Day 4 Preview: Federer, Djokovic, Kyrgios Shoot For Third Round
It is easy for Roger Federer to tell himself still competing at the highest level on the biggest stages is a bonus when you’re 37 years old. Telling yourself that and believing it deep down, however, are different matters.
For a player who has won the US Open five times, winning a round or two will never be enough. And that makes Benoit Paire’s task all the more challenging when they square off on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday.
The Frenchman has never beaten the Swiss No. 2 seed in six prior FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings. Tellingly though, he did hold two match points against Federer in their most recent encounter on the grass in Halle.
After his opening-round victory against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka on Tuesday, Federer spoke of the challenge in playing freely with so much invested in the outcome of the match. It was a challenge that increased with more years on tour.
“I think it's especially important when you're actually feeling good, the score is tight, for me is to remind myself then in that very moment how exactly I want to play and not to freeze and not to feel too much pressure at that moment,” Federer said. “I feel like anything that comes here, anyway, I should try to see it as a bonus, but it's easier said than done because, like I said, I do care about the outcome of the match.”
Having struggled to play as freely in recent years as he did at the peak of his game, former No. 1 in the ATP Rankings Novak Djokovic is fast rediscovering that aura since claiming a fourth Wimbledon title last month. The two-time US Open champion beat Federer to sweep the Career Golden Masters at the Western & Southern Open leading in.
The No. 6 seed could run into the Swiss in the quarter-finals in New York. First he must get past American Tennys Sandgren for a place in the third round. The Serbian easily accounted for Sandgren in the opening round of his title run at SW19 last month. The American’s breakthrough result this season came at the Australian Open in January, when he reached the quarter-finals. He went on to reach a final on clay in Houston in April.
Australian Nick Kyrgios remains on course for a blockbuster third-round showdown with Federer. The 23-year-old was not getting too far ahead of himself, however, as first he must find a way past Pierre-Hugues Herbert on Thursday. The Frenchman won their only prior meeting when Kyrgios retired injured while trailing a set in the first round at Wimbledon last year.
No. 30 seed Kyrgios started the year with a second career title on home soil in Brisbane but did not find success again until the grasscourt swing with back-to-back semi-final appearances at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart and the Fever-Tree Championships at the Queen’s Club.
During his title run in Brisbane in January, Kyrgios had high praise for #NextGenATP Aussie Alex de Minaur. Having won through qualifying, de Minaur reached his maiden ATP World Tour semi-final there and backed it up with a run to his first tour final in Sydney a week later. The 19-year-old, who was a runner-up in Washington, D.C. earlier this month, was ruthless in seeing off Taro Daniel in the first round and will meet home hope Frances Tiafoe in an all #NextGenATP second-round showdown. The pair has never met.
A year ago, Tiafoe fell in a heartbreaking five-set defeat to Federer in the opening round. On Tuesday, he won a match at his home Grand Slam for the first time when he downed Adrian Mannarino in four sets. De Minaur and Tiafoe are fourth and fifth in the ATP Race To Milan, respectively, as both players battle to appear at the Next Gen ATP Finals for the first time.
Herbert’s countryman Gael Monfils also has a tough task on his hands if he is to reach the third round when he meets No. 21 seed Kei Nishikori on Thursday. In a battle of former Top 10 players and two of the best movers on the ATP World Tour, Nishikori will carry a 3-1 FedEx ATP Head2Head record into the clash, however the Frenchman did win their most recent match at the Rogers Cup in 2017.
Both men have enjoyed their deepest runs at a Grand Slam in New York. The 31-year-old Monfils was a semi-finalist at the 2016 US Open (also reached that stage at Roland-Garros 2008), while Nishikori made the final in 2014 before losing to Marin Cilic.
Other Matches To Watch:
 Alexander Zverev vs. Nicolas Mahut
 Marin Cilic vs. Hubert Hurkacz
 Lucas Pouille vs. Marcos Baghdatis
 David Goffin vs. Robin Haase