Novak Djokovic has chased down all method of information on his technique to changing into one of many best tennis gamers ever. However he has by no means been on a tennis treasure hunt fairly like this.
Win the U.S. Open, which begins Monday in New York, and he’ll break his tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and take sole possession of the document for males’s Grand Slam singles titles with 21. Win the U.S. Open, and he can even full the Grand Slam by profitable all 4 main tournaments in the identical calendar yr. No man has finished it in singles since Rod Laver in 1969, together with Djokovic’s career-long litmus checks of Federer and Nadal. No participant has finished it in singles since Steffi Graf swept the 4 majors in 1988, hardly ever shedding a set alongside the best way, after which topping it off by profitable the Olympic gold medal in Seoul.
That was referred to as the Golden Slam, and Djokovic missed his probability at shining as brightly as Graf when he lost to Alexander Zverev in the semifinals of the Olympic match this month. Djokovic left Tokyo and not using a medal, citing a shoulder drawback as he withdrew from the bronze medal combined doubles match. He has not competed since leaving Japan however arrived early in New York from Europe to recuperate from the jet lag and put together himself to pursue what might be the spotlight of his profession.
After the U.S. Open draw on Thursday, the top-seeded Djokovic now has a clearer thought of what awaits him, however hardly full readability. He’ll face a qualifier in spherical one (the qualifying match is just not but full) and would then face Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany or Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands within the second spherical. Djokovic is 6-0 towards Struff and defeated him within the second spherical of the Olympics in straight units. Djokovic has but to face Griekspoor, who’s ranked one hundred and tenth.
After that, Djokovic’s path turns into extra a matter of conjecture. His third-round opponent might be Kei Nishikori, David Goffin or Mackenzie McDonald, the previous U.C.L.A. star who’s having a strong season. Djokovic’s fourth-round opponent might be Alex de Minaur or Aslan Karatsev, the Russian who made a shock run to the Australian Open semifinals in January earlier than shedding to Djokovic, after which upset Djokovic in his residence metropolis of Belgrade on clay within the semifinals of the Serbia Open in April.
However Karatsev has struggled to win a singles match these days and prime type will presumably be required to derail Djokovic in New York. He’s a person on a mission and has proved via the years that he can deal with the strain that goes with daunting assignments. He has defeated Nadal twice on clay at his stronghold of Roland Garros, and toppled Federer thrice on grass at his stronghold of Wimbledon.
Neither Federer nor Nadal will be in his way in New York. Each are out for the season (or past) with accidents. So is Dominic Thiem, the reigning U.S. Open males’s singles champion, who has been sluggish to recuperate from a wrist drawback. Aside from Djokovic, the one males within the U.S. Open draw who’ve received Grand Slam singles titles are Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion who has dropped to thirty sixth within the rankings, and Andy Murray, who’s No. 114 and nonetheless chasing his previous type after hip resurfacing surgical procedure.
Even with Serena Williams’s and Venus Williams’s withdrawals from the match, the ladies’s draw is brimming with main singles champions. There are 13 in all, together with the No. 1-seeded Ashleigh Barty and No. 3 Naomi Osaka, a two-time U.S. Open champion who’s in the identical eighth of the draw because the previous U.S. Open champions Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber. Stephens, now unseeded, will face Madison Keys within the first spherical in a rematch of their all-American 2017 U.S. Open closing. The winner is more likely to face Coco Gauff, 17, if Gauff can get previous her powerful first-round opponent, the 51st-ranked Magda Linette.
Historical past argues towards Djokovic having a cakewalk to the Grand Slam. The latest participant to come back shut — Serena Williams — was shocked within the semifinals of the 2015 U.S. Open by Roberta Vinci, an underpowered however resourceful Italian who was capable of embrace that bright-spotlight second with way more free-swinging panache than Williams.
“Serena was two matches away from the Grand Slam, and also you by no means would have thought she would lose to Vinci, however that’s the greatness of the problem,” stated Brad Gilbert, a former top-five participant who’s now a coach and ESPN analyst.
Unusual twists can happen with a lot on the road, and Djokovic definitely can communicate to unusual twists in New York. He eliminated himself in the fourth round final yr by inadvertently putting a lineswoman within the throat with a ball he hit after shedding his serve within the opening set towards Pablo Carreño Busta. Djokovic was defaulted after which misplaced to Nadal in final yr’s French Open closing. However Djokovic has not been crushed in Grand Slam play since then, and the most important threats in New York are more likely to be the leaders of the brand new era: Zverev and Matteo Berrettini, who’re in Djokovic’s half of the draw; and Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who’re within the different half.
All 4 have reached Grand Slam singles finals within the final 12 months. None has but damaged via. Medvedev misplaced in straight units to Djokovic within the Australian Open final in February. Tsitsipas misplaced in 5 units to Djokovic within the French Open final in June, and Berrettini misplaced to Djokovic in 4 units within the Wimbledon final in July. They’re all gifted, taller than the 6-foot-2 Djokovic, and hungry. All of them have big-match expertise towards him, so if Djokovic doesn’t convey his greatest down the stretch at Flushing Meadows, it’s laborious to see him profitable.
However although Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev have every crushed Djokovic a number of instances, none has but crushed him in a best-of-five-set match. At age 34, Djokovic stays one of the best long-form participant and most dependable nearer in tennis. He’s simply seven matches away from standing alone within the males’s main rely and becoming a member of a really unique membership with a Grand Slam.
That double quest would make headlines in any yr, however with out Nadal, Federer and the Williams sisters on this U.S. Open, it deserves our consideration proper from the beginning.