Several factors make this the most open Grand Slam in some time, but the main one is the absence of defending champion Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard hasn’t fully recovered from the wrist injury he suffered after Wimbledon, which means he’ll miss the US Open for the second time in three years. It’s a major loss from a fan’s point of view, but a significant boon to the 128 men who are in the draw. With one of the sport’s most tenacious fighters missing in action, their prospects become a whole lot brighter.
See the Draw Here: US Open 2014 Draw
But it will still take seven matches to win the title. For those who have never clocked that many consecutive victories, that means two weeks of grinding and praying for good luck. For those who are used to contesting the latter stages of Grand Slams, it offers a chance to play oneself into form. Novak Djokovic belongs in the latter category. Emerging from Toronto and Cincinnati with only two wins to his name, the Serb needs time to find his rhythm if he is to challenge for a second US Open title.
And there’s a good chance he’ll get that. An opening round against Diego Schwartzman shouldn’t pose too many problems, and nor should a second round clash with either Gilles Muller or Paul-Henri-Mathieu. Both of those players have been round the ATP block a few times, but neither is in the form to take down even a sub-par Djokovic over five sets on a massive stage.
Djokovic will be hoping that Guillermo Garcia-Lopez lives up to his seeding: he’s beaten the Spaniard six times out of six. But few would be surprised if Yen-Hsun Lu or Sam Querrey showed up as Djokovic’s third round opponent. Both played well in Winston-Salem last week and both will relish the quick conditions at Flushing Meadows, Lu because he is a fast mover and capable counter-puncher, Querrey because his serve will fly through the air like a bullet. It would be a surprise if either man comes close to taking out the Wimbledon champion, but they could certainly give him cause for concern in a lively night match.
Two names stand out as the likeliest to impede Djokovic’s progress to the last eight: Philipp Kohlschreiber and John Isner (Isner leads the head-to-head 4-2). Kohlschreiber has performed solidly on all surfaces this season, and was last seen pushing David Ferrer to the limit in a 162-minute battle in Cincinnati. After a title win in Atlanta, Isner has disappointed on home soil this summer, but that means he’ll be less fatigued than usual in New York. Can one of these guys pull off a major upset in the last 16? Each has beaten Djokovic in the past, and each has the kind of hard-hitting game that the Serb sometimes struggles with on days when his return is off-key.
Elsewhere in the draw’s top quarter, Andy Murray will be hoping to elevate his play and his season. The Scot has been operating like a resident of the top ten rather than a member of the Big Four in 2014, still searching for the form that left him when he began having back troubles a year ago. The bad news for Murray is that he has been handed a devil of a draw. His first round opponent, Robin Haase, has beaten him before (albeit in 2008), and perennial dark horse Radek Stepanek awaits in round two. In the third round, Murray is seeded to face Fernando Verdasco, and while the Spaniard hasn’t been at his best recently, his brutal forehand makes him a formidable foe for any player.
The fourth round match we all want to see is Murray versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman is unreliable and is in a very tough section himself, with the likes of Juan Monaco, Pablo Carreno Busta, Benoit Paire and Julien Benneteau hoping to do damage, but his stunning title win in Toronto proved what he can do when he’s firing. Murray was one of Tsonga’s many high-profile victims on his way to Rogers Cup glory – can Jo pull off the same trick in tougher, five-set conditions?
Predicted quarter-final: Murray def. Djokovic
The Scot says he is feeling great physically, and it’s time he reminded us why he’s a double Grand Slam champion. With Djokovic wavering, this is his chance.
The second quarter is full of players who have something to prove. Can third seed Stan Wawrinka step it up for the first time since Monte Carlo, or will his slow fade from Australian Open champion to merely solid top tenner continue? Maybe Stan’s hotly tipped first round opponent, Jiri Vesely, is ready to make an impact when the world is watching? Then again, the 21-year-old has been moving in the wrong direction recently. Perhaps Donald Young, slated to meet 30th seed Jeremy Chardy in the second round, could ride a wave of home support and cause an upset or two? The American has never lived up to his potential, but still has years ahead of him and could yet become a dependable second-tier competitor of the kind his nation craves.
One of the standout first round matches is the encounter between Nick Kyrgios and Mikhail Youzhny. No one expects the young Aussie to cause the kind of fuss he made at the All England Club, but he must see this as a winnable match, given Youzhny’s underwhelming form of late. And a third round showdown between Kyrios and 16th seed Tommy Robredo could be a wild, entertaining contrast in styles, not to mention another realistic target for the young gun.
Many would love to see Kei Nishikori make good on his considerable promise. Japan’s top player has beaten Djokovic and Federer in the past and had Nadal on the ropes in a memorable Madrid final earlier this year; he is lightning quick, fun to watch and a real battler. But he is also extremely fragile, and comes into the Big Apple with little match practice. He might be able to labour through a first round meeting with Wayne Odesnik, but is he ready to take down the improving Jack Sock in round two?
Another interesting potential third-round match would pit fifth seed Milos Raonic against 29th seed Lukas Rosol. Rosol can be a nightmare opponent on a good day and will be fresh from picking up the silverware in Winston-Salem. He lost his only previous encounter with Raonic, but as we (and Rafa) have seen before, he plays with dangerous freedom when he has nothing to lose.
