2021 US Open ATP Round Three Predictions
Some of these matches are taking years off my life! Luckily turtles live forever. Or so I’m guessing? Anyway, here are 15 tennis matches. Brooksby match will be added tomorrow, and the WTA will go up in about an hour or so.
Djokovic vs Nishikori :
Quiet. There is no secret that Novak Djokovic is going for the calendar slam. There are no shortage or articles and expectations and vociferous fans and detractors and sassy squirrels flaunting their acrobatic abilities while I, a humble turtle, remain on the ground. Yet Djokovic is moving through this draw as quietly as possible. He is close, and he knows it. This is as subtly as someone can be the #1 tennis player in the world. Djokovic’s only issue so far have been a few minor exciting moments against Rune in round one. The crowd may get to him a slight bit, but he should consider just how dominant he is as a champion. Him winning matches is such a foregone conclusion that they will cheer for any opponent to actually be able to fight back. I’ve said this before, but part of the crowd being against him stems from him being such a complete player. Nadal competes so hard and makes rallies so exciting that the crowd can’t help but get behind him. Federer plays such a skillful and artistic game that the crowd cheer because they’re entertaining. Djokovic though? The guy just wins. He wins so often, and he wins in such a controlled manner. Moving you around, playing defense, and losing something like 2-3 matches a year. It isn’t haters at work against Djokovic in the crowd; people just love an underdog story and that’s what he turns everyone on tour into.
Nishikori lost the first set a few times, but he made a number of tremendous hustle plays towards the end to hold serve. Mackie had chances again in the tiebreaker, but he couldn’t keep the ball in. Throughout this match Mackie was the one playing offense, but he just isn’t there yet to put a guy like Nishikori away. Who is, really? Nishikori is finally back playing good ball, but his serve and forehand are not dominant. No one can shut him out, but conversely he can’t shut anyone else out. It’ll be an entertaining contest with Novak, and him having such an exceptional backhand will let him make the rallies look closer than the outcome. Djokovic looked sharper against Griekspoor than against Rune, and I’d expect that trend to continue. Djokovic in 3.
Karatsev vs Brooksby :
Jordan Thompson was right there to wind up in the 3rd round. It is astonishing how different Karatsev looked in the first two sets compared to the guy we watched make the semis of the Australian Open. His backhand just made bizarre errors, partially influenced by the wind but also it would seem because of a lack of footwork. He doesn’t look as physically dominant as he did in Australia, but the tour can really grind you down and it’s important to remember that this is his first full year playing a tour schedule. The challenger grind is tough, but the matches are easier and there are a lot of “just hit it in” points. Thompson and Brooksby would have been a 5 hour match, but Karatsev and Brooksby should be shorter.
Brooksby and Fritz are actually still going right now, but I feel like the match is over. Brooksby devolved pretty early in this one into just making the ball in. He’s a comprehensive rallier, and a good mover for his size, but he usually goes for a bit more. Some backhand errors late in the first from Fritz seemed to put the idea in Brooksby’s head that mistakes would come, and he played fairly passive from there on. When I saw this, it reminded me of Fucsovics playing Seppi in a manner that seemed like he thought Seppi would just fall over. It’s the same tactic that cost Zverev a lot of close matches for a while; the tour players are too good with a positional advantage to lose. Somehow though, Brooksby found the right shots at the big points, and Fritz’s first serve completely abandoned him. Brooksby’s level will beat the Karatsev from the first two sets against Thompson. He’ll beat him easily. The problem is that Karatsev’s offense perked up towards the end of the match, and with balls to work with he has offense/angles/power that Fritz just doesn’t. Ifs don’t help someone deciding who’ll win a match, but it’ll be Karatsev’s errors against Brooksby’s fatigue if that helps. Brooksby flexed his knee a few times in this match, and he never stopped running but he looked a step slower than he was against Ymer. Even though Aslan’s offense is much better, he isn’t physically the player he was earlier this year. If Brooksby isolates his backhand as he did to Fritz it makes challenges Karatsev to make shots that he’s only been about 50% on, and Brooksby’s court coverage will prove equally frustrating as Thompson’s. Since Brooksby is 20 and on his 8th set this week, I’m unsure how far he can go. I don’t love his passive play, but he does have the serve and power to unleash some winners when it’s time. Brooksby in 4.
Seppi vs Otte :
Everyone continues to struggle to break Seppi’s serve. His spot-serving has been excellent all tournament, and the flat way he keeps the ball low is making it tough for anyone to create big enough angles to hurt him with his position behind the baseline. It’s a lightning fast court and he has come up with a good way to negate it. His forehand is also finding great range and depth and despite Hurkacz seeming like a heavy favorite, he was outplayed. Oscar Otte’s line started at +170, and plummeted all the way to +110 by gametime. Usually I’m wary of huge line movements, but they nailed it this time. Otte’s serve-volley style gave him a solid edge against Kudla, and Dennis was game but had a lot of pressure on his service games throughout.
