Before each day’s play at the U.S. Open, Steve Tignor will preview and predict three must-see matches.
The first men’s match on the new Grandstand court will be a an all-American battle of generations. Isner, 30, and Tiafoe, 18, have never played, but their rankings—Isner is 22nd, Tiafoe 124th—would lead you to believe that their first meeting won’t be all that competitive. Tiafoe’s most recent form, in a straight-set loss to Taylor Fritz last week in Winston-Salem, would also lead you to that conclusion. But for anyone interested in how the heavily hyped Tiafoe handles the Grand Slam stage, this will be a must-watch match. He’s 6’1”, but is that enough height to fight off Isner’s towering kick serves? It won’t be easy. Winner: Isner
Jack Sock vs. Taylor Fritz
Over on Armstrong, another, potentially tighter U.S. duel will take place, between the 28th-ranked Sock and the 54th-ranked Fritz. The two played a long, wandering, topsy-turvy five-setter at the Australian Open in January, which Sock eventually pulled out. Since then, Fritz has risen dramatically in the rankings, but with first-round losses at Roland Garros, Wimbledon, Toronto and Cincinnati, the 18-year-old has hit a (most-likely temporary) ceiling. Sock’s season has also been filled with ups (bronze medal in men’s doubles, gold medal in mixed doubles) and downs (he hasn’t been past the third round of a Slam), and this match, like their last one, could have its share of momentum changes. Fritz has the edge on the backhand and possibly the serve; Sock has the edge with the forehand and with his feet. For now, I’ll take the latter. Winner: Sock
It’s hard to believe this will be the first meeting between the Serb and the Pole. For a time in 2012 and 2013, Janowicz, who reached a Wimbledon semifinal, looked like he would be a future challenger to the Djokovic throne. But injury and erratic play has left him, at age 25, with a ranking of No. 228. Still, the 6’8” Janowicz hasn’t lost his power and touch completely, and he won’t be intimidated by the night-match atmosphere—in fact, the noisy Jerzy and the noisier New York crowd could feed off each other. Janowicz will also know that Djokovic has been nursing a left wrist injury, and might be vulnerable, or at least rusty, after three weeks off. Winner: Djokovic