The US Open is upon us, and this Grand Slam is filled with interesting storylines as always, including a young Russian who is looking to cement his place in the top tier of the game and an advantageous draw for one member of the Big 3. Read on to see which players are primed for success on the hard courts at Flushing Meadows and which ones could be heading home early, as well as my pick for the title winner.
Daniil Medvedev - Medvedev comes into this tournament on a massive hot streak. The 23-year-old Russian has moved up the rankings to No. 5 thanks to a 14-2 record during the American hard court swing. This impressive run includes a title at the Cincinnati Masters earlier this month, during which Medvedev took out Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. It's one thing to beat Djokovic in a best of three-set match and another entirely to topple the world No. 1 at a Grand Slam in best of five, but Medvedev has a two-match winning streak over Djokovic since losing to him at the Australian Open early in the season, so Djokovic surely wasn't thrilled when he found out that the draw has them on pace to collide in the quarterfinals. If you're looking for a dark horse title pick outside of the Big 3, Medvedev's your man.
David Goffin - Another recent climber is Goffin, whom Medvedev defeated in the championship match at Cincinnati. The Belgian was ranked as high as No. 7 in the world before an injury-related setback, and Goffin his climbed back into the top 15 thanks to his deep run in Cincy and a trip to the Wimbledon quarterfinals. His early draw doesn't look too daunting considering Goffin just crushed potential third-round opponent Guido Pella 6-1, 7-5 earlier this month, which means we're likely to get a must-see fourth-round battle between Goffin and Roger Federer.
Rafael Nadal - The top half of the draw is stacked, while the bottom presents a great path to success for Nadal. Djokovic and Federer are both in the top half, as are other dangerous big names such as Medvedev, Goffin, 21st-seeded Milos Raonic and 23rd-seeded Stan Wawrinka. Meanwhile, the three other top-eight seeds in Nadal's half are Dominic Thiem – who has been battling an illness – and a pair of slumping youngsters in Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The three-time US Open champion's biggest challenge in hard-court slams has been injury issues, which tend to crop up in later rounds after Nadal overexerts himself. With this favorable draw, Nadal should be able to conserve energy and have enough in the tank to make a serious push for the title.
Stefanos Tsitsipas - The drawmakers did the slumping Tsitsipas no favors. His first-round opponent is talented Russian Andrey Rublev, who just beat Stan Wawrinka and Federer back-to-back in Cincinnati. Should Tsitsipas get through that, his likely third-round opponent would be the always-dangerous Nick Kyrgios, who defeated Tsitsipas at the Citi Open earlier this summer. This is far from an ideal scenario for a guy who comes into the US Open on a three-match losing streak and has suffered first-round losses in four of his last six tournaments.
Borna Coric - Coric has dealt with a combination of injuries and poor play recently. He missed Wimbledon with an undisclosed injury and has a 1-4 record in his last five matches. The 12th-seeded Croatian also has a tough draw, with Grigor Dimitrov potentially looming in the second round and Raonic in the third.
Frances Tiafoe - Tiafoe's year got off to a promising start when he made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, but he's had a disappointing season since then, including five-set losses in the two subsequent Grand Slams. A first-round win over Gael Monfils in Cincinnati could give Tiafoe the confidence boost he needs to make some noise here. His draw is far from easy, but there are opportunities to be found. Up first is big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic, who is never a comfortable opponent but has only a 10-13 record this season. Should Tiafoe get through him, his next two likely opponents are both seeds prone to dramatic swings in level in Zverev and Benoit Paire. With the crowd behind him and the pressure off, the Maryland native is poised to knock off some big names.
Alex de Minaur - The 36th-ranked De Minaur just missed being seeded, but that doesn't mean he's incapable of making a deep run. The 20-year-old Australian has some decent hard-court results under his belt – he won the BB&T Atlanta Open earlier this summer and gave Marin Cilic all he could handle in the third round of the 2018 US Open before ultimately falling 7-5 in the fifth set. His first-round opponent, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, comes in on a six-match losing streak, while potential second-round foe Christian Garin is seeded 31st despite going just 2-8 in his last 10 matches. Things would get much trickier from there with No. 7 seed Kei Nishikori likely awaiting in Round 3, but Nishikori enters this tournament on a three-match losing streak of his own.
There's nothing revolutionary about yet again picking Nadal and Djokovic to meet in the final, but this outcome in their match would be a major surprise given their recent head-to-head history. That said, this would be the perfect time for Nadal to finally come out on top. He has a much easier path to the final, while Djokovic will potentially need to go through a Wawrinka - Medvedev - Federer gauntlet starting in the Round of 16 to get there. Djokovic wiped the floor with Rafa in the Australian Open final, but he's shown much more vulnerability since then with a French Open semifinal loss to Thiem and an ugly Wimbledon final performance against Federer, albeit in a win.
FIRST ROUND UPSET WATCH
This pick has more to do with Opelka than Fognini, though the enigmatic Italian has just a pedestrian 7-5 record since the French Open. The 6-foot-11 Michigan native will have plenty of crowd support, and his John Isner-esque serve should prevent Fognini from getting into a rhythm. Opelka hasn't shied away from big matches this season, posting a 5-5 record against top-20 players.
Another potential upset pick is Denis Shapovalov over No. 18 Felix Auger-Aliassime in a battle of Canadian youngsters. Shapovalov has spent his entire tennis-playing life in Auger-Aliassime's shadow as the inferior prospect, but he got the best of his countryman and friend at last year's US Open and will be looking for a repeat result in their first-round rematch.