Predicted quarter-final: Raonic def. Wawrinka
Stan may be the winner of the most recent hard court Grand Slam, but he hasn’t done enough recently to prove he’s on the shortlist to win this one. Raonic, meanwhile, has been doing a lot of winning and he’s eager to start beating the men ranked above him.
What to make of Tomas Berdych? The Czech is seeded sixth at the US Open and is still renowned as a player capable of beating anyone on a given day. Yet he hasn’t won three matches in a row since Roland Garros and his sole victory over a top ten player in 2014 came against David Ferrer at the Australian Open. Dimming Berdych’s hopes further is the fact that his first round opponent is Lleyton Hewitt. The Aussie might be mostly bionic at this stage of his career, but he can still play, as his title in Newport last month showed. Moreover, the only thing he loves more than the big stage is the chance to take out a high seed on a big stage.
Hewitt’s fellow hothead Ernests Gulbis is seeded 11th in New York, but he’s been on something of a mental vacation since his run to the French Open semis, winning only one match on grass and two on hard courts. The raucous crowd would love to witness the jester in action, and he’s certainly capable of tearing through his section and making another Grand Slam quarter-final. But he’s perhaps more likely to fall in the second round to the promising Dominic Thiem, or in the third to Toronto semi-finalist Feliciano Lopez.
The reminder of the third quarter, headed by David Ferrer, is just as open. In the second round, the Spaniard would play the winner of the must-see Bernard Tomic-Dustin Brown match, and in round three he’s seeded to meet Gilles Simon. While we’d expect the Little Beast to outplay the underpowered Simon, there’s no guarantee he’ll come through a tricky fourth round, where he could meet any one of Marin Cilic, Kevin Anderson or Jerzy Janowicz. Cilic has done a brilliant job of climbing back into the top 20, and Anderson, although not at his best recently, is always difficult to put away. Of this trio, however, it is Janowicz who is bringing the best form. The Pole endured a miserable first half of the season, but an upset of Grigor Dimitrov in Cincinnati woke him up and he sparked into life completely in Winston Salem, where he reached the final and held two match points.
Predicted quarter-final: Ferrer def. Lopez
We can see Jerzy making it to the last 16, but once there we can picture him getting frustrated by Ferrer’s legendary patience. Ferrer and Lopez have a rich rivalry stretching back to 2005, but the slightly younger Spaniard holds an 8-6 advantage and has won their last five meetings.
The final quarter is brimming with style, personality and elegance, yet there’s really only one name in town. Grigor Dimitrov, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Fabio Fognini have all landed in this section, but they’ll be bidding for second fiddle behind Roger Federer. The Swiss, playing his best tennis since he won Wimbledon in 2012, is looking relaxed and confident, and he knows that Nadal’s absence and Djokovic’s less-than-stellar form give him his best shot in years of scooping a record sixth US Open title.
Federer’s first test isn’t likely to come before round three, where he’s slated to meet 25th seed Ivo Karlovic. (The Croatian giant reached back-to-back finals in Newport and Bogota last month and once beat Federer on hard courts.) In the last 16 he should play Fognini, but that depends very much on the Italian’s mindset and desire to get through the first three rounds. Federer might instead find himself facing 17th seed Roberto Bautista Agut for a place in the quarter-finals.
It would be a surprise if the 17-time Grand Slam champion met Gasquet there. The Frenchman enjoyed a breakthrough at last year’s US Open where he made the semi-finals, but injury and indifferent form have derailed his build-up this season. That opens the door for Gasquet’s compatriot Monfils to challenge Dimitrov in the fourth round. The pair have split their previous matches, but not much can be gleaned from that statistic: Monfils won the first encounter in 2011 when Dimitrov was still a very raw talent; Grigor recorded a win when Monfils retired during their match in Bucharest earlier this season. A showdown between these two at their best could be maddening, compelling and unforgettable.
Predicted quarter-final: Federer def. Dimitrov
There will come a day when Federer starts losing regularly to members of the next generation, but that day won’t come at this year’s US Open. Even if Dimitrov was carrying a lot of momentum into New York and didn’t have the likes of Ryan Harrison and David Goffin to deal with in the early rounds, he’d struggle to take down a fresh, motivated Roger.
Predicted semi-finals: Murray def. Raonic; Federer def. Ferrer
Final: Federer def. Murray
Much depends on the Murray-Djokovic quarter-final. If Novak can sneak through that one, he’ll be emboldened, dangerous and just the man to stop Federer from claiming a fairytale title. Yet if the above prediction holds and Murray gets the better of the man he outlasted in the 2012 final, then you have to give Federer the edge.
The 33-year-old has stumbled many times against Murray in the past, but mainly when he’s failed to own the court. This summer, Federer has been coming forward more than ever, and that will be the perfect tactic in a final against Murray. The Scot will struggle to thread the needle with his passing shots over five sets, and his legs will be leaden at the end of a heavy duty fortnight. It would have seemed like a fantasy prediction a year ago, but the man most likely to hoist the 2014 US Open men’s singles trophy is the man who first did it in 2004.
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