US Open 2021 men's preview: Novak Djokovic tries for history

·5 min read

Here we are at the finale of the 2021 Grand Slam calendar, the US Open. And while the main storyline this year has been the unrelenting dominance of Novak Djokovic, it's been impossible not to notice what's happened over the last month as player after player has withdrawn from the tournament. 

First was Stan Wawrinka, who hasn't played since March due to a wrist injury. Then Roger Federer announced that he'd had another surgery on his knee and his season was over. A few days later, Dominic Thiem also withdrew for the rest of the season with a wrist injury. And then Rafael Nadal announced that a persistent and painful foot injury was ending his season. 

Still standing is Djokovic, who has gone 38-5 in 2021 on his way to three straight Grand Slam titles, and is knocking on the door of the first Calendar Year Slam since Rod Laver in 1969. Plus, after starting the season with 17 Grand Slam titles, he's now pulled even with Federer and Nadal at the all-time record of 20. With the US Open in front of him, he has the opportunity to stand alone in history with 21 Grand Slam titles.

But not even Djokovic has emerged from this season unscathed. At the Olympics, he lost his bronze medal singles match to world No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta, then withdrew from the bronze medal doubles match with a shoulder injury. That's the x-factor in men's singles, because with how dominant Djokovic has been this year, an injury may be one of the only ways to beat him. 

US Open top seeds

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 24: Novak Djokovic of Serbia practices with Casper Rudd of Norway before the start of the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 24, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by TPN/Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic is one Grand Slam away from history. (Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic (1)

Djokovic returns to the scene of the crime. At last year's US Open, he was disqualified in Round 4 after he hit a line official in the throat with a ball. It was an accident, but Djokovic was out anyway, surrendering all his ranking points and prize money. Now he returns, just one tournament away from becoming just the third man to ever win the Calendar Year Grand Slam. The big question now is whether he's completely healed from that shoulder injury he sustained in Tokyo. He decided not to play at the Western & Southern Open to continue recovering, so we have no idea how severe it is or if it's still bothering him. That could become a significant issue, or it may be nothing and Djokovic will cruise into the finals. We'll have to wait and see. 

Daniil Medvedev (2)

Medvedev is coming off of an odd and infuriating finish at Western & Southern. While on his way to a semifinal victory over his very good friend Andrey Rublev, Medvedev collided with a TV camera that was stationed uncomfortably close to his playing area. After colliding with it, he kicked it and took a medical timeout. After that, it was all downhill. He lost the final two sets, which was his first-ever loss to Rublev. It wasn't pretty — Medvedev threatened to sue after the match — but athletes are trained to let that stuff go and move on. If he can do that, he should cruise into Round 4, since the earliest he could meet a seeded opponent is Round 3, and it would potentially be No. 30 Marin Cilic.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (3)

Any year you face a historically phenomenal world No. 1 in a Grand Slam final and come within a few games of winning, it's a good year. Tsitsipas nearly got past Djokovic at the French Open finals, going up 2 sets to love before Djokovic came roaring back. Tsitsipas has had a few stumbles since then, including a first-round loss to unseeded American Frances Tiafoe at Wimbledon, but he's had a great season. He's made it to the semifinals in his last two tournaments (the Canadian Open and Western & Southern), and if he can get past Andy Murray in Round 1, he should have a clear route to at least Round 4.

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 20:  Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece smiles at the crowd a does a fist pump after winning the quarterfinal match  against Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada on day 5 of the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio on August 20, 2021. (Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Stefanos Tsitsipas has had an outstanding 2021. (Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Alexander Zverev (4)

Zverev got a little lucky at Western & Southern, facing Rublev in the final after a Medvedev meltdown and winning the whole thing. But luck had nothing to do with his men's singles gold medal at the Olympics. His great play this year has moved him up to No. 4 in the ATP rankings, bumping Rafael Nadal down to No. 5. In addition to Western & Southern, Zverev won the Madrid Open this year. 

Andrey Rublev (5)

Rublev may not have won the Western & Southern Open, but he certainly accomplished a career goal there: finally beating his friend Medvedev. And with Nadal and Thiem both playing little since June due to injury, he's made the most of every opportunity he's had this season. He was eliminated in the first round of just one tournament this season (the French Open), and picked up a spot on the ATP rankings. If he can keep playing at the same level he has been, he should easily advance to the serious rounds.

Other Contenders

Andy Murray (unseeded)

Murray made it farther at Wimbledon than anyone expected, including probably him. He's been dealing with injuries lately, but he's in the midst of a glorious late-career surge. No one has any idea when England's last great men's tennis player might hang it up for good, but he's going to go out swinging. He'll be put to the test in Round 1, as he's facing the No. 3 seed Tsitsipas.

Matteo Berrettini (6)

Berrettini is seeded No. 6, and currently ranked No. 8 in the world. He faced Djokovic in the Wimbledon final and put up a great fight against what felt like huge odds and a near-inevitable loss. He continues to surprise at the Grand Slam level, and should never be counted out. He's facing an unseeded player in the first round, and the first time he might face anyone in the Top 30 would be Round 3, when he could take on his countryman Fabio Fognini, seeded No. 28.

Betting odds

Courtesy of Bet MGM and Yahoo Sportsbook, here are the odds for the top five seeds.

  1. Novak Djokovic -135

  2. Daniil Medvedev +450

  3. Stefanos Tsitsipas +1100

  4. Alexander Zverev +550

  5. Andrey Rublev +3300

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