bracketology: the men of flushing (and how they’ll fare)



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

QFs:
Djokovic d Monfils
Federer d Tsonga
Murray d Del Potro
Nadal d Ferrer

SFs:
Djokovic d Federer
Murray d Nadal

Finals:
Djokovic d Murray – 4 sets

trophy watch: two wrongs don't make a trophy



Clay is meant for playing on. Well, we could be wrong… that might not be clay. But does that much matter? Whatever the trophies that Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray hoisted yesterday are made of whatever material has been sacrificed to the gods of Midwest art (read: too much Sears’ sale collection, not enough Ikea faux trendiness). But, we understand: trophies don’t have to be trendy. But could they at least illicit some sort of excitement from the winners? We’re guessing Sharapova was told: “Don’t worry, Maria! This one doesn’t have a lid! But it’s full of some guy from Toledo’s ashes! CONGRATS!”

Now Maria and Andy can add their names (more confidently) to the list of US Open hopefuls as the year’s final major is set to start in just one week’s time. Maria’s conquering of Jelena Jankovic in Cincinnati is rather significant in the sense that Sharapova double faulted to finish out the first set. Game, set and match? Not quite. Nice to see Maria fight back to win 4-6 7-6 (3) 6-3. And — nice to see Jelena fight back herself. Just a week ago, 37% of TSF readers voted that JJ would “settle into the top 20 to 40″ with the way she’s performed in the recent past. Is she herself a valid candidate for the title in Flushing? 2008 calls.

And the boys, too. For Murray it was a great end to a rather underwhelming summer. The Scot showed us flashes of his post-Australian Open slump, including a 6-3 6-1 loss to Kevin Anderson in Montreal last week. But this week he was the man who didn’t succumb to the heat, an injury, himself or just plain, bad tennis. A recipe for success in New York City? Certainly could be. A 6-4 3-0 win over an injured Novak Djokovic (shoulder) puts Murray with Roger Federer as one of two gents to beat Djoko this year. More importantly? The top four all have legit shots to win a seventh match inside Arthur Ashe.

TSF Vault: Trophy Watch | US Open

(Photos by Getty Images)

short balls: wimbledon crumbs



Clean-plate club: As Wimbledon begins to wrap up, we’ve been scooping up the best little bits of the tourney yet to get big play on the TSF stage before you all run for the parks and beaches and the great outdoors post Sunday afternoon. The WTA has the above video, which we find strangely fascinating. Too bad strawberries and cream isn’t a more popular snack in the States! Just the right balance of good- and bad-for-you, right?

Draws: How Kvitova and Sharapova got there | Djokovic and Rafa, too

Wimbledon stylings, for you: Esquire has churned out a clever how-to for us regular folks on wearing Wimbledon whites. Our favorite parts of their six-step process? “Hats, not headbands. Never headbands” and “Lose the socks. Those should never be white. Unless you’re actually winning Wimbledon.”

Lego Andy: This may be one of our favorite finds of The Championships. It’s Lego Andy (Murray) who greeted fans in the queue in the early goings of the tournament. The three-foot model was built by England’s only certified professional, Duncan Titmarsh, (didn’t know there was such a thing) and was completed with 13,000 Lego pieces over six days. Oh, and that’s Fred Perry that Lego Andy is wearing, not adidas. Guess he’s a little nostalgic, no?


Gift for (hearing) grunts?
Seriously. If you haven’t tried this brilliant Slate.com test on matches the players to audios of them grunting, you must! TSF East was a nine of ten. Can you match such a score? Beat it?! Click on the image above to play.

(Lego Andy image by the Kingston Guardian; screen grab via Slate.com)

so, was it an accident?




Or maybe just nerves?
OK guys, we all know that’s not urine! (But is it?!!) Just a hard-working, sweaty Andy sweating it up on Middle Sunday before what is to be the biggest week of his life. (Getty)

for traveling pros, a tale of two approaches



By Jonathan Scott



Is that a sweater vest? Meet Roger Federer, amnesiac. (Getty)

Tennis is a tricky bitch. In no other sport does nostalgia ring so supreme as the calendar moves about — both in mind and spirit but in sport, too. And by sport we mean rankings. A great Wimbledon one year means everyone will be watching you the next. As Billie Jean King said: “Pressure is privilege.” But for some touring pros, pressure is just that — pressure. So as the raindrops (and strawberries and cream) start to fall across the pond, we look at two very different approaches to that pressure: those who seem to enjoy it and others who would rather the past was dumped just like a carton of sour, meant-for-strawberries cream.

The difference between an Amnesiac (the ones who’d like to forget Wimbledon 2010, and perhaps the 12 months since) and an Android (those who will be looking to methodically defend and go just as far again, if not a step further) will indubitably be a matter of psychological and physical fortitude. But, let’s be real, mostly mental. A lot of mental.

AMNESIACS

Tsvetana Pironkova: How to explain the free-fall? This quick-striking Piron-ha 2010 made the Wimby semis before evaporating. She gave Serena a fair fight in round one at Eastbourne this month, but the gal who vanquished Venus last year has all but vanished since, nearly as much as the House of Williams itself. A likely and foreboding second-rounder against Vania King or Petra Martic looms. Danger, dear Piron-ha!

Caroline Wozniacki: No way around it, the future no. 1 had her Stella McCartney-branded clock cleaned by Petra Kvitova at this time last year, submitting 2-and-0 to the Czech’s lashing strokes. A hard-court tuneup at home in Copenhagen – dubbed the Wozniacki Open by, well, everyone – wasn’t the best prep, but Caro simply has to forget last year’s lawn debacle if she’s going to vie for that virgin Slam. A potential second-round fracas against Sania Mirza lurks; lest we forget, Mirza took Justine Henin to three sets in Melbourne six months ago.

