FILE - In this Nov. 11, 2019, file photo, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece celebrates winning a point against Daniil Medvedev of Russia during their ATP World Tour Finals singles tennis match at the O2 Arena in London. Tsitsipas is scheduled to play in the U.S. Open, scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 13, 2020.
FILE - In this Nov. 11, 2019, file photo, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece celebrates winning a point against Daniil Medvedev of Russia during their ATP World Tour Finals singles tennis match at the O2 Arena in London. Tsitsipas is scheduled to play in the U.S. Open, scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 13, 2020.|AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File
Tennis

Bet U.S. Open Tennis: Abrams previews the 2020 event, notable for who's missing, and expects Tsitsipas to emerge from a weak, rusty field

The U.S. Opens begins Monday in Queens, New York.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

2020 U.S.Open Men’s Preview

We’re here, and I never thought we’d get here. But tomorrow the 2020 U.S.Open starts with a thinned field, diminished expectations, and many favorites practicing their clay court games on The Continent for The French Open, which begins in three weeks. The Men’s draw is headed by top seeded Novak Djokovic and the women are led by #1 seed Karolina Pliskova. Not here to challenge the top seeds are defending champion Rafa Nadal and icon Roger Federer, among many others. Missing from the women’s draw are defending champion Bianca Andreescu, Wimbledon champ Simona Halep, and world #1 Ash Barty.

The narrative of this year’s Open centers on the combination of a Grand Slam tournament with no fans, diminished prize money, the dreaded Covid-19, the bubble, and the opportunists hoping to snag a Slam without the best players competing. It’s a bad and dangerous combo and sets a bad and dangerous precedent, and we have only the USTA and the almighty dollar to thank for that. Already, one official and one player (Benoit Paire) have tested positive for Covid-19, and since the tennis community are all staying in the Open Bubble, it seems only natural that it’s a matter of time until the virus spreads. Should that happen, expect to see the tournament stopped and abandoned.

But if and until that happens, those entered in the draw will compete. Who can we expect to go a long way? Well, in the men’s draw, it would be foolish to dismiss Djokovic, but even though he won last week’s Western and Southern Open, he didn’t look at his best; sometimes injured, sometimes disinterested. And it would actually surprise me if he took this title. Second seeded Dominic Thiem is a giant question mark after losing his first match last week in just 61 minutes winning a mere 3 games. And let’s not forget that Thiem lost in the first round here last year. The betting line may favor him, but that’s because without Nadal and Federer, the oddsmakers have to favor someone.

Who have they overlooked? It might be time for the Greek God, Stefanos Tsitsipas, to finally raise a Slam trophy. There are three Canadians who all could go far: Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Alliasime, and Milos Raonic, who is back to serving up a storm. German Alex Zverev has all the talent in the world (as does Russian Karen Khachanov) but until he learns to hit punishing second serves under pressure, he’s more a sparring partner than a champion-in-waiting. 2019 Runner-up Boris Badenov (Daniil Medvedev) is here, but its frankly too early to tell if he’ll challenge for the title. Last week he looked mediocre, and mediocre players don’t win Grand Slam titles.

An interesting first round match pits 7th seeded David Goffin against 7-foot American Reilly Opelka. The winner of this match should probably square off with Djokovic in the quarters, unless the German Jan-Lennard Struff can upset the top seed first. Also in that quarter are Americans John Isner and Stevie Johnson, who, unfortunately drew each other in the first round. Even with his newfound one-handed backhand, Johnson stands little chance of toppling the 6’10” Isner on these courts. Taylor Fritz is also buried in that quarter, but I’d be surprised if he can tame Shapovalov. To me, Tsitsipas has clear sailing into the semis, as his only challenge in the second quarter is Zverev. And unless Zverev has improved his second serve in the last four days, he’s toast.

The third quarter boasts Medvedev and 6th seeded 2019 semi-finalist Matteo Berretini. But Berretini doesn’t look sharp, and I think he’ll have his hands full with either Ugo Humbert (as long as he’s serving well—the last time I saw him was in Delray back in February), or the survivor between 18-year-old Fin Emil Ruusuvuori, American Mackie McDonald, or Norway’s Casper Ruud. Either way, I don’t see Berretiini making a run this year. But there are a couple of potentially explosive, or at least interesting, first round matches in that quarter that are worth watching on TV – the only way you’re going to see them this year. Last year’s semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov, who tested positive earlier this year for the coronavirus, takes on American Tommy Paul, while American Frances Tiafoe, who also has tested positive for the virus, challenges Italian Andres Seppi. And I’m real curious to see if American college graduate J.J. Wolf can challenge the Argentinean 29th seed Guido Pella. Either way, Wolf is a player and a personality to watch. Medvedev should own that quarter, but in this age of the virus, one never knows. He sure looked shaky last week…

The bottom quarter features the unpredictable Thiem, but Roberto Bautista Agut may be the player playing the best tennis at this time. He opens up against American Southern apologist Tennys Sandgren. If fans were allowed in, there’d be a lotta MAGA hats watching that match. The rest of that quarter features names past their prime and a lot of guys ranked between 30-70 who should perform well, but won’t challenge to go into week 2. That includes Radu Albot, Dan Evans, Corentin Moutet, the washed-up Marin Cilic, one-legged Andy Murray, Jannik Sinner, Sam Querrey, Richard Gasquet, and Alex de Minaur. Those who stand out? Khachanov, Auger-Aliassimne, Raonic, Medvedev, and RBA.

Of last year’s semi-finalists, only Nadal is missing, but of the other three (Medvedev, Berrettini, and Dimitrov) I’d be surprised to see nary a one peeking out from the semi-final curtains this year. Last year’s losing quarter-finalists Stan Wawrinka, Federer, and Gael Monfils are all skipping this year’s event. The eighth man in, diminutive Argentinean Diego Schwartzman, does stand a good chance of at least matching his last year’s accomplishment.

All in all, THIS is the year to expect a changing of the guard, and I believe Tsitsipas will be the last man standing two weeks from now as the curtain drops on Summer.

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