For some men competing in the last grand slam of the year it is a chance to salvage their year, for the veterans it presents perhaps a final possibility to have a deep run in a major and for the youngsters lies the prospect of boosting their ranking even higher before the end of the year.
The field of 128 (which includes former top 10 players Tommy Robredo and Ernests Gulbis as well as ex top 20 players Marcel Granollers, Bernard Tomic and Ivo Karlovic), will be cut down to 16 by the end of the week, all of whom will have deservedly earned themselves a place in the main draw at Flushing Meadows and on top of that a guaranteed 54, 000 dollars in prize money. Throughout the week, there will be certain players and story lines to keep a very special eye on.
Two weeks after his 18th birthday, Felix Auger Aliassime will begin his quest for a place in the main draw of a grand slam for the first time. The young Canadian has enjoyed a breakthrough year with his first 4 tour wins coming in 2018 while he currently sits at a career high of 116 in the rankings. First, Felix will have to get past talented Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor who recently won the Tampere challenger which was indeed the last tournament he played. Also standing in his way are the accomplished Melzer brothers and 2017 qualifier Darian King who despite having a lacklustre year can challenge anyone on his day.
The number 1 seed Slovakian Josef Kovalik comes into New York in impressive form after a semi final appearance in the ATP 500 in Hamburg. However, the transition from clay to hard may prove to be tricky for the Slovak who lost in Cincinnati qualifying to ranked 587. His draw makes things even more difficult as he will have to take on the home crowd as well when he squares off against former world number 67 American, Ernesto Escobedo. The winner of that mouthwatering match may have to then face in form Ugo Humbert in the final round, who has reached back to back finals on the challenger circuit in Granby and Segovia. Many hardcore tennis fans would back the Frenchmen to pick up his first grand slam victory.
Other exciting talents to keep an eye on are Polish prodigy Hubert Hurkacz and Norwegian ace Casper Ruud who are ranked 9th and 10th in the race to Milan. Indeed, the toughest test Hurkacz is likely to face is gifted Latvian Ernests Gulbis who seems to rediscover his form during the grand slams this year, notably in his fine performance against Alexander Zverev at Wimbledon.
Veterans such as Ivo Karlovic and Tommy Robredo will also battle for a main draw appearance. The latter will compete in New York for the first time since 2015 where he impressively made round 3. As for the towering Croat, qualifying for a grand slam may feel like a new experience, as the 39 year old has not needed to qualify for a major since 2013 by virtue of his ranking.
FIRST ROUND CLASHES
One extremely enthralling match for many tennis fans will be when Thanasi Kokkinakis takes on fellow Aussie, Bernard Tomic. Both are established names in the tennis world, with Tomic the former number 17 in the world and Kokkinakis spectacularly shocking number 1 seed Roger Federer in Miami. Both men have been plagued by injuries in their career, as well as several controversies, but if the Aussies turn up, it could make for a very fiery match.
This is not the only countrymen clash as Brits Jay Clarke and Liam Broady go head to head for the second time in a couple of weeks. The latter came out on top in that particular match but Clarke had suffered from food poisoning the week before. With both men now fully fit , I expect a high class three set battle.
Ugo Humbert, Jurgen Zopp, Lukas Rosol, Casper Ruud, Reilly Opelka, Ernests Gulbis, Lloyd Harris, Alexey Vatutin, Felix Auger Aliassime, Ivo Karlovic, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Peter Polansky, Tommy Robredo, Ruben Bemelmans, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jay Clarke.
Please share your thoughts below on who you think the 16 qualifiers will be.