Drawn and Quartered: US Open Edition (ATP)
This article follows our usual format for majors, breaking down the draw into each quarter and projecting the semifinals forward.
First quarter: After he finally halted a 17-match losing streak, Donald Young received the reward of a likely first-round match on Arthur Ashe against—Roger Federer. The top seed at a major for the first time since 2010, the Wimbledon champion has landed amidst a group of veterans thoroughly accustomed to his supremacy. Not until the second week could he face an opponent of substance in Gilles Simon, so the fallibility that the aging Federer has shown early in these fortnights should not cost him this time. Twice defeating Federer in 2008, Simon also has extended him to five sets at the Australian Open and, at his best, can punish the Swiss star for each lapse into unfocused, erratic play. Whether the Frenchman will reach the second week remains open to doubt, however, for he could face home hope Mardy Fish in the third round. The latter’s style adapts much better to the fast courts of the US Open than Simon’s counterpunching, but Federer dismissed him routinely in Cincinnati this month. Perpetually hovering on the verge of a dangerous surge are the aging Davydenko and Karlovic, who in contrasting ways still can challenge a higher-ranked opponent. While Federer has lost to each of them on fast courts, he almost always has found ways to weather their distinctive forms.
On the opposite side of the section lurks the enigmatic Berdych, gone in the first round of Wimbledon and the Olympics before regaining a bit of desperately needed belief in Winston-Salem this week, where he reached the final. Players who excel at ATP event in the week before majors rarely shine in the fortnight that matters, and the Czech never has distinguished himself in New York despite his aptitude for fast hard courts. Perhaps able to burst through this section of the draw instead is Los Angeles champion Querrey, who nearly won the US Open Series again this year. But the lanky Californian fell to Berdych in an unsightly Winston-Salem semifinal on Saturday, so he would need to reverse that result should they collide in the third round. Seasoned serve-volley specialists Stepanek and Mahut add variety to this area, while the 11th-seeded clay specialist Almagro looks ripe for a premature exit. In the quarterfinals, then, Federer can expect to meet an imposing but relatively one-dimensional server, similar to the model premiered by Roddick against which he has enjoyed so much success at majors.
Second quarter: If the draw unfolds according to seeding, Murray could face Tsonga and Federer consecutively for the second straight major. Like his opponent in the Wimbledon final and Olympic gold-medal match, the 2008 US Open finalist starts against a diminutive underdog shrouded in controversy. Although the Russian-turned-American-turned-Russian Bogomolov defeated Murray on a North American hard court last year, one struggles to imagine him repeating the feat in a best-of-five format considering the opposite trajectories that they have followed this summer. An open admirer of Feliciano Lopez, Murray’s mother will feel sorry to see the languid Spaniard collide with her son in the third round, echoing a US Open encounter last year that the favorite won resoundingly. Far sterner a test of his mettle could come at the start of the second week, when Raonic could intersect with him on a court that showcases the towering Canadian’s weapons. Conquering Murray in Barcelona this spring, Raonic rebounded from slightly disappointing results at Wimbledon and the Olympics to reach a Masters 1000 quarterfinal on home soil in Toronto. The cherubic prodigy continues to fall excruciatingly short in tense matches against the ATP elite, though, losing two final-set tiebreaks to Federer this year.
Stacked with no fewer than five qualifiers is the segment occupied by Tsonga, back in action last week after his encounter with a fire hydrant in Toronto. Much superior to most of his competition, the fifth seed might beware of his compatriot Jeremy Chardy in the third round, for he lost his Rogers Cup opener to Chardy in the wake of an exhausting week at the Olympics. Likely to clash in the third round as well are Cilic and Nishikori, who collaborated on a sweltering five-set, five-hour encounter at the US Open in which the Japanese star’s superior conditioning prevailed. While a quarterfinal at the Olympics demonstrated Nishikori’s renewed relevance, the Croat has won two minor titles this summer and reached the second week of Wimbledon. A similar effort or even a quarterfinal appearance looks only a little less plausible here, considering Tsonga’s uneven preparation. At Wimbledon, Murray defeated both Cilic and Tsonga without undue exertions, so he will feel indifferent regarding the identity of his quarterfinal opponent at his favorite major, where he feels even more comfortable than on the Wimbledon grass.
