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By Erik Gudris | Thursday, August 26, 2021

 
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Novak Djokovic aims to compete the first men's calendar Grand Slam in New York since Rod Laver in 1969. 

Photo credit: Pete Staples/US Open

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic enters next week’s US Open in hopes of becoming only the second man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the rare calendar Grand Slam.

But will Djokovic’s path through the draw prove a cakewalk or an obstacle course to tennis immortality?

McEnroe: Why Djokovic Will Win US Open

Though Djokovic is a former three-time champion, New York has often tested the Serbian superstar in sometimes grueling and sometimes bizarre ways. That includes last year when Djokovic was defaulted for inadvertently hitting a lines woman with a ball during his match with Pablo Carreno Busta. Djokovic also enters this tournament not having played since the Olympic Games in Tokyo, choosing instead to rest his body and mind for what is sure to be a pressure cooker two week challenge for the ultimate goal in the sport.

Since Djokovic hasn’t played, he’ll have to find his form again match by match in the draw. Djokovic starts out by playing a qualifier in round one. He could then face big hitting German Jan-Lennard Struff who managed to take a set from the top seed at the 2020 Australian Open.

A familiar foe awaits in the third round in either former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, whom Djokovic easily beat recently in Tokyo, or No.27 seed David Goffin. The fourth round could then see Djokovic face the fast rising Russian Aslan Karatsev, in a rematch of their Melbourne semifinal, or the super quick Aussie No. 14 seed Alex de Minaur.

If the second week of any major is when the tournament really begins, it certainly will for Djokovic should he reach the quarterfinals. There he could either face sixth seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in a rematch of the Wimbledon final that Djokovic won in four sets or No. 10 seed and Miami winner Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. Djokovic and Berrettini both looked sharp practicing together at the Open this week.



The semifinals could well have Djokovic face off again with No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev. Last year’s finalist is riding an 11-match win streak heading into New York. That includes Zverev’s win over Djokovic to win the men’s gold medal in Tokyo and recently winning Cincinnati. Many have tipped Zverev as the second favorite behind Djokovic to win it all.

If Djokovic enters the final, he will likely see across the net one of two men whom he beat earlier this year to start his Grand Slam hopes. No.2 seed Danill Medvedev and No. 3. seed Stefanos Tsitsipas are projected to meet in the other semifinal. Djokovic defeated Medvedev in the Melbourne final while the Serbian rallied to complete a five set comeback win over Tsitsipas to win the French Open title.

Tennis Express

Since projected draws rarely come to pass, it’s also worth noting those players in Djokovic’s section that he could possibly face.

Twenty-year-old American Jenson Brooksby, who reached the Newport final and D.C. semifinals, impressed many with his mix of easy power and intuitive court sense. Big serving American Taylor Fritz and big hitting Hungarian Marton Fucsovics are also here. And so is perennial foil No. 28 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy who is always up for playing spoiler.



In later rounds No.13 seed Jannik Sinner, No. 22 seed Reilly Opelka, No. 25 seed Karen Khachanov and No.7 seed Denis Shapovalov could also test Djokovic. And let’s not forget No. 9 seed Carreno Busta who just may face the Serb again.

Ultimately, whoever Djokovic faces in each round, he will have to manage his own game, his opponent, the unpredictable New York crowd, and his fitness in order to give himself the best possible chance to achieve his Grand Slam dream.

 

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