With the second round of the 2021 US Open in the books, it's time to highlight which players are on the rise and which ones look most vulnerable heading into the next round. 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 usual suspects continue to march through the men's draw, with each of the top seven seeds advancing to the third round and one man cementing his status as the top obstacle standing between Novak Djokovic and history. Things have opened up elsewhere in the draw, though, creating a nice opportunity for one of the four remaining American men to advance further than he ever has before. The top women have continued to play up to their rankings, as the only top-20 seed that didn't make the third round was Jennifer Brady, who pulled out before the tournament started. Contenders will inevitably start to drop out as they begin to face off with each other, but some have much easier roads ahead than others.
Alexander Zverev - Zverev has endured his fair share of early wobbles in Grand Slams over the years, but he looks like a completely different player at the moment. His confidence is soaring after defeating Novak Djokovic en route to capturing the gold medal in Tokyo and backing that effort up with a title in Cincinnati. The fourth-seeded German's storming toward a potential semifinal rematch with Djokovic here, as Sam Querrey and Albert Ramos-Vinolas combined to take just 15 games off Zverev. Third-round opponent Jack Sock – who is in the third round of a major for the first time since the 2017 Australian Open – is unlikely to fare much better than the first two did given Zverev's dominant form.
Diego Schwartzman - Schwartzman had what looked like a daunting draw when the tournament first began, but he's gotten through Ricardas Berankis and Kevin Anderson without dropping a set, while all the other seeds in his section have faltered. With No. 8 Casper Ruud falling to Botic Van de Zandschulp, the 11th-seeded Schwartzman won't face a higher-ranked opponent until the quarterfinals at the earliest, and no seeds remain in his path to that round. Don't expect 138th-ranked Alex Molcan to trouble Schwartzman in the third round.
Reilly Opelka - Opelka's the highest-ranked American left in the men's or women's draw, and the big-serving No. 22 seed has a golden opportunity to reach the Round of 16 in a major for the first time. Having just dispatched talented youngster Lorenzo Musetti 7-6 (1), 7-5, 6-4 for his second consecutive straight-sets victory, Opelka will face an unseeded opponent, Nikoloz Basilashvili, in the third round.
Felix Auger-Aliassime - Auger-Aliassime hasn't looked very impressive so far. The No. 12 seed has dropped only one set through two rounds, but both of his opponents were ranked outside the top 100 and four of the six sets he won went to tiebreaks. The Canadian will need to raise his level substantially to keep pace with 18th-seeded opponent Roberto Bautista Agut in the FAA-RBA third-round battle of acronyms. Bautista Agut has dropped only 12 games through two rounds, including a win over the always-dangerous Nick Kyrgios in his first match.
Frances Tiafoe - The third-round clash between Tiafoe and fellow 23-year-old Andrey Rublev will feature plenty of heavy hitting, and the American could well trouble the fifth-seeded Russian in their first career matchup. Tiafoe's a high-energy player who loves to feed off the crowd, and he often brings his best level against the top competition — he already has wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas at Wimbledon and Denis Shapovalov in Canada in the past couple months.
Bianca Andreescu - The oft-injured Andreescu didn't come into this tournament as match-fit as she would have liked to be, but the sixth-seeded Canadian is as good a strategist and fighter as you'll find on the women's tour. She navigated her way past in-form Wimbledon quarterfinalist Viktorija Golubic 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 in a first-round thriller, then notched a much less stressful 6-4, 6-4 second-round win over Lauren Davis. A comfortable third-round draw against 104th-ranked lucky loser Greet Minnen should allow Andreescu to continue gaining confidence and timing before the challenging matchups of the later rounds. With a perfect 9-0 record at this tournament, Andreescu has what it takes to go all the way if she finds her top form.
Ashleigh Barty - Barty's a freight train steamrolling everyone in her path at the moment. The world No. 1 took home titles at both Wimbledon and Cincinnati recently, and she's beaten tricky opponents young and old at the US Open — neither 36-year-old former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva nor up-and-coming 18-year-old Clara Tauson managed to take a set off Barty in the first two rounds. Third-round opponent Shelby Rogers is unlikely to fare any better, and Barty doesn't have any seeded players left in her path before the quarterfinals. Barty has beaten Rogers all five times they've played, including twice in 2021.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - Pavlyuchenkova's enjoying the best season of her career, and the 14th-seeded French Open runner-up is poised to add another deep Grand Slam run here at the US Open. While 21-year-old countrywoman Varvara Gracheva is no pushover, Pavlyuchenkova's likely breathing a sigh of relief over facing Gracheva rather than No. 24 seed Paula Badosa, who was viewed by many as a pre-tournament dark horse. Pavlyuchenkova beat Gracheva in their lone previous meeting.
Victoria Azarenka - Azarenka's stock being down has more to do with her draw than her own play. The No. 18 seed is probably the top contender for this title outside the top 16, but she'll face a fellow multi-slam winner in the third round in No. 9 Garbine Muguruza. The pair have split their previous four career meetings, but Muguruza should be viewed as a slight favorite at this stage of their respective careers. The projected path forward doesn't get any easier for Azarenka if she's able to beat Muguruza — French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova and No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka would likely await in the fourth round and quarterfinals, respectively.
Daria Kasatkina - Kasatkina is coming off a quality victory over former French Open runner-up and recent Olympic silver medalist Marketa Vondrousova, whom the No. 25 seed was able to defeat 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. That win came on the heels of a convincing 6-2, 6-1 triumph over tricky veteran Tsvetana Pironkova. Given her excellent form through two rounds, Kasatkina's in position to pull a substantial third-round upset over fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina, who has made it past the Round of 16 at the US Open just once before and is a perennial under-performer at Grand Slams.