Conditions and trends
We’re back at Flushing Meadows for my favourite major of the year and they play here on a Decoturf outdoor hard court (with Wilson Extra Duty US Open balls) that was by all accounts a bit slower than in recent times last season.
Roger Federer called it “the slowest US Open in years” 12 months ago and the tournament were forced to admit that is had been “slowed down a touch.”
Reportedly, Federer has “heard rumours” that it will be “not as slow as last year” this time around, but we’ll have to wait and see on that.
The heat and humidity here can be a huge problem for the players, but the advance forecast doesn’t look too bad, with temperatures ranging from 24C to 27C for the first three days.
It will be humid though at around 60% and it’s likely to get up to the high 20s by the end of the week, but there’s nothing hotter expected for the next 10 days or so.
Number one seeds tend to do well here, with Roger Federer in 2012 the only top seed since Gustavo Kuerten in 2001 to have failed to make at least the semi finals.
No qualifier has made the quarter finals since Gilles Muller did it back in 2008, but Kevin Anderson was a 150-1 shot that made the final here two years ago and 33-1 Stan Wawrinka won it in 2016.
Given the record of top seeds here and the form of Novak Djokovic generally in majors it’s tough to see him not getting out of Q1 unless Daniil Medvedev comes up with another supreme effort against the Serb.
This quarter looks a two horse race between Djokovic and Medvedev and it’s hard to see the Russian being able to red line his game over the best of five sets in slower conditions than Cincy and it’s even less likely after all the tennis he’s played lately.
Medvedev will probably – on form – make the quarter final, but it really will take something special to knock Djokovic off his perch in these conditions over five sets.
The rest of this quarter appear to be also rans, with former finalist Kevin Anderson seriously lacking in matches and surely not close to match fit after playing just five matches since Miami back in March and none of those were on a hard court.
Unless 2016 winner Stan Wawrinka somehow from somewhere finds some of his old form or Sam Querrey has a day of days on serve Djokovic looks to be a cert for the quarter finals.
Medvedev’s opposition seems equally as mediocre, with Fabio Fognini not looking fit lately and the same can be said of Tomas Berdych, so maybe Taylor Fritz or Reilly Opelka could surprise in that section of the draw if Medvedev’s exertions catch up with him.
Nikoloz Basilashvili is another possibility, but if both Djokovic and Medvedev are fit for duty they’ll surely be facing off for a semi final spot.
This is an interesting one and I’m happy to give David Goffin a bit of a chance here in the quarter that Federer find himself in.
The Swiss veteran, who turned 38 a few weeks ago, has lost to the following players in his last six appearances at the US Open (Fed’s odds in brackets): Tomas Berdych (1.21), Tommy Robredo (1.05), Marin Cilic (1.33), Novak Djokovic (2.13), Juan Martin Del Potro (1.22) and John Millman (1.07).
So, on that record and his Cincy loss to Andrey Rublev and also his age I’m happy to take a chance at 20-1 that David Goffin will be eliminated at the semi final stage.
Goffin has been a very tough player to try and predict in the last couple of years, due mainly to injury and the length of time it takes for the Belgian to find his game after a setback, but he looks in fair nick at the moment.
A good grass spell was stopped in its tracks when he collapsed mentally against Djokovic in the Wimbledon quarter final and it looked like that may have set him back yet again, but a few weeks later he was back in form and into a first Masters final in Cincy.
On that form he looks the one most likely to challenge Federer in this quarter, with Milos Raonic seemingly always-injured these days and in any case he’s a regular struggler in New York, with a best finish of round four.
I’m happy to overlook Raonic and Kei Nishikori, who hasn’t appeared to be fit for a while and had breathing issues last time out in Cincy.
In any case Nishikori’s game has been off for some time, as has that of Grigor Dimitrov, while Borna Coric has also struggled since he retired injured during the grass swing in Halle.
Lucas Pouille showed a bit in Cincy and we know he can sometimes spring surprises and go deep at hard court majors, but he’d have to beat Federer as early as round three and I’m not sure Pouille is quite up to that task.
