The final major of the season awaits the players as they head to New York for the 2021 US Open, with world number one Novak Djokovic attempting to complete an unprecedented (in modern times) calendar slam.
Having landed the first three majors of the season, Djokovic can become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four in the same calendar year, but is he in the right sort of condition to do it?
Before that, though, a look back on what turned out to be the latest in my string of good value semi final losers in Winston-Salem.
The semi final curse continued in Winston-Salem when our 30-1 outright Emil Ruusuvuori was beaten by Ilya Ivashka (who lost for us as a 1.65 favourite in the Eastbourne quarter finals when we backed him at 100-1 outright) in typically limp fashion for one of my semi finalists.
I published the full list of recent outright losses in finals/semi finals etc on Twitter, so I don’t need to go into it here, expect to say it’s bad. Very bad. I think I may have used up all my outright luck for this year on bets that I had that weren’t official, published ones.
Ivashka was one that I said I certainly wouldn’t count out in my outright preview, but Mikael Ymer making the final as a 66-1 chance was rather surprising given his usual vulnerability to more powerful players on quick surfaces.
Conditions and trends
Weather conditions are often a big factor at the US Open, as it can on occasion be oppressively hot and humid during this tournament, but that doesn’t seem like it will be the case this time around.
The advance weather forecast says it will be tough for the opening two days, but the rest of the event looks like it will be around 26C. It will be still be pretty humid, but it appears that after the opening days it will be bearable at least.
They’ll play for the second year running on the Laykold surface that most of the US Open Series was played on beforehand and last year, despite it being apparently quicker to the naked eye, it only produced 79% holds.
That’s almost bang on average for the US Open and the speed of the courts varied last year and has varied wildly in other events on a Laykold surface lately.
Last year, Armstrong was clocked at just 33 CPI on a cool day and in Cincy a few weeks ago the CPI of their Grandstand Court varied between 37 CPI one day and 43 CPI the next.
The other factor to mention is the crowd: this will be the first post-Covid major where there’ll be full capacity in the stands and after the sad spectacle last year of a fan-less US Open this could be a big motivator for some.
As far as outright trends are concerned, the number one seed has only won the US Open twice in the last nine editions, but only Marin Cilic (seeded 14th) has won the title from outside the top-six seeds since Pete Sampras won it seeded 17th in 2002.
Based on the trends, then, it will probably be won by either Djokovic, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Rublev, or Berrettini.
The last qualifier to make the quarter finals here was Gilles Muller in 2008 and the only big priced outright successes lately were Kevin Anderson’s 150-1 run to the 2017 final and Stan Wawrinka’s 33-1 title in 2016.
US Open 2021 draw – top half
This fortnight is all about Novak Djokovic then.
Can he emulate Laver and win all four majors in the same year or is he struggling physically in some way, as his absence in Toronto and Cincy might suggest?
With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps fatigue and/or injury was likely for Djokovic after winning the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back, which no man had done since Rafael Nadal in 2010, and maybe the Olympics was a step too far physically.
We just don’t know and as bettors we have to make a decision as to whether we’re going to take this 1.75 or so favourite on this fortnight.
Djokovic’s draw doesn’t look that tricky in Q1 on paper, but if he’s not fit he might well be tested by a Struff, Nishikori or MacDonald (or possibly David Goffin if the Belgian is fit) in rounds two and three.
Perhaps Aslan Karatsev’s power could cause a problem or two a little further down the line in round four, but I still quite like the chances of the guy I backed a while ago at 100-1 and that’s Hubert Hurkacz.
You can still get 80-1 (was 100-1 with BoyleSports yesterday, but I was only allowed £1.45 each-way at that price) so that hasn’t proven to be my most successful ante-post bet yet, but with Matteo Berrettini seemingly lacking matches and match fitness I’d suggest that Hurkacz or Karatsev or maybe even Ivashka are the big-priced ones that may take advantage if Djokovic isn’t fit enough.
Karatsev’s form has really hit the buffers lately and he hasn’t made a quarter final since beating Djokovic and making the final of Belgrade at Novak’s home club back in April, but Hurkacz has the confidence of holding a Masters 1000 title on US hard courts and of being a Wimbledon semi finalist to his name.
We’ll see if that confidence transfers to a good run in New York and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t, with Lorenzo Sonego and Marton Fucsovics the main opposition in his mini-section and perhaps Berrettini or possibly Ivashka (who’s 66-1 with Paddy/Betfair to win Q1 isn’t a bad price) to follow after that.
The obvious alternative to Djokovic in the top half of the draw is Alexander Zverev, whose form coming into this US Open has been superb and the German has a clear chance of making up for his failure to serve the final out last year against Dominic Thiem.
