There will be no fans, no trips to Manhattan (under penalty of default), daily testing, a bubble shrouding it all … and another Major—played on clay—a few weeks down the road.
Yes, it’s the 2020 U.S. Open. Despite the absence of data points and predictive results heading in, we say this with certitude: Novak Djokovic is your favorite to win the men’s title. Otherwise? In this sui generis year, the U.S. Open is just that. Open. In the extreme. Herewith your men’s seeds…..
1. Novak Djokovic: Your prohibitive favorite. Undefeated for the year and now enters a major that lacks Federer and Nadal. (It’s unclear a faster court surface works to his detriment.) A rough offseason for Djokovic in the P.R. department. He can claw back some good will by adding to his major haul.
2. Dominic Thiem: If only we could call it “The 2020 U.S. Open Exhibition.” A finalist at the previous major, Thiem benefits from the absence of Nadal and moves to the No. 2 slot. But he’s a first-round loser at the USO in 2019, and a first round loser in the Cincy-off-the-BQE.
3. Daniil Medvedev: A finalist last year in a breakthrough tournament that saw him go from pirate to admiral in a matter of days. Before the pandemic, he’d lost three of his last four matches. Lots of game. But is he ready for a stretch of best-of-five matches?
4. Stefanos Tsitsipas: The Greek bearing gifts is a top-four seed and, by his own admission, is in a good headspace. Has won only one of the three career matches he’s played at the U.S. Open, but the surface ought to be to his liking. One of those players who might be impacted by the surroundings.
5. Alexander Zverev: The ballstriking is top-shelf. But it’s hard to consider him a contender until he gets through couples therapy with his serve. Dealing with multiple offcourt distractions as well. On the plus side: he’s reached the fourth round or better at four of the last five Majors.
6. Matteo Berrettini: A formidable surprise semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Open. Go ahead and question the predictive value, but he comes having played lights out at many exhibitions. If we proceed on the assumption this is an aberrant up-for-grabs event, you could do worse than backing him as a surprise title winner.
7. David Goffin: Now coached by Thomas Johansson, the Goff has played a lot of summerball and remains the new David Ferrer (an undersized professional who’s beatable but incapable of beating himself). A rough first-rounder against Opelka. Has reached the fourth round in Queens each of the last three years. If he escapes his first match, he ought to go at least a round better in 2020.
8. Roberto Bautista Agut: Steady as she goes, as The Raconteurs would put it. Not likely to win. Not likely to bow out early. The proverbial “opponent no one wants to face.” (Though you could say the same about his first-round opponent, Tennys Sandgren.)
9. Diego Schwartzman: Again: If tennis did weight classes, he might be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the game. An admirable overachiever who will always struggle to go seven rounds without getting overhit. But you can’t help root for him. And mere mention of his name gives us an excuse to link this.
10. Andre Rublev: Still only 22, he’s already had quite a career arc. Has reached the second week of the tournament two of the three years he’s played in the U.S. Open main draw. Lost to Evans in Cincy, but don’t read too much into that.
11. Karen Khachanov: Bit of a distressed asset. So much to like, not least the Safinesque game from the backcourt. But the grit, and thus the results, don’t keep up with the talent. Starts against young Jannik Sinner.
12. Denis Shapovalov: Just don’t schedule Night Train for the 11:00 a.m. first-on match. Still waiting for the breakthrough. But salvaged his 2019 season at the U.S. Open and perhaps can do so again in 2020.
13. Christian Garin: Congrats to the little-known Chilean for this seeding. And he sure can’t complain about his draw.
14. Grigor Dimitrov: ”Why did it happen? I blame the Bulgarian!” It’s been an eventful summer for Dimitrov, whose COVID period has included a positive test. Unclear whether he is cut out for best-of-five. But he’s always a fun player to watch, always a gentleman worth your support … and he did beat Federer en route to the semis last time they held this event.
15. Felix Auger-Aliassime: While the salon gets a smidge impatient, note that he is still ineligible to drink and yet he is still on the cusp of the top 20. Look for that second-rounder against Andy Murray.
16. John Isner: Rested and playing on a greased lightning court. Just a pity for him that Djokovic looms in his neighborhood.
23. Daniel Evans: Precisely the kind of streaky, devil-may-care player who can go far in this crazy event.
24. Hubert Hurkacz: A pole-star; and the best player you have, perhaps, never seen.
25. Milos Raonic: A pro’s pro, who struggles to stay healthy but can do a lot of damage marrying that serve—especially on this court— with that attention to detail.
31. Marin Cilic: Former champs get name-checked. Even when they are perhaps past their prime.
Reilly Opelka: A contender, yes, mostly on the basis of his serve on the quick courts; but doesn’t get enough credit for the rest of his game.
Andy Murray: The ogre worries about his play over best-of-five. But—apart from being a former champion—his play in Cincy has to fire him with optimism.
Tennys Sandgren: A point from reaching the quarters of the previous major. Starts against RBA.
Tommy Paul: Denied a U.S. Open wild card last year. This year, he comes in on the cusp of the top 50.
Jannik Sinner: The best teenager in tennis.
Nick Kyrgios: He may not be in the draw, but rest assured he will insinuate himself into this event.
UPSET SPECIAL: Opelka d. Goffin
DAILY DOUBLE: Paul d. Dimitrov
TRIFECTA BOX: Millman d. Basilashvili
FIRST-ROUND MATCHES TO WATCH:
Isner v. Steve Johnson: Two American vets face off early.
Zverev v. Kevin Anderson: A top-five seed versus the finalist in 2017.
Karlovic v. Gasquet: Combined age = 75
DOUBLES WINNER: Farah and Cabal. But let’s pause to acknowledge the Bryans.
SEMIS: Djokovic d. Tsitsipas, Raonic d. Berrettini
FINAL: Djokovic d. Raonic