Guido Pella might figure on his grass and hard court form of recent times, but Goffin if he beats Federer in round four would have a good chance against whomever he met in the last eight.
Beating Djokovic would be a stretch in the semis, hence the ‘lose in the semis’ option, as either Djokovic or Medvedev would likely be too strong, but either Goffin to win the quarter or to lose in the last four look the options here.
I’m itching to take Dominic Thiem on in this section, with the Austrian suffering with a virus on top of his regular struggles on the quicker hard courts on the tour and if Fed is correct about it being sped up this year Thiem looks unlikely to go deep.
The problem is that there any number of alternatives to Thiem in this section: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Nick Kyrgios, Kyle Edmund, Matteo Berrettini, Roberto Bautista Agut, Gael Monfils and Felix Auger-Aliassime being just seven of them.
The likes of Richard Gasquet, Steve Johnson, Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov are all in-form right now, too, so this quarter really does look wide open.
I’m tempted by Monfils here, but how fit is he after his ankle injury flared up again in Montreal and he didn’t seem at the races in Cincy, so I’m not sure I fancy taking a chance on him as short as 10-1 to win the quarter.
Tsitsipas is the obvious choice and if it is going to be a little less oppressive in terms of the heat here this year the Greek player is more than capable of overcoming recent poor form, but is he fully fit?
A heavily strapped thigh in recent weeks suggests perhaps not and the price of 9-2 on him to win the quarter doesn’t appeal too much to me.
Bautista Agut is short as well at 6-1 considering that RBA is yet to better round four here in New York, while Kyrgios has yet to even make it that far at the US Open and comes here, yet again, having let himself down in his previous tournament.
He can’t be trusted and FAA has struggled for form since a poor loss to Ugo Humbert at Wimbledon and he has a tough one against Shapovalov first up.
Kyle Edmund has looked a long way off his Australian Open semi final result of 2018 lately. He shows patches of it, but the consistency isn’t there since his illness and injury problems of recent times.
Matteo Berrettini is another one that needs matches after injury and he looked like he’ll need quite a few on the evidence of his level against Juan Ignacio Londero in Cincy.
So, as much as I like the idea of taking on Thiem I can’t find one value choice to do it with a wide-open Q3.
Despite Rafael Nadal’s obvious preference for clay he’s only lost three completed matches in New York since 2009 and he looked pretty decent by the end of his only hard court tournament of the summer in Montreal, so he’s a strong favourite for Q4.
The fact that he’s even shorter price than Djokovic to win his quarter tells a tale and the opposition in Q4 simply doesn’t look up to the job of taking down Nadal to me.
Alexander Zverev is second favourite to win this quarter at 7-1, but I’d want a zero added to that before I’d back Zverev on his form of this season. At his current level he looks miles away from having a hope against Nadal and I’m not that sold on his chances of getting past the opening few rounds.
Similarly, Marin Cilic and John Isner have both been some way below their best for most of this season and neither man on their form of this summer looks capable of pressing Nadal unless they find a much better level this fortnight, which is always possible, I suppose.
Karen Khachanov has shown only glimpses this season of the form that he found at the end of last year and it might come down to either Diego Schwartzman or Benoit Paire getting to the latter stages.
Fernando Verdasco on his day has the tools to beat Nadal, but he hasn’t been past round three in New York since 2010 and he’ll need to beat Nadal to end that run this year and while it’s possible it does seem unlikely.
In short, I can’t see any of these beating Nadal (assuming Nadal is fit and stays fit) over five sets at a major on their current form and it would be a surprise if the Spaniard didn’t emerge form this section.
The play looks to be to back a Djokovic/Nadal final here at around 3.75 and as usual at a men’s major it’s pretty slim pickings on the value outrights if you’re not going in on one of the ‘big three’ as they are these days.
I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a Djokovic/Nadal final, but I’m happy to have a small interest on Goffin losing out in the semis at 20-1.