US Open 2012: Men’s Draw Preview and Analysis
August 23, 2012 · Print This Article
In a summer that’s consisted of many withdrawals, injuries and not a lot of fanfare, could this finally be the slam that a member of the Big Three doesn’t win?
We know that one member of the Big Three (Rafael Nadal) won’t be in New York as a result of more knee trouble. The Spaniard hasn’t played a competitive match since Wimbledon and there’s no telling at this point if we’ll see him back this season.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic (the other two players to win a major in 2012) will look to take complete control and fill Nadal’s gap. Federer has won this thing five previous times and came within two match points (the last two years) of reaching the championship round. Djokovic, who stopped Federer from playing for the crown in ‘10 and ‘11, comes in as the defending champion in search of slam No. 6.
The Serb showed great resolve in putting a disappointing Olympic Games behind him by winning in Toronto and making the finals in Cincy, and when you look at what he’s managed to do on hard-courts this year, he still remains the marginal favorite for the victory.
On the other hand, Djokovic did look ordinary in his straight set loss to Federer in Ohio, and that bagel set he poured in was perhaps a cause for concern. However, Djokovic did show me a lot during his title run in Toronto, and after not seeing him play in person for a while, his movement on asphalt is comparable to what Nadal can do on clay.
Has Federer ever served better? Knowing that he’s not 24 anymore, Federer continues to amp up the precision and placement on his delivery to dumbfound the competition. Not losing his serve throughout the week in Mason, Federer’s confidence from Ohio should allow him to progress deep in this tournament.
We obviously can’t forget about what Andy Murray did in London this year; winning the Gold and reaching the finals of Wimbledon surely gave him a ton of belief. Although Murray is coming into NYC on a relative high, his three matches on hard-courts this summer (a 2-1 record) aren’t exactly promising toward his success.
To me, Murray still needs to win one of these events to silence everyone around him, and even though his performance in London will be remembered and respected for a very long time, winning seven best out of five set matches is another animal all together.
Would it be crazy to throw in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro as possible winners? Tsonga has a slam final to his name, but after running into a fire hydrant in Toronto (not joking), the husky Frenchman has been left with little match play this summer. Del Potro, the only active player to have won a major since 2004 other than the Big three, enters Flushing Meadows with a recent left wrist injury. Not able to crack his backhand with its usual sonic speed, del Potro will need that stroke in full flow if he’s to be a force in New York.
Milos Raonic made some significant strides by reaching the quarters in Toronto and Cincy, but again he came up short in two winnable matches against John Isner and Stan Wawrinka, respectively. The lanky Thornhill native has reached a career high of No. 16 in the world and will be eager to reach the second week.
In a potentially unpredictable ending to the fortnight ahead, can we really see a player other than Federer or Djokovic holding up the trophy?
Let’s find out.
Looking to solidify his No. 1 ranking for the year, Federer will begin his march to slam No. 18 by facing a player who just escaped losing his 18th straight match. Donald Young hasn’t had his best season by any stretch of the imagination and it truly would be surprising to see him trouble Federer in any way.
Moving on in a relatively cushy quarter, Federer could face Verdasco in the third-round with either Simon or Fish in the round-of-16. Federer has had his tough moments with Simon in the past, but the flat-hitting Frenchman isn’t the player he was a few years back. Fish on the other hand could get inspired by the home-country crown, but his forehand wing just isn’t good enough to trouble someone of Federer’s caliber.
Elsewhere, this quarter will feature Berdych and Almagro trying to climb out of relative slumps; Berdych hasn’t won an outdoor hard-court title since the fall of ‘11, while Almagro’s absence on Tour since the Olympics leaves his prospects in doubt.
I’d watch out for Stepanek to make some noise in this section, but as it stands now this is Federer’s quarter to lose in a big way.
According to his coach Ivan Lendl, the pressure that Murray faced going into the Wimbledon final was nothing like he’ll ever face again. If that is true, then winning his first slam should be a piece of cake, right?
The good news for Murray is that he’s reached the finals in NYC before, the bad news for Murray is that his draw is filled with many competent players. Starting off against Bogomolov Jr. (a player that’s beaten him before), Murray could face hard-serving Dodig in the second-round, with ace-machine Raonic (another player that’s defeated him) in the fourth-round.
Murray obviously has the wherewithal to take out most of the guys in this quarter, but there’s a part of me that wonders if he’s still on cloud nine from the Olympics? If that’s the case, then there’s no better player to take over this section than Tsonga. Smacking and cracking his way to a stable top six position, Tsonga picked up some much needed wins in North Carolina last week and there’s no reason why that won’t continue.
On paper, Murray has dominated Tsonga in their head-to-head 6-1, but Tsonga has proven this year (most notably at the French Open) that he has the guts to hit his shots when he’s down. I’m thinking that a potential Arthur Ashe showdown between these two will end with a win for the Frenchman.
Taking over the No. 4 seed as a result of Nadal’s absence, Ferrer could have a tough time living up to his title. Not playing in Toronto and losing his opener in Cincy, Ferrer will look to avoid an immediate upset to Kevin Anderson, before having to worry about Haas or Gasquet in the fourth-round.
Gasquet played well in Toronto by reaching the finals, while Haas’ efforts this year have been nothing short of remarkable. Reaching finals on all three surfaces, Haas has proven that he has the shots to go far, but will his body hold up in a five set format?
Tipsarevic has been resting after a grueling summer, and if Isner is really serious about doing some damage here, he’ll have to get through some early matches in straight sets. Making the quarters here in 2011, Isner’s serve is more than good enough to go deep, but his shaky return leaves him a wildcard call.
There’s a real opportunity for someone to become a US Open semifinalist in this quarter, and after carefully musing through this section, I’ll have to stay with Isner to claim that position.
Best first-round match in this quarter: Grigor Dimitrov vs. Benoit Paire
Labelled by many as the man to beat, Djokovic looks poised to make a statement early. Taking on journeyman Lorezni to begin his campaign, Djokovic could see Wawrinka in round three, before Dolgopolov or Baghdatis are slated in round four. Dolgopolov started the summer hot before fading fast, while Baghdatis hasn’t shown any signs of raising his profile.
If we’re looking for a serious challenger to Djokovic here, we might just have to turn our attention to 2009 winner del Potro. Taking on countryman Nalbandian in the first-round, del Potro could draw on the courage he displayed in the defeating the Serb in London for the Bronze Medal.
Can we really end a US Open preview without talking about Roddick? He’s not the player he used to be, but he still goes out there and puts it on the line for every match he plays. In what could be his last US Open, don’t be too disappointed if he doesn’t reach the fourth-round.
Best first-round match as mention: An Argie battle between Delpo and Nalbandian
Brian Baker: What a story it would be.
Kevin Anderson: If he gets by Ferrer, he could go far.
Malek Jaziri: Not even close to a household name, this 28-year-old Tunisian takes nothing for granted.
Quarterfinals: Federer vs. Mayer; Murray vs. Tsonga; Isner vs. Gasquet; Djokovic vs. del Potro
Semifinals: Federer vs. Tsonga; Isner vs. Djokovic
Champion: Djokovic d. Federer