It has been a tough old time for the World No. 1. A personal issue that probably helped contribute to a third round loss at Wimbledon, a first round loss at the hands of an inspired eventual silver medallist Juan Martin Del Potro at the Rio Oympics, and the admission that a wrist injury is still causing him grief could leave this quarter wide open.
Starting with Jerzy Janowicz, himself coming back after a long injury lay off saw him tumble from the Top 25 in 2013 to outside the Top 200, and has been out with knee and lower back injuries from January to July.
This ought to be a winnable start for Djokovic, in fact his run to the quarter-finals should all be in his grasp but everything now hinges on the wrist.
At the other end of the bracket, fuelled by a win over World No.2 Andy Murray, Cilic is riding high and full of confidence. Cilic just does what he does and tends to exist under the radar until the second week where he could be on for a run.
British interest in this quarter sees Kyle Edmund start against 13th seed Richard Gasquet.
There was no doubt that Nadal was desperate to be back in action for his country at the Rio 2016 Olympics, rewarded with a Doubles gold medal with best buddy Marc Lopez but it was a lot of tennis, and that showed in Cincinnati where he bowed out in his second match.
With the time between the tournaments, hopefully the adjustment from the extremely slow and high bouncing courts of Rio to the faster hard courts in the USA, the discomfort he was feeling in his arm will have diminished and he will feel on form.
His likely third round seeded opponent will be compatriot Albert Ramos-Vinolas who has never even taken a set off his fellow countryman, much less won. The same is true for his potential fourth round – another compatriot in Roberto Bautista Agut, and on his form it would not be a surprise to see him go deep, again if he is fit.
Will this be the Slam that marks Raonic’s ascension? The John McEnroe effect certainly worked to get Raonic into the Queen’s and Wimbledon final. On the downside, he came up against an inspired Murray on both occasions, but surely it is a matter of time before Raonic forges ahead of the rest of the ATP Generation Lost Boys.
Thiem has finally learned that perhaps less is more after surging into the Top 10 this year. With perhaps the exception of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, he has had pretty good progress on the hard courts although he will most likely meet Sam Querrey in the third round and it is never worth underestimating fervent home crowd support.
Querrey was not a one-win wonder and did back up his win over Djokovic with a run to the quarter-final, and could play up to the occasion.
At the other end of the bracket, Wawrinka had to skip the Olympics because of a back injury and maybe he was still a little affected with just one win and a loss to Grigor Dimitrov at Cincinnati. Dangers for him could be Alexander Zverev who has also flew up the rankings this year, and could be ripe for the upset.
With Djokovic sounding decidedly low key in his pre-tournament press-conference, it would be very easy for fans of the World No. 2 Murray to fancy his chances – and why not? He became a father and perhaps the daddy effect has been a little slower to kick in for him than it was for Roger Federer or Djokovic – but it sure is delivering now!
He has a second Wimbledon title that he could enjoy this time around, a second Olympic Gold, which four years ago was actually the start of his run of Slam successes as he would go on and win his first Slam at the US Open that year, and he loves the whole New York vibe.
He starts against the sometimes spicy Lukas Rosol and few will forget their little exchange in Munich and we can expect Murray to take a somewhat circuitous route from time to time as he looks to face Gilles Simon in the third round, either Grigor Dimitrov or Feliciano Lopez in the fourth round and potentially Nishikori in the quarter-finals.
Nishikori stunned everyone in his 2014 run to the final – especially given that his run up was hampered by a painful toe! Nishikori is always going to be a fragile soul but he made the Toronto final before battling his way to an Olympic Bronze medal.
His path might pit him against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round, and most likely David Goffin in the fourth round. Match-ups against Murray have never proved to be quite the exciting cat and mouse contest it should be but this quarter could well be the only one locked in.
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