Full TSF Wimbledon coverage: Men’s preview | Women’s | Your winners?

Mirjana Lucic: The doe-eyed teen once tapped by Steffi Graf as an heir apparent in women’s tennis would probably rather forget the past decade more than just the last year. Lucic competed gamely against Jelena Jankovic at the 2010 U.S. Open but, no thanks to her father, her career and her life have been a piping hot mess since her dreamy ascension to the 1999 Wimbledon semis. First up for the comeback girl: Dominika Cibulkova, the no. 24 seed. Expect a shootout.

Nicholas Mahut: Think the lawn gods are at all kind? Rethink that right quick. Mahut drew John “Tall Tree” Isner in the first round AGAIN. If there’s any justice in the world, Mahut may even notch a W at the Big W this time out, provided that he serves well (you’d think 103 aces last year would have done the trick) and has, you know, developed his return and groundstroke game.

Roger Federer: Fed claimed his back ailed him in going down to Tomas Berdych last year, a gripe that Big Berd received sorely. If his French Open form holds, Roger, who may as well refer to Centre Court as his “backyard,” is a threat to seize his 17th Slam here and now. It may be his best chance for the rest of his career, and subtly so. A possible third-round bout with David Nalbandian intrigues.

Novak Djokovic: The Djoker has done anything but laugh at the All England Club in his young career to date. In short, when this fortnight has come around, his ass is grass. A semifinal appearance in 2010 had him waving his Wimbledon whites to Berdych’s missiles. This year’s streaking artist has much to prove on the surface, and no doubt he feels that heat. To make the semis again would honestly be to break even. Robin Soderling, Phillip Petzschner, Xavier Malisse, Jurgen Melzer, Victor Troicki, Michael Llodra, James Blake, Florian Mayer, fresh-faced Brit James Ward, and even Alejandro Falla (who nearly pulled the early rug out from under Fed last year) are all in his section. In a word, wow. He’d have better luck to play them all at once…

ANDROIDS

Ever the android, Kvitova levitates at the 2010 Championships. (Getty)

Vera Zvonareva: Life itself is like Ms. Zvonareva: You never know what you’re gonna get. Last week’s Eastbourne triumph over Serena (7-5 in the 3rd!) had to help, but VZ has scads and oodles of points to defend here or her ranking may dive. Elena Vesnina, her doubles partner in a run to the final last year, awaits in round two, but Vera should and will be wise to not look past Alison Riske first. The American girl has a grass-tastic forehand and likes the turf.

Serena Williams: Nary a new word can be crafted as far as what Serena’s presence does for the media and entertainment prospects at these Championships. The defending champ rained down a record 89 aces in taking the title in 2010 without losing a set – and then POOF! we didn’t see her again until this present time. Her makeshift match play at Eastbourne belies the fact that, when all’s on the line, you doubt a Williams and you likely get burned. A funked-up Aravane Rezai is her first foe, and it’s hard to see anyone in her quadrant giving Serena an alley fight until Marion Bartoli or Na Li in the later rounds.

Petra Kvitova: Mmm, too Kvit to quit – Petra means “rock” in Greek, but this Czech sensation can be a bit malleable in high-risk situations. Sure, she blasted Wozniacki en route to a combative 2010 semi against Serena, but she’s not dazzled when it mattered most in Slams since then. A Paris victory indoors over Kim Clijsters is her best showing in the past year. She needs a defining statement at this Slam to regain her form and inflict terror in opponents about her ground game, if not her endearing pterodactyl-esque squawk after lasering winners. Hard-serving Canuck Rebecca Marino may give her game like whoa in round three.

Tomas Berdych: Forget the fact that T-Berd fell in the French’s first round 9-7 in the fifth, less surrendering his 2010 semifinal points there. He has finalist credentials in London, and simply must go about his work robotically and avoid considering that his last year has been a wipeout. He didn’t handle the new media attention well in the wake of his surprise showing last year, but the sole seeming trouble he may have in his eighth of the draw arrives in the person of Philipp Kohlschreiber, a grass-court maven and heartbreaker who often plays the top guns tight. After that? Nadal. Then again, this is Berdych, and he might as well make his own life harder with Julien Benneteau early.

Rafael Nadal: The changing conditions of the court and heavier balls at Wimbledon have benefitted Rafa to no end. If the grass was as it was in the 1980s and ‘90s, he’d have no chance and Federer would be approaching 20 Slams now. Even so, the reigning champ (who should be sporting an “I’m still no. 1, no?” tee these days) has done everything right to capitalize on his strengths and impose his will here. A third-round boxing match with Milos Raonic and/or a fourth-round duel against Juan Martin del Potro both entice.

Andy Murray: Besides James Ward, who just alighted upon the grass courts and the front pages in the UK with recent success, there’s a strapping lad by the name of Andy Murray who, like Federer, is poised in a prime spot to turn the tables on Nadal and Djokovic, the two who have garnered all the 2011 press to date. Mr. Fuzzy Muzz should shed his thin skin (in addition to his overgrown Chia head and whiskers) and put his (tennis) balls to the (purple and green) wall. He may get Ivan Ljubicic, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Andy Roddick in succession, but Raggedy Andy proved himself on clay this spring and now could catalyze a tennis revolution in Great Britain by channeling all his nervous energy into a real run to the final. No time like now for the cunning no. 4 star.

Jonathan Scott is the keeper of the Daily Spin column at TENNIS.com and a freelance music scribe when he’s not caught up by tennis, which is hardly ever. Follow him on Twitter: @jonscott9