Novak Djokovic is coming off a strong Wimbledon run that culminated in a first major title in three years. But Djokovic doesn’t need to play well at the U.S. Open to get back in the title hunt. He’s in the same half as No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal, meaning the winner of their matchups in round two and three will be in prime position to advance to the last four.
He’s no longer assured the top seed at Flushing Meadows, though. The ATP Tour says Djokovic is considered the top seed, but he missed the final couple weeks of the season to tend to family matters. Roger Federer seems likely to take the top seed if he wins his next three matches and Djokovic wins only one match. In fact, Djokovic may have to win two or three matches, possibly including the semifinals, to be the top seed in the tournament. That said, he has to get into at least the quarterfinals and that’s no sure thing.
Djokovic has had an up-and-down start to the season. He won in Miami, but he also lost to an opponent ranked 126th in the world in Spain. He followed that up with a fifth-place finish at Indian Wells, losing in the semifinals to Dominic Thiem. Then he won in Toronto, winning 6-2, 6-4 over Federer in the final.
Heading into the final tournament of the year, Djokovic said he had prepared for a long run in Indian Wells, though he won’t likely win the tournament. This week he enters as a five-time champion in New York. He’s the defending champion here, winning 6-4, 7-6 (1) over Juan Martin del Potro in 2016.
A longer-term and more relevant takeaway for fans and analysts is the current split in the world rankings and what it means for the remainder of the season. Federer, Djokovic and Nadal are all in their 30s and have played well in the early part of the year. Juan Martin del Potro and Stan Wawrinka have improved their games to get back to the top half of the ATP Tour. A Del Potro win over Federer in the quarterfinals would send him to New York on the Top Seed level. A Wawrinka win over Djokovic in the quarterfinals would send him to the semifinals.
Del Potro’s terrific year has placed him in great shape for the rest of the season and next year. Federer will likely be favored at Wimbledon, but he may not win any of the Grand Slam events and it’s not clear if he’ll finish the year in the top four or even in the top three.
While the top three have not been putting on the proverbial show for fans at major tournaments so far this year, they won’t miss time and they’re clearly the two most talented players in the game. It’s hard to make the case that any one of them is not the best player in the world. It seems increasingly likely that we may see them all play for titles at the slams during the 2018 season.