Matches proceed all day Saturday from the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York.
Casper Ruud over Matteo Berrettini
There are some terrific matches to watch on Saturday’s schedule, and this one should lead the day off. Casper Ruud, the 21-year old from Oslo (that’s Norway, for those who aren’t sure of their geography) is getting better all the time, and I think he’s ready for a signature win. This would be it. Berrettini, the 24-year old Italian, got to the semis here last year, and is clearly the favorite, even though Ruud won the only time these guys squared off—at last year’s French Open. But Ruud got through a tough five set test from Mackie McDonald before rolling over Emil Ruusuvuori, when the Fin pulled up lame in the third set after dropping the first two. Ruud is rested and ready. Berrettini hasn’t lost a set yet, pushing aside Go Soeda and Ugo Humbert in succession. To me that means the Italian hasn’t been tested, and I think Ruud will surprise the higher seed, and a giant upset of a man ranked in the Top 10.
Andrey Rublev over Salvatore Caruso
The 27-year old Italian, Salvatore Caruso, is one of the last couple of guys who are still in the tournament in which they shouldn’t have even made the entrance cut. He got an easy draw, beating both James Duckworth and 185th ranked Ernesto Escobeco to set up this unwinnable third round encounter with Russian Andrey Rublev. Rublev is ranked #14 in the world and even with an incredibly shortened year, still has 17 wins under his belt in 2020. Caruso? He came in with 2. Rublev will move on and Caruso will cash his $165,000 check—the biggest of his career.
Roberto Bautista Agut over Vasik Pospisil
11th ranked and 8th seeded RBA holds a career 3-0 record against the surprising Canadian, Pospisil, who survived a battle with compatriot Milos Raonic in Round 2. But RBA took out two tough opponents, Tennys Sandgren and Miomir Kecmanovic while relinquishing only one set total: probably enough to feel somewhat tested, but not enough to feel fatigued. I think RBA and David Goffin share the sentiment of being the two best players who no one knows about, and RBA will quietly move on, as he usually does. What does RBA pocket for moving into the Round of 16? How about a cool quarter million?
Daniil Medvedev over J.J. Wolf
The good news for J.J. Wolf, the former Ohio State tennis star, is that he will more than double his career earnings by pocketing his check, win lose or draw, after playing Russian villain Daniil Medvedev. The bad news is that it will be the loser's check. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of for the 21-year old Cincinnati native. Wolf is just learning the ropes of the professional Tour, and he’s shown that he’s a quick study. He has a terrific serve that can be dominating at times, but let’s not forget that he’s now playing against the best players in the world, not the best players in college. He generally follows up his tough serve with a forehand that he usually moves forward on. Had he learned how to play serve-volley in college, he could mix that tactic in with his current strategy, and that could serve to keep his opponents on their back foot. Unfortunately, he did not learn that tactic, so he’s got to go to battle with the weapons he has, and that will serve him well, but it won’t make him a champion. And we Americans need someone to root for….desperately. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired or rooting for a Croat, a Serb, a Russian or a South American. Give J.J. Wolf a volley, and he could have a big bandwagon following him…quickly.
Karen Khachanov over Alex de Minaur
Whatever happens here, I want to be in the Room Where It Happens, because this will be a battle. Karen Khachanov, the supremely gifted 6’6” Russian, gutted out a very difficult first round war with rising Italian star Jannik Sinner 3-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-0, 7-6, which should erase all question marks about his character under pressure. Still, Khachanov is not known for gutting out matches and rarely simply beats those he should beat. Every match seems like a struggle between an Angel and Satan, and often Satan comes out on top. That could happen here, and no one would be surprised. But Khachanov has so much talent that I’m going on a limb and predicting that he’ll sublimate the Beast and Rise Up over de Minaur, himself a quite impressive competitor. The Aussie has had to show little here in NYC, beating Andrej Martin in straight sets and then the aging Frenchman Richard Gasquet in four. Gasquet can still be a tough out when he’s sharp, but he is 34 years old now, and you never know what you’re going to get from him, particularly in The Year of Covid. This match could be a pick-‘em, but ultimately I think the Angels will sing for Khachanov.
Marton Fucsovics over Frances Tiafoe
Boy would I love to see Frances Tiafoe, a native of a suburb of Washington, D.C., take this match over 66th ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics. Unfortunately there are two things going against him here. First, Fucsovics holds a personal 2-0 career advantage over Tiafoe, including a three-set hard court win in Qatar earlier this year, and if you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know how important I think prior matches between two players can mean. Secondly, Tiafoe is catching the Hungarian at a time when he is playing perhaps the best tennis of his life. The 28-year old Fucsovics destroyed Hugo Dellien in the first round here, and then beat last year’s semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov in five to move into Round 3. Down two sets to one against the Bulgarian, it appeared that Dimitrov tired, getting trounced 6-4, 6-1 in the final two sets, as Dimitrov appeared to still be suffering from a July bout with Covid-19. Well, Tiafoe has that same issue, and Tiafoe may have shot his load taking out the tough John Millman in Round 2, coming back from a two sets to one deficit. Should history repeat itself, Fucsovics will beat an exhausted Tiafoe for a spot in the Round of 16.
Dominic Thiem over Marin Cilic
Six years ago Marin Cilic was the King of New York City. He held the U.S. Open trophy high in the air, proudly proclaiming his Grand Slam victory in the jungle that New York can become during the Open. Today, Cilic is a 38-year old former champion three weeks shy of his 39th birthday. Other 39 year olds are not what they once were, and neither is Cilic. After all, Serena Williams may win this title, but it’s hard to argue that she’s the same player she was five years ago. She’s slower, heavier, more inconsistent, and subject to losing her focus mid-match. Iconic Roger Federer also is not the same player. He’s been more subject to injuries, one of which is keeping him out of this tournament entirely. So, can Cilic roll back the clock and knock out 2nd seeded Dominic Thiem? Hell, no. This one is all Thiem. So if you’re a Cilic fan, try to catch this one on the tube, as we won’t be seeing much more of him. If he plays well, Cilic will capture a set.