There’s an age-old saying in the financial markets that the “trend is your friend.” I like applying that same axiom to men’s pro tennis, that is the guys playing well going into Grand Slams tend to be the ones putting up the good results, while the guys struggling entering majors often get bounced early. Of course there are more than plenty of examples of players bucking that trend and performing counter to how they played pre-event, but in my mind of all the four Slams the US Open through the years is the one that finds form and follows the pre-tournament trend the most.
Players who reach the US Open final usually don’t emerge from nowhere like we often see at the French Open, Australian Open and to a lesser degree Wimbledon. A look at the recent champions list is a testament to that. And I think this year should be no different.
I said in July that with the addition of the Beijing Olympics to the schedule that results this summer would go rather unpredictably, with no one player dominating. Well, I was wrong. Turns out one single player did dominate the summer, and it was Rafael Nadal who won both Canada and the Olympic gold medal, and now he has sights firmly set on a third straight Grand Slam title, the US Open which begins Monday.
I also said last month that no player would be able to win both the Olympics and the US Open. It’s too tough, too demanding I thought. Well, I’m taking that statement back, because I think Nadal does just that. He stays on his roll, stays true to his uptrend and wins the US Open.
Now I didn’t think this way a week ago, but after seeing how the draw came out, I’m not sure how he loses. As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, one of Nadal’s greatest weapons in a Slam is not his forehand, backhand or speed, it’s the format. In a best-of-five someone is going to have to win three sets to beat Rafa at Flushing over these next two weeks to stop him. And with the way he’s playing right now, good luck.
I need only three fingers to tally the numbers of players to win a set off Nadal this year in a Slam (Tsonga, Gulbis, Federer) and all of them are on the other half of the draw.
In fact, only two guys in Rafa’s half have beaten the Spaniard this year – Juan Carlos Ferrero and Mikhail Youhzny – and there won’t be a rematch for either in New York next week.
And another benefit for Nadal, and a big reason why I see him eating another trophy at the end, is that both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic wound up in the same side of the draw which, at the US Open, means if they do meet in the semifinals the winner would have to play Nadal the very next day. That’s a big advantage to Nadal, who will likely contend with an easier foe like Andy Murray. Plus, if the cards play out with Nadal v. Murray and Federer v. Djokovic, odds are the Nadal match will be the first match on that Saturday followed by the marquee Federer-Djokovic tussle immediately afterward.
All that said, maybe Nadal does not walk away with the title or even get to the final. Maybe No. 1 gets to him like it did to his countrymen – how many Slams finals did Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero appear in after reaching they each reached No. 1 ranking? A big fat zero, that’s how many.
But I really can’t see Rafa losing before the quarterfinals where I think he’ll face James Blake. With the way the draw sets up, Blake is the only guy who I think can stop Rafa’s march. Again, Novak or Roger are better players than Blake, but they’ll have to beat Rafa a day after a semifinal while Blake gets Rafa with a scheduled day off, and he’ll have the NY night crowd and the J-Block fully behind him. David Nalbandian? Hasn’t exactly been lighting it up has he? And my man Gael Monfils? He’s improving but he’s still a couple years away from beating No. 1s in Slams.
As for Murray, I really like his draw and I do think he’ll emerge to the semifinals to meet Rafa. I really hope, though, that his path to get there goes through Juan Martin Del Potro, the summer star and winner of his last 19 matches. I watched a lot of Del Potro the last month and I like what I saw. The 19-year-old’s really got a massive game. He’s improved his quickness and shot selection, his ground strokes are deadly off either wing and he gets free points off his serve. He reminds me a lot of Gustavo Kuerten. But if JMDP does to get to Murray, and I think he will, the Scot gets him. JMDP won a lot of matches the last month but not against the elite-level players, and he hasn’t proven much of anything at a Grand Slam level or in big, pressure matches. Murray has.
As I touched on in my last post, Andy Roddick and his new coach Patrick McEroe are really up against it from the get go at the Open this year. Roddick starts with Fabrice Santoro only to then face Ernest Gulbis. Wow. Then to play Andreas Seppi followed by either Nicolas Kiefer or Fernando Gonzalez. Needless to say, things couldn’t have turned out tougher for the struggling Roddick early on. But I think McEnroe will ignite a spark under Roddick and he’ll somehow get through…Get through Fabrice Santoro that is, only to get beat by Gulbis. I really want to believe that Roddick beats Ernests, but it’s just an awful match-up for Andy who doesn’t do well against guys who have decent serves to go along with solid groundstrokes, and Gulbis has that and a whole lot more. Plus, the trend really is not Andy’s friend in this case. This summer hasn’t been one for the scrap books.
And while Roddick, Gulbis, Gonzalez and Kiefer fight it out, awaiting the victor of that section in the quarters will be Novak Djokovic, who really is on easy street with maybe Robby Ginepri in the third round and then Carlos Moya round four before a dangerous quarterfinal clash with Gonzalez.
That brings me to Mr. Federer. The former No. 1 and defending champion Mr. Federer, that is. Now that Roger’s hopes of Olympic singles gold have been washed away, his hopes of finishing the year No. 1 all but over, he’s now turned to the US Open to salvage his fledgling season. The trend however for Federer has been down on hardcourts, and down hard of late. Luckily for the Swiss the Tennis Gods have smiled upon him yet again by blessing Fed with a virtual breeze to the semifinals.
Might Roger lose early? The ways he’s been playing this summer he very well could. Maybe Stepanek breaks out that worm dance during play with Nicole Vaidisova, or perhaps Fernando Verdasco actually lives up to his vast potential and finally gets that big Slam match victory we’ve been waiting for, but I really don’t see either happening. So I like Roger to the quarterfinals where he could face his first real test in either Nikolay Davydenko or Richard Gasquet. Of the two, Davydenko would be tougher foe but I think it’s Gasquet who gets there. Unfortunately for Richard, in a best-of-five format I just don’t think he can mentally hold it together long enough to put away Federer.
That makes my US Open final four as Nadal v. Murray and Djokovic v. Federer. And in the final I like Nadal beating Novak leaving the Spaniard just seven Melbourne from an historic Rafa Golden Slam.
As for the women, in the semifinals I’ll go with Dinara Safina to beat Serena Williams and Sveta Kunzetsova to beat Jelena Jankovic. In the final I’ll take Sveta to pull the upset and beat Dinara.
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