1. Rafael Nadal (ESP)
The World No. 1 has had an interesting year, filled with triumph (mostly on clay) and leavened with some uncharacteristic losses in tight matches. Speaking of which, in his last match in New York, he fell 7-6 in the fifth. If Nadal keeps his nerve—and can front-run as he did in Paris—he can win for the third time and earn his first hardcourt title in more than three years. If not….
2. Andy Murray (GBR)
Ever since his Cannonball Run to the top ranking last fall, Murray has been a different, depleted, physically compromised man. A former U.S. Open champ but it’s hard to see him having an outsized impact this year.
3. Roger Federer (SUI)
The winner of two of the three majors in 2017 and a 17-1 record on U.S. hardcourts. Yes, he turned 36. Yes, his last U.S. Open title came in 2008. Pick against him at your peril.
4. Alexander Zverev (GER)
In a short amount of tine, he’s gone from hot prospect to bona fide star. Two straight Masters Series events will do that to you. Under new coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, AZ is closing in on 50 match wins this season. The big question, as I see it, is the physical conditioning in a best-of-five format. If he can handle that (perhaps with some help from a merciful Mother Nature) he can win this event recalling Marat Safin in 2000.
5. Marin Cilic (CRO)
Coming off a Wimbledon final and now enters the one major he’s won. Depending on how he rolls into town physically, he is either a strong contender to win another U.S. Open or merely an obstacle for the eventual champ.
6. Dominic Thiem (AUT)
You admire the ascent, the work ethic. You shrug at the inveterate playing schedule, resigned that it’s not changing and maybe he knows what is best for him.
7. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)
Even coming off the biggest win of his career—the Cincy title—it’s hard to know what to make of Dimitrov. Loads of talent. Loads of erratic results. He surges. He falls. He returns. Can he truly contend for majors? Arriving in form for an event with a depleted draw will reveal much.
8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)
A likable dangerous-for-a-day player, but it’s getting late in the day.
9. David Goffin (BEL)
Progress interrupted by that spill at the French Open. (Is there a slip-and-fall lawyer in the house?) A steady, solid player who is really at a disadvantage when his movement is compromised.
10. John Isner (USA)
A strong bounce-back summer for the big American. Unfortunately that also means he’s played a lot of tennis. The easier he gets through his early matches, the more you like his chances.
11. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP)
More an annoyance than a threat.
12. Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP)
A lithe and athletic player who reached round three last year and ought to do better this year. Bonus points for his doubles play.
Pause here: how many of us would take the next five seeds over the previous five?
13. Jack Sock (USA)
“Young American” as he’s touted in tournament lead-up is now almost 25 and no longer quite so young. Still seeks that Grand Slam breakthrough. You wish he were in better shape, but why not now?
14. Nick Kyrgios (AUS)
Your guess is as good as mine—and, alas his. Undeniable talent. Undeniable immaturity. (And lately, an undeniable hip injury.) At full health and conviction, he’s capable of winning the title, as we saw in Indian Wells (which—though held in March—tends to be a pretty good barometer for Open success.) At subpar health and conviction, he won’t survive week one.
15. Tomas Berdych (CZE)
Given Zverev’s youth, Berdych is—for our money—the best player never to have won a major. The hard, flat strokes disrupt rhythm and make him difficult against any opponent. The sands are sneaking out of the career hourglass but always dangerous.
16. Lucas Pouille (FRA)
A revelation last year, punctuated by a middle weekend takedown of Nadal.
17. Sam Querrey
Fresh off a Wimbledon semi, can he back it up? Maybe the best American hope.
18. Gael Monfils
Come for the party, stay for the (occasional) substance. A semifinalist last year who hasn't been the same since.
19. Gilles Muller
The Nadal-slayer at Wimbledon looks to extend his career year (in his mid-30s).
21. David Ferrer
Still going. Good for Ferrer for this fine mini-comeback over the last few months.
24. Juan Martin del Potro
A top five player, provided he’s healthy. Sadly, that is seldom the case.
25. Karen Khachanov
Best of the Russian brigade that’s coming.
28. Kevin Anderson
Nice bounce-back year for the South African includes a run to the final in Washington D.C.
Dark Horse Pasture
Denis Shapovalov: New Laver Cup invitee tries to build on his Montreal breakthrough. This presupposes he qualifies—he should have gotten a wild card.
Frances Tiafoe: Improving steadily. And there are moral victories to the various close matches he’s dropped.
Fernando Verdasco: Still capable of any-given-day upsets
Daniil Medvedev: The best player you’ve never heard of.
First Round Matches to Watch
Federer vs. Tiafoe
Murray v. Tennys Sandgren
Berdych vs. Ryan Harrison: Man, does Harrison get a lot of lousy draws.
Cilic v. Gilles Simon: Not the opponent you want if you’re not 100%.
Isner v. Kohlschreiber (potential round three): It’s about time these two faced off at the Open.
Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares
Federer d. Nadal
Zverev d. Murray
Federer d. Zverev