He’s in Q2 alongside the likes of Jannik Sinner, Gael Monfils, Pablo Carreno Busta, Seb Korda, Reilly Opelka, Karen Khachanov and Denis Shapovalov.
The other one I backed ante-post a while ago was Shapovalov at 50-1 and again that price is still available now, so that one hasn’t worked out yet either.
It worked with Berrettini at 66s for Wimbledon, but ante-post betting obviously has its risks and Shapo’s form has taken a nosedive since he made the Wimbledon semi finals a couple of months back.
I still think that the Canadian has a shot of making the semi finals again here though, with an opening round draw against Federico Delbonis that looks very winnable, followed by perhaps Tommy Paul, Karen Khachanov (who Shapo beat at Wimbledon) and maybe PCB in round four.
Shapo lost in five to PCB here last year in the last eight and Shapo’s 14-4 win/loss record at the US Open (all rounds) suggests that he enjoys this tournament and that would fit with the kind of personality he has – he’s one that loves a big stage and a lively atmosphere.
And he’s proven a tough nut for Zverev to crack, too.
Shapo’s won two of their last three meetings and the one that Zverev won was in a final set tie break, so Zverev in the last eight shouldn’t be a match that Shapo would lose any sleep over.
PCB could be tough though and the durable Spaniard would surely be a test for Shapovalov, but PCB had tape on his leg last week in Winston-Salem and he’ll face either Korda or Basilashvili in round two, which might be tricky.
The winner of the Sinner/Monfils section might also be a tough one for Zverev, he’ll be hoping he doesn’t continue his bad habit of going to at least four sets at the US Open.
Eleven of Zverev’s last 12 matches at the US Open have gone to at least four sets and that may have cost him in the final against Thiem last year, so he’ll need to be more ruthless this time around.
On form you’d have to fancy Zverev, but his price is too short now at around 7.0 and apart from Shapo and PCB there could be an opportunity for Sinner here or maybe even Monfils.
Lamonf is another one for whom having the crowds back is a massive plus and I wouldn’t rule him out of a run here. It’s hard to see him making the final, but a Q2 win isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
If the conditions are to be a little less brutal this year that would give Sinner a fair shot, too, but I’m happy enough with 50-1 about Shapovalov despite his recent poor form.
US Open 2021 draw – bottom half
Those that have avoided Djokovic and been placed in the bottom half of the draw instead will probably have to get past Daniil Medvedev or Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the final and I’m not hugely keen on any one player’s chances of doing that.
The forecast slightly less steamy conditions will help Medvedev, who often struggles in really humid weather, while having the fans back will surely be a boost to Tsitsipas, who’ll be well-backed by the Greek community in New York this fortnight.
In Q3, the threats to Tsitsipas is likely to come from Andrey Rublev, but I’m far from convinced about the self-belief and big match temperament of Rublev when it comes to the high-profile occasions.
He’s yet to win a set in any of his three prior major quarter finals and while beating a hobbled Medvedev for the first time in Cincy might have been a boost, he was comprehensively outplayed by Zverev in the final there.
There are some decent players in Q3, with the likes of Roberto Bautista Agut, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Ugo Humbert, Cam Norrie and Carlos Alcaraz all capable of going on a run it’s hard to pick any of them as a potential finalist or semi finalist.
Nick Kyrgios and Andy Murray are also in there – Murray plays Tsitsipas first up and Kyrgios takes on RBA – but I can’t see a viable value alternative to Tsitsipas in Q3.
Similarly, in Q4, it looks like it’ll be Medvedev who’ll come through, but there may be some play in chancing Brandon Nakashima to win Q4 at 25-1 (Bet 365) if you’re taking on Medvedev, but I’d probably want a bigger price (some firms are as short as 16-1).
Casper Ruud is much-improved on hard courts these days and has a nice-looking draw at the top of Q4, but I can’t see him beating a Medvedev to make the semi finals.
John Isner has Nakashima first up and the best-of-five format and night matches usually put paid to his New York chances, so maybe Diego Schwartzman or Marin Cilic, Dan Evans or Grigor Dimitrov could go well, but it’s hard to fancy any of them to go really deep.
Medvedev’s form on these North American hard courts is by some way the stand out of anyone in Q4 and I’d expect a semi final clash between the Russian and Tsitsipas from the bottom half of the draw.
History says that one of the top-six seeds will most likely win this and of those Zverev comes in with the most solid form, but I’m not seeing any value in his price, so I’m happy to recommend the pair I backed ante-post: Hurkacz and Shapovalov.
Both are drawn in Djokovic’s half, but with the Serb’s fitness a total unknown, the Pole and the Canadian still look worth chancing at decent prices for small stakes.
0.5 points each-way Hurkacz at 80-1 (several layers)
0.5 points each-way Shapovalov at 50-1 (Betfair/Paddy Power/BoyleSports)