Tennis: Are we back to the Big three at the US Open 2018?

With Rafael Nadal winning the Roger’s Cup in Toronto and Novak Djokovic making quick work of Roger Federer in the finals at Cincinnati, it seems quite natural to expect a clash of the Titans, at the US Open finals, this year.

The draw will make all the difference.

Which two, of the big three, will be in the same half of the draw will play a critical role in the outcome of the final.

Will Roger be drawn in Nadal’s or Djokovic’s half? Will his half be bereft of those best equipped to grind his old bones to a screeching halt?

 

To Federer, both Nadal and Djokovic are equally threatening.

Nadal has been the nemesis of Federer until the start of 2017, and Djokovic too has had a winning record against him since he turned 29, which, according to 138mph, is when the speed, stamina, fitness, and reflexes of a tennis pro begin their irretrievable journey downhill. Moreover, Djokovic is back to his best grinding form, and Roger has not beaten Djokovic over a five-set duel in a long time.

 

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

Why may Federer still prefer to play Novak Djokovic instead of Nadal?

Federer, considering his misaligned and misfiring backhand in the Cincinnati final, however, may still prefer meeting Djokovic over Nadal. Djokovic’s game is obvious and without the wicked high-rising balls, which Monsieur Nadal can feed incessantly to Roger’s backhand. Roger will either be able to penetrate Djokovic’s defense or become another victim of his grind. Against Nadal, however, Roger will not only have to face a similar level of the grind but also that wicked lefty spin to his backhand, which could still unravel Roger’s backhand.

Federer’s ground shots are misfiring, and his backhand is nowhere near as lethal as it was in 2017.

Roger has not been the same since his strange loss to Kevin Anderson, a the Wimbledon, from two sets and a match point lead! He seemed listless and withdrawn to losing after the third set against Anderson. Age, it seems, has finally taken its toll and it may become even more difficult for Roger to wriggle out of tough matches against opponents unwilling to give up.

His ground shots, in Cincinnati, lacked the bite and against Djokovic, he was not only misfiring on returns but also regular forehands and backhands. Federer’s retooled backhand, was responsible for his four consecutive wins over Nadal in 2017, looked susceptible to a serious meltdown from a top-spin pounding, which Nadal can unleash at will.

 

Rafael Nadal has a recent history of giving in to a strong Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal needs all the luck that he can get. Not only is he the defending champion with a lot at stake but has also lost the last five consecutive encounters against Roger and eight of ten against Novak. He has not beaten Djokovic on any other surface except clay since 2014.

Novak Djokovic looks the best to hoist the trophy but is not invincible.

Novak has had too many losses and close encounters to be proclaimed the undisputed king of the hard courts lately. He also lost to the teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Roger’s Cup. With his grinding style and habit to prolong, rather than shorten, points, like Roger, one never knows which career ending injury is lurking around the corner.

 

There are also the spoilers.

The big hitters and servers can outhit any on their day and will always pose a threat to a final featuring of any two of the big three.

  • Juan Martin Del Potro – Is capable of taking out either or even all the big three if he gets on a roll like in the 2009 US Open. He poses the biggest threat to a possible meeting of the usual suspects.
  • Marin Cilic – Cilic hits flat and hard and has made it to the final of last year’s Wimbledon and this year’s Australian Open. He seems due for his big one.
  • David Goffin – May not win the tournament but can take out one or more of the big three.
  • Kevin Anderson – Cannot be taken lightly after his final appearance at the last year’s US Open and this year’s Wimbledon.
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas – Is on fire lately. He packs the talent of Federer in his game. This one is to be watched carefully and can upset just about anyone, including the big three. He is, however, twelve to eighteen months away from becoming a serious contender at the slams.
  • Nick Kyrgios – Can defeat anyone on his day which, to the advantage of our big three, are few and far between. He, however, is confident of his chances against Novak and poses a big risk to Djokovic’s prospects at the US Open.
  • Dennis Shapovalov – Another talented player who could catch fire on any given day against any of the big three.
  • Alexander Zverev – Sascha lost early in his last tournament. He is, therefore, well rested for the slam. With Ivan Lendl, on his side, he may go quite deep, and claim a few big scalps, at this US Open.