one. He’s 1-0 against his next opponent, Diego Schwartzman. Whoever wins, it could take a while.
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