July 30, 2021

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Tokyo Olympics men’s singles draw – the breakdown

(Photo: ITF Tennis)

Novak Djokovic is the only member of the Big 3 who will compete in Tokyo.

Andy Murray is the man who has won the gold medal in the last two Olympics.

It would be appropriate if they met in the gold medal match. But of course it’s unlikely to happen.

To begin with, Murray has a significant challenge from the first round, where he meets Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Here’s a breakdown of each section of the draw.

Section I : Djokovic should reign supreme

Novak Djokovic may have said, after Wimbledon, that it was 50-50 that he would end up in Tokyo.

But his patriotism is strong, a huge, defining element of who he is.

And with the tantalizing possibility of completing a “Golden Slam” in 2021 still very much alive, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t give himself a shot.

His early draw has been very cooperative, especially on a slightly slower court. The lack of depth in the men’s field really shows when you note that Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, ranked No. 35, is the No. 16 seed.

Lorenzo Musetti’s effort in the fourth round against Djokovic in Paris – where he won the first two sets in tiebreaks before hitting the physical wall – sets up an intriguing rematch in Tokyo.

The format is best-of-three sets. While Djokovic might play it differently, Musetti also will have fewer physical concerns even if the weather is set to be hot and humid.

On the other side of the ledger, Djokovic will MORE than see him coming this time around.

Section II: Rublev the class of the field

Kei Nishikori isn’t the only player who was dealt a rough hand in the first round.

Competing in the Olympics in his homeland has been a bucket-list item for much of his career – ever since the announcement was made nearly eight years ago. All of his sponsors will be hugely focused on this.

And he gets … No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev in the first round.

That is a tough deal.

Especially when you look at the rest of the section, where the only player with an accomplished resumé is … Gaël Monfils.

The No. 10 seed’s difficult 2021 took a bright turn a week ago, when he married Elina Svitolina.

But on the tennis court, he has found it extremely difficult.

The fact that there will be no fans on hand to play off of only makes it tougher for him.

You would expect Rublev to get through this section to play Djokovic. But he has a pretty tough draw overall.

Section III: Good draw for Zverev

Yen-Hsun Lu, who has been playing his protected ranking like a fiddle to hang in long enough to finish his career in Tokyo, received no favours as he’s drawn Alexander Zverev in the first round.

Again, this is a very good section of the draw for the top-seeded player in it.

Lower-ranked players (several well outside the top 100). And Lorenzo Sonego as the other seeded player for Zverev.

He really couldn’t ask for much more.

The only looming danger is Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The Georgian has flamed out often in the last year. But he is also well capable of getting on an absolute roll and playing lights-out tennis.

It wouldn’t be a shocker to see him play Zverev in the third round.

Section IV: Can Karatsev get on a roll?

After a blazing start to the 2021 season, Aslan Karatsev (understandably) cooled off some.

And it might be awhile before he figures out the grass.

That’s why we like Wimbledon finalist Hubert Hurkacz to get through here, once he gets past the always tough Marton Fucsovics. 

But it would not be any kind of a shock to see Karatsev – who a year ago was so far from thinking Olympics he probably thought it was a vague dream – to get inspired again.

Fucsovics defeated Hurkacz twice in 2018. Most notably, he won in three sets on outdoor hard court in Cincinnati – where the heat and humidity is at least adjacent to what they will be facing in Tokyo.

Broady, Barrios, Cerundolo – all outside the top 100 and darn happy to be there.

Jérémy Chardy is capable of beating Karatsev.

And Tommy Paul has not played since losing in the second round of Roland Garros to Daniil Medvedev.

Section V: Khachanov’s to win

A fourth-round match between Diego Schwartzman and Karen Khachanov could be a must-watch.

That’s especially true as the clay-friendly Schwartzman has beaten the Russian (oops, sorry, ROC representative) twice in three meetings on hard court.

It’s another tough draw for a Japanese player, as Yoshihito Nishioka gets Khachanov from the jump.

Once again, it’s a section filled with non top-100 players, with ITF picks like Tomas Machac, last-minute replacement Lukas Klein (outside the top 250, but already on site for doubles) and Juan Pablo Varillas, a 25-year-old from Peru ranked No. 122.

It’s the Olympics. And so, anything can happen.

But any matchup other than No. 8 vs. No. 12 would be a serious shock.

Section VI: Will Tiafoe get Olympic fever?

This section is fascinating, as there are a number of wild cards who potentially could pull out terrific Olympics performances.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is the favorite, obviously. But he has played little since reaching the Roland Garros final.

And in the interim, he lost early at Wimbledon on grass – in straight sets, to Frances Tiafoe.

Then he took a wild card into Hamburg – back on clay – and lost his second match to Filip Krajinovic.

In Kohlschreiber, he’s getting a grizzled veteran using his (barely inside the) top-100 protected ranking to compete.

But the German can be dangerous.

And, if Tsitsipas wins, he could face Tiafoe again – this time in best-of-three. If that’s the matchup, you’d figure the winner would get out of this section and potentially play Schwartzman or Khachanov in the quarters.

Section VII: Auger-Aliassime has a chance, but there are obstacles

It’s no fun at all for Canada that Félix Auger-Aliassime drew the two-time gold medal champion Andy Murray in the first round.

Auger-Aliassime’s pal Denis Shapovalov (who is not in Tokyo) broke British hearts when he defeated him at Wimbledon.

Now it’s the 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime’s turn to end Murray’s Olympic hopes.

You like the winner to get to the round of 16, where Marin Cilic or Pablo Carreño Busta await.

Unless someone like Tennys Sandgren gets a whiff of crazy Olympic fervor and goes on an Australian-Open like tear.

Nothing is impossible.

So while this section has some challenges, it’s there for Auger-Aliassime to get through.

He’s 1-0 against Carreño Busta, but 0-3 vs. Cilic.

The problem with the Olympic format, though, is that making the quarterfinals is ultimately kind of meaningless.

Section VIII: Wild cards abound

This last section is another wild-card section with Fabio Fognini, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Bublik all capable of going on deep runs.

The draw favors Fognini to get to the third round.

As for Medvedev and Bublik – that is one wacky first-round matchup.

Medvedev has never lost to Bublik.

And after a spring and early summer on the so-called “natural surfaces” that are … not his courts of choice, the Russian No. 2 seed is back in his favorite haunts, on hard court.

Assuming Bublik doesn’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, you’d expect Medvedev to face Fognini.

Both Medvedev and Bublik love the … input from the crowd.

And neither will get it.

But the path to the semis is legitimate for whomever exits this section.

Late rounds, on paper

Quarterfinals

[1] Djokovic vs. Rublev
[4] Zverev vs. Karatsev
[8] Schwartzman vs. Tiafoe
Cilic vs. [2] Medvedev

Semifinals

Djokovic vs. Karatsev
Schwartzman vs. Medvedev