With the fourth round of the 2021 US Open in the books, it's time to highlight which players are in the best position to maintain their success over the tournament's final three rounds. Players who have been eliminated are of little interest to fantasy players as the tournament unfolds, so this column is meant to take a look ahead based on what's happened so far rather than reflect on the past.
The men's draw began as Novak Djokovic vs. the field, and things haven't changed in that regard. Of the eight men remaining, four are among the top six seeds and three of the others are unseeded. The women's draw has a youth movement underway, with a pair of unseeded teenagers joining a former Grand Slam champion and some of the top players without one among the final eight. While American hopes were extinguished with three losses on the men's side and one on the women's in the fourth round, there's still no shortage of interesting storylines for the electric New York crowd to take in throughout the tournament's final stages.
Novak Djokovic - Djokovic has a daunting road moving forward and was pushed to four sets twice despite not having faced a seeded player yet, but he's now just three matches away from history. Standing in his path could be a top-six triumvirate consisting of Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini in the quarterfinals, Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev — who beat Djokovic in the semis there — in the semifinals, and Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev in a potential hard-court rematch. If anyone can overcome the challenges ahead, it's Djokovic, who is searching for the calendar Grand Slam and his 21st major title.
Daniil Medvedev - Medvedev might just come away with his first career Grand Slam title by the time things are all said and done in Flushing. The No. 2 seed hasn't played a set closer than 6-4 through four rounds, blowing away the competition in every match. His dominant form should continue against qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp, even though the Dutchman's enjoying the tournament of his life thus far and just knocked off No. 11 seed Diego Schwartzman. If Djokovic, doesn't win this tournament, it will almost certainly be either Medvedev or the guy below.
Alexander Zverev - While Medvedev has a clear path to the final in his half, Zverev will likely need to navigate a locked-in big server (Lloyd Harris) and then the world's top player (Novak Djokovic) just to reach the championship match. Based on what we've seen from him lately, the fourth-seeded German has what it takes to get through this difficult draw. Zverev's 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7) win over Jannik Sinner in the fourth round stretched his career-best winning streak to 15 matches, and he's dropped just one set thus far in the US Open.
Carlos Alcaraz - Alcaraz struggled a bit with the weight of expectations as the fourth-round favorite against Peter Gojowczyk after upsetting Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round, but the 18-year-old Spaniard found his game down the stretch to pull out a 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0 victory. He'll re-enter the comfortable role of dangerous underdog in the quarterfinals against No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who's in search of his first career Grand Slam semifinal appearance. Given FAA's track record in big matches (0-8 without a set won in finals on the ATP tour), the 21-year-old Canadian seems the more likely of the two young studs to be overcome by the pressure of the moment.
Karolina Pliskova - Pliskova's playing inspired tennis recently as she looks to finally break through for her first Grand Slam title. Coming off her second career major final at Wimbledon, the No. 4 seed has backed that result up by making the final in Canada and the semis in Cincinnati before getting through the first four rounds here. She's also battle-tested, having overcome the partisan crowd to pull out a 9-7 win in the third-set tiebreak against talented young American Amanda Anisimova in the second round before subsequently knocking off both Wimbledon quarterfinalist Ajla Tomljanovic and French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets. If her big serve continues to click, Pliskova has what it takes to defeat No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari in the quarterfinals and notch the two additional wins she needs to take home the title here.
Barbora Krejcikova - Krejcikova has quietly dominated her opposition in this tournament, as the eighth-seeded French Open champ heads into the quarterfinals without having dropped a set. She showcased her mix of shotmaking ability and mental tenacity in a 6-3, 7-6 (4) fourth-round win over No. 9 seed Garbine Muguruza, dominating for a set and a half to grab a 6-3, 4-0 lead and regrouping to close it out after Muguruza stormed back to force a second-set tiebreak. The biggest concern for Krejcikova moving forward could be a diaphragm issue that allegedly hindered her breathing late in that match, though some — including Muguruza — believe Krejcikova's medical timeout was a show of gamesmanship to slow down Muguruza's momentum rather than a legitimate injury. Krejcikova's the only player remaining in the bottom half of the draw who has previously risen to the occasion late in a Grand Slam. Quarterfinal opponent Aryna Sabalenka and Elina Svitolina are both top-five seeds without a major final appearance, while Leylah Fernandez is a newcomer to the quarterfinal stage of a Grand Slam.
Belinda Bencic - Like Zverev on the men's side, Bencic is playing some of her best tennis ever after capturing Olympic gold in Tokyo. Bencic is yet to drop a set at this tournament after beating No. 7 seed Iga Swiatek 7-6 (12), 6-3, and though quarterfinal opponent Emma Raducanu is playing some wonderful tennis of her own at the moment, the 11th-seeded Bencic has experience on her side heading into this matchup against the 150th-ranked 18-year-old. The US Open has always been Bencic's best major, as her top Grand Slam result thus far was her semifinal run here in 2019, and she first burst onto the scene as a player to be reckoned with by making the US Open quarterfinals as a 17-year-old, way back in 2014.
Leylah Fernandez - After knocking off No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka in the third round, Fernandez backed that result up by outlasting No. 16 seed Angelique Kerber 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, giving her consecutive wins over players with multiple Grand Slam titles. Fernandez then celebrated her 19th birthday Monday, and the Canadian youngster will now look to keep her breakout run going against No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina. While Svitolina's playing quite well herself, she'll have all the pressure on her in this match and is known for faltering late in slams — she's the most accomplished player of this generation that's yet to reach a Grand Slam final.