Otte’s particularly solid serving is likely to unravel Seppi in a way that his first two opponents could not. Otte won’t get caught in the lengthy baseline exchanges, but also Seppi’s somewhat conservative shots are exactly what Otte will want when he does have to play from the baseline. It’s a somewhat safespace for him, and his challenge will be how to shut down Seppi’s serve. On the ad side, he’ll need to sit on the T serve, as Seppi’s ball has been tailing away in a nearly unplayable way. Seppi’s legs have to be feeling it after playing 9 marathon sets of tennis, and Otte is likely to continue serving excellent. Otte in 4.
Ivashka vs Berretini :
Back in the day, pirates used to draw serpents in places on the map that they didn’t know, and would write “there be monsters.” This is basically how I would describe heading into a match with Ivashka right now. Ivashka dragged Pospisil down to the depths, and won one of the more convincing matches of anyone today. I’m unsure what his final ceiling will be, but he looks absolutely exhausting to play. If you’ve ever cooked with oil and gotten it on your hands, you know washing your hands does not. Ivashka is that oil. Again and again, he wins long rallies. Again and again, he makes his opponents exhausted. His serve being a solid weapon makes him really difficult. This might be the end of the road here, but it won’t be quick. Berretini has played two really high quality matches already. Chardy was super dangerous, and Moutet was on fire. He had points where the momentum could have turned, but Berretini’s serve seems an unstoppable weapon.
I’ve seen just a handful of people force Berretini into errors, and that’s really the question for Ivashka. Can he put enough serves into play to wear down Berretini? It will be a tough ask on these fast courts, and with the two players Berretini has played so far basically being isolated aspects of Ivashka (Chardy’s big serving and Moutet’s speed/defending). I would expect there to be at least one set where Matteo falters because Ivashka is a top 20-25 range player at this point. This will be his best win and on the biggest stage though; it’s possible but it’s a believe it when I see it situation. Berretini in 4 very close sets.
Zverev vs Sock :
Zverev was so dominant from start to finish in the ARV match that I started to believe that he’d actually win a major in the next year. His serve continues to improve, and he has incorporated getting to net into his game. If he were solely a servebot, he’d have many of the results he has already. He isn’t though, and his baseline game has no holes in it. His talent is dragging his poor attitude along, but even that seems to be improving. Not necessarily through personal growth, but people simply are a better version of themselves when they’re winning.
Sock went ahead and crushed Bublik’s dreams in that match today, but they treated fans to 5 sets of insanely pure offensive tennis. Bublik’s backhand is so technically sound, and Sock’s forehand is near impossible to read. Him holding it an extra second made Bublik choose time and time again, and Sock hit the open court like it was his job. Early on it seemed that the pressure all landed on Bublik since he wasn’t able to find Sock’s backhand in rallies enough to really break serve. Sock’s weight loss and constant play this year has fixed his footwork, and when he’s able to get his forehand on the ball he’s significantly better than his ranking.
This Sock, offensively, could bother Zverev. His forehand could abuse the version of Zverev that we’ve seen the past few seasons, and his skill at net could punish Zverev’s passive court positioning. This is a new Zverev though, and I’m very interested to see where they set the price for this. Sock played sharp, but his serve left him after the first set. He still hit great kick and offered power, but Bublik was able to put a lot in play. Zverev is a better returner, and his footspeed will let him run down more of Sock’s forehands. This feels like an octopus trying to pull down a tree. Zverev with a slow start might lose the first, but he should win this in 4. Zverev in 3-4.
Monfils vs Sinner :
Even though I changed my mind about Svajda, I still wound up feeling like I owe him an apology. He plays such fluid and free tennis against Sinner, and based on the results it’s a bit unlucky for him that he didn’t land one of the lower tier players in the second round. Sinner’s struggles in this match were Svajda’s speed and his backhand errors. The automatic ball in play tennis that we’ve come to expect from him has sort of disappeared, and with it the instant victories. He had a clear edge in power, but these fast courts have been a sort of equalizer. Sinner always seemed like a foregone conclusion, but I did enjoy seeing the odds plummet as Svajda made inroads.
Monfils was a little bit better than Johnson today, and he’ll have a chance against Sinner. Sinner made some errors against Svajda that were a bit like something Shapovalov would do, and Monfils’ main plan is to outlast his opponent and extend rallies. I give him a small chance though, because Sinner’s best attribute is beating defensive players. He’s lost some serving duels, but against baseliners (Khachanov comes to mind), he has always seemed to have an edge. Monfils’ somewhat passive play will hurt him in spots, and part of Svajda’s winning play can be chalked up to him being a relatively new player on tour. When you have zero idea where your opponent is going, you tend to make tactical errors and fall for every good shot once. Sinner isn’t at his best, but Monfils is a little bit past his prime. Sinner in 4-5.
