In less than a week the tennis world will turn its eye toward New York City for the final Grand Slam of the 2014 tennis calendar. Unfortunately, with the absence of defending champion Rafael Nadal and the former winner Juan Martin Del Potro, the event, for me at least, doesn’t that same buzz. Not on the men’s side.
Plus, there just hasn’t been a lot of good, top quality tennis played this summer.
Roger Federer’s been the upfront story winning in Cincinnati and reaching the Toronto final, but with Novak Djokovic reeling, Andy Murray still in a haze, Stan Wawrinka adjusting to fame, who other than the Swiss comes into New York full on confidence?
With that, let me handicap my favorites.
1. Novak Djokovic
After one of his worst summer circuits – he won just TWO matches – I expect the newly-married Djokovic to turn things around in New York where he’s been to the final the last four years, winning in
No Nadal means a clean path to potentially locking away the No. 1 ranking. And another chance at a US Open title before the baby comes in a few months. And knows where his motivation will be once the baby comes.
What will benefit him the most is the easy first week schedule when top guys like him often face some players ranked triple digits or thereabouts. So he shouldn’t have to worry about playing a Top 30 player caliber like Gilles Simon or Gael Monfils or even a Tommy Robredo right away. He’ll have a week to refine his game, make adjustments as needed, in preparation for a big week two.
And with the best-of-5 format beating Novak becomes that much tougher. So a couple of straight sets wins the first few rounds should help him “play his way” into the tournament nicely.
Of course if he starts dropping sets to Tobias Kamke then all bets are off!
2. Roger Federer
The biggest beneficiary of no Rafael Nadal is Roger Federer. Roger, a) won’t have to worry about playing Rafa, and b) is seeded second so he won’t play Djokovic until the final. That’s great news.
And even better news is aside from maybe JW Tsonga or one of his countryman (Monfils, Simon), maybe John Isner, maybe Tomas Berdych, maybe a healthy Nishikori or Djokovic, who’s going to beat Roger over 5 sets?
Raonic? Pospisil? Ferrer? Dimitrov? Murray? Cilic? I don’t see it. They are just not playing well enough right now to do it.
Looking at the rankings there’s only a handful of guys who a healthy Federer, in-form would lose to with the way he’s been playing all year.
Last season we saw a lot of issues for Federer – losing to Delbonis, Brands, etc. This year even his losses have been good ones. So someone will have to play really well to beat him.
That said, if there’s a concern it’s his consistency. As we’ve seen this summer he’s prone to dropping sets and if he ends up in a few too many long matches in NY then maybe at age 33 that (and all the tennis he’s played the last two weeks) catches up to him down the road.
It’s not grass, so the hardcourts will take their toll.
3. Andy Murray
It’s hard to make a guy who hasn’t been to a final in 13 months a third favorite but who else is there? JW Tsonga?
Murray’s looked good in moments this year. But he’s also looked really bad in others, and my guess is we’ll see more of good-bad fluctuation in New York. Back injury, Lendl, Mauresmo, I just don’t know anymore with him. Based on his results there’s nothing to lead me to believe he can win a Slam right now.
But he is a former champion and I think like Djokovic, if he can win a few easy matches early on, maybe he gets into a good rhythm for a stretch run.
Or maybe not. As a No. 8 seed that stretch run might see him face Djokovic or Federer in the quarters. Whoops.
4. JW Tsonga
We saw him take a flame thrower to the Toronto field only (expectedly) fizzle out in Cincinnati. That’s what you get with Jo: one day hot, next day cold. And that problem in exacerbated at a Slam where a guy like him has to stay redline 21 sets over 14 days. That’s a lot to ask. But if he can manage his game and keep his wits then there’s no reason he can’t make it deep into week two. Again, who’s playing well right now?
I just don’t know if he can reprise wins over Djokovic and Federer over 5-sets.
5. Stan Wawrinka
So far since Australian Stan hasn’t dealt with pressure particularly well. He won Monte Carlo but anything else of note? And now he faces a US Open semifinal defense.
For Stan I don’t see an issue with him playing a top guy (I think he can beat anyone in the field!), it’s more of him letting down early on and losing to someone he shouldn’t lose to, like a Benneteau last week.
6. Tomas Berdych
Speaking of beating players, Berdych, a former US Open semifinalist, hasn’t defeated anyone in the Top 40 since the French Open! That’s not very encouraging for a guy with his game and his history – a good hardcourt player who also once made the Wimbledon final!
But he’s also a guy who comes to life just when you write him off. So don’t sleep on the bird who might be the guy no one wants to see in their draw.
7. Milos Raonic
Milos’s been the best, most consistent player of the new wave, but this summer while he put up some good results – Wimbledon SFs, Washington title, Cincinnati SFs, he just doesn’t seem to play well against the top guys. Against Federer last week he essentially mailed it in. I saw no belief – nor did Federer I’m. And that’s a concern, though he’s still just 23.
And like Berdych, he also hasn’t beaten any big guys. Since the start of the French Open he’s beaten just ONE Top 20 player – Nishikori in four sets at Wimbledon. So those great results, take them with a grain of salt.
Milos will need another good draw to go deep and I’m not yet convinced of his -set fitness yet. But I do think one day he’ll be holding up the US Open title.
8. Grigor Dimitrov
I’ll slide in Dimitrov as my 8th favorite. After his Wimbledon semifinal he didn’t do much this summer. I think because it’s a Slam he’ll put up some better results once he gets a couple easy wins early on. And the courts and conditions should suit his game. Will he go further than girlfriend Maria Sharpova? I’m not so sure.
Other guys on my radar are:
John Isner: After a poor summer he might actually be fresh for a change in New York.
David Ferrer: Has done well in New York before and always plays well in Slams.
Ernests Gulbis: Fallen off since his big win over Federer at the French, but maybe a revival?
Marin Cilic: A 2-time US Open quarterfinalist who missed last year.
Gilles Simon: When healthy can be a tricky foe for anyone.
Fernando Verdasco: Am I stupid for thinking he might do well?
Nick Kyrgios: US Open crowd would love this kid and he’d more than reciprocate.
Gael Monfils: He’s finally playing good tennis, but can he stay focused for 5 sets?
The qualifying is already underway, and the main draws will be out on Thursday at noon. I got a feeling this is going to one crazy US Open…
The top 16 US Open seeds: 1 Novak Djokovic, Serbia; 2 Roger Federer, Switzerland; 3 Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland; 4 David Ferrer, Spain; 5 Milos Raonic, Canada; 6 Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic; 7 Grigor Dimitrov, Bulgaria; 8 Andy Murray, Great Britain; 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France; 10 Kei Nishikori, Japan; 11 Ernests Gulbis, Latvia; 12 Richard Gasquet, France; 13 John Isner, United States; 14 Marin Cilic, Croatia, 15 Fabio Fognini, Italy; 16 Tommy Robredo, Spain
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