U.S. Open Men’s Draw Analysis

The U.S. Open men’s draw is out. Here’s your bracket sheet.

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See the cover image above? That’s the new look this year for Arthur Ashe Stadium. The roof which will cover the court in future years is not in place, but the outer portion of the structure has been erected. This points to the newness of this year’s event, something we’ll explore in the coming days here at Attacking The Net.

The conditions might be a little different inside Ashe Stadium this time. There might be a little less wind swirling through the bowl, thanks to that structure. There will be more shade cover in the middle-to-late-afternoon hours.

Those are things Novak Djokovic loves. Less wind (inside Rod Laver Arena) and more shade have enabled Djokovic to win five Australian Opens… or at least, you could make the case. This year’s U.S. Open setup could play right into Djokovic’s hands.

The draw has done the same thing.

The men’s draw’s big story wasn’t going to involve Djokovic in a comparison with Roger Federer — when Federer won Cincinnati, he locked up the second seed and freedom from Djokovic’s path until the final. The big story wasn’t even about the semifinals — Djokovic and Federer have not lost to Andy Murray at the majors since 2013. Yes, Murray beat Djokovic in the Montreal final, but as has been the case with Federer and Djokovic in best-of-five-set matches, so it also is with Murray and Djokovic as well: The underdog needs to show he can beat the favorite (the top seed from Serbia) in a five-set match.

The real ATP draw drama in New York — and the most significant story, in one person’s opinion (this person’s opinion, to be specific) — concerned the quarterfinal pairings. David Ferrer did not withdraw before the draw, so he’s slotted as the seventh seed. The non-pullout by Ferrer kept defending U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic outside the top eight, so the question of where Cilic landed became a point of intrigue. The bigger points of intrigue, though, concerned Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka and box-office superstar Rafael Nadal. The top players (save Federer) wanted Nadal in their quarter, given the 14-time major champion’s struggles this season. They wanted no part of Wawrinka in their respective quarters.

You can see for yourself who made out like a bandit and who will have a tough road in New York.

Djokovic, it is true, has won only one U.S. Open, one of the most incredible and still-hard-to-fathom realities of this era of men’s tennis. (Again, we all have our reasons why this is the case — I’m going with more matches in sunlight and more matches in windy conditions.) Yet, he can’t exactly lament this draw. He knew he’d have Federer safely in the other half, but he also got Murray and Wawrinka to move to that other half of the draw as well. Djokovic got the Nadal quarterfinal — it will be very tough for Nadal to even get that far — and he drew No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori in the semis.

Naturally, Nishikori upset Djokovic in last year’s semifinals, but if we’re to evaluate the players not just based on form, but on their ability to replicate results over two or three or four seasons, there is no comparison… and there’s not even a need to explain why. Djokovic would have been favored over Murray in a potential semifinal, but given their five-set Roland Garros semifinal, Djokovic should feel he got the better end of the semifinal draw relative to Federer. Nishikori must first prove that he can make the semifinals, which should be his goal in New York. If he can get that far, taking down Nole again in Ashe Stadium will be a big ask for the fourth seed.

It’s Federer who has to deal with Murray or Wawrinka in the semifinals. Given the way Wawrinka pummeled Federer in the Roland Garros quarterfinals, the No. 2 seed might prefer Murray. He almost certainly doesn’t care, to tell you the truth.

If Federer-Wawrinka is the matchup, Wawrinka would put himself in position to play for a second major final in the same year, a career first. If Federer-Murray is the matchup, the clash would very possibly determine the second-best player of the year on the ATP Tour — certainly in terms of performance and results, maybe in terms of year-end ranking as well (but that’s a somewhat different and more mathematical question).

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This is ultimately Djokovic’s tournament to lose, but the people chasing him have a lot to play for. 

Nadal would love to simply get to the quarterfinals and build confidence for the fall, improving his place in the ATP race for the World Tour Finals in London while also setting the table for a 2016 coming-out party at the Australian Open.

Cilic wants to make the quarters at least — an early flame-out would lead to a deafening chorus of, “Aberration! One-year wonder! Johnny One-Note!”

Wawrinka has a major in 2015, but if he meets Murray in the quarterfinals, the clash would pit the established member of the Big Four (Murray) against the man who has dented that quartet’s dominance more than others on the ATP Tour. It would be a showcase showdown, to use the Price Is Right term.

Murray wants to beat at least Federer — if not him and Djokovic together — at a major. A wait of over 24 months is a long one. The Scotsman needs to put a stop to at least one of those droughts in New York.

Federer had two match points in U.S. Open semifinals in two straight years — 2010 and 2011 — but he went 0-for-4 on those match points. He has somehow not made the U.S. Open final since 2009, a streak which comes close to Djokovic winning only one Open as one of the most improbable in recent men’s tennis history.

Federer would love to win his 18th major, but if he doesn’t make the final, this tournament will be a failure. If he makes the final, he can say he achieved something in the Big Apple.

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It’s Novak Djokovic’s U.S. Open to lose — that is the simple storyline in New York.

However, the more complicated storyline is that we’ve been saying Djokovic is the U.S. Open favorite the past several years… and he’s won it only once. 

There’s probably going to be a plot twist somewhere… but where will it emerge?

That’s why they play sports on something other than paper. It’s also why we watch so eagerly.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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