Anybody following this year’s US Open will know that the tournament so far has been one of excitement and surprises. After losing so many players in the run up to the tournament, the men’s draw promised to be the most intriguing US Open in years, and it has certainly lived up to expectation.
Alexander Zverev losing in the second round seems to have blown the bottom half of the draw wide open. Seen by many as the favourite to make it through to the final, his departure has opened the door for a new name to emerge. While the top of the draw is following expectation with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal still intact if not in great form, the bottom half is anything but. Andy Murray withdrew while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga joined Zverev in a disappointing early exit. There are only seven seeds left, with only two of them being in the top 10.
But who is most likely to make the final from the bottom half of the draw?
Marin Cilic looks the obvious choice on paper. The winner in 2014 and a finalist at Wimbledon, he is certainly the favourite to emerge from the bottom half of the draw. However, there are questions over his fitness. Taking time off to heal the injuries he picked up at Wimbledon, he missed the warm-up tournaments and had not played since his heartbreaking loss to Federer at Wimbledon. That being said, after being moved into Murray’s section of the draw, his potential route to the final looks favourable. A first round match with American Tennys Sandgren looked to be a comfortable enough introduction for the Croatian.
As was expected after his injury layoff, he looked far from his best. The Croatian made a number of uncharacteristic errors, dropping the third set before coming through 6-3 in the fourth. His round of 64 match with Florian Mayer looked to be an even tougher test. But Cilic found his form early, breaking the Mayer serve at the first attempt and he went on to hit 51 winners as he stormed to a straight sets victory in under two hours. He has a difficult match against Diego Schwartzman in the third round with the Argentinian in good form. But if Cilic continues to play well, it will be hard to look past the former champion making his third Major final.
The big American came into the tournament seeded 10th after a decent North American swing. John Isner picked up the Atlanta title and reached the semi-finals in Cincinnati. He will surely fancy his chances this year. A quarter-finalist in 2011, Isner is always looked at as a danger in any tournament he plays thanks to his fearsome serve. After coming through a four set first round win over Pierre-Hugues Herbert, he showed his power and dominance in an easy straight set win over Chung Hyeon in the next round. A difficult third round match with Mischa Zverev awaits him before a possible battle with fellow American, Sam Querrey. With his big serve and powerful game, this could be the year that he finally makes it to the latter stages of a Slam.
Speaking of Querrey, he will be another who fancies a run into the latter stages of his home Open. Coming off a first Major semi-final at Wimbledon, he won the title in Los Cabos. Seeded 17th but moved to the number five spot after Murray’s withdrawal, Querrey stormed through his first two rounds, winning both matches in straight sets against Gilles Simon and Dudi Sela. Hitting the ball as well as he has in years and looking very confident, the American has a great chance to make his second major semi-final. Qualifier Radu Albot awaits him in the third round before the possible clash with Isner. While he has yet to make it past the fourth round in New York, this is surely his best chance to do so.
Denis Shapovalov burst into the world’s top 100 after his exploits in Montreal, picking up victories over Juan Martin del Potro and Nadal, but too late for direct entrance in New York. The young Canadian had to go through three tough qualifying matches just to make it to Flushing Meadows proper. He has, however, continued his great form with a straight sets victory over Daniil Medvedev in the first round. He backed this up by beating eighth seeded Tsonga also in straight sets. A tough match awaits him in the third round as he goes up against Kyle Edmund, but it’ll be hard not to back the young man. While it is still too early to suggest he can go all the way, Shapovalov is certainly one to keep an eye on in the bottom half of the draw.
In what has been his breakthrough year, the little Argentinian came into the tournament in fine form. After reaching back-to-back quarter-finals on the clay courts in Baastad and Hamburg, he started the US hard court season with a quarter-final run in Montreal. Ranked at a career high of 33, not many would have looked at him as a contender coming into the tournament but he has impressed so far. Straight set wins over Carlos Berlocq and Janko Tipsarevic have seen him reach the third round in New York for the first time. Whilst he may be the most unlikely contender, an intriguing third round match against Cilic could give him the opportunity to blow the wide open draw wider still. There is every chance that Schwartzman be could the surprise package.
Other names who will fancy their chance of going deep this year will be Kevin Anderson, Pablo Carreno Busta, Lucas Pouille, Zverev and Edmund. With so many players in contention in the bottom half of the draw, it seems we have a very exciting two weeks ahead of us.
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