New Olympian Max Purcell is set for a first round date with Italian Jannik Sinner. (Photo: Tennis Australia)

Seven Australian men will be competing for US Open glory come Tuesday, including new first-time Olympians and a returning star.

It’s going to be a lot of early starts for Australian spectators as the US Open kicks off on Tuesday.

The final major of the Grand Slam circuit for 2021 might be one of the most competitive for the Aussies of the men’s draw, highlighted by Nick Kyrgios’ return after pulling out of the Olympics.

The Inner Sanctum takes you through the men competing for US Open glory.

Nick Kyrgios

King Kyrgios has returned to claim his crown, after announcing on his social channels ahead of Tokyo 2020 that he wouldn’t be participating in the Olympics.

Worryingly, Kyrgios pulled out of his first round match against Andy Murray in the Winston-Salem Open just five days ago with a knee injury. He described it as “just a little pain” to media, so the hope is that the concerns are minor.

He’ll need to be at his best, however, with a first round clash against world number 21 Roberto Bautista-Agut.

The two have only come head to head twice, both times on the hard court, their most recent clash in 2020 at the ATP Cup. It was a dismal straight-sets loss for Kyrgios, going down 6-1, 6-4.

Bautista-Agut’s record on the hard court speaks for itself, winning 67% of matches across his career. Kyrgios returns serve on that with a 50% record on the hard court in 2021.

If Kyrgios can overcome the Spaniard however, he would be going in favourite against the winner of the unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori/Kamil Majchrzak match-up, where a third round clash with Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The pair most recently met in the third round of Wimbledon, where Kyrgios got off to a flying start with a 6-2 first set victory. He retired after losing the second set, once again through injury.

If Kyrgios can overcome the challenge of his early opponent and stay fit and healthy, he’s every chance of reaching his highest ever placement at the US Open and make the round of 16.

Best In Show: Nick Kyrgios Feeds Off Fans' Support To Reach Third Round |  ATP Tour | Tennis
Kyrgios playing against Gianluca Mager in the second round at Wimbledon. (Photo: ATP Tour)

James Duckworth

Duckworth has never made it past the second round of the US Open, and unfortunately, probably won’t be again in 2021.

His first round match up with Spaniard Pedro Martinez will be the first time the two go head-to-head, so there’s no prior history or results to go off.

Duckworth, however, should be more prepared for the hard court. He’s played 17 games on the surface in 2021, winning 10, while Martinez has only played five, favouring clay.

Getting past Martinez however, is the least of Duckworth’s worries. A date with world number seven Andrey Rublev looms as the tournament ender for the Aussie.

The two have also never met in tournament before, but the Russian’s record and ranking speaks for itself. Rublev is sitting on a 41/14 record for the year coming into the US Open.

He has been upset on more than one occasion so far this year, however. Rublev lost to German Jan-Lennard Struff in a five set epic in the first round of the French Open, and to Kei Nishikori at Tokyo 2020.

Should the pattern continue, Duckworth is in with a shot to reach the third round. However, we wouldn’t be counting on it.

Max Purcell

He got the late, late call up to Tokyo 2020, and Purcell didn’t waste it. In what was undoubtedly the biggest tournament of his life, the 23-year-old took down Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-62.

It’ll be Australian tennis fans’ first chance to watch Purcell on the Grand Slam stage after he was knocked out in the second round of qualifying for the Australian Open.

Purcell’s coming into the US Open on a strong run of form, making it through to the Round of 16 in the lead up event at the Winston-Salem Open.

His first round opponent in Jannik Sinner is one of the youngest players in the tournament, having just turned 20 two weeks ago. Outside of an aberration in 2020, he has a strong record on the hard court at 45/28.

While Purcell has a few years on him, Sinner has been on the biggest stages already. He made a remarkable run in the French Open just months ago, including a straight sets victory over Mikael Ymer to advance to a round of 16 battle with Rafael Nadal.

Both players are set to be real wildcards in this bracket, and the winner could go as far as their momentum carries them.

Purcell, Duckworth and Tomlja... | Australian Olympic Committee
Purcell won his first round match at Tokyo 2020 in a massive upset. (Photo: Australian Olympic Committee)

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John Millman

The second highest ranked Aussie man at the US Open, Millman will be looking to avenge his poor major performances this year, being knocked out in the first round of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

His recent form on the hard court has been passable, winning his first round matches in Tokyo, Washington and Toronto. However it was only in Washington that he won more than once, before going down in the third round to Jenson Brooksby.

Millman will go in as favourite against world number 130 Henri Laaksonen. The pair have played once before, but it was all the way back in 2012 where Millman won in straight sets.

