By David Arkow
With 120 singles matches completed on the men’s side of the draw, that provides a great opportunity to look back at some of the best matches so far as well as look forward to the exciting matchups to come in the final weekend. At the start of the tournament, we simulated the original draw to give all players a probability not only to win the whole tournament but also to reach a specific round. For example, at the start of the tournament, No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic had a 62% chance of reaching the quarterfinals given that he had to win four matches to get there. Now that Djokovic has reached the quarters, along with 7 other players, we can run a new simulation to give updated probabilities for each of the remaining players to advance. Obviously, all of their current probabilities to win the title will be greater than their original as there are only 8 players remaining (3 rounds) as opposed to the initial 128 players (7 rounds).
Having a draw with 128 players, there is pretty much guaranteed to be some big upsets. Using the initial simulation, we can quantify exactly how rare certain upsets are rather than just looking at the ranking differential between the players. The men’s side was characterized by a lot of upsets with 12 seeds falling in the first round and five in the second. After the first four rounds of the tournament, here are some of the most surprising upsets.
An American Success
Many Americans were on the giving end of these matches accounting for four of the ten biggest upsets. Former NCAA doubles champion and UCLA Bruin, Maxime Cressy pulled off the match of his career defeating No. 9 seed Pablo Carreno Busta in a fifth-set tiebreak. Cressy’s previous career high win was over fellow 6’6’’ American Sam Querrey (ranked No. 68 at the time) at the Newport tournament in July. 20 year-old Brandon Nakashima ousted veteran John Isner in straight sets. This was Isner’s second consecutive first round Slam exit after losing at Wimbledon so it might be a sign that the most successful American player of this decade is reaching the end of his career.
At the outset of the tournament, our original simulation gave solid odds to a range of American players in the field ranging from veterans to young guns. And ultimately, that was fulfilled as three, Jenson Brooksby, Reilly Opelka, and Frances Tiafoe, made the fourth round (in the last five years there have only been four to reach the round of 16). Brooksby is one of the best prospects at just 20 years old and in just his fourth Grand Slam main draw appearance, he reached the fourth round defeating fellow American Taylor Fritz and then upsetting No. 21 Aslan Karatsev in his first career five-set match. He even took a set of Djokovic (6-1) before losing the next three fairly decisively.
Despite being fined $10,000 for an “unapproved tote bag”, Opelka cruised to the fourth round (deepest Slam run of his career) without dropping a set until being ousted by Lloyd Harris. After knocking out Tsitsipas in the first round of Wimbledon, Tiafoe pulled off his second Top 5 upset at a Slam this year defeating No. 5 Andrey Rublev in five sets before losing to his good friend off the court No. 12 Felix Auger Aliassime.
Previewing the Rest of The US Open
Novak Djokovic vs. Matteo Berrettini - Djokovic has been in GOAT form for most of the tournament although he has dropped a set in all but one of his opening matches. Novak, more than any other player, has a knack for bouncing back after getting down early. Notably, he lost the first sets at the Roland Garros semi against Nadal, final against Tsitsipas, and the Wimbledon final against Berrettini. Fans will be surprised to see that Medvedev has higher odds at the title (42%) by the simulation than Djokovic (28%) does because the No. 1 seed has the toughest path to the title of anybody. First he faces No. 6 Matteo Berrettini who he just played in the Wimbledon final. While Berrettini hasn’t faced another seeded opponent yet, he will still test Djokovic with his threatening serve and explosive forehand. In the semis, Djokovic would likely play No. 4 Alex Zverev who just beat him in Tokyo and is playing the best tennis of his career. And then a potential final with Medvedev shows how much more difficult Djokovic’s path is to the title than any other player. But after all, he should have to face the toughest competition if he is to achieve these ultimate accomplishments: a Calendar Slam, all-time Slam leader at 21, and the greatest men’s tennis player in history.
Alexander Zverev vs. Lloyd Harris - While most are looking ahead to a Djokovic-Medvedev final, Zverev could pose equally as troubling a matchup to thwart the Calendar Slam. Zverev has a 15-match winning streak coming off his Olympic gold medal (where he beat Djokovic) and Cincinnati Masters 1000 title. He has an easier quarterfinal matchup (83% favorite) against Lloyd Harris making a semifinal matchup with Djoker all the more likely. While Harris has had an impressive tournament knocking out three seeds (No. 7 Denis Shapovalov, No. 22 Reilly Opelka, No. 25 Karen Khachanov), he just lost to Zverev two weeks ago at Cincinnati. If Zverev faces Djoker in the semis, he would have a 45% shot at taking him out.
Felix Auger Aliassime vs. Carlos Alcaraz - Felix has advanced to his second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal after Wimbledon. At 21 years old, he is typically the youngster in any given match but in this match he is the veteran facing 18 year-old Carlos Alcaraz. Alcaraz pulled off the biggest upset defeating No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round. The Spaniard won in a fifth set tiebreak after Tsitsipas had fended off two match points. This is Alcaraz’s first year playing Grand Slams and he’s done pretty well reaching the third round at the French and now all the way to the quarters of the US Open. Alcaraz started the year ranked No. 141 on tour and has since risen to his career high of 54 which will only be boosted after his US Open run. Felix enters this match the 68% favorite and will benefit from a tired Alcaraz having played two consecutive five-set matches.
Daniil Medvedev vs. Botic van de Zandschulp - The player with the toughest name to pronounce has been the most surprising player of the tournament. The qualifier ranked No. 117 in the world (a career high) owns two of the top 10 upsets of the tournament ousting No. 8 seed Casper Ruud in the second and No. 11 Diego Schwartzman in the fourth. Up until his last match, the Dutchman had lost the opening set in all six of his previous matches including qualifying. He had never even played a main draw Grand Slam match before this year. While his Cinderella run has been impressive, it looks like it will come to an end against Medvedev. Medvedev is the 91% favorite and while that doesn’t account for van de Zandschulp’s momentum (it takes his rating at the beginning of the tournament), he is still the biggest lock of all quarterfinal matchups. The Russian has dominated more than any other player, not dropping a single set and winning 70% of his games. While he hasn’t faced the toughest competition (average opponent ranking of about 60) which will continue, he still seems the most probable candidate to upset Djoker in the final with a current 42% championship probability due to his much easier path.
The quarterfinal field for the US Open is filled with traditional powerhouses like Djokovic, Medvedev, Zverev, and Berrettini, as well as youngsters in Auger Aliassime and Alcaraz, and complete newcomers in van de Zandschulp and Harris. Djokovic’s pursuit of the Calendar Slam and surpassing Roger and Rafa is at the forefront while others will try to stand in his way and thwart history. They all have a shot as Novak has shown signs of mortality while they too have risen to the occasion. All of these storylines set the stage for an epic finish that promises to be one for the record books.
David Arkow '24 is an economics major and member of the Harvard Varsity Men's Tennis Team. He also serves on the board of HSAC. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach out to him firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check out his original preview of the men's draw along with his updated preview of the women's draw.