Greeting Tennis Junkies,
Our long and winding journey has led us here - to the gritty hard courts of the U.S. National Tennis center in Queens, New York. Once again the slates have been wiped clean. Sure, if you've been following the sport you know that this is Federer's and Serena's tournament to lose. There's no denying that, but there's also no denying the fact that their are a bevy of drooling competitors with not only the desire, but also the talent to knock Roger and Serena off of their high horses.
Without any further ado, let's begin this year's U.S. Open coverage by previewing the draws.
Men: Roger Chases Bill Tilden
Federer's Quarter: What can the man who has shattered all the records find to motivate himself? How about a record that hasn't been shattered? To do that you have to go all the way back to the 1920's when Bill Tilden won six consecutive U.S. Opens. Strangely, in the Open Era, not one single player has ever won the same event more than five times.
With a sixth consecutive triumph at Flushing Meadows, Federer could increase his stranglehold on the record books. Only a true seer would have predicted that, given that Federer was smashing racquets in Miami in April, and looked like he was more than likely at the end of his reign of dominance. But a lot has changed since spring.
Federer's legacy is intact. And his chances here look much better thanks to a fortunate draw. It could have been a lot different if Nadal or Del Potro were drawn into Rogers quarter, but the draw was once again very fortunate to Mr. Federer.
Federer opens with the barely-out-of-the-womb American Devon Britton, but might be tested as early as the third round by Lleyton Hewitt. He's also got Robin Soderling and up-and-coming American Sam Querrey in his quarter, in addition to an in-form Nikolay Davydenko. None of these names strikes fear into the heart of Federer fans, as he's won his last 37 matches against Davydenko, Soderling, Querrey, and Hewitt combined.
Djokovic's Quarter: Odds are that we'll see a repeat of that thrilling quarterfinal match that the Joker had with Andy Roddick in last year's U.S. Open quarterfinal. It might have been the last time that Novak played with a chip on his shoulder as he fought hard to ensure that the New York crowd did not experience the joy of willing their great American hope to victory.
In the chaos of an emotional post-match interview Djokovic made no secret of the fact that he didn't appreciate the crowds unruly support of Roddick. He didn't appreciate Roddick's crass comments about his propensity for injury timeouts during matches either, and he made it known. He left to a chorus of boos and derogatory chides, and emerged in the semi-finals against Federer like the only thing he wanted to prove was that he wasn't such a bad guy after all.
Federer didn't mind, but those who wanted a good match surely did.
Since then it's been a lot of ups and downs for Novak. Roddick, on the other hand, has played superbly. Even in defeat against The Mighty Federer in the Wimbledon finals he raised eyebrows with his determination and ability to dictate against the Swiss maestro on grass.
A possible Roddick-Isner third round match could be compelling for American fans, as is a possible Roddick-Verdasco fourth round match. Djokovic will have to battle Ivan Ljubicic in the first round - no easy task - but if he plays the way he's capable of, he should have no problem reaching the quarters.
It is in the quarters that he'll have to play with the chip on his shoulder again, or be bounced mercilessly into the New York night.
Nadals Quarter: Shrouded in mystery, the force that is Rafa enters the tournament with relatively few matches under his belt. Even fewer of them have been good, but in the later stages of the Cincinnati Masters event, Rafa seemed to be dialing in his form.
He better be, because the Rafa we saw in Montreal, and for the first few rounds at Cincinnati, was clearly not the in-form Rafa that we became enamored with in the latter phases of 2008 and the early phases of 2009.
The question when it comes to Rafa is very simple: Has he shaken enough of the rust from his game to answer the bell in New York, the only Slam venue where he hasn't sank his teeth into the winners trophy?
I wouldn't put it past him, but I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that it's going to be more of an uphill battle for Rafa than usual. If he can steadily improve over the course of the first few rounds, and manage to tighten up his baseline game, he'll be in good shape. But his serve is even a bigger question. Not only was it slower than usual in the Masters events, it was also not as accurate or lively. He's still the best returner on tour (along with Murray), but if he's getting broken too often it's going to be hard for him to gain momentum.
Possible battles with David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, Gael Monfils, and either Tomas Berdych or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga await.
The more Rafa hangs around, the more dangerous he will become. He's become more of a forgotten man with all the hoopla surrounding Federer, and to a lesser extent Murray and Roddick, but with each match the anticipation will heighten.
Murray's Quarter: Muzz will not be mugged at every practice session and each trip to the coffee shop like he was at Wimbledon. He'll also be on a surface that he enjoys more than grass, and he'll be at the site of the lone Grand-Slam final appearance of his young career. The skies are indeed rosy for the newly anointed No. 2 player in the world. There is even the small possibility, with an early Federer loss and a Murray triumph, that the 22-year-old Scot could snatch the No. 1 ranking in two weeks.
But there could be a fly in the ointment. The tall imposing figure of Juan Martin Del Potro, the man none of the big four wanted to see in its quarter of the draw, awaits a rematch. And if Murray is content to play his defensive style where he waits for the opponent to make the mistakes, he just might find himself waiting for his plane back to Miami with the way Del Potro can produce winners and aces.
The Argentine, ranked a paltry 65 after last year's Wimbledon, has quickly become a permanent fixture in the top-ten. And he still seems to be building momentum. While he's tough on clay, he's even nastier on the hard court. The youngest player in the top-ten boasts a world class serve to go with penetrating ground strokes and a surprisingly deft touch with volley. He's also deceptively quick.
The only knock on Juan Martin is his fitness level. In his loss to Murray in the finals at Montreal, he needed the trainer to work on his shoulder and he limped to the finish line against Murray, who was clearly the superior athlete when it came to stamina. In his three-set victory over Andy Roddick in Washington, Del Potro looked lethargic at times in the oppressive heat, but there he managed to take the title.
Del Potro is definitely right on the cusp of another breakthrough, and if history is any indication he won't want to wait until next year. He skipped Cincinnati to work on his conditioning and over-all health, and he'll undoubtedly benefit from the fact that this years Open is getting it's latest start in the history of the tournament. Less heat and humidity might mean more Del Potro winners.
Other possible contenders in this quarter are Dr. Ivo, Ivo Karlovic, who is slated for a third round match with Andy Murray. Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka, Gilles Simon, and Juan Carlos Ferrero could also do some damage if they can get hot.
And don't forget about Marat Safin, playing in his last U.S. Open. It's unlikely, but you never know.
Semifinalist: Del Potro
Semi Finals: Federer over Djokovic, Del Potro over Nadal
Finals: Del Potro over Federer