Hockey is back. Basketball is back. Baseball is back.
And finally, men’s tennis is back.
The Western & Southern Open, the first official ATP event since February, gets underway on Saturday at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York, instead of the usual venue in Cincinnati, Ohio. So for the first time in months, there is actual reason to get excited.
The draw was released on Thursday, although in typical 2020 fashion, it did not go according to plan, as it was leaked an hour before the tournament’s official ceremony.
World number one Novak Djokovic leads the way along with 2019 champion Daniil Medvedev and five other members of the top ten at the first Masters 1000 event of 2020 (in August…. That feels weird).
With no Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, Djokovic is the lone representative of the big three, opening the door for some new up-and-comers to break out and grab a big title.
But the Serb, who is 18-0 in 2020 and won his eighth Australian Open in January, is recovered from COVID-19 and will be looking to take advantage of his rivals’ absence to gain some ground in the GOAT race.
Djokovic staring down the kids
Djokovic, the 2018 Cincinnati champion, has a fairly easy draw early on. After a bye, he will meet a qualifier or American wild card Tommy Paul. The first seed he could face is Canadian young-gun Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 15th seed, in the third round.
Auger-Aliassime will be looking to pick up where he left off before the shut down. The 20-year-old reached back-to-back finals in February. He has a very difficult start at the W&S Open, opening against world no. 27 Nikoloz Basilashvili and could meet Australian Open quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren in the second round.
In his first three matches, Djokovic may have to play back-to-back young Canadians as Denis Shapovalov could loom in the quarters. But the Richmond Hill, On.-native will have to run a gauntlet to get to the last eight.
The Canadian meets 2016 Cincinnati champion Marin Cilic in the first round’s biggest clash. Shapovalov leads their head-to-head 2-1, including a three-set win earlier this year in Marseille.
A victory could set up a clash with fellow young gun and former junior rival Alex de Minaur. The Aussie has won both their previous meetings at the senior level, both times in team competitions, in three sets.
The other big seed in this quarter is No. 7 David Goffin. He could face former world No. 12 Borna Coric in his opening match before Shapovalov or de Minaur in the round of 16.
It is a great draw for the world number one.
Goffin is one of three players in this section of the draw who has ever beaten Djokovic, with that win coming on clay back in 2017. The other two are Cilic and Benoit Paire, a potential second round opponent of Goffin. The top seed has not lost two any player in his quarter since 2018.
Medvedev’s Murky Path
A year ago, Djokovic fell in the semifinals to Medvedev in Cincinnati, who went on to win his maiden Masters 1000 title. If the Russian wants to repeat, he may have to do it again as the reigning champion has been drawn into the same half as the world number one.
Medvedev faces an unpredictable quarter, largely because six of the sixteen slots belong to qualifiers. The Russian is guaranteed to play a qualifier in his opening match and could in his second too. The first known player he might face is American Taylor Fritz in the third round.
A potential all-Russian 24-year-old battle in quarterfinals may be on the cards if Medvedev gets past his qualifiers and 11th seed Karen Khachanov overcomes his veteran-filled section featuring Pablo Carreno Busta, Richard Gasquet, and eighth-seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
Djokovic will most likely be waiting in the semifinals. The Serb won when they met in January at the ATP Cup in three sets. Only one of their previous six meetings, Djokovic leads 4-2, was decided in straight sets, that being a Djokovic win on grass in Eastbourne way back in 2017.
It is a good draw for the defending champion, but this section could provide a major shock. Mainly because, due to the low profile of all the players, anyone but Medvedev advancing out of this quarter would be a surprise.
Heavy Hitters in Bottom Half
There are a number of players on the ATP Tour who, for a couple of years now, have been inching towards a breakthrough. And almost all of them are in the bottom half of the W&S Open draw.
Australian Open runner-up Dominic Thiem, ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, and three-time Masters 1000 winner Alexander Zverev will duke it out for a spot in the final.
Zverev and Thiem face a potential quarterfinal match-up, but there are a number of heavy hitters in that quarter, most notably 2017 Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov.
Dimitrov was the first big-name player on the ATP Tour to be diagnosed with COVID-19. He is seeded 14th and could meet Thiem in the third round.
As for Zverev, despite being a favourite, he is far from being the star of his own section which features three of the most tantalizing first-round matchups.
The German will meet the winner of the blockbuster between two-time Cincinnati champion Andy Murray and American young gun Frances Tiafoe. The next match down the draw is a battle of big hitters between Sam Querrey and Milos Raonic.
The winner of that match will meet either 10th seed Andrey Rublev, who opened 2020 with titles in consecutive weeks, and British No. 1 Dan Evans.
This is the most stacked section of the draw, where any player could make a run. Zverev has a terrible record in Cincinnati, although this is not actually Cincinnati but the German only has a 7-5 record at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center anyway so not much better at the 2020 venue, so if there is a top seed who is likely to be upset, keep an eye on the 5th seed.
While Tsitsipas has it slightly easier than the other two, his draw is by no means a cake walk either.
His opening opponent will also be the winner of a blockbuster, this time between former US Open runner-up Kevin Anderson and Brit Kyle Edmund. He then could meet American serve-machine John Isner in the third round, assuming the giant gets past up-and-coming Pole Hubert Hurkacz.
The luckiest player in the bottom half of the draw may be sixth seed Matteo Berrettini, who opens against a qualifier. He will have to go through ninth-seeded clay court specialist. Diego Schwartzman or another American serve-monster Reilly Opelka to reach the quarters. Not the most intimidating path.
While the top half of the draw looks pretty straight forward, the bottom half has the potential to be wild.
QF: Djokovic d. de Minaur, Medvedev d. Khachanov, Tsitsipas d. Berrettini, Thiem d. Rublev
SF: Djokovic d. Medvedev, Tsitsipas d. Thiem