Five-time former champion and world number two Roger Federer will begin his quest to claim a sixth title in New York when he takes on Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.
The Swiss star has long been a massive fan-favorite at the US Open but has not lifted the title since 2008, though he has twice made it to the final since then. This year, expectations are not particularly high for Federer though he has made a habit of defying them of late. But will he come undone against Nishioka?
This will be the first meeting ever between Federer and Nishioka. But it's unsurprisingly Federer who is the vastly more experienced of the two, not least because he is more than 14 years the senior of the Japanese. Federer has a career record of 1165-255 and has won 98 titles, including 20 Grand Slams. At the US Open alone, he has won 82 matches. Nishioka, in contrast, has just 26 victories to his name at tour-level and has never reached a final so, the expectations are clear to find.
Federer’s Wimbledon defence ended in the disappointment of a quarterfinal loss to Kevin Anderson. It was a defeat made all the more galling by Federer’s early dominance, he at one point led 6-2, 7-6, 5-4 and held a match point.
But the South African fought back to win that clash 2-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4, 13-11. Federer returned to action in Cincinnati, scoring some good wins, including against fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka, but he offered little resistance to Novak Djokovic in the final, losing in straight sets 4-6, 4-6.
Yoshihito Nishioka, who has been battling this year to recover his ranking after a lengthy period on the sidelines thanks to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, lost in the first round at Wimbledon to 2017 finalist Marin Cilic.
He then reached the quarterfinals in Los Cabos where he lost to eventual champion Fabio Fognini. He followed that by qualifying into the Canadian Open but lost in the first round to Pablo Carreño Busta before failing to qualify for the Cincinnati Masters.
Federer is a legend and he is the best tennis player all over the world but the US Open already isn't his tournament despite this that he won five-times here. The surface is much slower than 10 years ago
In order to win this match, Nishioka will have to find a way to contain Federer’s greatest threat, the serve and forehand. That is much easier said than done. No player brings more offensive variety to the court than the Swiss. His serve is one of the best in the game, in large part because of its accuracy, as evidenced by his run of 100 straight holds of serve in Cincinnati. It stretched from the 2014 final to the 2018 final when it was finally broken by Djokovic.
His forehand is also a lethal weapon and his backhand is much-improved since the addition of Ivan Ljubicic to his coaching team and the adoption of a larger racquet head size and a more generous sweet spot, which has allowed Federer to come over the ball more often with such a comfort while hitting. He also volleys excellently.
Nishioka, for his part, brings a good forehand to the match and impressive foot speed. But he will have to be more aggressive than he usually would. Allow Federer time and the chance to attack, and the match will be over swiftly.
Federer may only be a distant third favorite for the title in New York this year, but he is the overwhelming favorite ahead of this clash and rightly so. He remains one of the world’s best players and, in truth, is some way out of Nishioka’s league. The Japanese may yet prove himself a fine player, and indeed was impressing before his injury last year, but he has never suggested he has the quality to really trouble someone of Federer’s stature.
Prediction: Federer in straight sets