TENNIS

Players to watch before the US Open

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The North American hard-court swing kicks off after a short stint on clay after Wimbledon. Three major tournaments are scheduled, with Rafael Nadal winning both the Australian Open and the 2022 French Open to break the record with 22 major titles won. Former world number one Novak Djokovic won his seventh Wimbledon title to occupy a Major title behind Nadal. That leaves the ATP’s fourth major of the year, the US Open, on hold at the end of August.

The transition from clay to grass to hard court creates an interesting dynamic on the circuit that bettors could benefit from. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for the North American hard-court swing leading up to the US Open in New York.

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The first chances of winning the US Open 2022

Novak Djokovic +160

Daniel Medvedev +240

Carlos Alcaraz +335

Raphael Nadal +550

Stefanos Tsitsipas +1000

Daniil Medvedev returns a ball against Aslan Karatsev in their second round match on matchday five of the Mallorca Championship on June 22. (Cristian Trujillo/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

The surface

Clay brings volatility due to the inconsistency of the surface. Players who excel on red ground are good with physical and mental stamina as rallies are long and grueling. Grass is synonymous with big serves and quick points. Those who can serve and steal or play well at net usually have a good grass season. The action is back on the hard court where the pool of players who can win opens up. Those who play well from the baseline will argue, and the ATP has a lot of baselines these days.

The return of the Russians

Wimbledon banned this group of players from participating in the third major of the year, leaving Daniil Medvedev (#1), Andrey Rublev (#8), Karen Khachanov (#26), Aslan Karatsev (#37) and Ilya Ivashka (n°53) discarded. Most made an appearance during the clay break, with the exception of Medvedev. This brings me to the start of my list of players to watch in the events leading up to the US Open.

Daniel Medvedev

It’s easy to forget Medvedev because it feels like it’s been so long since you’ve seen him. Clay isn’t particularly his best surface, but he still spent most of the season on clay recovering from injury. He then made a few deep grass runs, losing back-to-back finals at the Libema Open and Halle Open. Meddy has 13 titles on the tour, six won outdoors, including the 2018 Winston-Salem Open, the 2019 ATP Masters 1000 Cincinnati, the 2021 ATP Masters 1000 Canada and, of course, the 2021 US Open, where he beat Djokovic in straight sets in the final. .

That’s four of his six outdoor hard-court titles won in the latter part of the year. Djokovic is the best returner in the world, but you can definitely put Medvedev right next to him. Its length and wingspan make it really hard to get past anything in front of it. My only complaint is that Medvedev doesn’t have the variety I would expect from someone who holds the world No. 1 title, but what he’s good at, the base game, he’s really good at. This is Medvedev’s time to shine.

Taylor Fritz

I am still waiting for this breakthrough. It happens. The 24-year-old American is so close to having this big win. I’m not talking about defeating an injured Nadal in the Indian Wells final, I’m talking about breaking that big moment in a major tournament. Could this be the season when this happens? Fritz pushed Djokovic to five sets in the third round of the Australian Open 2021, pushed Tsitsipas to five sets in the fourth round of the Australian Open 2022 and nearly beat Nadal losing in a break tied in the fifth set in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last month.

Fritz has the weapons to excel not only in these preparatory events, but also in New York. He has the serve, the power hits on both the forehand and backhand, and is now gaining the confidence to fight in those hallmark matchups. Fritz doesn’t have a good record, 16-16 in the five US Open preliminary rounds, but he is evolving. His best record is in Los Cabos, a 9-4 win/loss record that he could perhaps look to build on.

Dominique Thiem

Is Thiem back? It’s been a tough few years for the 2020 US Open champion. The Austrian, who peaked as world No. 3 in the rankings from March 2020 to February 2021, has since dropped all the way to No. 352 and currently located at No. 274. Why? Surgery for a wrist injury. After winning the 2020 US Open, Thiem made one of the biggest comebacks ever, beating Nick Kyrgios in five sets in the third round of the 2021 Australian Open after dropping two sets to love. I still mark this match as the one that broke it. Thiem went 5-7 after, playing his last game of the year in June 2021 and not making his tour return until April 2022.

Including last year, Thiem was on a 10-game losing streak but has now won six of his last eight matches since early July. The one-handed backhand is always a thing of beauty and his powerful forehand comes back full force. What Thiem needed was confidence and it looks like he’s found it just in time for another hard-court season. It’s unclear what events he will play before the next major, but backing him is something to consider again as he’s only getting stronger, more confident and fitter with each game.

Carlos Alcaraz

How far can the Spaniard go? We are about to find out. Alcaraz is sixth in the standings and is still only 19 years old. As of this writing, Carlitos holds a 38-5 record in 2022, a 13-0 record in ATP 500 events, has reached the quarter-finals in seven events, the semi-finals in six and has won four titles. He only played 10 tournaments. It was at the 2021 US Open that he began to show glimpses of his future progression, beating Tsitsipas in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the third round. He followed that up with another five-set victory over Peter Gojowczyk, but by the time he reached the quarter-final he didn’t have the health to continue and retired early in the second set against Felix Auger-Aliassime.

He certainly has health and fitness now. It will be interesting to see what Alcaraz can produce the rest of the year. He has all the weapons to fight for a major – the slice, the drop shot, the kick serve, the power shots, the sense of the ground. And now he has the experience of running deep in tournaments and winning.

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