The ATP’s US Open is full of the game’s top stars. Here is the case for and against each one of them winning the title this week.
1. Novak Djokovic
The case for: There’s no denying that Novak Djokovic is the clear favorite to take this event. He currently sits at 26-0 this season and just captured his third title of 2020 last week at the Western & Southern Open. So far at the US Open, he’s had little trouble getting through the first three rounds and has only lost one set in his three matches (in a narrow first set tiebreak against Kyle Edmund).
Djokovic’s ability to win points on the return of serve has always been the main facet of success in his game and it clearly has been in effect so far this year, as well. He ranks first on tour with 60% 2nd serve return points won with 60% and first in total return point won percentage with 43.26%. His Point Dominance Ratio, a stat that measures the outcome of the percentage of points that a player wins against his opponent to the percentage of points that he loses on his own serve, is also best on tour at 1.394.
His drubbing of Jan-Lennard Struff tonight put him into Round 4 with a bang and is due to face Pablo Carreno Busta, who’s been playing some solid tennis of his own. Despite this, Djokovic has been becoming a larger favorite with each win and will likely take this match, as well.
The case against: There isn’t much to say against him as of now. Maybe the first set loss against Kyle Edmund puts a sliver of doubt into the minds of the tennis community but other than that, he’s been dominant. The scoreboard sometimes doesn’t show the real result; Djokovic certainly proves that.
2. Dominic Thiem
The case for: Dominic Thiem has been one of the hotter players on tour as of recent. He finished as the 2020 Australian Open runner-up behind Djokovic earlier this year and nearly took the match altogether before suffering a five-set defeat. While this tournament has only given us one full match of a sample size as of today (9/4), his power and offense against Nagal looked extremely solid just as it had back in January.
He’ll have a tough match against big-serving Marin Cilic but given the way he played yesterday, it seems as though he’ll be able to power through and take the match. Despite being broken twice yesterday, Thiem’s 72% service points won and 49% of return points won definitely gives him a ton to build upon as he looks to put a deep run in his otherwise shaky history in New York.
The case against: Many people bring up Thiem’s three major finals as the deciding factor when picking between him and his three up-and-coming counterparts but other than his finalist result in Australia this year, Thiem has only gotten past the 4th Round once in the two hard-court majors (2018 US Open QF). His Grand Slam results are directly associated with his fiery game that seems to lack shot IQ and court vision, especially in comparison to Djokovic and Medvedev.
It’s also not a good feeling to see a 6-2, 6-1 loss on the scoresheet at any point during a season. Yes, it was his first “real” match back from the season shutdown but Thiem’s inability to perform on fast courts is a real testament to his shaky game overall on the surfaces. Other than on Parisian clay, where he hasn’t fallen before the semifinals at Roland Garros since 2016, Thiem hasn’t put together many solid major runs as of late.
More from Lob and Smash
3. Daniil Medvedev
The case for: Medvedev thrives on hard courts. His killer groundstrokes and great court coverage work perfectly on the surface and it’s clearly shown. He hasn’t missed a beat in two dominating victories to open his 2020 US Open campaign. Last week, he took a tough loss in the quarterfinals to Roberto Bautista Agut but still played a fine match overall.
It’s going to be key that Medvedev keeps his game at peak level. He doesn’t blow anyone away on the stat sheet but has a great game suited for the surface. With his next two matches against unseeded players, Medvedev has a favorable path ahead of him and will look to build on his momentum by the time he’s projected to face off against Thiem in the semifinals.
The case against: What has Medvedev does on the stat sheet that blows you away? While I discussed above that his game is overall solid, it’s that gray area of not having a statistically dominant part of his game that worries me. His run to the US Open finals last year was great but looking at the fact that he faced only one seeded player on his way to the final (Wawrinka in the QF), it’s not that blasphemous of an argument to say that the luck of the draw was in his favor.
He hasn’t had a great 2020, either. He fell in the Round of 16 in Australia to Stan Wawrinka and only got to one quarterfinal before the shutdown (in Marseille), and that was even aided by a first-round bye. His performance was solid last week overall and has plenty to build on with two matches wins but, similar to Thiem, he’ll have to be at the very top of his game to avoid yet another early-ish exit.
4. Alexander Zverev
The case for: The increasing debate between Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev has sparked a ton of questions regarding the former. His serve has been one of the most wildly inconsistent shots in tennis. What stands out so far at the US Open, however, is that his serve has been working handily so far. He hits both ends of the spectrum on the serve and it has its good days and bad (case in point his 56 aces to 28 double faults).
Where Zverev truly shines is with his raw power. He has the distinct advantage of being able to out-pace his opponent and his use of the block forehand has been a shot that has given him much success in taking away his opponent’s advantage on their first serve. While he’s dropped a set in all three of his matches, he’s been able to bounce back each time with a flurry o powerful serves and scintillating groundstrokes.
The case against: Zverev’s inconsistencies have been his downfall for his entire career. When he’s hot, he has the ability to power through almost anyone on tour and yield fantastic results. When he isn’t, however, it becomes a major struggle for him to get through matches. He lost to Andy Murray last week and hasn’t looked good at all in the first two sets of play. Eventually, his slow start is going to give way to a hole too large to climb out of, whether that’s next round or in the finals.
He simply hasn’t put it all together as of late enough to warrant a 100% positive feeling that he’ll be able to break through to a title this week.e needs to have his name on paper before his chances can truly go up.