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WATCH: Tennis Channel Live discusses Rafael Nadal's outlook for the US Open

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The men’s Grand Slam season ends the way it began—with a Novak Djokovic withdrawal. This time we had a pretty good idea it was coming. Which means that, despite the absence of the Wimbledon champion, the field feels full. Daniil Medvedev, Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz, Nick Kyrgios, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and three Americans—Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul—who may be legitimate late-round contenders: there’s plenty of quality and star power to go around. Which of those players should be favored to win? Let’s take a look at their paths to the final.

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First Quarter

Daniil Medvedev keeps not quite getting himself back on track. It has, admittedly, been a strange year for him: He’s been injured and banned, and he blew a two-set lead in a Grand Slam final. But just when he appears ready to put all of the behind him, he loses at third set you think he should win: Most recently, to Kyrgios in Montreal and Tsitsipas in Cincy. So while he’s the defending Open champ, with all of the motivation that comes with that title, it’s hard to trust him to win seven straight matches right now. But his early draw looks manageable: He’ll start against 110th-ranked Stefan Kozlov, and the first seed he could face is Nikoloz Basilashvili.

After that, things could get more interesting. In the fourth round, Medvedev is scheduled to meet Kyrgios, his conqueror in Canada. Kyrgios has obviously had a summer to remember, but is it beginning to wind down? He lost decisively to Taylor Fritz in Cincy, and he’ll have a tricky match against good friend and doubles partner Thanasi Kokkinakis in his opener here.

Also in this section: 2021 Open semifinalist Felix Auger-Aliassime; Atlanta champ Alex de Minaur; and Montreal winner Pablo Carreño Busta, who starts against Dominic Thiem.

First-round matches to watch:

  • Kyrgios vs. Kokkinakis
  • Carreño Busta vs. Thiem
  • De Minaur vs. Filip Krajinovic
  • Roberto Bautista Agut vs. J.J. Wolf

Wild cards to watch: Ben Shelton and Ugo Humbert. The latter might play Kyrgios in the second round; they had a doozy in Australia a few years ago.

Semifinalist: Medvedev

Taylor Fritz won the first big U.S. hard-court tournament this year, in Indian Wells. Could he win the last, in New York?

Taylor Fritz won the first big U.S. hard-court tournament this year, in Indian Wells. Could he win the last, in New York?

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Second Quarter

Which is more meaningful: Stefanos Tsitsipas’ impressive win over Medvedev in the Cincy semis last week, or his subsequent defeat to Borna Coric the next day? The No. 4 seed has never been past the third round at the Open, and he was virtually run of town on a rail after his infamous 17-minute bathroom break against Andy Murray last year. This time he should like his draw; the first seed in his path is No. 30 Maxime Cressy, and the second-highest seed in this quarter is Casper Ruud, still a better clay-courter than he is a hard-courter.

But there are three dark horses here as well: Taylor Fritz should feel as if he’s due to make a Grand Slam semi; Matteo Berrettini should feel as if he has a lot to make up for after his withdrawal from Wimbledon, when he might have won the tournament; and Tommy Paul has been playing some good ball.

First-round match to watch: Andy Murray vs. Francisco Cerundolo

Semifinalist: Fritz

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Third Quarter

Carlos Alcaraz can still run as fast and hit as hard as ever, but he’s started to have trouble closing out matches. The latest case in point was his late-night loss in Cincinnati to Cam Norrie, when he had a third-set lead and the crowd behind him. Will the yips prove to be a problem for the young Spaniard in New York as well? The crowd loves him there, too, but he has a potentially tough opener against Sebastian Baez, and a possible third-round encounter with Cincy champ Coric.

Hubert Hurkacz and Jannik Sinner are the highest seeds in the other half of this quarter, and each should feel he has a strong shot at the semifinals, whether or not Alcaraz is in the way. Hurkacz made the final in Montreal, while Sinner has beaten Alcaraz in their last two meetings. Hurkacz will face an unorthodox and potentially tough opponent, Oscar Otte, in the first round. But if Hubi gets some momentum, he might be the favorite to come out of this section.

First-round matches to watch:

  • Hurkacz vs. Otte
  • Alcaraz vs. Baez
  • Jenson Brooksby vs. Dusan Lajovic
  • Lorenzo Musetti vs. David Goffin

Semifinalist: Hurkacz

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Fourth Quarter

This is what Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Wimbledon semifinals for: The chance to play a Djokovic-free US Open, with some semblance of his health intact. He didn’t look good in his opening-round loss to Coric in Cincy, but Nadal didn’t look good in the warm-ups to the Open in 2017, either, and he won the title anyway. This time he’ll start against 198th-ranked Rinky Hijikata; might face sometime-nemesis Fabio Fognini in the second round; and solid Serb Miomir Kecmanovic after that.

Who might stop Rafa’s bid for a third major in 2022? Steady-as-he-goes Cam Norrie would seem to be the most likely contender, followed by, perhaps, No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev. The most electric encounter would probably be a fourth-round night match between Nadal and Frances Tiafoe. But a healthy Rafa would be the favorite in all of those matches.

Semifinalist: Nadal

Semifinals: Fritz d. Medvedev; Nadal d. Hurkacz

Final: Nadal d. Fritz