US Open 2019: Medvedev in form, time for Thiem's breakthrough? The non-big three contenders

By Sports Desk August 23, 2019

For the vast majority of the 21st century, grand slam finals have largely been the domain of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Their dominance, shared somewhat with Andy Murray, has defined the modern era of the men's game. However, it has been most regularly interrupted at the US Open, which starts on Monday.

Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka have each prevailed in the past five years at Flushing Meadows, with Kei Nishikori, Kevin Anderson and Juan Martin del Potro all reaching the final in that time.

The most likely outcome remains that the men's final will be contested by at least one of the big three but, ahead of the final major of 2019, we examine some of the contenders to gatecrash the showpiece.

Daniil Medvedev

The world number five is enjoying a breakthrough year and heads to Flushing Meadows as one of the form players on the ATP Tour. He reached successive finals at the Citi Open and Rogers Cup, easing past the likes of Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov en route to the showpiece of the latter.

His heavy 6-3 6-0 defeat to Nadal in that final may have provided cause for reticence. However, Medvedev continued his outstanding US hard-court swing by coming from a set down to defeat Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Western and Southern Open, before going on to beat David Goffin in the final.

His fightback against the best player in the world should raise confidence he can upset the established order. It will be tougher over five sets but on current form Medvedev appears the most credible threat to the big three.

Karen Khachanov

Khachanov's year has not been quite as impressive as his Russian compatriot Medvedev. However, he too resides in the top 10 and has a victory over Djokovic to his name, having beaten the Serbian in the Paris Masters final last year.

He was impressive in seeing off Stan Wawrinka, rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alexander Zverev at the Rogers Cup and showed signs he could form a grand slam challenge at his run to the quarter-finals of the French Open this year.

Marat Safin, the last Russian man to win a grand slam, was Khachanov's idol growing up. He has the game to potentially emulate his hero, but a 1-8 record against the big three will leave plenty sceptical of his prospects.

Dominic Thiem

Though not in the same vein of form as Medvedev, Thiem deserves his place on the list having been the most consistent challenger to Djokovic, Nadal and Federer in recent times.

He has reached the last two French Open finals, losing to Nadal on each occasion. However, he defeated Djokovic in five sets at Roland Garros this year and played at a level in the final that would have seen him victorious were he facing anyone other than the 'King of Clay'.

The hard court provides more of a level playing field and Nadal needed a tie-break to beat him in five sets in the quarter-final at Flushing Meadows in 2018. Thiem also holds a 4-2 record against Federer, whom he beat at Indian Wells this year. 

Eventually, Thiem's persistence in pushing this legendary trio to the limit will pay off and there is plenty of evidence to suggest the US Open could be the stage on which he reaps his rewards.

Roberto Bautista Agut

While the other four names on this list have their best years ahead of them, Bautista Agut is arguably enjoying an elongated peak.

He was a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open, where he showed his endurance with three five-set victories and pushed Djokovic to four sets in the Wimbledon semi-finals.

The 31-year-old has since found some consistency on the hard court, reaching the last eight in Montreal and Cincinnati, and came from a set down to beat Djokovic in Miami back in March.

That win, however, marked his only success against a big-three opponent. Bautista Agut has proven he can reach the latter stages of majors but, if the draw does not somehow open up for him, would need to overcome the history books to earn a first slam final berth.

Lucas Pouille

Pouille's thrilling 2016 fourth-round triumph over Nadal at Flushing Meadows had the look of a breakthrough moment for the Frenchman, but since then he has not been able to record a single victory over the Spaniard, Djokovic or Federer.

The 25-year-old does, however, seem to enjoy himself on the hard court, securing the best slam result of his career on the surface as he progressed to the last four at the Australian Open before running into a rampant Djokovic.

He beat Khachanov before being thumped by Djokovic in Cincinnati and, though he has endured an inconsistent year, the high-points Pouille has experienced should leave him with nobody to fear outside of the three favourites. 

Pouille is unquestionably an outsider, but if he can harness the form that saw him stun Nadal then he can at least afford to have hope of pulling off another shock and giving France a grand slam finalist to celebrate.

Related items

  • Hewitt welcomes return of 'different character' Kyrgios to Australia's Davis Cup team Hewitt welcomes return of 'different character' Kyrgios to Australia's Davis Cup team

    Lleyton Hewitt welcomed the return of "different character" Nick Kyrgios to Australia's Davis Cup team.

    The controversial Kyrgios has not represented his country since February 2018 but is back for the Davis Cup Finals, beginning in Madrid on November 18.

    Rumours of a rift between Kyrgios and Hewitt surfaced at the beginning of this year following the latter's well-publicised fall-out with Bernard Tomic.

    Kyrgios claimed at a news conference at the Australian Open there was "not really" a problem between the two when addressing the situation, but later in the tournament appeared to aim a dig at Hewitt with a deleted Instagram poll.

    The 24-year-old has also endured another controversy-filled season on the ATP Tour and was hit with a fine and suspended ban for hurling abuse at umpire Fergus Murphy in a defeat to Karen Khachanov at the Western and Southern Open in August.

    However, Australia captain Hewitt said the two have met to clear the air and praised Kyrgios' attitude towards the Davis Cup.

    "For Nick and I this has been something that he flagged with me around March," Hewitt said when speaking to reporters.

    "We sat down at Indian Wells and went through things and he has been so willing to do whatever it takes to get back into the Davis Cup team and play for Australia.

    "Nick's a different character and I understand that and we're not always going to put everybody in the same box.

    "You've got to deal with different personalities in all kind of sports, and I feel like I know Nick as well as anyone.

    "I feel like on the Davis Cup court he's done everything I've needed in the past whenever he's been a part of the team. He hasn't put a foot wrong, he's out there picking up balls, half coaching and encouraging other players.

