As the fourth and final grand slam of 2012 begins, Rafael Nadal’s continuing absence from the tour has left Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic as the last men standing in the battle for end-of –year number one.
The two are currently neck-and-neck: in 2012 Djokovic has 8710 points to Federer’s 8545. With things so close, victory in New York would give an edge to the winner going into the final phase of the season.
Both men have exceptional pedigree at Flushing Meadow. Djokovic is the defending champion and will be aiming for a third straight appearance in the final. Federer has won the title five times and, having fallen to the Serb after holding match points in the past two tournaments, will be aiming to make the final for the first time since 2009.
Andy Murray will be hoping defeat to Jeremy Chardy in the Cincinnati Masters has not have reduced his considerable momentum from winning gold medal at the Olympics. The US Open may be the right place for him to challenge the top three’s hegemony; it is the only major since the 2005 Australian Open, which was won by Marat Safin, to have a winner outside of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.
That winner was 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro and he will be looking to challenge again but there are concerns whether his recurring wrist injury can stand up to two weeks of five sets matches.
With a gruelling fortnight ahead for all the contenders, the luck of the draw is crucial.
Back of at top of a grand slam draw for the first time since 2010, Roger Federer will open his campaign against Donald Young. Young has only recently snapped a 17-match losing streak so is a little unlucky to end up facing the number one seed and, while he can count on home support, will likely be starting a new streak very soon. Familiar opponent Fernando Verdasco could meet Federer in round three, although the tennis world is still waiting for the Spaniard to regain the form that took him within a hair of reaching the Australian Open semi-final in 2009. Possible fourth round opponents include Mardy Fish and Ivo Karlovic, who have both beaten Federer once for a combined 18 defeats. A more intriguing match at that point might be with Gilles Simon, who has a 2-2 record against the Swiss. Tomas Berdych is the seed for the quarter-final but having suffered first round losses at Wimbledon and the Olympics will need to up his game to make the date. Berdych opens against David Goffin, a player who has multiple runs at slams to his name this year. Nicolas Almagro will be looking to challenge for the quarter-final spot in this section too.
Put a sock in it
Jack Sock vs. Florian Mayer (Round one)
Sock, the 2010 US Open junior champion, got to the second round last year and starts up against the number 22 seed.
Andy Murray falls into Federer’s half of the draw and it is difficult to say if that represents a positive or negative for the Scot. He’ll meet Alex Bogomolov in round one and will have bad memories losing to the Russian in Miami during 2011. Murray is playing much better now than then so should make it through to possibly face Thomaz Bellucci or Feliciano López in round three, after which could be a meeting with flame-server Milos Raonic. The number three seed has a tough draw in the quarters with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga his scheduled opponent. An alternative at this stage could be Kei Nishikori.
The last waltz?
James Blake vs. Lukas Lacko (Round one)
New Yorker Blake is outside the top 100 now and this might be his last chance to give his large fanbase in the city something to cheer about.
Boosted into the top four due to Nadal’s absence, David Ferrer has landed a draw that could help him make the most of the elevated seeding. Kevin Anderson is no pushover in round one but the early stages look negotiable. Lleyton Hewitt or Mikhail Youzhny could provide the third round opposition, and Tommy Haas or Richard Gasquet in the fourth. Over the other side of the quarter, the top seed is Janko Tipsarevic, although John Isner is also there and will be enjoying home advantage.
Start me up
Ernests Gulbis vs Tommy Haas (Round one)
Gulbis is equally capable of great or dreadful play. He never knows which it will be on a given day and neither will Haas.
Reigning champion at Flushing Meadow, Novak Djokovic will be pleased to have drawn Ferrer in the semi-finals but less pleased to have a prospective meeting with 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro in the quarters. The Serb opens against Paolo Lorenzi and may face Julien Benneteau in round three. The fourth round could see him clash with Stanislas Wawrinka, who has shown good form on hard courts recently, or Alexandr Dolgopolov. To reach Djokovic, del Potro will potentially have to see off the likes of Andy Roddick and Juan Monaco.
Juan Martin del Potro vs David Nalbandian (Round one)
There has been some discord between these two while on Davis Cup duty over the years and it will also be interesting to see if Nalbandian can still threaten a top player.
Quarter-finals by seed
Roger Federer (1) vs. Tomáš Berdych (6)
3 Andy Murray (3) vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5)
4 David Ferrer (4) vs. Janko Tipsarević (8)
Novak Djokovic (2) vs Juan Martín del Potro (7)
While waiting for the tennis to start, check out some classic US Open matches.