Basilashvili vs Opelka :
Nikoloz, whose first name is Nikoloz, is named Nikoloz. He seems to have stopped wearing the terminator sunglasses, and it’s helping his game. He had a pretty easy second round, but made the best of it against talented server Cressy. You want to get past the early rounds in straight sets if you can, and given how tough Musetti was able to play Opelka, Basilashvili will have a shot here. Opelka was an overwhelming favorite against Musetti, but found himself in some very tricky spots towards the end of both sets. His serve is huge, surprisingly so on second serves, but it had to bail him out a bunch against a player who isn’t really known to ball out on hardcourt. This match reminds me a little of Bublik against Sock, because it is likely to become clear early that Opelka can’t win rallies. Basilashvili is more error prone than Sock, but he also has a huge backhand and Opelka’s movement is likely to be too slow. This should be decided in tiebreakers, but I’m starting to think Basil will have a decent chance, especially if it’s windy enough to bother Opelka’s balltoss. Basilashvili in 5.
Harris vs (to be added tomorrow) :
Rublev vs Tiafoe :
Gone are the days where I casually describe which vegetables and cartoon characters Rublev reminds me of. Not forever, but only while the temperamental vampire broccoli is located 20 minutes from where I live. Rublev wasn’t great against Martinez, and while I think these courts suit him, he’s devolved into making a lot of the errors that he did when he was considered a Next Gen guy. The inside out forehand hasn’t been automatic, and his backhand has lost timing a little. Martinez is a great player, but he shouldn’t be in position to win against Rublev, and he was in a few sets. This brings up a potential upset against Tiafoe, who is one of the few players I can expect to lose to a Challenger tour player but beat a top 20 one. Tiafoe in the first round was good but inconsistent. Tiafoe in the second round was perfect. His backhand was struck well and he created perfect angles. His serve was varied well, and his forehand was it’s usual blistering self. The forehand will be the key for him in this next matchup, as Rublev is very willing to exchange fh to fh.
The Rublev that played the first half of the match against Martinez will lose to Tiafoe. Tiafoe’s ability to serve unreturnable serves is something Martinez just doesn’t do. The Rublev that finished that match though can beat Tiafoe. It will take Tiafoe’s best tennis, but that’s what we’ve seen so far. I can’t put the words out there, but I would be wary of fading Tiafoe in this spot playing at home and hitting the ball cleanly. Tiafoe in 4?
Mr Perfect vs Auger Alliassime :
Roberto Bautista-Agut has played 6 perfect sets of tennis so far. As a pickem against FAA, I really like his chances here. Felix got himself together after a tough first round against Donskoy, but Zapata Miralles was close in some of these sets. He’s a very big server and has the talent to compete with RBA, but as far as forms, my main man Roberto has looked like a contender for the title and my fly guy Felix has looked like he’ll lose before the quarters. It is possible for RBA to play people into form, but he enters this as a firm favorite for me. RBA in 4.
Laaksonen vs Gojowczyk :
This is so cool. These are two guys who have just never found purchase on tour, and a fourth round finish for one of them is definitely going to give them at last one whole year of chances. For the third round finisher, they’ve just picked up at least a year’s worth of expenses to travel to all the qualifiers, and as good as their offenses are, the indoor swing coming up is likely to see them get through and pick up more points.
Laaksonen looked like Garin would reel him back in, and after going up 5-1 in the second, he found himself at 5-5 and looking very exhausted. Apparently, he was just trolling us though, as he put that set away and ended up running away in the 4th. Laaksonen’s serve is big, and his forehand has easy power. He’s at a half disadvantage in this next match though since Gojowczyk has faced a much stronger level of competition, and beaten them. Gojo’s serve and Laaksonen’s are about even, but Laaksonen’s defending is much stronger and his movement is as well. Where he does struggle though is to create any offense on his backhand, and Gojowczyk can go down the line well with his. This match is likely to see many momentum swings, and with two inconsistent but capable offensive talents trading single break sets is very likely. In the end, I think Gojowczyk is the more complete player, but Laaksonen’s slice make create trouble since Gojo hits such a flat ball. Gojowczyk in 5.
Alcaraz vs Tsitsipas :
Carlos Alcaraz beat Norrie in the most impressive fashion, but he stole this match against Rinderknech. He was unable to get a read on Rinderknech’s serve in this match, and spent a good three sets struggling to put returns in play. The thing I love about Carlos’ game is how he plays until the rally is over. This sounds simple, but so many players can be seen reacting and anticipating the end of points or taking seconds off from moving to the next position. Alcaraz never does this, and his willingness to get to net and execute dropshots when it’s appropriate is something that reminds me (just like everything else about his game) of Nadal. Where he struggles, is playing a bit safer in some spots. He had Rinderknech’s backhand making every third error, but Alcaraz went for big shots down the line with his own backhand anyway. This is correct for his lofty ambitions, but incorrect situationally.