Third quarter: By far the weakest section of the draw, this neighborhood lies wide open to a dark horse or breakthrough artist. The fourth-seeded Ferrer lies well behind the top three in viability as a title threat, and he followed an outstanding first half with miserable performances at the Olympics and Cincinnati, losing to Nishikori and Wawrinka. As those losses suggested, his exertions earlier in the season may have returned to haunt him and could undermine his fortunes against an opening-round opponent Kevin Anderson, a tower of power who can threaten when he lands his first serve consistently. Otherwise, Ferrer should maneuver past weary veterans Hewitt and Youzhny, worth watching mostly for nostalgic reasons and far too limited in first-strike power to bother the supremely fit Spaniard. When the second week begins, he might encounter another man seeking to defy the tests of time in the resurgent Haas, but the 34-year-old German fell to his projected third-round opponent at Roland Garros. A Rogers Cup finalist and an opening-round loser in Cincinnati, Gasquet should outlast the German again if his own, often questioned fitness weathers the torpor of New York. Also of note in this section is Gulbis, who upset Berdych at Wimbledon and drew Haas in one of the draw’s most compelling opening encounters. Far less compelling are the especially lackluster meetings between Gasquet and Ferrer to date, in which the latter has held the upper hand consistently.
Looming above the opposite side of this quarter is not the eighth-seeded Tipsarevic but the second highest seed in it, Isner. Into the Winston-Salem final for the second straight year, the pride of Georgia finished in the top three of the US Open Series and might collect some bonus salary by capitalizing upon his tranquil surroundings. Just as he can threaten anyone, however, Isner can struggle against anyone without warning, so a meeting with Grigor Dimitrov late in the first week could entertain. Finally starting to accumulate momentum, the streaky descendant of Federer faces a daunting challenge in the previous round against Kohlschreiber that should showcase elegant one-handed backhands. An all-Serbian slugfest beckons between Tipsarevic and Troicki, the seed situated closest to him, although comeback story of the year Brian Baker aims to tear up that script. Playing some spectacularly feckless tennis against each other, each of the two Serbs would struggle to overcome Isner with the New York crowd firmly behind him and his serve crackling off the fast court. Reaching the quarterfinals at the US Open last year, the mighty server could move a round further this time.
Fourth quarter: Successful in one of two title defenses at majors this year, Djokovic recorded identical results to 2011 in the US Open Series by falling one victory short of the Canada-Cincinnati double. Among the auspicious omens for his quest to win the largest paycheck in tennis are his opener against Lorenize, whom he defeated en route to the Australian Open crown, and a possible third-round match against Benneteau, who faced Federer in the same round at Wimbledon. Although the French doubles specialist extended the eventual champion to five sets on that occasion, he remains a dubious competitor unlikely to survive the baseline barrage from the mature, sturdier version of the Serb. Expecting to face a Swiss opponent in the final, Djokovic could meet another in the fourth round if Wawrinka builds upon his startling semifinal appearance in Cincinnati, where he defeated Ferrer and Raonic. Or the bizarre arsenal of Washington champion Dolgopolov could fluster the defending champion as it did last year for a set in the same round. Predictably unpredictable no matter the circumstances, this charismatic crowd favorite could encounter a player who shares many of his personality traits if not his idiosyncratic tennis when he meets Baghdatis in the second round. Struggling against Baghdatis at several key tournaments before, Djokovic has solved him in the end.
The upper part of the section features a fascinating all-Argentine duel between the Tower of Tandil and the Grouchy Gaucho, the key figures on a disastrously dysfunctional Argentine team that lost the 2008 Davis Cup final in what became known as the Massacre of Mar del Plata. As their relationship has evolved, the friction between Del Potro and Nalbandian has dwindled, but the contrast between their characters still looms large. After his disgraceful tantrum at the Olympics, Ryan Harrison vowed to show more discretion in the future, and the simmering pressure of New York will test the strength of his words. The fading Roddick has earned a reputation for flashes of temper under these bright lights, which has helped and hindered him alternately. In the third round, he could meet the overachieving Argentine Juan Monaco, with whom he has split two meetings on North American hard courts this summer. Known for rising or falling to the occasion, Bernard Tomic also hopes to escape his recent stagnation in this section saturated with fiery, individualistic competitors.
Final: Federer vs. Djokovic
Champion: Novak Djokovic