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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, August 26, 2016

 
Flavia Pennetta, Novak Djokovic

"Whatever is left in the tank from every player, you're going to see that out on court," world No. 1 Novak Djokovic said.

Photo credit: AP

NEW YORK—Novak Djokovic often plays with foresight, but was in no mood for an extended view of the US Open draw today.

The world No. 1 entered the main interview room immediately after today's draw ceremony and was asked if he wanted to review his draw.

Djokovic: Confidence High Despite Wrist Woes

"Maybe a little later when I'm alone. Please, I'm not mentally ready for it," a smiling Djokovic joked.

Ready or not, the world No. 1 launches his US Open title defense next week, conceding the left wrist injury he sustained during practice for the Rio Olympics has not completely healed.

"Whatever is left in the tank from every player, you're going to see that out on court," Djokovic said. "Hopefully, as I said, physically as well I'll be enabled to perform my best. At the moment, I know there is a little room still for me to get better physically. Hopefully that's going to be the case next couple days. Then when tournament starts, all the doors are open."

Here's our quarter-by-quarter preview of the draw.

Top Quarter

The game's top returner presides over a top quarter of the draw loaded with some massive servers, including left-hander Jiri Vesely, who upset Djokovic in Monte Carlo and looms as a potential second-round opponent. This quarter features ATP ace leader John Isner, ninth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kevin Anderson, who upset Andy Murray at the Open last year and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, who managed just three games against Djokovic in the 2015 US Open semifinals, but should be empowered after winning his first career Masters crown in Cincinnati last week.

The seventh-seeded Croatian could meet Djokovic in the US Open quarterfinals this year; Djokovic is 14-0 lifetime vs. Cilic and asserts "there is room for me to get better in next couple of days hopefully that will be the case."

First-round match to watch: (26) Jack Sock vs. Taylor Fritz— The second Slam meeting of the season between two talented young Americans; Sock lost 12 of 15 game at one point, but rallied for a 6-4, 3-6, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Fritz in the Australian Open first round in January.

Quarterfinal Prediction: (1) Novak Djokovic vs. (7) Marin Cilic


Second Quarter

Three years removed from his last US Open title, Rafael Nadal figures to be fired up following his run to the Rio doubles gold medal after a 73-day sabbatical to nurse a left wrist injury. Nadal, who looked completely spent in his Cincinnati loss to Borna Coric last week, said with a smile today "the Big 4 are getting older."

The fourth-seeded Spaniard is 4-0 against first-round foe Denis Istomin and if his wrist withstands the rigors of best-of-five-set matches he should avoid the type of first-week upset he suffered to Fabio Fognini in New York last summer. Prior to that loss, Nadal had advanced to at least the semifinals in five consecutive US Open appearances.

"It's true that the wrist bothers me a little bit less every day," Nadal said. "I need to understand again to hit my normal forehand. During the wrist injury always you try to find movements to avoid the pain. So I think today I can start the forehand, I think my normal forehand, but still needs time to feel that I am more confident on my wrist. But I am practicing well and I am competing well, I think."




Two-time US Open quarterfinalist Gael Monfils is an intriguing player in this section. Sliderman, who opens against dangerous server Gilles Muller, won the biggest title of his career on the Washington, DC hard courts last month and backed it up with a trip to the Toronto semifinals and Rio quarterfinals. Still, health and fatigue can slow La Monf, who owns a 15-12 record in five-set matches.

Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic has yet to surpass the fourth round in New York, but he's playing some of the most dynamic tennis of his career, is empowered by his trip to the Wimbledon final and could face Monfils in their fourth  clash of the season. Raonic defeated the Frenchman in the Australian Open and Indian Wells quarterfinals before Monfils swept the Canadian in Toronto.

First-round match to watch: (5) Milos Raonic vs. Dustin Brown—The first meeting between the pair should produce serving fireworks and plenty of drop shots from feather duster Brown.

Quarterfinal Prediction: (4) Rafael Nadal vs. (10) Gael Monfils

Third Quarter

This is the opportunity quarter of the draw headed by third-seeded Stan Wawrinka and Roland Garros semifinalist Dominic Thiem, who has played just three matches during the North American summer season after a heavy, draining schedule during the first half of the year.

In 2009, Juan Martin del Potro became the first man to defeat Nadal and Roger Federer in the same Grand Slam tournament to capture the US Open in a powerfully emotional performance that earned him a devoted fan following in New York.

The world No. 142 faces Diego Schwartzman in an all-Argentine opener and though his two-handed backhand has been compromised after four wrist surgeries in recent years, del Potro's dangerous serve and devastating forehand strike make him a true threat on the fast Flushing Meadows court if he's healthy.

New American No. 1 Steve Johnson partnered Sam Querrey to the US Open doubles semifinals last year and both could make noise in this section, though Johnson, who has failed to survive the first round four times in five years, could meet del Potro in round two.

"I think he's the most dangerous unseeded player," Kei Nishikori said of del Potro today. "He has a great chance to win in a Grand Slam. For sure, he's a Top 10 player right now."

Nick Kyrgios told The New York Times Magazine he believes he can win multiple majors, but isn't sure he's interested in applying himself. The enigmatic and explosive Kyrgios better tap into some desire quickly: He could face Davis Cup teammate Bernard Tomic in the third round.

Quarterfinal Prediction: (WC) Juan Martin del Potro vs. (14) Nick Kyrgios

Fourth Quarter

On the surface, this section belongs to Wimbledon champion Andy Murray if he fends off the flat strikes of Lukas Rosol in round one. Remember, the pair famously feuded in Munich last year with Murray bluntly informing the Czech "everybody hates you."

Meeting with the media today, Murray struck a peaceful chord saying the pair have settled their differences after that spat

"I spoke to him after the match in Munich and it was fine afterwards," Murray said. "A few things happened while we were on the court, but we spoke after the match and I've always actually got on fine with him apart from that day. He's a tough, tough opponent, a big strong guy who goes for his shots takes a lot of risk and has caused a few upsets in the past. "

Kei Nishikori, the 2014 US Open runner-up and Olympic bronze medalist, can go deep in this section. Though injuries can slow the Japanese, who fell to Benoit Paire in New York last year, Nishikori owns a 13-5 career record in five-setters and has been tough at crunch time: He's 11-3 in decisive sets this season.

Watch out for 12th-seeded David Goffin. Though the slender Belgian weighs only about 150 pounds, his blurring hand speed, skill redirecting drives down the line and ability to take the ball early helped him reach successive Masters hard-court semifinals in Indian Wells and Miami earlier this spring.

First-round match to watch: (16) Feliciano Lopez vs. Borna Coric—The left-handed Spaniard is defending quarterfinal points, while Coric, who knocked off Nadal in Cincinnati last week, was pained by a knee issue. Contrasting styles could make this a compelling match.

Quarterfinal Prediction: (2) Andy Murray vs. (6) Kei Nishikori

 

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