Tsitsipas played a very strong match against Mannarino, but the storyline there was how well the shiny-headed lefty played. His backhand has incredibly good depth and I’m not sure how he generates so much power with his forehand, but he does. In the third set he was the clear better player, and momentum seemed to swing even though Tsitsipas really wasn’t doing anything wrong. Mannarino seemed to injure his knee though, and the 4th set was mostly a formality. Tsitsipas should like his chances against Alcaraz on serve, and the backhands aren’t close in terms of quality. Alcaraz could potentially hurt him in rallies with his varied play and huge forehand, but it reminds me a bit of Sock against Zverev. It’s hard to win a fight with one arm against two. Tsitsipas probably can’t win this in straight sets, but it’s his to lose. The thing that makes this interesting is it’s largely a “when” not an “if” as far as Alcaraz getting to this level, so all his matches against top competition are bigtime popcorn situation. Tsitsipas in 4-5.
Van De Zandschulp vs Bagnis :
Van De Zandschulp looks like he’s going to the fourth round of a major. This is a great result for a guy who was down 2 sets to 0 against Taberner in round one, and down a break in the fifth. Not that I’m bitter : ). His play against Ruud was solid, and there was no sign of fatigue in his game. Bagnis has been cruising so far, and there’s not a lot to worry about for him at this stage. This is a freeroll, and his strategy doesn’t need to deviate, since isolating Botic’s backhand is the right plan. So far he’s played players without a big offense though, and Van De Zandschulp is likely to have a nice home for his forehand in Bagnis’ backhand. I wouldn’t discount the smooth run so far, so this should be a close match, but BVDZ has just beaten a very solid baseliner in Ruud (and won me the underdog challenge on Degensclub THANKS BOTTY!). Van De Zandschulp i 4.
Molcan vs Schwartzman :
Nakashima played his best, but honestly Molcan has been putting in the harder yards on tour, and it was evident as he pulled away late. My favorite part of Molcan’s game is how consistent he competes throughout a match, and this will be necessary to hang even with Schwartzman. So far Diego (who you may know as Cool Rappin Turtle from the Zverev & Rublev : Pet Detective series (cancelled because Zverev is a knob)) has been superb, and his match with Anderson included some sideways rain and a bit of gamesmanship, but he barely made an error in a rally for the entire match. At 4-4 in the tiebreaker, Diego refused to play and they took a 9 minute break as the ref tried to get him back to return serve. The issue was that the court was getting enough moisture through an open terrace that there was actually fog inside the stadium. The floor didn’t appear wet, but both players were slipping and struggling to make shots. Fair enough, but stopping at 4-4 swung the momentum big, and Anderson had lost his serve the previous time they took a short break, so he was a bit annoyed to have to wait on Diego.
Diego will have to do a lot of work to shut down Molcan, who is fully capable of playing extended rallies and is fast enough to play even with Diego for a while. I expect a close few sets, but Schwartzman tends to wear down his opponents, and Molcan has played 10 more sets than Diego in the past week. Schwartzman in 4.
Popyrin vs Evans :
This is juicy shtuff. Popyrin got the benefit of a Dimitrov withdrawal, which seems to be a 50/50 shot at this point when facing him. Hopefully he gets healthy soon, but Popyrin was the better player before the injury became obvious. Evans has done great so far, and he exchanged some breaks of serve with Giron but was always able to get momentum back. Popyrin will have the bigger serve and a solid forehand to play behind. This gives him a chance to get off to a quick start, and this might be necessary because Evans’ quickness will let him compete well in rallies. I’d make this a dead-even matchup, and it’s hard to say how Popyrin will fare with Evans’ backhand slice. He’s a tall kid, so getting low won’t be easy. Small edge to Evans. Evans in 5.
Medvedev vs Andujar :
“Hey man, nice cat” said Medvedev. “IT’S A JAGUAR” said the voice in his head. “Whatever man, can I pet it?” said Medvedev. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE SCARED,” said the voice. “Haha okay, I’d like to pet it though,” insisted Med. “WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO AHEAD?” asked the voice. “Consent is important bro,” educated Medvedev. “HMM,” said the voice, “YOU’RE PRETTY COOL.” “Hell yeah bro let’s go surfing,” offered Medvedev, producing two surfboards. Andujar stepped out from behind the tree. This was supposed to be an ominous nightmare, but Medvedev didn’t seem phased. Surfing did seem cool after all, and it was that day that the lord of the jungle Pablo Andujar softened his granite heart, which gently pumps lava through his adamantium veins. Medvedev in 3.