Djokovic targets 18th Major at US Open 2020
Unseeded former champ Andy Murray drawn in tough Thiem quarter
There are many, many things about the US Open that will be different in 2020, not least the absence of fans, qualifiers, many players’ families—indeed a good number of players themselves, especially with a heavily reduced doubles presence.
The usually vibrant, packed Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York instead has the look of a ghost town, as players, officials and a meagre number of media bow to the demands of the coronavirus pandemic.
But amid such a strange, out-of-kilter US Open, one thing, one person, remains a still centre of certainty. World No1 Novak Djokovic, who has won five of the last seven Major titles, is hot favourite to win again.
The statistics are compelling. In his last 12 US Open appearances, Djokovic has fallen short of the semis only once, winning three titles from eight finals. Last year, exceptionally, he lost in the fourth round, but that too brings a bonus to the mighty Serb. He can extend his gap over Rafael Nadal at the top of the rankings by around 1,800 points should he lift the trophy in a fortnight’s time.
And with defending champion Nadal opting out of New York, Djokovic can also close the gap in Major titles to just one: The Spaniard has 19, Djokovic currently 17.
What is more, his assault on the record of weeks at No1 will also continue. Whatever the result in New York, he will overtake Pete Sampras’s tally of 286 weeks at No1 come late September. Only Roger Federer has more, 310, and with his absence through to the end of the season following knee surgery, Djokovic has that record in his sights.
In 2020 alone, Djokovic stands head and shoulders above the rest, unbeaten against all-comers, 21-0, with three titles: the ATP Cup, the Australian Open, and the Dubai Open. Along the way, he beat all of the next five in the rankings, from Nadal to Federer, Dominic Thiem to Daniil Medvedev.
So are there any realistic challengers in New York, where Djokovic has already made untroubled progress to the semis of the Cincinnati Masters?
Another former champion who has troubled him before, Stan Wawrinka, is also staying in Europe to focus on clay.
Old rival and former champion Andy Murray is still working his way back to form following major hip surgery last year and an additional 10-month absence since last autumn. Murray got in some valuable match-play in the Cincinnati draw before his third-round loss, but is a long way off his best for want of the stamina and endurance that come from match-play.
Thiem, the No2 seed, has come within touching distance of a Major title. He beat Djokovic in five gruelling sets at Roland Garros last year before losing to Nadal in four in the final. And in a reverse scenario, he beat Nadal in a four-hour thriller at the Australian Open, only to lose the title match to Djokovic in another four-hour thriller.
Thiem also fell just short at the ATP Finals last November, beating Djokovic and No5 seed Alexander Zverev, but losing to No4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. But Thiem looked far from convincing in his first tour match since lock-down at the start of March, losing his opener in the Cincinnati draw.
Perhaps the biggest threat, then, will come from the direction of the NextGen stars. Tsitsipas, for example, has been shaping up nicely, in game and mentality, to ‘go for gold’. He relishes the big stage, and has beaten Djokovic twice—and also has wins over Federer, Nadal, Thiem, Zverev and Medvedev in the last year.
As for Medvedev, he came within a gnat’s whisker of winning in New York last year and also beat Djokovic twice through that season.
However, Djokovic will face none of these young players before the semi-finals, and against his opener, Damir Dzumhur, ranked 107, the Serb has dropped only five games in two previous matches. His seeds line up as John Isner in the fourth round, David Goffin in the quarters, and Tsitsipas or Zverev in the semis.
For Thiem, however, the draw poses big questions well before the semis, with former champion Marin Cilic in the third round, Felix Auger-Aliassime—or Murray—in the fourth, then a formidable-looking Milos Raonic or Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarters.
But as things stand, it seems to matter little how the draw falls in the coming two weeks: Djokovic will be the man to beat, the man almost impossible to beat.
Facts and figures
Potential seeds absent from draw: No2 Nadal, No4 Federer, No9 Gael Monfils, No11 Fabio Fognini, No15 Wawrinka, No31 Kei Nishikori
Major champions in draw (all at US Open): Djokovic (3), Murray (1), Cilic (1)
Britons in draw:
Andy Murray vs Yoshihito Nishioka (could meet No15 seed Auger-Aliassime in Round 2)
No23 seed Dan Evans vs Thiago Seyboth Wild (could meet Murray in Round 3)
Kyle Edmund vs Alexander Bublik (then Djokovic in Round 2)
Cameron Norrie vs No9 seed Diego Schwartzman
Other notable Round 1 clashes:
Zverev vs former US Open finalist Kevin Anderson
Karen Khachanov vs NextGen champion Jannick Sinner
Bautista Agut vs Tennys Sandgren
Richard Gasquet vs Ivo Karlovic
Did you know?
· No30 seed Casper Ruud is only player to be seeded for first time at a Major tournament.
· No28 seed Jan-Lennard Struff is one of six players seeded for first time at the US Open (also Andrey Rublev, Alex de Minaur, Evans, Hubert Hurkacz, Ruud).
· Medvedev reached six straight finals in 2019, including the US Open.
· Tsitsipas, one year after winning Next Gen ATP Finals, won the Nitto ATP Finals in tournament debut last November.
· Bautista Agut went 6-0 in matches and 12-0 in sets for ATP Cup for runner-up Spain in January.
· No13 seed Cristian Garin earned 10 straight wins in February with clay titles in Cordoba and Rio.
· Khachanov, Medvedev and Rublev comprise the first top-15 Russian trio in rankings history.
· Murray is among nine US Open boys’ champions in the field and the only one to add the men’s singles title.
· Fourteen seeds are under the age of 25, the most at a Major since the 2010 Australian Open. Ten of the top-20 seeds are under the age of 25, the most at a Major since the 2009 US Open.
· Feliciano Lopez will extend his all-time record streak of Majors played to 73. He turns 39 next month.
· Ivo Karlovic is the first player in a Major main draw after turning 41 since 44-year-old Ken Rosewall at the 1978 Australian Open.