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The 2023 US Open Men’s Singles recap: the surprises and the smashing successes

While the year is not over, all of this year’s grand slams are now complete. On Sept. 10, after two weeks of serving, scoring, victories and upset, the 2023 US Open came to a close. Like every year, there were a lot of thrills to be found. While everyone makes their predictions on what will happen, it is next to impossible to determine the outcome of every single match that is played. It is guaranteed that there will be shocks and surprises. That is what makes the tournament so exciting. There was about an even balance between likely predictions coming true and wild upsets occurring. The upsets usually happen in the first couple of rounds while the expected results come true toward the end. However, that is not always completely true. There were some surprising players that were able to make some deep runs. It can take just a few great matches to put someone on the map. In life, it can be difficult for people to work under pressure. In tennis, players thrive under it. So what happened during the US Open? What were the notable moments? How have these two weeks left an impact on the sport?

The big upsets started earlier, as number four seed Holger Rune lost in the first round to Roberto Carballés Baena. Despite Rune having a successful year overall, as the number four ranking was a career high, he had been showing struggles in recent tournaments. It was not surprising that he got out earlier than expected, but a first-round exit was much earlier than people thought. Carballés Baena has been in the sport for a long time, but has been seen as consistently average. This was his first top 10 win, but he swiftly got out in the next round, demonstrating that Rune was struggling. More top 10 exits came in the second round, which is also a really early time for these kinds of exits. Number five seed Casper Ruud got out to Zhizen Zhang. Even though Zhang is not relatively young, he has made much more of an impact lately, so this win could be a demonstration of his growing talents. While one may expect a man with Ruud’s talents to make a deep run, he also got out in the second round of the previous grand slam Wimbledon. In fact, in the last eight grand slams that Ruud played, he got out in the second round five times. The other three grand slams? He made it to the finals of all of those. Rudd can be unpredictable, but this grand slam and the previous one demonstrate that Ruud might be in the middle of a slump. The other top 10 exit of the second round was number seven seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. Tsitsipas lost to newcomer Dominic Stricker. Stricker has come on to the scene only recently, and this is one of many results that show he could go up from here. However, fans did not necessarily expect Tsitsipas to go that far, as the US Open is his worst tournament. In his long career, he has only made it as far as the third round in the US Open. There is not a clear reason why this is his worst tournament, but there were not high hopes. It was a five set match so he clearly gave it his all, but his all was just not enough.

Most of the other top 10 players did about as well as expected, but there were some other big upsets within the other seeded players. Number 11 seed Karen Khachanov got out in the first round to Michael Mmoh. However, this was not particularly surprising, as Khachanov has been recovering from a stress fracture for months. This was his first tournament back, likely because he had a lot of points to defend after making the semifinals last year. However, between Khachanov’s weakness and Mmoh’s recent rise and home court advantage as an American, this match was not likely going to go the way it looked on paper. A similar kind of loss was number 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime losing in the first round to Mackenzie MacDonald. While Auger-Aliassime is a talented player, he has suffered from a lot of early round losses lately, and the pattern was likely to continue. Not to mention that MacDonald has been doing exceptionally well lately. Frankly, it was more likely that this match was going to be an upset as opposed to the predicted outcome. 18 seed Lorenzo Musetti also lost in the first round. His loss was to Titouan Droguet, a player that had never won a match on the ATP tour level before. This was a surprising outcome, and it can pretty much only come down to the fact that Musetti can be unpredictable. One day he is dominating, the next day he flounders. While Musetti is much above the caliber of Droguet, you never know what you will get with Musetti. When it came to second-round losses, the most surprising outside of the top 10 was number 17 seed Hubert Hurkacz losing to Jack Draper. While Hurkacz can often be a likely candidate for surprising first-round losses, as he has a similar unpredictability to Musetti, the loss being to Draper was surprising. Draper has suffered a lot of injuries and has barely played two matches in a row this summer without having to retire due to injury. He can be pretty fragile, which is common among players training under the Lawn Tennis Association (that is an article for a different day), so it was honestly kind of nice to see him power through, even if it came at the cost of Hurkacz having to lose early. There were plenty of other seeded players that lost in the first or second round, but once it gets beyond the top 20, the seeded players start to be closer in rank to the non-seeded players, so early losses can be a little more unexpected. At the end of the day, it is all of these upsets that keep the sport of tennis interesting.

2023 has seen the rise of a lot of a new generation, and that generation was on a proper display during the US Open. Of course, there was the number one seed Carlos Alcaraz who is 20 years old, the youngest number one male player ever. Alcaraz entered the tournament coming off of a Wimbledon championship win. He made it to the semifinals, which was the very least of expectations for him. He is the mascot of a new generation approaching. There is also Alcaraz’s 21-year-old rival Jannik Sinner, who made it to the fourth round. People expected him to face Alcaraz in the quarterfinals, but he lost to Alexander Zvervev, a player you do not want to mess with on a good day. While these are the established young players, there were also some young up-and-comers who are finding their footing in the tennis world. For example, there was semifinalist Ben Shelton. Shelton is just 20 years old, yet he was able to make a long journey through this tournament. He made it to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open earlier this year, so he has displayed impressive skills before. However, he had not shown that great results between that tournament and the US Open, so the semifinals were a bit of a surprise. Of course, when it came down to him playing Novak Djokovic, people knew that it was almost guaranteed that he would lose, which is what happened. Nevertheless, Shelton could show just what he can do. 

