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In a Culling of Men’s Hopefuls, Four Top-Ten Seeds Lose

The opening for opportunity for men at the United States Open appeared to be, as it often is, in the one quarter of the draw without any of the Big Three — Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

The gap in that relatively barren quarter of the draw is much wider after the first-round losses on Tuesday of all three top-10 players placed there.

The fourth-seeded Dominic Thiem bowed out in four sets, falling 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to 87th-ranked Thomas Fabbiano of Italy in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The eighth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas also lost in four sets to the in-form Andrey Rublev, a 43rd-ranked Russian who defeated Federer at the Cincinnati Masters this month. The No. 10 seed, Roberto Bautista Agut, who was the lone non-Big Three semifinalist at Wimbledon this year, lost in five sets to the 47th-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.

Bautista’s exit may have been the most surprising. He has been one of the steadiest players of this year, particularly on hard courts, earning two wins over the top-ranked Djokovic. Bautista, 31, is at an age when players seem to reliably perform at or near expectations in Grand Slams. For the younger generation, that has been a considerable challenge.

Thiem, 25, who is the only male player currently younger than 30 to have won a set in a Grand Slam final, lost in the first round of a Grand Slam for a second straight time, after meekly falling to Sam Querrey at the same stage at Wimbledon.

Thiem carried an illness to New York that made his expectations measured, as he told the news media from Austria, his home country, on Monday.

“My goal, of course, is to get through the first round somehow, and then it would be a day off,” he said. “So I give myself some time, that I will be fully fit at some point in the tournament — but of course it can also be over tomorrow.”

And it was, quickly. Thiem said that he got “very, very tired and exhausted after two sets.” He congratulated Fabbiano on the victory but said he could not assess his opponent’s form.

“I don’t know how much his performance is worth,” Thiem said, “because it was not against the real me.”

As Tsitsipas, 21, lost, he took out his frustrations on the chair umpire, Damien Dumusois, who told Tsitsipas to hurry up when he dawdled on a changeover. Tsitsipas became increasingly animated as he accused the official of bias.

“Because you’re French, probably, and you’re all weirdos!” Tsitsipas, who is from Greece, said theatrically.

He was not penalized for his outburst, but he did receive a time violation.

Though disappointed after the loss, Tsitsipas did not have the same reaction that he did after losing in the first round of Wimbledon — that time to Fabbiano — where he was morose in the interview room (and then locked himself in his room for several days).

When Tsitsipas sat at the podium on Tuesday, the first thing he said was: “I’m not going to react again like in Wimbledon. That’s the only thing I know.”

Later, he added: “I saw myself in that interview a couple of days later, and it didn’t feel right. My reaction was too much. I mean, there are far worse things in life than losses, and that day felt like someone was in the grave.”

Still, Tsitsipas expressed considerable angst.

“I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again, and my brain can’t really take it anymore,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing the same routines on the court, the same execution, the same strategies and everything. And I feel like my mind is just — I don’t feel inspired. I play out on the court, and I don’t feel like I’m chasing something.”

Tsitsipas met a goal this month when he made his debut in the top five after reaching the semifinals in Washington. The sudden weight of that standard, he said, became crushing, and he lost in the first round of the Rogers Cup and the Cincinnati Masters, then slipped to No. 8.

“I was really excited when I saw that No. 5 and my name next to it; then I realized that in order to stay up there, I have to be very, very consistent, doing semifinals, finals, winning titles,” Tsitsipas said. “I don’t know why that got in my brain a little bit.”

Only one player left in the quarter, the unpredictable Gaël Monfils, has ever made a Grand Slam semifinal.

In addition to the losses in the relatively barren quarter of the bracket, one top-10 player fell out of a quarter of the draw anchored by the second-seeded Rafael Nadal. The ninth-seeded Karen Khachanov lost in five sets to the 216th-ranked Vasek Pospisil, falling 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. In the same quarter, the sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev appeared in complete command of his first-round match against Moldova’s Radu Albot, but then wavered in the third and fourth sets before closing out a 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 victory.


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