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NEW YORK -- Rafael Nadal didn't have the best preparation for the U.S. Open, getting crushed by Andy Murray in Toronto and losing in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati. But thanks in part to an early-round upset at Flushing Meadows, the Spaniard is looking good to finally complete his Grand Slam collection.
Down to the quarterfinals, we assess the chances of the eight men remaining:
Rafael Nadal: On paper, Nadal hasn't had an easy match in four rounds. However, he has failed to drop a set and hasn't even been broken. The world No. 1 is getting more pop on his serve, while the baseline game is working, which it wasn't in Toronto and Cincinnati. Helping Nadal further was Murray's surprising loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in the third round. He has a clear path to a maiden U.S. Open final, starting with Fernando Verdasco.
Novak Djokovic: He says he's playing as well as he has the entire season. The turning point was overcoming a 2-1 deficit in sets, and the stifling heat, in the first round against good pal Viktor Troicki. Djokovic has won 11 consecutive sets against tough opposition (for one reason or another), showing little of the spottiness exhibited at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. The signs are good.
Roger Federer: Federer faced Brian Dabul, Andreas Beck and the fading Paul-Henri Mathieu in his first three encounters. Enough said. Confronting Jurgen Melzer in the fourth round, a step up in class, Federer started strong before dipping a tad. He got plenty of luck in the pivotal second-set tiebreaker. Federer has to potentially beat Robin Soderling, Djokovic and Nadal to win major No. 17. Difficult.
Don't count him out
Robin Soderling: Soderling isn't playing his best tennis; he was sluggish against an Austrian qualifier in the first round and Spaniard Albert Montanes in the fourth. The good news is that he's winning. Further, he's the type of player who can turn it around in a hurry and has beaten Rafa and Roger in Slams. Soderling, however, has never topped both in a single major, and he probably needs to do that here to open his Grand Slam account.
Fernando Verdasco: In beating David Ferrer in a brutal contest reminiscent of his titanic tussle against Rafa at the Australian Open, Verdasco salvaged his Grand Slam season. He was aggressive, standing up on the baseline, rather than behind it. That kind of approach would work well against Nadal -- if he's not tired. But he has to be.
Mikhail Youzhny: Youzhny is an absolute joy to watch. He's got that splendid one-handed backhand, goes for his shots and is a fine mover. The Russian should reach the final four and has ousted Nadal four times in the past. The best-case scenario for the 12th seed, should he dump Nadal again in a probable semifinal clash, is to face either Djokovic or Soderling in the final. He's 0-10 against the Fed.
Stanislas Wawrinka: This has been a great tournament for Wawrinka, long considered an underachiever. The Swiss No. 2 knocked out Murray, and crucially, didn't stop there, advancing to a first Grand Slam quarterfinal. He can't have much left in the tank after those slugfests against the Scot and Sam Querrey.
Gael Monfils: The Frenchman is finally doing well at a Grand Slam outside France. Escaping against Robert Kendrick in the first round, Monfils then overcame three tricky but mentally fragile foes in Igor Andreev (returning from injury), Janko Tipsarevic and Richard Gasquet. Monfils is not playing offensive enough and thus can't take it to the next level.