World No. 1 Roger Federer, attempting an Open Era-record fourth consecutive US Open title, has brought out the freakiness this year on the men’s side in Flushing Meadows as the draw was unveiled Wednesday.
Of the 16 qualifying positions randomly placed in the 128 position draw, how do FIVE CONSECUTIVE qualifiers land behind Federer? This means the Swiss is guaranteed qualifiers in his first two matches, and possibly his third — unless big-serving American rookie John Isner can top No. 26 seed Jarkko Nieminen in the first round, then beat a qualifier in the second round to give American fans a third-round highlight. Federer vs. Isner? Bring on the drunk New York night tennis fans (‘C’mon you giant freaking kid (hic), serve another ace! Whooo!’).
Then again, early-round highlights aren’t a problem at this year’s US Open. It’s usually the Masters Series events that give fans blockbuster match-ups right from the start, but this year’s Open offers up No. 5 Andy Roddick vs. Justin Gimelstob and No. 6 James Blake vs. “Iron” Mike Russell in all-American openers; former No. 1 and current No. 16 seed Lleyton Hewitt vs. Amer Delic; Tim Henman in what is likely his final US Open vs. No. 27 Dmitry Tursunov; No. 3 Novak Djokovic vs. Mario “Baby Goran” Ancic; No. 4 Nikolay “All In” Davydenko vs. American wildcard, University of Florida player and Federer practice partner Jesse Levine; No. 18 Marcos Baghdatis vs. Max “The Beast” Mirnyi; and American late-blooming prodigy Donald Young vs. Aussie boomer Chris “Penthouse” Guccione.
Now that’s good viewing from Day One, as opposed to the ATP and WTA events that throw all the seeds first-round byes, turning the events into wake-me-when-the-quarters-come-around propositions. No penalty for early-week tickets here.
Potential quarterfinal match-ups are (1) Federer vs. (5) Roddick in a rematch of last year’s final, (6) Blake vs. (4) Davydenko, (8) Tommy Robredo or (11) Mikhail Youzhny vs. (3) Djokovic, and (7) Fernando “Gonzo” Gonzalez or (12) Ivan Ljubicic vs. (2) Nadal.
Federer’s fourth-round opponent could be/should be Richard “Baby Fed” Gasquet. Last year Federer needed three sets to subdue the Frenchman on the hardcourts at the Masters Series-Canada, and likewise on grass at Halle. No better time for Gasquet to make a mental/emotional growth spurt than at the last Slam of the year.
Roddick should have some easy openers before a potentially dicey third-round meeting with No. 32-seeded Croat “Dr.” Ivo Karlovic. Both serve lights-out, both return below average, and the two have gone to tiebreaks in seven of the 10 sets they have played in career meetings.
In the second quarter the high-seeded Davydenko has fellow seeds Nicolas Almagro and Guillermo Canas as potential roadblocks to a quarterfinal meeting with Blake (you can likely count out the struggling-with-injury Andy Murray). Blake could face the tricky Fabrice “The Magician” Santoro in the second round, and seeded threats Baghdatis or Tommy Haas in the fourth round.
Djokovic and Robredo are the top dogs on opposite ends of the third quarter of the draw, with seeds Carlos Moya, Potito Starace and Youzhny in Robredo’s path. Hewitt, Juan Monaco and Jurgen Melzer are potential bumps in Djokovic’s road to the quarters.
Nadal has what should be an opportunity to work his way into the event with an opener against Aussie wildcard Alun Jones, and a second-round meeting against either American wildcard Ryan Sweeting or Serb Janko Tipsarevic. The No. 27-seeded Tursunov likely awaits the Spaniard in the third round, and either No. 15 David Ferrer or No. 24 David Nalbandian in the fourth round.
Last year Federer became the first man to win three consecutive US Open titles since Ivan Lendl in 1984-87 (John McEnroe also did it in 1979-81), and this year attempts to become the only player in the Open Era to win four consecutive. The Swiss has looked shaky since losing to Djokovic in the Masters Series-Canada final, but showed his mental resolve in playing through some poor patches as his top-seeded contemporaries fell by the wayside during the next week at the Masters Series-Cincinnati to capture the title. Shaky or not, Federer remains the safe bet to set US Open history and log another Slam title in his march/dash to Pete Sampras’ all-time record.
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