In the fourth round, there were also plenty of young people leaving their mark. As mentioned before, 21-year-old Draper did exceptionally well, as he made it to the fourth round where he lost to number eight seed Andrey Rublev. Could this be a fluke for Draper, or could he be making a triumphant rise? Only time will tell if he can hold on to this stability. Another young fourth-round placer was the previously mentioned 21-year-old Stricker. Stricker has made a name for himself among the next generation, but that had not translated within the rest of the players before now. He unsurprisingly lost to the number nine seed Taylor Fritz, but his wins led to his top 100 debut. This could be the beginning of something special for Stricker. 22-year-old Rinky Hijikata also left his mark on the fourth round of this tournament, before losing to number 10 seed Frances Tiafoe. Hijikata first grabbed attention at the Australian Open, his home tournament, which he won in doubles with Jason Kubler. While he has not had many flashy performances, he could be someone to look out for. To wrap up the young people in the fourth round, there is 22-year-old Matteo Arnaldi, who lost to Alcaraz. He first made a splash beating Ruud earlier this year at the Madrid Open, but he has been pretty quiet since then. Making it to the fourth round shows potential. It used to be expected that the young players would do the best, but that has changed as older players have had the control in recent years. These runs by the young players demonstrate that anything is possible in the upcoming years.

With this being the only American grand slam, seeing a lot of American players is to be expected. This either through wildcards for the main draw, wild cards for the qualifiers, or just the sheer display of passion by American players that is more present here than their other tournaments. This year’s US open saw a lot of great American success. Shelton’s semifinal run has already been mentioned, but it is certainly impressive that it deserves to be mentioned again and again. Last year, he was the NCAA champion representing the University of Florida. This year, he was one of the final four players of the US Open. It is truly remarkable. There was also the run by Tiafoe, who lost to Shelton in the quarterfinals. Tiafoe made it to the semifinals of this tournament last year, and has had a good show this year, so a deep run was not at all surprising for him. Nevertheless, he is a fun American player to watch that seems to thrive in American tournaments. The same goes for Fritz, who also made it to the quarterfinals. He lost in this round to Djokovic. Fritz is a very consistent player who you can always expect to do well in big tournaments like this one. While no one expects him to win grand slams, he is almost always guaranteed to do well, and that is always nice to see from an American. Speaking of consistent Americans, 14 seed Tommy Paul did a great job in this tournament. He made it to the fourth round, where he lost to Shelton. Earlier this year, Paul made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open, and he has done well in several tournaments since then. He is not a flashy player, but he gets the job done. A fourth-round appearance was expected, and Paul is constantly living up to his expectations. There were plenty of other American players that made great appearances, which is great to see at the US Open. However, it was also a sad time for Americans, as former number eight-ranked player, grand slam semifinalist and winner of the longest tennis match John Isner announced that this would be his last tournament. At 38 years old, his career had longevity, and at 6’10”, he was not a player to miss. His second-round loss to Mmoh, a fellow American, was his last tennis match ever. There was a lot of excitement for Americans in this tournament, but despite that excitement, there had to be a goodbye.

A lot of thrilling upsets happened in the early rounds of this year’s US Open. However, by the latter half of the tournament, some matches went as expected. That includes the final match. While only one quarterfinal matchup was as expected, Rublev and Daniil Medvedev, most of the other quarterfinal matchups were not totally out of the blue. With the exception of Shelton, all of the players were seeded in the top 15. The ones that were seeded, Fritz, Tiafoe and Zverev, are all players that you should expect to do well despite their seeding. This is especially true for Zverev, who was only seeded at 12 because he missed several months due to injury. Otherwise, he has top five talents. Then when it came to the semifinals, Alcaraz vs. Medvedev and Djokovic vs. Shelton, it was somewhat predictable. Everyone knew that Djokovic was going to defeat Shelton and it was not going to be close. However, Medvedev beating Alcaraz was a bit of a surprise. It had happened before, and Medvedev has won the US Open before, but Alcaraz had been on such a hot streak lately. Nevertheless, Medvedev is not someone to ever be counted out. He is constantly reaching for the stars, and he is a great player to root for. A Medvedev vs. Djokovic final was not too difficult to predict when this tournament started. It was also not too difficult to predict Djokovic as the eventual winner. In fact, this was really his tournament to lose. Even though Djokovic is 36 years old, which is considered elderly in tennis, he has been in peak form. Of the three previous grand slams this year, Djokovic won two of them and made it to the final of the other one. Just the week before this tournament he won the Cincinnati Masters 1000. He would basically have to hit a ball into another line person’s throat to be stopped (we all remember the 2020 US Open). Naturally, everything went as expected, and Djokovic took home his 24th grand slam win. The next generation is trying to take over, but Djokovic is becoming an impenetrable force.

Now that this tournament is over, all of the grand slams are wrapped up for the year. That does not mean that tennis is over for the year. There are still plenty of tournaments left to raise players’ abilities and rankings. The tournaments include a couple of Masters 1000s and the Year End Finals, which is where only the best of the best compete. The madness does not stop just because grand slams are over. There are around three more months until the next grand slam, and a lot can change in tennis between now and then. We saw the rising and falling of many tennis players this tournament. This recap should demonstrate which players to look out for before these big tournaments, and which ones deserve some wariness. Of course, the skills of these players could change a lot in the next couple of months. That is the beauty of tennis; anything can happen. While Djokovic is dominating now, something could happen to affect that dominance. Furthermore, some of the up-and-comers from this recap could end up having an unexpectedly outstanding year. That is what leads to the big questions. How will players’ abilities change by the next grand slam? How will it all change by the next US Open? Who is the next big tennis star?

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