To assess the potential championship chances at this year’s US Open, let’s start with the top 8 seeds and how they match-up in the quarterfinals if everyone plays to their seeding.
Here’s the list of potential matches:
Novak Djokovic (1)/Gael Monfils (7)
Roger Federer (3)/Mardy Fish (8)
Andy Murray (4)/Robin Soderling (6)
Rafael Nadal (2)/David Ferrer (5)
The men’s draws at the slams, while not always playing true to form this year, have been generally reliable in terms of the seeds i.e. the top seeds have pretty much played to their seeding. I expect that to hold true for this slam as well. There are some adjustments we will need to make for a few of these positions, starting with the most obvious position opposite Andy Murray: Robin Soderling (6).
Robin hasn’t played a match all summer due to a wrist injury. When he’s on his game, he’s as good as anyone out there (including Nole, Rafa, and Roger). That won’t be the case after so much time off, however, AND with no matches under his hardcourt belt. Like Jon Wertheim mentioned in his seed report, Soderling would probably have withdrawn if this weren’t a grand slam event.
Let’s fill in that line with one of these three: John Isner (28), Juan Martin del Potro (18), or Gilles Simon (12). John Isner just won the Winston-Salem Open in 3 sets over Julian Benneteau. True, it’s not like winning Toronto or Cincinnati over Novak. Confidence is confidence, however, and he’ll take it where he can get it. JMDP has won this title already, but is still in comeback mode after his year off due to wrist injury/surgery. He had good results earlier in the year but has yet to make a statement in the hardcourt season.
The highest seed of the three, Gilles Simon is finally playing the kind of tennis he played a couple of years ago that helped him move up in the rankings before a knee injury derailed him a bit last year. Smooth strokes, consistency, and good defense. He won’t overpower his opponents. But he won’t give anything away either. They will have to beat him to move forward.
It’s a toss-up as to who will make it to that spot. I’ll give Isner the edge because he has played the most consistent tennis this summer, and he’s also coming off of a title win with confidence. But in the end it won’t matter, as none of those three have what it takes to knock Murray from a place in the semifinals.
Tomas Berdych (9) is perhaps the most dangerous player outside of the top 8 in that quarter of the draw. He is finally playing the kind of tennis again that got him to his first grand slam final at last year’s Wimbledon, with full use of his stinging serve and punishing forehand. A shoulder injury knocked him off the beam in Cincinnati, but we’ll chalk that down to fatigue along with all of the other injury withdrawals/retirements. All things being even, I would bet on Tomas to supplant Gael in the quarters to go against Novak. (I’ll provide an alternate scenario below depending on the condition of his shoulder when the Open begins).
Mardy Fish is in the shape of his life and playing the best tennis of his career. He should be able to live up to his seeding and make it to the quarters. The only thing that could derail his potential quarterfinal appearance is not his fitness or health; it’s a man from France named Jo-Wilfried Tsonga! Tsonga has been playing phenomenal tennis this summer. He hasn’t managed a breakout tournament title yet though he has notched some notable scalps…namely, Federer at Wimbledon. And that scalp was HUGE.
He followed it up by beating Roger again in Montreal. Jo-Willy has proven he can play big boy tennis on the big stage. If he can keep it together between the ears for a week, Mardy will have a helluva struggle in the round of 16. I think he can still come out on top of that one because he’s a better thinker than Tsonga. If JW is on fire Mardy could also get hit off the court like Roger did in Montreal. Mardy in 5…I hope!
Now that the quarterfinal positions have been accounted for, let’s take a look at how it could all play out.
Novak / Tomas: Novak in 4 sets
Tomas is playing strong tennis. But he will need to sustain a high level throughout to beat Novak. And he just hasn’t proven that he can hang with either Novak or Rafa at that level for every point in a match.
(alternate quarter, depending on Tomas’ shoulder injury)
Novak / Gael: Novak in 4 sets
Gael is a great player with tremendous athleticism and shot-making ability. It will not be enough to stop Novak from another grand slam semifinal appearance. It didn’t stop him in Cincinnati, and it won’t stop him in New York. Kudos to Gael for finally showing some serious effort out there this past year. He finally looks like he wants more than to just be content with a top ten resume.
Roger / Mardy: Roger in 4 sets
If there were ever a time to beat Roger in a grand slam, it’s now. He is feeling his own decline and knows that on a given day when he needs it most, he might not be able to reproduce the “Roger-like” tennis he needs. But he still believes he can beat certain guys at the big moments. This will be a big moment and Mardy is one of those guys. Mardy wants this badly, and he could maybe surprise us. But I don’t think so. He will have lots of US Open Series bonus money to help heal the hurt…
Andy / John: Andy in 4 sets
John will provide a tough test if he is serving well. Andy has great defense. But if you can’t touch the serve booming past you, it can’t help you. John will need to do that on every point, and I can’t see him sustaining that level of concentration and intensity over the best of 5. And when his mph on his serve starts to go down, Andy will begin to ruthlessly exploit his lack of movement.
Rafael / David: Rafa in 5 sets
David beat Rafa at the Australian after Rafa sustained an early injury in the match. And it’s not like Rafa is at his fittest even now, having endured a long layoff after Wimbledon to deal with a foot injury then burning fingers on his non-dominant hand at a restaurant in Cincinnati. When added to the lack of confidence he feels after successive finals losses to Novak and a couple of shock losses in the US Open series, this is a time when he could be most vulnerable to Ferrer’s relentless ground game. David won’t blow Rafa off the court with pace of shot, but he will run down enough balls to force Rafa into the errors that have plagued him, especially on his forehand, for most of this summer. David has to play his best tennis to do this, and his 1-1 record for the US Open Series (at Cincinnati) don’t bode well for his “best” tennis. Just on familiarity and past history, I see Rafa winning this battle.
Notable players who could make some noise, but not enough to make it to the quarterfinal group: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Stan Wawrinka, Fernando Verdasco. All could be wildcards in the mix. Del Potro is struggling on the hard courts, so I don’t think he will be a late stage threat. Andy Roddick… well I’ll be generous and say that he’s struggling on many fronts now. And you can’t win the US Open with struggles. Tsonga and Simon I have discussed. Wawrinka is dangerous for anyone to play, except if your name is Roger Federer. He just can’t see himself beating Roger on any surface at any time. Luckily, Roger is on the other side of the draw so he could cause some issues in Andy Murray’s quarter. All things being even, Andy will win that match. But if Stan is having a good day he can make things tough.
Whew… All of this just to get to the semi-finals!
Stay tuned for part 2: the semi-final/finals breakdown.