It was as recently as 2018 when he made it to the US Open quarter-finals, where he went down valiantly to Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Win, and Millman likely comes up against world number 19 Cristian Garin for the second time this year. It was a whitewash when the two met in Monte Carlo, Millman going down 6-1, 6-4.

Millman has the capability to reach the third round and beyond, but his draw certainly doesn’t favour him with Ugo Humbert the likely next opponent beyond Garin.

Millman into quarterfinals at Washington | 6 August, 2021 | All News | News  and Features | News and Events | Tennis Australia
Millman had a strong showing on the hard court in Washington. (Photo: Tennis Australia)

Alexei Popyrin

Popyrin has been grinding out the lead up events across North America, from Atlanta to Washington, and Toronto to Cincinnati. Unfortunately for him though, he’s either dropped in qualifying or the event’s first round for the majority.

He managed to take down American Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-4 in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open after qualifying, but didn’t make it past his next opponent.

Popyrin didn’t compete in the US Open last year, but in 2019 he managed to advance to the third round with a straight sets and four set victory.

He then went on to put on a show against current world number eight Matteo Berrettini, going down in four sets but not before taking two of those to tiebreakers, the first of which he won.

While first round opponent Radu Albot has a fair swathe of experience in advantage over Popyrin, the results fall on the Australian’s side.

Over the past two years, Albot has won just three of his 15 games on the hard court. Popyrin, conversely, has 10 of 19 this year. Albot did win those games on the big stage at the Australian Open, however.

The two have never gone head-to-head, but nearly met at the Singapore Open in February. Albot was eliminated in the semi-final, while Popyrin went on to win the event.

Should he win, his round two opponent will like be world number 18 Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Popyrin 6-4, 65-7, 6-3 at the Murray River Open earlier in the year in the lead up to the Australian Open.

Alexei Popyrin Serves Up Maiden Title In Singapore | ATP Tour | Tennis
Popyrin after winning the Singapore Open. (Photo: ATP Tour)

Alex de Minaur

The second highest ranked Aussie of the US Open and the highest ranked man, we’ll be pinning all of our hopes on the men’s side of the draw on de Minaur.

It’s a hope to rely on, hopefully. He’s gone head-to-head with opponent Taylor Fritz four times across the past three years, and has beaten him in straight sets every time. You’d have to pencil it in as a win.

De Minaur has won two tournaments this year, at Antalya and Eastbourne. He also reached the semi-final at Queen’s Club in the lead up to Wimbledon.

He showed up strongly at the Australian Open before going down in straight sets to Fabio Fognini. While his lead ups haven’t been ideal results wise, de Minaur loves the US Open.

His results have consistently trended upwards across his three previous outings in New York, going from the third round to the round of 16 to the quarter-finals.

Moving into the second round, de Minaur should go in with confidence against either Jenson Brooksby or Mikael Ymer. Brooksby he won’t be taking lightly however, being the man who beat his fellow Aussie in John Millman in Washington.

The first danger match in de Minaur’s bracket will likely come against either Aslan Karatsev or fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson in the third round. There’ll be confidence in the fact that de Minaur beat his likely opponent last year in Sofia 6-4, 7-65 in the round of 16.

What would await him beyond that would then be world number one Novak Djokovic. It would be the first time the two meet in tournament in what would be a high octane, alarm-setting worthy match-up.

Alex de Minaur Reaches Queen's Club QFs As Aslan Karatsev Falls | ATP Tour  | Tennis
Alex de Minaur had a strong lead up to Wimbledon. (Photo: ATP Tour)

Jordan Thompson

Thompson, like de Minaur, has slowly improved his performances at the US Open year by year, going from the first round to the second to the round of 16 across 2018-2020.

He’s run at an exact 50 per cent on the hard court across the past three years. This came after a massive 2018 season of challenger tournaments which saw him put up a 32/15 hard court record.

Thompson fell to fellow Australian Max Purcell in the second round of the Winston-Salem lead up event, while he reached the quarter-finals in a tight two set loss.

His best result for the season came on grass though, reaching the semi-final in Newport after losing out in the third round of Wimbledon.

In terms of head to head, Thompson did battle with first round opponent Gianluca Mager at the Great Ocean Road Open. After losing the first set 4-6, he came back with a 6-4, 6-3 combo to polish the Italian off soundly.

The challenge of Aslan Karatsev will stand between him and a likely double Aussie match-up in the third round against Alex de Minaur. Unfortunately, we’ll have to lose one of the Australians in the bracket there in a best case scenario.

Just like de Minaur, Thompson would love the opportunity to be able to challenge Novak Djokovic for the first time in a tournament bracket.

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