Novak Djokovic got a much-needed walkover into the third round of the 2016 U.S. Open when Jiri Vesely withdrew due to injury.
As unfortunate as it was for Vesely, it was fortuitous for Djokovic, as the world No. 1 was visibly struggling with an arm injury in his first-round win over Jerzy Janowicz and was unlikely to be at his best in the second round.
Fans will get a better sense of his capabilities on Friday afternoon when he takes on Mikhail Youzhny in the early action from Flushing Meadows, New York.
There are plenty of other stars to check out on Day 5 before the prime-time matchups, including Madison Keys, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Marin Cilic.
Friday's matches will start at 11 a.m. ET, with live-streaming via WatchESPN. Television coverage will go from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on ESPN before switching over to ESPN2 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET.
|2016 U.S. Open Friday Afternoon Picks|
|Monica Niculescu vs. Caroline Wozniacki||Arthur Ashe Stadium||Wozniacki in two|
|No. 8 Madison Keys vs. Naomi Osaka||Arthur Ashe Stadium||Keys in two|
|No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. Mikhail Youzhny||Arthur Ashe Stadium||Djokovic in four|
|No. 7 Roberta Vinci vs. Carina Witthoeft||Louis Armstrong Stadium||Vinci in two|
|No. 26 Jack Sock vs. No. 7 Marin Cilic||Louis Armstrong Stadium||Cilic in four|
|No. 14 Petra Kvitova vs. No. 22 Elina Svitolina||Louis Armstrong Stadium||Kvitova in three|
|No. 20 John Isner vs. Kyle Edmund||Louis Armstrong Stadium||Isner in three|
|No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. No. 23 Kevin Anderson||Grandstand||Tsonga in four|
|No. 13 Johanna Konta vs. No. 24 Belinda Bencic||Grandstand||Bencic in three|
|No. 10 Gael Monfils vs. Nicolas Almagro||Grandstand||Monfils in five|
|Kateryna Bondarenko vs. Anastasija Sevastova||Court 17||Sevastova in three|
|Marcos Baghdatis vs. Ryan Harrison||Court 17||Harrison in four|
|No. 24 Lucas Pouille vs. No. 15 Roberto Bautista Agut||Court 17||Agut in four|
|No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova vs. Lesia Tsurenko||Court 5||Cibulkova in three|
|USOpen.org, picks by author|
While Djokovic may be the top-ranked men's tennis player and started off the year in brilliant fashion with wins at the Australian and French Opens, he's looked exceedingly vulnerable over the past month or so.
At Wimbledon, Sam Querrey shocked the world by defeating Djokovic in the third round of a tournament the latter had won the previous two years.
The 29-year-old Serbian then lost another stunner, this time to Juan Martin del Potro in the first round at the 2016 Olympics. A left wrist injury, one that's still proving bothersome, forced Djokovic to withdraw from the Western & Southern Open.
All of this is to say that the extra rest afforded before Friday's matchup against Youzhny hardly could have come at a better time for Djokovic, relieving both mental and physical pressure. Djokovic is known for his relentless commitment to keeping himself in top shape, so it will be interesting to see if he's as capable of recovering from injury as he is at preventing them.
"To be honest, I take it day by day," Djokovic said, per ESPN.com's Greg Garber. "That's what I feel at the moment. It's good, as I said, just to finish the match. I'm pleased that as the match progressed I was feeling better and better."
According to Garber, no one has played more tennis matches than Djokovic's 84 over the past year. The chance to play the 85th on Friday instead of Wednesday may be just what Djokovic needs to get his swagger back.
As for the Americans in play on Friday, Keys is certainly the top player to watch. The No. 8 seed needed three sets that went late into the night to defeat Alison Riske in the first round, but she got her groove back and trounced 16-year-old Kayla Day 6-1, 6-1 in the second round. Per U.S. Open Tennis, Keys was simply overpowering:
A Keys win over Naomi Osaka on Friday would put her into the fourth round, equaling the personal best at the U.S. Open she set last year.
The draw is certainly opening up for her to advance much further.
Should she win on Friday, Keys will take on the winner of the Monica Niculescu-Caroline Wozniacki match in the fourth round. Beyond that, the highest-ranked opponent she could face in the quarterfinals is No. 13 Johanna Konta, who managed to get through an apparent heat-related breakdown in the second round but could very well be upset by 19-year-old Belinda Bencic on Friday. Bencic is 2-1 against Konta in her career.
No. 20 John Isner is the top-ranked American in the men's draw after del Potro saw off No. 19 Steve Johnson on Thursday.
The 6'10" Isner and his booming serve have a good opportunity against unranked Kyle Edmund on Friday, but the former has already played nine sets (three of them tiebreakers) in Flushing Meadows, so stamina could be an issue.
No. 26 Jack Sock is also in play, but he has to take on No. 7 Cilic, who won this competition in 2014 and is playing fantastic tennis as of late. Cilic is 24-16 overall on the year in singles play but has won his last eight matches, including a win over Andy Murray in the final of the Western & Southern Open.
With several of the top players in the men's draw injured or out of sorts, Cilic could be looking at another deep run at the U.S. Open.