Frenchies The Form Team In New York
The men’s doubles draw begins play on Wednesday and it is the 2016 U.S. Open champions, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hugues-Herbert, who arrive with the best form. The French duo won back-to-back Masters titles at the Rogers Cup and Westerm & Southern Open after suffering a mostly mediocre season to that point. Herbert-Mahut have elevated themselves from being ranked outside the top ten into the third slot in the rankings as the U.S. Open begins. They are seeded third in New York.
Leading the field will be the current #2 team in the rankings, Henri Kontinen and John Peers. Kontinen-Peers won the Citi Open title earlier this summer, but struggled in both Masters events as they failed to get past the quarterfinals in either event. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo slot in as the #2 seeds this week. They are the current top ranked team and have also scuffled some since losing to Kontinen-Peers in the Citi Open final. Kubot-Melo did make the semis in Cincinnati, where they lost to Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares – the 2016 U.S. Open champs.
Rounding out the top four seeds are Murray-Soares. Last year’s champions have been solid this year, but have found consistency fleeting. This summer is a perfect example as they won two of their three titles this year on grass and then lost in the second round at Wimbledon. They started the hard court swing with a semifinal run at the Citi Open and made the finals in Cincinnati, losing to Herbert-Mahut. In between, they dropped their opener at the Rogers Cup to Benoit Paire and Gael Monfils.
Four First Timers Among Top Ten Seeds
In addition to the veteran duos at the top of the seeded field, there are several teams that will debut together at this year’s U.S. Open. That does not include the fifth seeded Bryans or the 7th seeded tandem of Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram. It does include Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers who have not played together since Wimbledon .Coincidentally, they lost to the French Open champions Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison on London. Venus-Harrison are seeded 8th and bring some big match swagger as they have won the French and made the quarters at Wimbledon. They struggled for results outside of Slams, but did make the Cincy semifinals last week to bring some confidence to the tournament.
Other first timers inside the top ten seeds include Wimbledon runners-up Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic as the 9th seeds. Marach-Pavic spent time apart after Wimbledon, but reunited to make the Rogers Cup semifinals. They lost in Cincy to Venus-Harrison last week. The 10th seeds are also teaming up for their first U.S. Open with Rohan Bopanna and Pablo Cuevas taking that spot. Bopanna-Cuevas also have not tagged up together for a bit, havin last played together at the French Open.
Among the remaining seeds in the top 16, Team Lopez with Marc and Feliciano have the best finish. They Spaniards made the semifinals in 2016. They are seeded 11th, but have been dreadful this year. Team Lopez has lost their opening match in nine of the 14 tournaments they have played. Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau bring the most experience at the tail end of the field with a 6-3 record. Their best finish was a quarterfinal run in 2015. They do come in hot after taking the Winston-Salem doubles titles, the team’s third titles together this season.
If this year’s Grand Slams and recent U.S. Open history have told us anything, it is that it does not pay to be a top seed if you’re going to win the titles. So far this year, we’ve seen Kontinen-Peers win the Australian Open as fourth seeds. The top seeds in Melbourne were Herbert-Mahut, who crashed out in the quarterfinals. At the French Open, unseeded Michael Venus and Ryan Harrison took home the trophies with the first seeds, Kontinen-Peers, losing in the first round. And at Wimbledon, Kubot-Melo were seeded 4th as they won the titles. The top seeds Kontinen-Peers were beaten in the semifinals.
At the U.S. Open specifically, the top seed has only won once in the last five years with the Bryans doing that in 2014. The top seeds have managed to make the semifinals three of those five years, but have failed to advance to the final two of three times. Unseeded teams have made a recent living of advancing to the semifinals with four teams doing that in the last three years. There are a few unseeded teams I see that could do a little damage, although I am a bit hesitant to say they can continue that semifinal tradition. Here’s a look at those dangerous floaters.
This is a team with some experience. They have teamed up three times over the past two years and made the final in each event. All were on clay and two were at the Challenger level, but still there is chemistry for this team.
This is an interesting team with the 35-year-old American James Cerretani and the 20-year-old Aussie Marc Polmans. They have already teamed up this year at the Citi Open and took Murray-Soares to a 19-17 match tiebreak in the quarterfinals after beating Venus-Harrison in their opener. This team is one to watch.
Another unseeded team that has experience playing togther this season. This duo has a dozen matches under their belts and they did make the finals in Atlanta, losing to the Bryans. They are in a weaker part of the draw with Rojer-Tecau and Gonzalez-Young as the seeds in their path to a possible quarterfinal. Although Rojer-Tecau played well in Winston-Salem, their season has been up and down – so there is room for an upset against them still.
