It seems strange, but the U.S. summer hardcourt season just isn’t what it use to be. Years ago, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and even guys like Patrick Rafter and Yevgeny Kafelnikov would play several events leading up to the US Open. These days, for most of the top guys it’s one event (Roger Federer), likely two (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal) and sometimes if we are lucky three (Andy Murray).
But no longer do we see them playing several events like they do before the French. I guess it’s better than nothing.
So finally we have a big time draw for a big time tournament as the Canadian Open in Montreal begins next week.
First quarter: Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych
Leading the way is of course world No. 1 Djokovic. The Serb has a pretty good draw with Jack Sock, the struggling/ailing/cheating Grigor Dimitrov and then maybe Tomas Berdych. Novak’s had a month off since his third Wimbledon crown. He’s rested, he’s ready and I just don’t think anyone is going to stop him. That said, someone like Berdych could, but I’m not picking that upset. Berdych could also run into Kevin Anderson in that section. We haven’t seen those two frequent combatants play at all this year!
The pick: Djokovic
Second quarter: Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic
For some reason I’m buying into Stan Wawrinka right now. When that happens he usually loses, so punters take note. And he’s got a very tough draw with the Nick Kyrgios-Fernando Verdasco winner as his first hardcourt match in months. Then possibly John Isner (who might pull out if he wins Washington), and likely Richard Gasquet in the quarters. Canadian king Milos Raonic is in there but I don’t think he’s match ready after that injury layoff. So is it Stan? Well, I think maybe he gets bounced in the second round – especially if the courts are quick – and that will leave someone like Gasquet getting through.
The pick: Gasquet (I must be nutz)
Third quarter: Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori
One of the big stories of the week will be Rafael Nadal. He won on clay in Hamburg – great – and I’m sure he’s feeling good about where his head is at. But now we are hardcourts. Now we are playing with the big names. It’s also on the surface he and those damn knees dread. But I like his draw with Sergiy Stakhovsky and then Viktor Troicki or Gilles Simon, with a run-in against Kei Nishikori in the quarters. If Nishikori loses Saturday in D.C. in his US Open rematch with Marin Cilic, I think Rafa can sneak through. Otherwise, I like Nishikori.
The pick: Rafael Nadal
Fourth quarter: Andy Murray, Marin Cilic
It was a rough start for Andy Murray this week in Washington, losing to Gabashvili. I don’t think he’ll have a relapse in Montreal against either Feliciano Lopez or Tommy Robredo, though both are of higher quality than the Russian. But there are a lot of obstacles. In what is arguably the tougher quarter, we have defending champion JW Tsonga who plays the phenom Borna Coric, and also Cilic, plus we have maybe the match of the first round with Gael Monfils against Fabio Fognini. Yikes! If the courts are quick that could hurt Murray and help someone like Cilic who seems to be finding his groove again. So for me, it’s the Croat!
The pick: Cilic (I must be totally nutz)
So in my semifinals I have:
Djokovic d. Gasquet and Cilic over Nadal.
And I’ll take Djokovic to win the title.
Really? Cilic? What the hell!
Honestly, since it’s the first big hardcourt event since Miami, we could see more than a few surprises. Heck, even Djokovic could lose somewhere like to Sock or Berdych. Remember last year Novak lost to Tsonga in Canada and then Robredo in Cincinnati!
I like Stan but that draw is tricky. Nishikori’s a big question mark if he wins Washington. The same for Isner. Nadal doesn’t engender a lot of confidence right now, especially if the courts are quick.
And Murray is the second favorite but I just can’t shake that Wimbledon semifinal loss to Federer and then that Washington result. Maybe slower surfaces are more his style since getting married?
Meanwhile, a guy like Cilic is fit enough to do well regardless of Washington. So I’ll lean his way and likely regret it by Thursday.
That said, I’m really most interested in seeing Rafa. Can he win matches and can he win them easily – without dropping serve with the match on his racquet. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.
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