The draws will be out on Thursday, but before then here are my initial thoughts on the upcoming US Open men’s favorites.
1. Andy Murray
He’s the defending champion and he’s won three of the last five biggest tournaments (including the Olympics), and reached the finals at the last four Slams he’s entered. The US Open was his first Major win so despite a lousy 2-week summer swing I expect him to be fully re-energized and motivated again in New York. That said, he could have to beat Federer, Djokovic and then Nadal to defend! Wow!
2. Rafael Nadal
It’s hard to deny that Rafael Nadal is playing the best tennis of anyone this year. There’s really no one close. He’s got 9 titles in 11 events and on hardcourts he hasn’t lost since March of 2012! Of course he did miss the last half of last year with that knee, but so far so good this season. All seems to be magically clicking. And while he hasn’t played Murray this year (or really since the fall of 2011), he has wins over Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro on hardcourts! If he can avoid the long matches early on and be fresh for the final – remember it’s on a Monday so he’ll get a day off to recover from the semis – he’s going to be awfully tough to beat with a title on the line.
3. Juan Martin Del Potro
After his poor finish against John Isner in Cincinnati I thought about dropping him further down, but as a former champion I think (what I really mean to say is: I hope) that he’ll come good in New York. Delpo’s had a great year playing pre-wrist surgery tennis (though his other wrist is acting up as is his back) and the hardcourts are his favorite surface. Like Nadal, if he can stay fresh early on he’ll be that much better late in the tournament. What would really bolster his chances is if he lands in the Ferrer quadrant.
4. Novak Djokovic
The 4-time Australian Open champ has only won the US Open once, but it seems like he should have won it a few more times for someone who’s been to the semis six straight years. Djokovic has a great game for the slick surface and right now he’s as healthy as anyone. But he comes in on a shortage of confidence. Djokovic admitted to playing horribly in a loss to Isner last week and his most recent title came four months ago in Monte Carlo. The magic from 2011 is long gone, we know, but did anything else leave him as well?
5. Roger Federer
He’s the 5-time champion but with just one top 10 win this year it’s hard to see the 32-year-old doing much damage. Could Roger rev up the crowd, turn back the clock and beat a Djokovic in a quarterfinal night match on Ashe? I think he certainly could. But for him to then follow it up with two more big wins is too much to ask. Like Del Potro, if he finds a nice, soft place in Ferrer’s section, then he gets some upsets, watch out.
Tomas Berdych: Played well in Cincinnati and beat Federer at the Open last year, but in late stages of tournaments the Czech still checks out.
John Isner: Had the summer of the life but will he have anything left in the fuel tank for New York? All it takes is one 5-setter and that usually spells doom for the giant in Majors. The fast courts help his serve but it hurts his return, so expect more sets filled with breakers, drama and eventual fatigue.
Milos Raonic: Beat a substandard Del Potro in a controversial win a few weeks ago en route to his breakout Canadian final. But mentally and emotionally I’m not convinced he can duplicate that success at a Slam. At least not yet.
Jerzy Janowicz: Flamed out this summer but on a fast hardcourt has the game and the fire that the US Open crowd would get behind. Question is, can the surprise Wimbledon semifinalist give them something to cheer about?
David Ferrer: A former US Open semifinalist, he was having one of his best years until August hit. And now he comes into the US Open with little momentum. Although, he’ll be helped by the best-of-5 format so if he gets some good wins early he could reemerge as a viable threat again in week two. And he always seems to play his best at the Majors!
I’ll have more once the draw comes out but with really only Nadal playing good tennis right this very minute among the top guys (maybe Berdych, maybe Delpo also), this could turn into another surprising weekend of semifinalists as we have seen the last month or so. The days of the Top 4 walking their way into the semis appear to be over.
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