The 2016 US Open will start on Monday, August 29th from Flushing Meadows in New York. The men’s tournament has seen a couple withdrawals already in both Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych. One key player that enters the tournament as a bit of question mark is returning-champion Novak Djokovic, a player that remains the betting favorite for the title this season (source: bet365). However, in my opinion, his recent injury is enough to cast some doubt on the Serb. It seems to make Andy Murray of Scotland the true favorite for the event.
Djokovic pulled out of last week’s Cincinnati tournament with a wrist injury. The news of the injury came after his failure at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he lost in the first round to Juan Martin del Potro. The US Open has remained a part of Djokovic’s schedule, however, players that enter a tournament injured or even recently healed often struggle in Grand Slams.
These are the players that are, by popular opinion as reflected by betting odds, the US Open contenders besides Djokovic and Murray (Source: bet365):
3. Milos Raonic
4. Juan del Potro
5. Stan Wawrinka
6. Rafael Nadal
7. Marin Cilic
8. Kei Nishikori
9. Nick Kyrgios
10. Dominic Thiem
Cilic, who is the 7th betting favorite for the US Open, recently snapped the 2016 Wimbledon champion’s lengthy 22-match winning streak. But during his winning streak, the Scot defeated third-favored Raonic three times. Murray also defeated fourth-favored Juan Martin del Potro in the gold-medal match from Rio. Heading into the US Open, if Djokovic is not 100% then Murray has to be considered a significant favorite based on the fact that the next two threats are players that Murray has fared well against recently.
Cilic is the peripheral favorite that I think is the one to watch. His victory at Cincinnati over Murray could be overstated due to the fact that Murray was at the end of a lengthy run of matches with little rest: it’s not as though Cilic and Murray faced one another on even terms. However, there are major hints that Cilic is getting back to his best tennis again. The match points he held in the Wimbledon quarters constitute a near-miss, a close moment that showed that he was on the edge of regaining his best form.
Neither Wawrinka nor Nadal are players to have much confidence in as the US Open approaches. Wawrinka, who has a modest losing record to Murray at 7-9, hasn’t beaten anyone with a Top 10 ranking this entire season – and it’s now late August. The Swiss’ most recent stumble was to 34th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov after a close match against 122nd-ranked Jared Donaldson.
Wawrinka is the World No. 3 at the moment and his seed might carry him for the first week in New York. But don’t be surprised to see Stan out of the Top 5 by season’s end. Peripheral players have picked him off this season on plenty of occasions and Wawrinka is at risk of a middle-round exit in Flushing.
Nadal, following back-to-back losses in Rio to miss a medal and a 2nd-round loss in Cincy, remains a tricky player to assess. Having lost three of his last four matches, he looks entirely off-form. Yet he did win gold in doubles at the Olympics, meaning that he played an unusual amount of competitive tennis in a very short time frame.
Cincinnati, Rio singles, and Rio doubles combined for THREE tournaments in just TWO weeks – with the maximum number of matches played for Nadal in both Rio events. The Spaniard, in my view, is lucky that one of his injuries didn’t resurface with that kind of scheduling. I would say that a straight-sets loss to Borna Coric in Cincinnati might have been, not quite literally, just what the doctor ordered as the Spaniard was probably in need of rest.
A rested Nadal might win all of his matches at the US Open until he bumps into Murray, Raonic, or an uninjured Djokovic. Nadal’s drive, mental aptitude, and proven tennis abilities make him dangerous in any tournament that he’s fit to play. However, his lengthy string of poor results in majors can’t be ignored either, and Nadal is, quite simply, a tough player to read right now.
Nishikori is sort of tough too, but I would disregard his recent loss to Bernard Tomic in Cincinnati as just Rio-related fatigue. He won the bronze medal at the Olympics, and I would take that at more or less face value. The rib injury from England earlier this season certainly appears to be history.
The betting favorites above aren’t necessarily true favorites. Here my take on the players that, in order, I think are the true US Open contenders.
1. Andy Murray
2. Novak Djokovic*
3. Marin Cilic
4. Rafael Nadal
5. Milos Raonic
6. Kei Nishikori
7. Gael Monfils
8. Dominic Thiem
9. Stan Wawrinka
10. David Goffin
*a moderate injury would drop him down four or five spots
Monfils and Goffin make my Top 10 favorites as opposed to the betting list above. No del Potro in my top ten and no Kyrgios either. The reasoning for those decisions to come later this week.