The US Open starts on Monday with the best players in the world ready to slug it out at the last Major of the year. But for some, the tournament began a week earlier, when the qualifying rounds kicked off on 22nd of August. 128 players started the four-day process, with 16 of them battling their way through to the main draw. Not much is generally expected of these players who are usually ranked outside the top 100. They seldom get too far into the draw often coming up against stiff opposition early on. In fact, since the qualifying process first began in 1976, only 13 qualifiers have reached the fourth round. Only two of them, Nicolas Escude in 1999 and Gilles Muller in 2008, have made it as far as the quarter-finals. Muller was also the last player to get beyond the third round after qualifying.
This year’s list of qualifiers is made up of a mixture of exciting young talents and experienced journeyman searching for another moment in the sun. But which qualifiers have the best chance of making a mark at this year’s US Open?
This list begins with the most obvious choice. Denis Shapovalov’s star was born at the Rogers Cup, where he defeated Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal on his way to the semi-finals. That astonishing run saw him rise to 67th in the world but was too late for direct entrance into Flushing Meadows. Many expected him to be given a wildcard, but with no shortage of talented young Americans, the Canadian missed out.
Instead, he entered the qualifying as second seed. There he stormed through the first two rounds before losing the first set in his final match against Jan Satral. That fired him up and he went onto win the next two sets for the loss of only four games. Such a young player coming off a fantastic run in Montreal is sure to attract plenty of attention in Flushing Meadows. A first round match with fellow Next Gen hopeful Daniil Medvedev will be a tough test. But if he can get through that then a potential clash with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could be one of the ties of the round of 64. It may not happen this year for the Canadian, but expect him to be back in the future, and quite possibly to one day lift the trophy in New York.
Veteran Nicolas Mahut has been plying his trade on tour for 17 years. He is, of course, best known for his marathon 11-hour match with John Isner but there is more to the Frenchman than that. An accomplished doubles player, he won the 2015 event in New York and is a former doubles world number one. He is a fine serve and volleyer and has proven more than capable of holding his own in singles many times in the past.
He has four career titles, a career high ranking of 37 and is a tough proposition on his day. His best result at the US Open came just last year when he reached the third round with victories over Philipp Kohlschreiber and Paul-Henri Mathieu. Though his singles career is slowly winding down, he has still had some good results this year, with victories over Steve Johnson and Jack Sock. Mahut also defeated Alexander Zverev in Madrid in a superb win. Marton Fucsovics of Hungary awaits him in the first round in a match that the 35-year-old will surely fancy his chances of winning.
The Kazakhstan number one Mikhail Kukushkin has been playing on the tour since 2006. His best year so far was in 2015 when he achieved a high ranking of 46 and reached the third round at Flushing Meadows. It was his second run to the US Open third round and included a brilliant win over Grigor Dimitrov in the round of 64.
He plays a rejuvenated David Ferrer in a tough first round match, having never beaten the Spaniard in seven attempts. In fact, it was Ferrer who ended his run in the third round here in 2013. His year so far has been poor by his standards but he has won more matches on the hard courts this season than any other surface. After coming through three gruelling games in qualifying, he seems to be in good form heading into the first round. If he can find his form from 2015, he could prove a difficult task for Ferrer.
Which qualifiers are you most excited to see in New York? Let us know in the comments below!
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