At the US Open, a Grand Slam set in the sports and entertainment capital of the world, there’s no such thing as an “easy” draw – even with defending Open champion Rafael Nadal and 2009 winner Juan Martin del Potro out due to wrist injuries.
The field of men’s players for the Open remains stacked, with five Grand Slam champions accounted for, including reigning Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka and 17-time major winner Roger Federer. Moreover, Andy Murray is seeking his third Slam since breaking through two years ago at the 2012 US Open, and a slew of eager youngsters – headlined by Top 10 players Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic – all have visions of rising to the top in New York.
The spotlight and pressures of the American Slam haven’t halted Djokovic, the top seed in the men’s singles draw for the second consecutive year. The 27-year-old Serb has appeared in the last four Open finals dating back to 2010, and he won it all in 2011.
Reaching a fifth final will almost certainly be a fierce fight, as Djokovic could find himself facing off against top-ranked American John Isner and his booming serve in the round of 16. Should he parry Isner, either Murray – who defeated Djokovic in the 2012 final – or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – who beat the world No. 1 decisively two weeks ago in Toronto – could be there in the quarterfinals. Then, if that back-to-back wasn’t tough enough, Djokovic may very well see Wawrinka, who beat him at the Aussie Open in January and took him to a back-and-forth five-setter last year, in the semis. Or it may be Raonic, another powerful young player enjoying a tremendous 2014 season.
On the other side is Federer, the No. 2 seed who regained his status as top Swiss player from Wawrinka this summer with finals appearances in the last four tournaments he played. At 33, he’s aiming to be the first player over the age of 30 to reach an Open final since Andre Agassi in 2005.
Federer’s bottom half of the draw is more manageable than Djokovic, but there are plenty of potential challengers. A matchup with Dimitrov, the Wimbledon semifinalist who was coined “Baby Fed” during his standout junior career, would be a fun quarterfinal.
David Ferrer, the No. 3 seed, who matched up with Federer in last week’s Western & Southern Open final in Cincinnati, would be the likely semifinal opponent if chalk prevails. Yet the veteran Spaniard owns a 0-16 lifetime record against the five-time Open champion. Federer appears healthier this year than last, when he was upset by Tommy Robredo in the fourth round, and has an opportunity to leapfrog Nadal to No. 2 in the ATP rankings should he win it all.
Some notable first round matchups that should prove exciting:
No. 6 Tomas Berdych vs. Lleyton Hewitt - Hewitt is the unnamed member of the quintet of former Grand Slam champs mentioned at the top, having won the Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002. The 33-year-old upset another No. 6 seed last year in New York, del Potro, in an exciting five-setter under the lights inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. The Czech Berdych, a one-time Open semifinalist, is no pushover. The 28-year-old remains the only player in history to defeat Federer in a night match on Ashe, which he did in the 2012 quarterfinals.
No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov vs. Ryan Harrison - The intrigue is chiefly based on if Dimitrov, who has a mixed track record in Flushing Meadows. The Bulgarian won the boys' singles title in 2008 but is 0-3 in main draw matches. 2014 has been the year of his blossoming, led by strong performances in Melbourne and at Wimbledon, and he’s won three titles overall, on three different surfaces no less. Harrison, the young American who two years ago was mentioned alongside Dimitrov among the game's up and comers, has played well at the Open in the past and could surge behind an early upset.
No. 13 John Isner vs. Marcos Giron - It’s an all-American matchup, with the heralded college product out of the University of Georgia – class of 2007 – versus the reigning NCAA Division I men’s tennis champion from UCLA. Isner, 29, the former NCAA team champion and singles finalist, is coming off a pair of third-round losses at the Open in back-to-back years to Philipp Kohlschrieber, who amazingly lines up to face Isner in the round of 32 once again if the two make it that far. Giron, just 21, received a wild card after winning the 2014 NCAA title and is playing in his first main draw.
No. 14 Marin Cilic vs. Marcos Baghdatis - Croatia’s Cilic was in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and owns an intriguing blend of tools and size. Plus, he should be eager to return to the Slam from which he was banned in 2013 due to a failed drug test. For those with sharp recall, Cilic won the first set from both del Potro in 2009 and Murray in 2012 and let sizeable leads slip away to the eventual tournament champions. He’s a very experienced 25-year-old, who could be tested early by another vet, the former Australian Open finalist and Top 10 player Baghdatis.