This is the team that might have the best shot to stun and keep the unseeded semifinals streak alive in U.S. Open doubles. This mostly Challenger playing duo made the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year, knocking out Klaasen-Ram. They are perhaps the weakest part of the fourth quarter, where they could reasonably make a quarterfinal run. They would have to get through Herbert-Mahut potentially to get to a semifinal, unless someone else takes care of them first.
The two Frenchman are experienced, albeit better suited to getting results on grass. Still, they are a team that should not be overlooked and they will test the #2 seeds potentially early on in round two. If they score an early knockout punch of Kubot-Melo, then this team has a chance to pick up steam and be a real threat.
Quarter #1 Seeds
Top Half Breakdown
Kontinen-Peers campaign should be afforded a good start against Americans William Blumberg and Spencer Papa. It would be difficult to think that duo will trouble the top seeds too much in round one. Round two could be a bit more difficult. They will play either Daniel Nestor and Dominic Inglot or Russians MIkhail Elgin and Daniil Medvedev. I’d say Nestor-Inglot look much more likely and they at least got their chemistry back by playing a match in Winston-Salem last week. Again, I would be hard pressed to say they will challenge Kontinen-Peers terribly, but Kontinen-Peers have only played at the U.S. Open once and lost last year in their second match. I still fancy them to move to round three.
Peralta-Zeballos are the seeds opposite of the top seeds in the top half. They are in good form, having made the Winston-Salem final. They bring veteran experience in a weak section of the draw where they start with James Cerretani and Marc Polmans. Don’t sleep on those two. Both are solid doubles players and having played together a few matches this summer, they showed good chemistry. They MIGHT be that unseeded team that makes some noise. If they get the upset early, they play the winner of Juan-Sebastien Cabal and Leonardo Mayer against Carlos Berlocq and Albert Ramos-Vinolas. The winner of that Peralta-Zeballos vs Cerretani-Polmans match looks like the favorite to meet Kontinen-Peers in round three to me.
Bottom Half Breakdown
The section with Klaasen-Ram and Bopanna-Cuevas as the seeds looks a bit more difficult to predict. Klaasen-Ram open with Rogerio Dutra Silva and Paolo Lorenzi. Klaasen-Ram haven’t made it past the third round of any of the Slams this year, but should at least get the shot to improve on that here. If the 7th seeds win their opener, they play either the team of Nicolas Monroe and J.P. Smith or Jonathan Eysseric and Franko Skugor. Eyserric-Skugor I touched on above in Outsider’s Edge and they could be the tricky ones in this section.
Bopanna-Cuevas open against Bradley Klahn and Scott Lipsky. Even with the long layoff for Bopanna-Cuevas, I think they get through there. That sets them up against either Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul or Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini. The Italians might have better chemistry, but haven’t been able to reproduce the magic they had a few years ago. Paul has played some doubles, but not with Johnson. He did play with Taylor Fritz at the U.S. Open in 2015, so he at least has some experience on the big stage. Still a big ask for them to win their first time playing together with likely very little practice time as both are playing singles as well.
Quarter #2 Seeds
Top Half Breakdown
Murray-Soares open against Austrians Julian Knowle and Alexander Peya. Knowle-Peya have played together sporadically over the years without much in the way of good results. The fourth seeds should advance with relatively little in the way of problems. Their secound round match figures to be much tougher with either Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Fernando Verdasco awaiting or Marcus Daniell and Marcelo Demoliner. All four of those players are experienced in doubles play and will present a significant test for Murray-Soares. Daniell-Demoliner have done well at the Australian Open and at Wimbledon, going three rounds in each Slam. Don’t underestimate the Spaniards, but I think Daniell-Demoliner might just get through. They did lose their lone match against Murray-Soares in straights on clay earlier this season.
The other part of this section features Gonzalez-Young. They open with Robert Lindstedt and Jordan Thompson. Gonzalez-Young have not been able to reproduce the magic that brought them the unexpected trip to the French Open finals as they have gone 0-3 in their other matches played. Lindstedt is the regular doubles guy, but Thomspon has played plenty of doubles this year mainly with fellow Aussies to good results. He teamed with Thanasi Kokkinakis at Wimbledon, knocking off Rojer-Tecau in round one. At the French, he paired with Nick Kyrgios and made the third round. They knocked off Herbert-Mahut in round one. There is a pattern there if he can find a rhythm with Lindstedt for them to KO Gonzalez-Young.
