By Christopher Phillips
Cool and calm: Novak is the US Open’s top seed for the first time ever. (Getty Images photo)
More: See Christopher’s breakdown of the women’s side of things here.
Djokovic — Winner | Shoulder injury aside, you’d be hard pressed to not pick Novak. He opens with a qualifier then would play either Pere Riba or Carlos Berlocq, two dirtballers, in the 2nd round. His first challenge could be in the third round against Nikolay Davydenko. 13th seed Richard Gasquet, 22nd seed Alexandr Dolgopolov, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Kei Nishikori, Ivo Karlovic, and Fernando Gonzalez could all be waiting Novak in the 4th round.
Rafael Nadal –- Semifinals | Nadal’s road is quite a bit trickier than that of Djokovic. He opens against Andrey Golubev. The Kazakh is currently ranked no. 97, but the ATP’s Most Improved Player of the year for 2010 was as high as no. 33 in October of last year. Nadal should get through that match without too much difficulty, but could face former Top 5 players David Nalbandian or Ivan Ljubicic in the 3rd Round, then two-time Open Semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny or 17th seed Jurgen Melzer in the 4th round.
Roger Federer –- Semifinals | Federer opens against Santiago Giraldo, who hasn’t played a match on hard courts since Miami, and then could play the Brazilian lefty Thomaz Bellucci, who just missed being seeded, in the second round. Ryan Harrison or 27th seed Marin Cilic should lie head in the 3rd Round with 23rd seed Radek Stepanek, 15th seed Viktor Troicki or Philipp Kohlschreiber potentially waiting in the 4th round.
Andy Murray –- Finals | This summer’s Cincinnati champion comes into New York in fine form. He’ll open against Somdev Devvarman in round one. Big-serving Robin Haase could challenge Murray in the second round and 25th seed Feliciano Lopez in the 3rd round could pose problems for Murray, but his solid return game should counter any danger there. | TSF Vault: Murray
David Ferrer — Quarterfinals | Ferrer reached the semis in New York back in 2007 and lost a thrilling fifth-set tiebreak to countryman Fernando Verdasco here last year in the 4th round. He also tasted a Major semifinal earlier this year in Australia. The only thing that brings about concern about Ferrer living up to his seeding is his lack of hard court match play this summer: an injury sat him out for every event save Cincy. To his credit, however, he beat Roddick and Fish in Davis Cup in early July — two giant wins on American fast courst. His biggest challenge to the quarterfinals will be 10th seed Nicolas Almagro or 21st seed (how strange is that number?!) Andy Roddick.
Robin Soderling –- Second Round | The Swede hasn’t played a hard court match since early losses to Juan Martin del Potro and Kohlschreiber in Miami and Indian Wells, respectively, but follows Djokovic with the second-most hard court championships this year (three). Soderling’s lack of play this summer could send him out early to rising American veteran Alex Bogomolov Jr.. Bogomolov beat Soderling 2 and 2 in Indianapolis in 2004, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again.
Gael Monfils –- Quarterfinals | Of the top eight, Monfils has the toughest draw into the quarterfinals. He’ll open against potential future star and current heartbreaker Grigor Dimitrov, before possibly meeting former USO finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero in the 2nd round. 31st seed Marcel Granollers, Albert Montanes or Xavier Malisse could wait in the 3rd round before a potential match-up with 9th seed Tomas Berdych — who’s never made it past the 4th round here — or Montreal semifinalist 20th Janko Tipsarevic in the 4th round.
Not filleted: Fish is riding a strong summer coming into the USO. (Getty)
Mardy Fish –- Round of 16 | Opening against German Tobias Kamke, Fish should have pretty smooth sailing to the 4th round where he’s likely to meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga could come through in that match-up, but potential matches against big servers Thiemo De Bakker in the second round and Kevin Anderson or 29th seed Michael Llodra in the third round could give Fish the extra batting practice he needs to beat the Frenchman. | TSF Vault: Fish
Dark Horses | Potential winners? Probably not. But these boys could pull a few upsets and find themselves in week two at Flushing.
11th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga | Tsonga’s play has been one of the most exciting to watch this year. Assuming he’s regrouped and healed since his retirement against Novak in the Montreal semifinals, he’d meet slumping 19th Fernando Verdasco in the third round followed by “your country’s eyes are on you for a change” 8th seed Fish in the R16. Should Tsonga make it through both of those, he’ll face 3rd Federer for the 5th time this year and will be going into that match with some serious momentum beating the Swiss in their last two meetings.
16th seed Mikhail Youzhny | Youzhny has twice been a semifinalist in New York before: last year and in 2006. Despite a relatively easy loss to Nadal here last year, he did get the better of the Spaniard in 2006. He’s set to meet Nadal in the 4th round this year and — given the Spaniard’s unimpressive summer — it’s highly possible that Youzhny could find himself in the semifinals for a third time in six years.
18th seed Juan Martin del Potro | Well… in as much as a former champion can be considered a “dark horse.” JMdP has underperformed this summer, with second round losses to Federer and Cilic in Cincinnati and Montreal, respectively. Perhaps he’s just saving himself for the big show? The Argentine’s first challenge would be against 12th seed Gilles Simon in the 3rd round (Simon has never been past the round of 32). A potential 4th rounder versus 28th seed and Winston-Salem champ John Isner or Soderling would come next.
20th seed Janko Tipsarevic | The Serb loves the big stages and they don’t get bigger than Arthur Ashe Stadium. Janko opens against a qualifier and would face 9th seed Berdych in the 3rd round. Tomas’ track record in New York isn’t very good, so Janko could see himself in the 4th round against Monfils. And depending on the Frenchman’s form that day, perhaps even into the QFs to take on countryman Djokovic.
TSF Vault: US Open | Bracketology
First-Round Matches to Watch:
Youzhny vs. Ernests Gulbis | The Latvian was at his career peak at no. 21 in the world earlier this year, but has done little this summer since upsetting del Potro and Fish on his way to the Los Angeles title. He got the better of Youzhny at the Masters tournaments in Paris and Madrid last year.
23rd seed Radek Stepanek vs. Kohlschreiber | The dancing Czech dropped out of the top 70 earlier this year, but his title in Washington bodes well for him. The German has seen better days — but he’s always capable of an upset.
Harri situation? Ryan’s always an eye-brow raiser. (TSF)
Cilic vs. Harrison | Can the young (hot) American continue his hot summer?
Isner vs. Marcos Baghdatis | Just about anytime the Cypriot is on court, it’s going to be a fun match.
32nd seed Ivan Dodig vs. Davydenko | The Russian and former world no. 3 missed being seeded by a few spots, but twice a semifinalist here, he knows how to get it done.
Fernando Gonzalez vs. Ivo Karlovic | It’s great to see the Chilean back in action. Combined ages? 63.
See the full men’s draw here | Qualies
Predictions | 4th round:
Djokovic d Gasquet
Monfils d Tipsarevic
Federer d Stepanek
Tsonga d Fish
Del Potro d Isner
Murray d Wawrinka
Ferrer d Almagro
Nadal d Youzhny
Djokovic d Monfils
Federer d Tsonga
Murray d Del Potro
Nadal d Ferrer
Djokovic d Federer
Murray d Nadal
Djokovic d Murray – 4 sets
Murray’s my #2 pick to win behind Novak … then I’d follow it up with Roger and Rafa. After the big 4 I go with Del Potro and Tsonga.