    "There's a lot of things he does in a team environment that I actually think we'll see the best of him."

    Hewitt has been impressed with Kyrgios' willingness to get back involved with the team.

    "He didn't play in Austria last year purely more because of his body, and then he obviously had issues at the start of this year," he added.

    "For him it was straight away I got a message saying, 'Mate, I want to get back in the team.' The great thing is he has a great relationship with all the players as well. 

    "He trains with them every day of every tournament, he hangs out with our coaching staff, physios and everyone else.

    "In terms of that it's never really been an issue, it's kind of about him wanting to be a part of the team and do the right things day in day out.

    "For me I'd much rather have him on my team."

  • Cristiano Ronaldo targets another landmark – Champions League in Opta numbers Cristiano Ronaldo targets another landmark – Champions League in Opta numbers

    Cristiano Ronaldo has his sights set on another slice of history when Lokomotiv Moscow travel to Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday.

    The 34-year-old – who is the competition's all-time top goalscorer – is aiming to score against his 34th different opponent, which would take him one clear of Real Madrid icon Raul.

    Tottenham, meanwhile, will hope the prolific Harry Kane can kick-start their stuttering campaign against Red Star Belgrade, while Manchester City's Raheem Sterling will be licking his lips at the prospect of facing winless Atalanta.

    Elsewhere, under-pressure Zinedine Zidane takes his Real Madrid side to Galatasaray and Paris Saint-Germain visit Club Brugge.

    Here is the pick of the key Opta facts for Tuesday's eight matches.

    Club Brugge v Paris Saint-Germain

    6 - Since losing eight Champions League games in a row between September 2016 and October 2018, Club Brugge are unbeaten in six in the competition (W1 D5 L0).

    5 - PSG last faced Belgian opponents in the Champions League in the 2017-18 group stage, winning 4-0 away and 5-0 at home against Anderlecht.

    Galatasaray v Real Madrid

    1 - Galatasaray's only win in their last 17 European matches against Spanish opposition was their 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Champions League quarter-final second leg (W1 D4 L12).

    3 - Real Madrid are winless in three Champions League matches (W0 D1 L2), last going on a longer run between November 2005 and September 2006 (five matches), with current boss Zinedine Zidane featuring in three of those games.

    Olympiacos v Bayern Munich

    4 - Olympiacos have lost all four of their European meetings against Bayern Munich, losing twice in the 1980-81 European Cup and twice in the 2015-16 Champions League.

    11 - Bayern Munich are unbeaten in all 11 of their European matches against Greek opponents (W9 D2 L0), keeping clean sheets in their last eight meetings with teams from that nation.

    Tottenham v Red Star Belgrade

    14 - Spurs striker Harry Kane has scored 14 goals in 16 Champions League group stage matches. Since his debut in the competition in September 2016, only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski (19) have scored more goals in the group stages.

    2 - Red Star Belgrade are looking to win consecutive European Cup/Champions League matches for the first time since March 1992, when they won three in a row as holders of the European Cup.

    Manchester City v Atalanta

    24 - Since his Champions League debut for Manchester City in September 2015, Raheem Sterling has had a hand in 24 goals in the competition (15 goals, 9 assists); five more than any other English player in that time.

    2 - Atalanta are the first Italian side to lose their first two Champions League matches. The last team to lose their opening three in the competition was Otelul Galati of Romania in 2011-12, who lost all six of their group stage games that season.

    Shakhtar Donetsk v Dinamo Zagreb

    18 - Shakhtar's run of 18 Champions League games without a clean sheet is the longest current run of any of the 32 teams participating in the 2019-20 competition.

    2 - Dinamo Zagreb's tally of just two shots against Manchester City on matchday two was the fewest by a team in a Champions League group stage game since December 2016, when Sevilla had two against Lyon.

    Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen

    2 - Atletico Madrid have lost just two of their 31 home Champions League matches under Diego Simeone (W23 D6 L2).

    0 - Bayer Leverkusen manager Peter Bosz is still looking for his first Champions League win. He has drawn two and lost six of his previous eight matches with Borussia Dortmund and Leverkusen.

    Juventus v Lokomotiv Moscow

    72 - Lokomotiv's 72-year-old manager Yuri Semin was in charge the last time they faced Juventus in September 1993, losing 1-0 at home in the UEFA Cup.

    33 - Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo has scored against 33 different opponents in the Champions League, a joint-record with Raul. He could break that record in this match, with this his first appearance against Lokomotiv Moscow.

  • Dimitrov secures 300th win, Berrettini boosts ATP Finals hopes Dimitrov secures 300th win, Berrettini boosts ATP Finals hopes

    Grigor Dimitrov recorded his 300th win on the ATP Tour by defeating qualifier Damir Dzumhur 6-3 7-5 at the Erste Bank Open.

    Ten years on from his first tour-level triumph, Dimitrov came through his opening match in Vienna having fallen at the first-round hurdle last year.

    He won 55 per cent of his return points against Dzumhur, who has now lost all four of his matches with the Bulgarian.

    "I think it was one of those matches that I really had to go through," Dimitrov said in quotes published on the ATP Tour's website.

    "I was very determined in my own game to find that rhythm. I still believe that I could have done a few things better."

    His second-round opponent will be Matteo Berrettini, whose quest to reach the ATP Finals was boosted by a come-from-behind 3-6 6-3 6-4 success over Kyle Edmund.

    Berrettini, currently ranked 11th in the world, saved four of the five break points he faced and did not give Edmund a sniff on his serve in the decider.

    Second seed Karen Khachanov beat Hubert Hurkacz 6-4 7-6 (7-3), while fifth seed Diego Schwartzman and Marton Fucsovics also won.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.