One is a 32-year-old ranked in his 30s and seemingly well past his best. The other is 34, plays with a metal hip and fights to stay fit.
Incredibly, Marin Cilic and Andy Murray are the only two male players, other than Novak Djokovic, in the US Open with a Grand Slam title to their name, the former winner of Flushing Meadows seven years ago.
The others, including defending champion Dominic Thiem, have sustained long-term injuries as their bodies rise up against the load.
Novak Djokovic is the favorite to win the US Open and claim his 21st Grand Slam title
The only other male entrants to have won a Grand Slam are Andy Murray and Marin Cilic
So if anyone wants Djokovic to stop making history for the next two weeks, he’s going to have to come from a small, younger group trying to go where they’ve never been before.
Alternatively, the 34-year-old Serb could somehow beat himself up and succumb to what will be suffocating pressure.
Not only is he trying to emulate Rod Laver’s 1969 Open era feat of winning all four Grand Slams in the same year, but he’s also trying to get ahead of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s 20 major titles.
Hitting himself is what Djokovic did 12 months ago, ending a summer of embarrassment by knocking down a linesman when he angrily wiped a ball.
The others, including defending champion Dominic Thiem, have long-term injuries
He has responded brilliantly this year by putting everything ahead of him, although the Olympics reminded us that a self-destructive temper lurks not far below the surface. His racket-throwing tantrums in Tokyo showed he’s all too human, even though his metronomic genius often argues against it.
Djokovic goes into the fortnight – opening against highly regarded Danish teenager Holger Rune – to rationalize what lies ahead.
“I don’t want to say it’s now or never for me because I think I’ll have more chances in my life to win Slams,” he said.
“I don’t know if I’ll get more chances to win the Slams on the calendar. That’s why it’s a unique opportunity.’
His failed medal bid in Tokyo is the only tennis he has played since Wimbledon, but his vast experience and a benign early draw probably make that irrelevant. It’s that huge reservoir of know-how that gives him a decisive edge over the four players who pose the most realistic threat.
Djokovic is one of only three players involved who has actually won a Grand Slam. have won
The likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas are among the most realistic threats to Djokovic
These are the twenty-somethings Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex Zverev and Matteo Berrettini.
Think what it took for the then most likely man, Thiem, to win in New York last year. Federer and Nadal were both absent and Djokovic withdrew from the tournament.
Even then, the Austrian only just managed to sneak across the line in what turned out to be a painful, almost awkward final against Zverev.
All in the aforementioned group have shown that they can compete at Djokovic’s level. However, none of them have proven they have the mental strength to do it in the best-of-five-set format, especially at the peak moments when the pressure is at its peak.
This may explain the extravagant predictions, after Wimbledon, that Djokovic could end up with a Grand Slam total in the late 1920s or even 1930s.
It is more likely that Djokovic does indeed exclude Nadal and Federer.
But once he’s safely in front and the other two off the scene, which may be soon, his motivation will likely wane in the knowledge that his performance at the majors is untouchable. The Slams will then dry up.
Nothing is inevitable for the next two weeks, as this is a Grand Slam with many uncertainties.
Unlike others, it will not be kept within a tightly constrained player bubble during the pandemic. Just like in the final phase of Wimbledon, there will be a large audience.
It is more likely that Djokovic is indeed outside Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer
Probably less than half of the players have been vaccinated, much to Murray’s dismay.
As a result, 36-year-old French player Gilles Simon has been withdrawn and, after rejecting the jab, locked up in his hotel room for 10 days as close contact with his coach, who tested positive.
So all things may not be equal, but if they are, Djokovic will probably make more history.