The winner there goes up against either Andreas Molteni and Adil Shamasdin or Vasek Pospisil and Nenad Zimonjic. Molteni-Shamasdin have teamed up for a dozen matches this year, going 8-4. That might give them the edge in round one and this part of the draw could open up for them with Gonzalez-Young not being the strongest seeds.
Bottom Half Breakdown
Dodig-Granollers will need to refind their rhythm together and that makes them prone in round one against Wesley Koolhof and Artem Sitak. Koolhof-Sitak have gone 5-4 together this season, including a trip to the Atlanta final. They will be a tough out in round one. The survivor will battle Thomas Fabbiano and Yuichi Sugita or Alessandro Giannessi and Florian Mayer. I’d definitely side with either Dodig-Granollers or Koolhof-Sitak moving to round three.
Rojer-Tecau lead the other segment and will look to build on their Winston-Salem title with a run this week. They open with Damir Dzumhur and Dusan Lajovic. It would be stunning if the 12th seeds blew that win. They could wind up going against all-Argies with Diego Schwartzman and Guido Pella looking stronger and more experienced than Hyeon Chung and Yen-Hsun Lu. I really like Rojer-Tecau as the hot team here and they could easily ride that through to the quarterfinals, but their season has been a bit of a rollercoaster. They are one of those teams that has not been able to beat the truly elite doubles teams this year at all. On top of that, Dodig-Granollers did beat them at the French Open this year in three. Still, they are hot at the right time.
Quarter #3 Seeds
Top Half Breakdown
Herbert-Mahut will be expected to be major players in who wins the U.S. Open titles this year. They open against Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop. Don’t be surprised if the Dutch tandem challenges the third seeds some in that opener. They are both competent in doubles, so the French duo will need to be on point. The winners match up against either Christopher Eubanks and Christian Harrison or Mischa Zverev and Mikhail Youzhny. You would expect that Herbert-Mahut should get through this section and into the third round.
The other bracket in this half has Brian Baker and Nikola Mektic as the 13th seeds. This duo was hot early in the year with titles in Memphis and Budapest. They reformed last week in Winston-Salem for the first time in two months. They made the semis, but were oblierated 6-1, 6-0 by Rojer-Tecau. Baker-Mektic start with Malek Jaziri and Andrey Kuznetsov. The expectation should be for a seeded win. That sets them up against David Marrero-Benoit Paire or Steve Darcis-Dudi Sela. All four are decent doubles players, but won’t have the chemistry of Baker-Mektic. It would be a disappointment for the 13th seeds to not be in round three.
Bottom Half Breakdown
Venus-Harrison were not afforded a great draw with a dangerous French pairing as their first round foes in Fabrice Martin and Jeremy Chardy. Martin-Chardy have teamted up three times this season and made two finals, taking home the titles early in the season in Doha. This is a dangerous first round match-up and there is big time upset potential here. The winner gets either Marcin-Matkowski-Max Mirnyi or Taylor Fritz-Reily Opelka. Matkowski-Mirnyi would be the outsiders to watch. They played well on grass together, making the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Whether they can reproduce that in New York is a big question. I would not be surprised though if this part of the draw was blown up early.
On the other side, the Spaniards Marc and Feliciano Lopez might have a better draw, but do not have any sort of form coming into this week. They open against Andre Begemann and Divij Sharan. Sharan is without his normal partner Purav Raja as both decided to split prior to the U.S. Open believing their ranking as a team would not get them into the draw. So Raja is teaming with Leander Paes, while Sharan goes with the German. Even with the Spaniards in poor form, it’s a lot to ask for these two to mesh on the fly. Team Lopez MIGHT be able to snag an increasingly rare win.
The winner gets either Podlipnik Castillo-Vasilevski or Mannarino-Seppi. Podlipnik Castillo-Vasilevski are the ones to watch out for here. These are talented and experienced guys with chemistry. You probably didn’t notice, but they made the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year. Most of their work has been done at Challengers, where they have been ripping it up with three titles and four total finals appearances. They come in hot off one of those titles at the Portoroz Challenger. In a weak part of the draw, they have serious dark horse capability.
Quarter #4 Seeds
Top Half Breakdown
Kubot-Melo begin their U.S. Open campaign against the mish mosh team of Ken Skupski and Guillermo Duran. The second seeds should get through with minimal hassle. Round two is where it could be testier with veteran Frenchmen Julian Benneteau and Eduoard Roger-Vasselin as likely opponents. Benneteau-ERV open against Basilashvili and Haider-Maurer, the latter of whom retired in his singles match in round one. Benneteau-ERV have only played together once this season, but have been regular partners in the past. Grass however has been their best surface with hard courts not producing the best results in the last two seasons when they have paired up. Do remember however that Roger-Vasselin teamed up with Fabrice Martin at the Rogers Cup to beat the current world #1s. An upset is definitely not unimaginable.
