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Editor's note: Beginning Aug. 16, Ravi Ubha unveils the top 10 U.S. Open questions. Check back each weekday until Aug. 27 as we count down to No. 1.6. Which dark horse will deliver?
So which players outside the top 10 have any chance of winning the U.S. Open? It's slim pickings, as you might expect, but there are a few:
Maria Sharapova is nearing pre-shoulder-surgery form. Sharapova, back to her old service motion, is going for the serves and the baseline game is firing. Her hunger and mental toughness never left.
Sharapova reached back-to-back finals in Stanford, Calif., and Cincinnati before a foot injury forced her to bail from Montreal. If healthy, she's a top contender.
No one really knows what to expect from Svetlana Kuznetsova, another former U.S. Open champion from Russia. However, Kuznetsova is convinced her massive slump is over. She still has all the weapons.
"I was going for the balls, and I think I have that back," Kuznetsova told reporters in Montreal. "I feel like I'm back. I was struggling and not knowing what to do on court. I am glad that is finished."
Victoria Azarenka, not making the kind of career progress many expected, nevertheless showed signs of life by winning two of four tournaments prior to Montreal. The volatile Belorussian needs a boost at a major, since she exited in the first round at the French and third round at Wimbledon. Azarenka had Serena Williams on the ropes at the Australian Open this year and lost, unable to finish off the world No. 1.
On to the men: David Nalbandian's hip, stomach and hamstring have let the Argentine down in the past year, leading to large bouts of inactivity. In his most recent return to the circuit, Nalbandian authored an 11-match winning streak.
He claims he's motivated (we'll take his word for it) and must have extra motivation since he hasn't featured at a Grand Slam since the 2009 Australian Open.
When it comes to floaters outside the top 20 who can upset the favorites, keep in mind these names: Gritty Russian teen Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova sits at a career-high 22nd in the rankings. Pavlyuchenkova won the title in Istanbul and battled Sharapova hard in Cincinnati. Estonian Kaia Kanepi is proving to be the only surprise Wimbledon quarterfinalist to have done anything since. Aussie Jarmila Groth owns one of the top-10 serves in the women's game, and the forehand isn't too shabby either. Controlling her emotions is key.
A bum hamstring severely disrupted Ernests Gulbis' campaign, although the Latvian is back and almost knocked off Robin Soderling in Toronto. A little more match practice and he probably would have. He let Andy Murray off the hook in Cincinnati on Thursday. Mardy Fish is surging, while Belgian Xavier Malisse, oozing with talent, resurrected his career. Malisse looked sensational, at times, against Murray, the eventual champion in Toronto, in the second round. His undoing was failing to serve out the first set up 5-4 and 30-0.