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Thursday, August 21, 2014
Updated: August 22, 3:56 PM ET
Baseline Buzz: AARP has Fed's back

By Greg Garber and Matt Wilansky
ESPN.com

Novak Djokovic is, technically speaking, the favorite to win this US Open title; according to Ladbrokes of England, he is at 11-to-8 and Roger Federer is 5-to-2. But Djokovic will be navigating a tough-luck draw -- and perhaps an insurmountable wave of sentiment and nostalgia in New York.

Novak Djokovic
Is Novak Djokovic in trouble come US Open time? Recent results suggest he could be.
The No. 1 seed has a potentially brutal quarterfinal matchup with either 2012 US Open champion Andy Murray or Toronto champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Flying Frenchman might be more dangerous, given that he took out Djokovic 6-2, 6-2 in Canada, then dispatched Murray in a three-set quarterfinal victory.

No. 2 seed Federer must have the AARP looking out for him. The 33-year-old has a senior-friendly draw that would deliver Grigor Dimitrov (0-3 at the US Open in his career) in the quarterfinals and David Ferrer (0-16 against Federer) in the semifinals. Even if Djokovic reaches the final, he might be a little nicked up.

Can you imagine how a Federer victory would play in New York, where he hasn't won the title in six years?

In our kickoff edition of the Baseline Buzz, a regular, BP-sponsored feature of ESPN.com's US Open coverage, tennis editor Matt Wilansky and senior writer Greg Garber shoot the breeze on a variety of topics heading into what promises to be a chaotic fortnight.

Greg Garber: The question that jumps out is whether Federer has the stamina to go the distance in New York. I know you're a big fan, Mr. Wilansky, but seven best-of-five matches on these hard courts, in sometimes swirly conditions, day and night, is a lot to ask of a father of four. The back is sound, the racket's bigger, yes. But he's going to need a spaced-out schedule to get through it. He'd better hope they run him out there on the opening Monday.

Matt Wilansky: Well, considering the draw curators somehow gave Federer a ridiculously easy path, not only will they throw him out there Monday but perhaps they'll invoke some new rule that spots him a set. Anyway, more than Federer's results, I really like the carefree manner in which he has carried himself this summer. He looks very much like a player who has no pressure to accomplish anything, which is ironic, considering he's accomplishing things such as winning Masters 1000 events. And then there's this: According to the ATP, if Fed wins the Open and Djokovic fails to make the final, guess who will be the new No. 1 player in the land? You guessed it.

Greg Garber: And you and all your fellow Fedologists will be beside yourselves with glee. If I may change the subject (I know this will be difficult for you), let's talk about another player who hasn't won a Grand Slam this year: Serena Williams. Moreover, she hasn't been to a major quarterfinal, yet she's the favorite to win this thing. The three women who beat her in the Slams -- Ana Ivanovic, Garbine Muguruza and Alize Cornet -- didn't exactly go on to distinguish themselves. What do you make of the ever-unfolding drama that is Serena?

Matt Wilansky: For the record, I'm fine muting the Federer rhetoric for about a sentence or two, so, sure, let's talk Serena. I spoke to Pam Shriver this morning, and she said that, although the US Open title is clearly on Serena's Wilson Blade 104, there are reasons for concern. Notably, Shriver said, players have been able to attack Serena's second serve at the Slams this season. And as we know, second-serve winning percentage is paramount in results. I don't foresee that being a so-called major issue, but given the world No. 1's shaky Slam season, I'm wondering whether there is something mental going on. For the record, I still think there's a 90 percent chance she'll win the Open, unlike, say, last year's men's winner, Rafael Nadal, who won't be making the trip.

Greg Garber: Look at you dropping names, and that sneaky transition -- in a shameless attempt to steer the discussion back to Federer. I will say the 17-time champion should send Rafa a thank-you note for checking out with a sore right wrist. Certainly, picking up that No. 2 seed made his journey through the draw far easier. But after the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, who in your mind has the best chance to reach the finals? Lots of choices here.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga looked and played unstoppable at the Rogers Cup.

Matt Wilansky: Maybe it's his new arm sleeve, but who's playing better ball than Milos Raonic right now (ahem … Fed)? Seriously, you and I, Mr. Garber, watched him practice before Wimbledon, and he just had that look of a player ready to finally run the table. The reality is that Raonic doesn't return serve well, but with the explosive groundies off both wings and that serve, I don't see anyone threatening him in his quarter of the draw until the semis. If Kei Nishikori were healthy, perhaps. On the women's side, Sloane Stephens could not have asked for a better draw. She could potentially meet Jelena Jankovic in the third round and Angelique Kerber in the fourth, winnable matches. Now all Stephens needs to do is … figure out how to win again.

Greg Garber: You know who (or is it whom?) I am genuinely excited about seeing? Jo-Willy Tsonga. In Toronto, the Frenchman beat, in order, Djokovic, Murray, Dimitrov and Federer to win the title. Four top-10 players in one fell swoop. Talk about a blaze of glory. He looked like the guy who reached the final of the Australian Open six years ago. The last time that happened in the regular season was a dozen years ago, when Guillermo Canas ripped through the field (including Federer) in Toronto. If Stan Wawrinka can win his first Slam at the age of 28, why not Tsonga at 29?

Matt Wilansky: Here's why. Because Tsonga peaked too early, as we saw in Cincy. I understand he was totally tapped out after Toronto, especially with no rest between the two events. But don't let his flair get you too geeked up. I am a Jo-Willy fan, but he is right there with the Berdychs and, going back even further, the Marcelo Rios of the world. Boundless talent, but marginal, if not unpredictable, success. To be honest, I'm just as excited to see Ferrer. No one talks about him. Ever. But he came close to winning the Western & Southern Open and, if anything, he's going to cause one headache after another. (P.S.: It's "whom.")