With the most hyped hurricane in history having passed by Flushing Meadows yesterday, the US Open is expected to begin on schedule later today. The time has come for each of the main contenders to answer specific questions on the hallowed hard-courts of New York. Can Novak Djokovic complete what might be the greatest year in tennis history? Can Rafa Nadal recover from yet another injury to defend his crown? Does Roger Federer have one more major left in his racquet? Is it finally Andy Murray’s time? Could Juan Martin Del Potro rediscover his pre-injury form of 2009? Additionally perennial pretenders like Mardy Fish, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych will feel like they have the firepower to go deep into the tournament.
Djokovic enters the tournament as favourite and an overwhelming one if he’s fully recovered from the shoulder injury which curtailed his participation in the Masters 1000 final against Murray in Cincinnati. A record of 58 wins and a mere 2 losses this season, with two Grand Slam titles justifies his billing. Djokovic has been granted a comfortable draw with probably only Richard Gasquet or Tomas Berdych with any hope of derailing his smooth journey to the semi-finals.
Slated to meet Djokovic in the semi-final is Federer, the fading Swiss great. Federer did beat Djokovic in the Roland Garros semi-final and can still raise his game on any given day to other-worldly realms. However, there are now serious doubts about Federer’s ability to ease through a tournament as he did in his halcyon heyday. Bernard Tomic or Marin Cilic could prove dangerous third round opponents; Fish or Tsonga might potentially take down the Swiss in the quarter-finals. And if Federer negotiates that minefield then the irrepressible Djokovic lies in wait.
Since reaching the final in 2008 Murray has struggled at the US Open, losing to Cilic in round 4 in ’09 and Stanislas Wawrinka in a dismal round 3 defeat twelve months ago. Murray might have to go through Wawrinka again en route to a scheduled quarter final with Sweden’s Robin Soderling. However, the drama in this part of the draw may come from dangerous lower ranked players like John Isner and former champion Del Potro; exceedingly dangerous opponents on the cement. Isner, Del Potro or even 12th seed Gilles Simon would all fancy their chances of taking the quarter final spot from the notoriously flaky Swede. If Murray continues the upward trajectory of performance displayed in Cincinnati then he should be fairly confident of navigating the early part of the draw before dispatching any of the afore-mentioned quartet in the quarter-final.
In the final quarter of the draw Nadal should cruise through to the semi-final if his hand is adequately recovered from a mysterious hot-plate accident in a Cincinnati restaurant during the Masters tournament. With no real resistance scheduled until a potential quarter-final with fellow Spanish road-runner David Ferrer, Nadal should have ample time to find his form. Also in this quarter, the raucous New York crowd will be hoping Andy Roddick can turn the clock back thanks to a fairly kind draw. A Roddick run would be terrific entertainment value and a boost to the tournament but the American’s form has been so poor of late that he is a threat to lose to anybody.
Djokovic bt. Berdych; Fish bt. Federer; Murray bt. Del Potro; Nadal bt. Ferrer.
Djokovic bt. Fish; Murray bt. Nadal.
Djokovic bt. Murray
These predictions are fairly conservative but if Djokovic’s shoulder is fully healed it is almost impossible to see him losing. The combination of destructive power and clinical accuracy he has displayed this season is almost unprecedented and his demolitions of Murray and Nadal in the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals respectively were brutal to watch. Djokovic has the added advantage of five straight wins and a subsequent psychological stranglehold over Nadal.
Murray to reach the final may be a slightly sentimental pick but he is in better form than Nadal and has always said that Flushing Meadows is his best chance of winning a Grand Slam. With the questions marks surrounding the fitness and form of the Big Three, the clichéd ‘he’ll never have a better chance’ may actually apply here. However, defeating a fit Djokovic on the biggest stage could just prove a step too far as it did in Melbourne.