Matches start Monday.
2019 U.S. Open
Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY
Men’s First Round picks
There are so many terrific Men’s first round matches that it’s hard to pick just five as “must-see” events, so I’ve picked ten . . . and probably could have included another five. There are some young up-and-coming players who I definitely want to see play, and some matches that look so thrilling and competitive as to be difficult to predict who would win. Some from each of these catagories have made it to my “pick list” below.
Stan Wawrinka over Jannik Sinner
Jannik Sinner, who just turned 18 two weeks ago, appears to be the next Italian phenom. The 6’2” kid from Sexten, Italy already holds wins over Touring pros Pedro Sousa, Thomas Fabbiano, Lukas Lacko, Stevie Johnson, and Jiri Vesely, all as a 17-year-old. This kid can play, and he’s only going to get better. I’m curious to see if he can hang with Stan Wawrinka, who is still one of only three players (with del Potro and Cilic) to have won a Grand Slam title during the reign of the Big Four. I don’t expect Sinner to win, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t take a set off of Stan the Man. Wawrinka has been playing some good tennis as the year has progressed, but he’s not what he was five years ago (who is?). Even so, Stan will be a very good measuring barometer for Sinner to determine where he stands among the worlds’ very best.
Paolo Lorenzi over Zach Svajda
Zach Svajda is all of 16-years-old, stands 5’9”, and weighs a whopping 130 pounds. So he’s young, short, and skinny, with literally no experience on the Tour and very little tournament experience in the Juniors. He can’t drink, he doesn’t drive, and he looks like he’s in eighth grade. But what he can do is play tennis. Svajda won the National Juniors in Kalamazoo this year, a year in which, based on his age, he was young enough to enter the Boy’s 16’s. Yet he played up, entered the Boys 18’s in only his third tournament of the year, and won it all as the sixth seed. His father is a teaching pro in San Diego, and had played in Kalamazoo way back in 1982, so Svajda is getting good advice about his tennis game at home pretty much 24/7. As another young American who piques my curiosity, I’m anxious to see how he can do with the 37-year-old Lorenzi, a journeyman currently ranked #136 in the world. Lorenzi, at this point in his career, is really just a good Challenger player. He has wins this year over young American Chris Eubanks, Noah Rubin, Tim Smyczek, Tennys Sandgren, Ryan Harrison, and Tommy Paul (whom he also lost to), but has been beaten by Laslo Djere, Daniil Medvedev, Henri Laaksonen, FA2, Stevie Johnson, Juan Ignacio Londero, Brayden Schnur, Guido Pella, Dan Evans, Fernando Verdasco and Donald Young. Obviously, the list of losses is far greater than his list of impressive wins. Still, Lorenzi was ranked as high as #33 just two years ago, and has made almost $5 Million on Tour. I’m very curious to see if the 16-year old Svajda can keep up with a guy who boasts both the age and experience that could be combined to offer the type of advice that could be seen as coming from his dad.
Reilly Opelka over Fabio Fognini
Fabio Fognini is a fabulous shotmaker, a terrific talent, and can be a joy to watch play. But he’s going up against the 7’ American, Reilly Opelka, who possesses the ability to serve guys off the court on the hard stuff in Flushing Meadows. Fognini is seeded and ranked #11, and has had a truly wonderful year at age 32. He took out Nadal in Monte Carlo on clay, which can only be boasted about by a small handful of players. He’s had wins this year over RBA, Jo-Willie Tsonga, Radu Albot, Kyle Edmund, John Millman, and Frances Tiafoe. But how about that legendary week in April when he took Monaco by storm and beat in succession Andrey Rublev, Gilles Simon, Sascha Zverev, Borna Coric, Nadal, and Dusan Lajovic to take home the crown at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters? Reilly Opelka, at 21-years-of age, is still learning how to play. But you can’t teach height, and at 7’, Opelka fires serves down from what seems like Mount Olympus. With that single advantage, Opelka has recorded wins over Borna Coric, Alex Bublik, Dan Evans, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Ignacio Londero, Pablo Carreno Busta, Jan-Lennard Struff, Tennys Sandgren, Adrian Mannarino, and Diego Schwartzman, among others. He seems to have John Isner’s number, having beaten his fellow American giant three times this year alone, and has found his personal nemesis to be Aussie Alex de Minaur, having lost to the Demon twice within a span of a couple of months. I like Opelka to eut this match because he will utilize his giant serve, Fognini will get frustrated and act out, and Opelka will have the decidedly biased American crowd to cheer him to victory.
Tomas Berdych over Jenson Brooksby
The Birdman has seen his ranking fall from a high of #4, just four short years ago, to today’s #101. He missed five full months of play last year and another five full months of play this year because of back injuries, and at age 33 (he’ll be 34 in two weeks) there’s a question as to if he can ever make it back into the Top 25. He’ll square off against 18-year-old Jenson Brooksby, last year’s Kalamazoo champion, who is planning to attend Baylor University as a frosh beginning in January, 2020. Brooksby is a 6’2” Californian who has had very little experience at the Tour level, but who presents an intriguing set of playing attributes that pique my curiosity. Can Brooksby hang with Berdych? Probably not. But he’s only 18, and he’s a player to watch, and this will be our first chance to see him against world-class talent.
Taylor Fritz over Feliciano Lopez
The last time these two guys played Taylor Fritz was 17-years-old. Now, he’s 21, and ranked 27th in the world, and seeded here at the U.S. Open for the first time. Lopez can play, and watching him carve up opponents with his crafty lefty game at age 37 is a beautiful thing to behold. But I think Fritz is too mature a player now, as he has grown into a consummate Touring professional, and the young Californian should withstand a strong challenge from the alluring Spaniard.
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