Absences give Djokovic an even bigger advantage
The US Open has an unfamiliar feel with a number of big names absent. Both Rafa Nadal (preparing on clay for the French Open) and Roger Federer (injury) have not travelled to America, leaving Novak Djokovic as the only one of the current elite three taking to the courts over the next couple of weeks in New York.
I said last week on American TV that I thought there was an argument that Djokovic would be value at around even money for the tournament given the absences of the above duo – he’s previously been priced at this level in Slams even with those two present – and after a solid start to the Western & Southern Open this week, the world number one has been backed in almost 20 ticks to [1.84].
Second favourite Medvedev may prefer quicker conditions
Djokovic is clearly the player to beat, with the Serb running at 114.5% combined service/return points won percentage – a figure over 6% over his nearest challenger, Daniil Medvedev, who is second favourite for the tournament at [7.2].
The Russian, Medvedev, is strong statistically – running at 108.0% combined service/return points won but tends to do his best work on quicker conditions, which he is unlikely to see in New York in the coming weeks, with the general court speed dynamic at Flushing Meadows tending to be medium-slow. Hold percentages and service points won at this venue are generally below the ATP mean hard court figure. He was also surprisingly beaten last night by Roberto Bautista-Agut in New York.
Arguments can be made against most players in the draw
Realistically, it is difficult to see who can challenge Djokovic for the title. He’s played well this week and is by far the best hard courter in the field. There are arguments against almost every player in the draw and I’ll run through a few now.
The aforementioned Bautista-Agut has a very poor career record against top 10 opposition, perhaps suggesting he finds it difficult to find an extra gear against the world’s best, while Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is third favourite at [7.6], still has plenty to prove to me.
The Greek player has mediocre return data (35.6% return points won on hard courts in the last 12 months) – a dynamic which doesn’t tend to benefit players in an arduous, best of five set Grand Slam format. It leads to long sets and long matches which is a considerable issue with regards to accumulated fatigue.
Of the others, Milos Raonic, who has done well in New York this week, is often never far from an injury problem. Alexander Zverev has struggled to kick on over the last 18 months after exhibiting very high potential previously. Dominic Thiem was poor in defeat to Filip Krajinovic this week, although the medium-slow conditions over the coming weeks should be to his liking. There are question marks over many towards the top of the market.
A few worth keeping an eye on
A great deal will depend on the draw. There’s a thinned-out field in terms of quality with some players who would be seeded remaining in Europe, so the draw will dictate a lot.
Of the players I’m considering at this point to be quarter winners, I’m shortlisting the aforementioned Raonic, as well as Andrey Rublev and Alex De Minaur at potential longer prices. I’m unlikely to back Tsitsipas, Felix Auger-Aliassime or Karen Khachanov, given their dynamics and data, but the likes of Bautista-Agut and also possibly Diego Schwartzman at a big price could be considered, depending on whether I like their draw.
I’ll be returning over the weekend to discuss the draw in detail before finalising my selections. It’s been a long time since we had Grand Slam action, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.
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