With the qualifier nearing its conclusion and main draws announced yesterday, it’s time to get down to business at #USOpen50.
Some intriguing match-ups await #TeamSoCal next week, with Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep – the defending champions – poised at the top of the ladder again this year.
Steve Johnson (Redondo Beach) has played Russian Denis Istomin only once in his career, a marathon five-setter won by Istomin on clay in 2016. They will meet in the first round with Johnson coming off three straight one-and-done defeats, seeking momentum after a triumph at the Hall of Fame Open in July.
Given the choice, Taylor Fritz (Rancho Santa Fe) would probably rather meet Mischa Zverev than Alexander Zverev, though he’s 0-3 in matches against the Zverev surname. He faces Mischa Zverev (RUS) next week to open the year’s final Grand Slam, capping a difficult trek on the 2018 ATP Tour for the 20 year old, one that has kept him below quarterfinal finishes since May. But the best way to erase a lackluster year is to steal the spotlight on home turf, and Fritz will no doubt look to the boisterous #USTennis crowd for a late-season lift.
Santa Monica’s Sam Querrey meets Andreas Seppi of Italy in the first round. Seppi has reached the 3rd Round three times, the last in 2015. But Querrey, now in his 12th US Open, made headlines last year when he stormed into the quarterfinals in New York. The two have not played since 2014, with Seppi holding a 4-2 advantage. But if Querrey is healthy, he may be primed for another Big Apple run.
Bradley Klahn (Poway), we don’t envy you. In 2014, you managed to take John Isner to a first set tiebreak and almost pulled it off. We can only hope you’re service return is at its peak when you meet the skyscraping Isner in this year’s opening round. That meeting, in Winston Salem, was the only career match-up of Klahn and Isner, BUT… if the service game eludes John Isner, Klahn will be in this match.
Jared Donaldson (Irvine) draws Milos Raonic, the #25 seed. Raonic won their initial meeting with ease in 2016, and withdrew from the Miami Masters last year before Donaldson had a shot at redemption. That opportunity comes now, with Donaldson seeking to regain the form that gave him a career high ranking (ATP #48) back in March following a semifinal appearance in Acapulco.
UCLA superstar Mackenzie McDonald premieres in the Main Draw in 2018, opposing Dutchman Robin Haase in their first career meeting. Haase, at #48 on the Tour, has in recent months knocked off names like Rublev, Nishikori, Shapovalov, and Zverev, reaching the Round of 16 earlier this month in Cincy. But don’t count out McDonald and the Billy Martin School of Tennis (aka UCLA). At Wimbledon, “Mackie” reached R16 and made Raonic sweat in a tough four-set battle that surely impressed the royal box. He reached the finals in Dallas – a loss to Nishikori – then won an ATP Challenger in South Korea. One imagines that there’s some Bruin magic headed to Manhattan.
Rarely do we consider looking outside the Williams household for favorites at the US Open. Though, to be fair, there’s no discussion about #USOpen50 contenders without mentioning Venus and Serena, obstacles not withstanding. But the door is open not just for international stars, but also #SoCalTennis women seeking to climb the ladder and make a strong showing at the Open.
Coco Vandeweghe (Rancho Santa Fe) came off a thrilling 2017, as a member of the Fed Cup championship team. After a slow start, she rebounded in April with a final appearance in Germany, routing #1 Simona Halep in the process. She battled through a challenging tournament in the Netherlands in June, reaching the quarters. Yet those two tournaments represent the vast entirety of Vandeweghe’s year, one in which expectations may have gone by the wayside. But Coco likes the big stage, and she’s performed both beautifully and frighteningly under the spotlight. She meets Kirsten Flipkens of Germany, a comparable player with more experience but not necessarily more success.
Asia Muhammad (Long Beach) is in the main draw, awaiting a date with Maria Sakkari of Greece. Sakkari has wins over Venus and Naomi Osaka this year, but Muhammad has been playing superb tennis heading into the Open, earning a Wild Card entry and winning the Pro Circuit event in Lexington earlier in August. Ten years after her best singles finish in New York, Muhammad is back on the big stage.
Vania King received a spot in the Main Draw this year, and she’ll go head to head with Natalia Vikhlyantseva. The 21-year old Russian won their first encounter, at the 2017 Aussie Open, and King is much more a doubles specialist. But the Monterey Park native saw extra hard court singles action during the World TeamTennis season, and that could translate into a strong start to the Open for King.
Thousand Oaks’ Claire Liu is only 18 years old, but she’s gearing up for a main draw appearance against Polona Hercog of Solvenia. Liu is seeking her first win at the US Open, an appropriate follow-up to her first Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon earlier this year. Liu has fought through five qualifiers this year to reach a main draw, so this US Open is a well-earned opportunity.
Former UCLA Bruin Jennifer Brady, now at #66 on Tour, meets Irina-Camelia Begu, the 27-year old Romanian with four career WTA titles to her credit. Brady has remained inside the Top 100 all year, but has yet to knock off a player ranked above her. To that end, the odds are in her favor – Begu comes in at #78.
Nicole Gibbs (Santa Monica), ranked #10 in the qualifier, was impressive in all three rounds of advance competition and joins the Main Draw, her opponent TBD. Danielle Lao (Arcadia) also advances, without dropping a set in three qualifying matches.
Nadal faces David Ferrer in the very first round, in what could be a slight concern for Camp Rafa. While Nadal holds a commanding record against Ferrer (24-6), the Spaniard has been known to make Nadal work hard, especially on hard court. They’ve not met in a few years, and the last time they crossed paths at the US Open, way back in 2007, Ferrer emerged victorious.
If there’s a sibling rivalry brewing at Flushing Meadows, it will come quickly – Venus and Serena are on target for a Round 3 meeting. Seeded #16 and #17 respectively, they would not meet another ranked player en route to R3. Potential opponents include Americans Whitney Osuigwe and Caroline Dolehide.
The top seeded American male is John Isner at #11, followed by Jack Sock, at #18. Johnson and Querrey will look to remain in the American Top 40 with strong showings in New York. One year later, defending champion Sloane Stephens is the #3 seed on the women’s side.
At any given tournament, a player who emerges into the main draw as a Qualifier is often faced with a daunting task – a top 20 player, a lower ranked veteran, or maybe even a top seed. At this year’s Open, both draws has provided quite the opportunity for two qualifiers who will face each other in Round One. Imagine the possibilities! Two first-timers with a chance to reach the second round? A SoCal athlete on the Pro Circuit, suddenly on the verge of tripling career prize money? Keep an eye on this one when the draws are completed this weekend. The winners, by the way, face an unseeded Stan Wawrinka or #8 Gregor Dimitrov on the Men’s side, and Stephens is a likely opponent for the women.
Doubles, Juniors, and Wheelchair brackets will be announced next week.