Unstrung: The year of Novak Djokovic

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Daniil Medvedev vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime

This is a matchup we haven’t seen much of yet. Medvedev and Auger-Aliassime have faced off just once, in Canada in 2018, and Medvedev won in a third-set tiebreaker. Both of these guys have come a long way since then: Medvedev to No. 2 in the world; Auger-Aliassime to his first major quarterfinal, at Wimbledon, and now his first major semifinal, at the US Open.

While Medvedev is too unique to be described strictly as a retriever, this match will pit the Canadian’s ability to attack against the Russian’s ability to defend. FAA will look to get on the front foot and, without getting reckless, impose his will the way he did in his last full match, against Frances Tiafoe. Medvedev will likely range behind the baseline, put every ball he touches in play, and try to breach FAA’s attack with his typically pinpoint passes. Auger-Aliassime has improved this summer, and Medvedev will be a good test of how far he has come. It may also reveal how far he still has to go. Winner: Medvedev

Alexander Zverev came from a set and a break down to stun Novak Djokovic at the Tokyo Olympics.

Alexander Zverev came from a set and a break down to stun Novak Djokovic at the Tokyo Olympics.

Novak Djokovic vs. Alexander Zverev

When the US Open’s draw was made, this was the matchup that many of us wanted to see most. Of the players in the field, only Zverev had beaten Djokovic in a fully meaningful match in 2021, at the Olympics. The German had also followed that win up with a title in Cincinnati. All in all, he was playing the best tennis of his career, and he was coming back to a tournament that he had nearly won 12 months ago.

So why doesn’t it feel, at least to me, as if Zverev’s chances of beating Djokovic as good as they were two weeks ago? After all, Zverev has won all five of his matches routinely, and dropped just one set. Meanwhile, Djokovic has dropped a set in four of his wins, and has only cruised once. It’s what Djokovic has done once he has lost those sets that makes me think he’s not going to be beaten, by Zverev or anyone else, in New York. He has essentially said to his opponents, “Whatever level you reach, I’m going to match it, and then surpass it.”

That was especially true in his quarterfinal with Matteo Berrettini. The Italian came out firing forehands, which is his specialty; while that isn’t necessarily Djokovic’s specialty, he fired them back harder, and better, and left Berrettini a broken man over the last three sets. At the same time, even as Zverev was rolling over Lloyd Harris in their quarterfinal, he was still showing the same nervous tendencies—on his second serve and his forehand—that cost him last year’s final. Whatever Zverev does on Friday, I expect Djokovic will have a better response. Winner: Djokovic