The other side of this half features Sam Groth and Aisam-Ul-Haq-Qureshi as the seeds. Both are solid doubles players, but have no experience together. That makes round one against Russians Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev intriguing. Neither of the Russians are regular doubles players, but they have played enough to be threatening. I would expect Groth-Qureshi to probably get out of round one, but maybe just barely. That’s where they will see either Paes-Sharan or Tipsarevic-Troicki. Leander Paes is playing in his 24th U.S. Open, but he hasn’t made big runs at Slams much in the past two years. He did team with Radek Stepanek to win the USO titles in 2013, but hasn’t been past round three since then. The all-Serb squad teams up for the second straight Slam. They went 1-1 at Wimbledon. Based solely on doubles prowess, Paes and Sharan are the pick, but not overly confident in that selection.
Bottom Half Breakdown
This could be a great segment of the draw with the Bryans and Marach-Pavic as the seeds. Those two played once this season with Marach-Pavic winning on grass in Stuttgart during their magnificent summer grass swing that ended in a Wimbledon finals appearance. After starting the summer well with titles in Atlanta, the Bryans have been unable to get past the top tier teams as the tournaments grew bigger and the fields got more battled tested. They lost in the semis in D.C. to Kubot-Melo and then were beaten by their nemesis team, Herbert-Mahut, both in Montreal and Cincinnati. The French are 5-0 lifetime against the Bryans.
The Bryans open with the all-Czech tandem of Roman Jebavy and Jiri Vesely. They have played together quite a bit this season, but appear best suited to clay where they did win a title in Istanbul. The Bryans should be alert though as this might be a tough test, especially given their struggles of the past few years. A win there might see them against dangerous Aussies Nick Kyrgios and Matt Reid. Kyrgios-Reid play Joao Sousa and Jan-Lennard Struff in round one. Kyrgios-Reid are 5-3 when teamed up in 2017 with wins over a couple of the seeds in this year’s field in Bopanna-Cuevas and Baker-Mektic. They are an X-factor in this segment, although the Bryans did beat them in Miami in straights.
Marach-Pavic open with young Americans Vasil Kukov and Danny Thomas. They are making their ATP and Grand Slam debut. As such, Marach-Pavic should get off to a comfortable start. A win would set them up against either Sa-Oswald or Krajicek-Withrow. The American team of Krajicek-Withrow have played together a ton this year, but all at lower level events. They might have a shot to upset Sa-Oswald who have not played together, but I would not expect them to go further than round two. Marach-Pavic really should be in great position heading to round three. They could get the Bryans in a great potential match, but I’m not sold the twins will be there.
Kontinen-Peers vs Bopanna-Cuevas
Murray-Soares vs Rojer-Tecau
Herbert-Mahut vs Podilpnik Castillo-Vasilevski
Marach-Pavic vs Benneteau-ERV
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
I think three of the four top seeds in this tournament have beneficial draws conducive to deep runs. Kontinen-Peers, Herbert-Mahut and Murray-Soares are those teams. You have to consider the third seeded Frenchman the favorites with their dominance at the two Masters events over the last month. It would be fitting for them to put a cherry on top of that big month with the titles in New York, where they won the first of two Slams together. A win would also catapult the Frenchies into the second spot in the rankings and possibly make for a really tight race down the stretch.
Murray-Soares have the most to lose here, defending champions’ points that could see them plummet in the rankings to where their spot in London at the end of the year will really have to be earned again. It would be fitting to see the two teams that have played cat and mouse at #1 and #2 most of this season face off with Kontinen-Peers and Kubot-Melo, but this doesn’t feel like that spot. Kontinen-Peers however could get right back on the heels of Kubot-Melo for the top spot if they take home the title. Kubot-Melo have nothing to lose this week since they were not a team last year, all points won add to their lead at the top.
I still really like Marach-Pavic as seeded “outsiders” with a chance to be in the mix at the end. They’ve shown the ability to beat Kontinen-Peers and played that epic five set final at Wimbledon against Kubot-Melo, so they are near or at the same level as the dogs. I will still go with a slod nod to Herbert-Mahut with Marach-Pavic and Kontinen-Peers as my secondary choices. Longshots seeded outside the top ten would include Rojer-Tecau and perhaps one of those unseeded teams like Benneteau-ERV if they can produce a stunner early.