Friday 19 January 2018 / 06:46 PM

US Open – Rafa, Djoker on collision course

US Open draw analysis- Nadal, Djokovic in same quarter

Rafael Nadal’s low ranking this year is worrying not just for the Spaniard, but also the other three members of the so-called ‘Big Four’ in men’s tennis. Whatever number accompanies his name by way of seeding, most tennis players would rather not play the two-time US Open champion until as late as possible. In that respect, Roger Federer and Andy Murray can breathe sighs of relief, while Djokovic may well grit his teeth; if he is to go deep at Flushing Meadows, he is pitted against a wounded Spanish bull eager for one last push this season in the last eight.

The kerfuffle about whether Federer or Murray would manage to beat each other for the right to be the second seed at the year’s last Slam proved unnecessary, with the two drawn to face each other in the semi-finals. However, the bottom half isn’t nearly as simple as that; Murray has a sumptuous first-round match against Aussie bad boy Nick Kyrgios, who could do a lot worse than get people talking about his forehand rather than his foul language. If the 20-year plays to his potential, he could be an awkward customer for the best of Britain, though it is worth mentioning that the number 3 seed has already put paid to Kyrgios’s chances at the Australian Open and Roland Garros earlier this year. It is more realistic to say the biggest roadblock to the 2012 champion reaching the last four lies in the late-blooming Stanislas Wawrinka, who awaits him in the quarter-finals, although a tricky match-up against big serving South African Kevin Anderson in the fourth round is unlikely to appeal.

Federer kicks off his campaign against Leonardo Mayer, best remembered for blowing five match points against the Swiss in Shanghai last year, though Federer did turn in one of his most erratic performances of the season on the day. The fourth round could see him play the ever-dangerous (and, apparently, evergreen) 36-year-old Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who struck his 10,000th ace this season. If results follow seedings, the five-time Flushing Meadows champion will find Czech sixth seed Tomas Berdych on the other side in the quarter-finals, a man who put him out of the competition at that very stage in 2012. Federer’s quarter also plays host to one of the matches of the round, with Australian teenager Thanasi Kokkinakis set to face flamboyant Frenchman Richard Gasquet. The 19-year-old will hope to put up a better fight than he did in Cincinnati last week, where he succumbed to Gasquet 7-6(5), 6-2, while 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt, playing his last US Open, is likely to face Bernard Tomic in the second round, a poignant encounter between Australia’s long-time stalwart and his once heir-apparent.

In the top half lies perhaps the least talked about defending champion in recent memory. Ninth seed Marin Cilic, who stunned the tennis world by storming through to the title in 2014, beating Federer and Nishikori in the semis and final in straight sets, has endured a frustrating season during which he has failed to replicate the consistency and explosiveness he demonstrated for a fortnight in New York last September. After starting off gently against a pair of qualifiers, the Croat is thrown in to duel with rising star Grigor Dimitrov in the last 32. A gruelling match-up against the tireless David Ferrer looms large in the fourth round, and if the defending champion can negotiate his way past that, we are on course to be treated to a repeat of last year’s final in the last 8, with Nishikori looking to avenge that devastating loss in what was the biggest match of both their careers so far.

Another tasty opening-round match-up sees Rafael Nadal take on 18-year-old Borna Coric, billed as one of the most exciting young prospects on the circuit. Victory over the Spaniard in Basel last year and a demolition of Andy Murray in Dubai this season has done plenty to further build him up as potentially the brightest starlet amongst the ATP’s young guns. While it might be reasonable to think beating Nadal over five sets at Flushing Meadows is likely a challenge that comes too soon for the fledgling Croatian, there would be plenty of people the Spanish left-hander would rather play to start off his bid for a title in New York. A further obstruction before the Djokovic blockbuster for Nadal is likely to come in the 6-foot 6-inch sized frame of Canadian Milos Raonic, whose booming serves may be harder to play on this surface than any other.  

The world number one can seek consolation for his potential horror quarter-final with the knowledge that none of his first four opponents look like they can pose much of a serious threat to him on paper, at least. If he does make it to the last four, he could be up against his conqueror of last year in Japanese Kei Nishikori or defending champion Marin Cilic. Ferrer, Dimitrov, or the inconsistent but dangerous Jo-Wilfred Tsonga would all harbour hopes of making it out of their quarter too, however.

For the rest of the Australian contingent, big serving Sam Groth was handed a tough opening assignment against Cincinnati semi-finalist Alexandr Dolgopolov, while John Millman faces another Ukranian in Sergiy Stakhovsky. James Duckworth found himself drawn to play talented Korean youngster Hyeon Chung.

The last Grand Slam of the year begins on Monday August 31. The full draw can be seen here.  

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Danyal Rasool

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