Will del Potro escape the first round?
As the finale to the Grand Slam season, it was all shaping up so nicely.
For the first time since 2005, there were different men's in-season Grand Slam winners heading into the U.S. Open -- Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. If one were to win in New York, he'd likely be the MVP of 2012.
Alas, the battle for supremacy became a little less intriguing after Nadal had to withdraw because of his knee issues. But it made the task easier for Federer, Djokovic and the rest of the field.
Indeed, can Andy Murray build on the momentum he gained at the Olympics and give tennis four different major winners in 2012?
Thursday's draw was kind to Djokovic in one sense: David Ferrer, given a seeding in the top four because of Nadal's absence, landed in the Serb's half.
Here's a closer look:
First quarter: Roger and the Americans
Donald Young, we feel for you. Having finally ended his losing streak at 17 matches this week, Young was probably thinking, "It can only get easier." Heck no.
The once can't-miss prospect faces Federer in the first round, and unless Young orchestrates one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history, his ranking is set to tumble even further since reaching the fourth round last year.
Federer could face another American in the third round in Robby Ginepri. Remember Ginepri, the former U.S. Open semifinalist? He's now ranked 234th and trying to resurrect his career at the age of 29. More likely, Federer will tangle with Fernando Verdasco in the third round before possibly landing Mardy Fish in the fourth round. That would be interesting.
Lower in the quarter, Tomas Berdych, if on his game, is a threat to Federer. But Berdych is slumping badly and would do well to win two matches. Sam Querrey is enjoying a solid summer and advanced to the fourth round at the U.S. Open on his last visit in 2010. The signs are promising.
Prediction: Federer def. Querrey
Second quarter: Murray and Tsonga, again
Murray's preparation for the U.S. Open wasn't to his liking. He showed up at the Canadian Masters in Toronto when he should have stayed at home, rested and cuddled with his gold medal. Instead, a knee injury forced him out in the middle of the tournament.
Then, in Cincinnati, he couldn't unlock rejuvenated Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and lost early.
But assuming Murray's knee is OK, don't read too much into those two hard-court tournaments. He'll be refreshed and ready enough for a long spell at the U.S. Open, which he has said is his favorite major.
First up for him is Alex Bogomolov Jr., who'll take confidence in knowing he beat Murray last year in Miami. Murray, however, thumped Bogomolov in the autumn, and Bogomolov has far from backed up his breakthrough 2011.
Murray against Milos Raonic would make for a tasty fourth-round encounter, and the Canuck appears to have no major roadblocks to get there.
After the drama at Wimbledon, we'll take another Murray-Tsonga Slam encounter.
Prediction: Murray def. Tsonga
Third quarter: Up for grabs
Ferrer's opener is a tough one in South African Kevin Anderson.
Isner has had an unflattering Grand Slam campaign, so the U.S. Open is his final opportunity to make amends. Like Ferrer, he starts against a difficult opponent, the ever-dangerous but capricious Xavier Malisse.
The player in form has to be the 34-year-old Haas, and if he can upend Ernests Gulbis, cut from the same cloth as Malisse, he'd be well on his way to the third round, at a minimum, and a potential match with Gasquet, the finalist in Toronto.
Don't we all want to see a Haas versus Brian Baker quarterfinal? What a great story that would be. (Who has had more surgeries?)
It's not entirely far-fetched. Baker is a player who excels on the grand stage, and he hopes all those recent losses are behind him. If he downs Tipsarevic in a probable second-round tussle, Baker won't be daunted by any of his ensuing foes.
Prediction: Tipsarevic def. Haas
Fourth quarter: Nice bracket for Novak
Djokovic, trying to explain his 6-0 loss to Federer in the first set of the Cincinnati final, said he was tired. He had a week to recover, and he should have plenty of energy remaining in the second week of the U.S. Open after the draw he received.
The first test of any kind comes in the third round if Djokovic, the defending champion, plays Julien Benneteau, a Frenchman who took Federer to five sets at Wimbledon and has beaten each of the big three. Djokovic won't falter.
The fourth round for Djokovic could mean one of Alexandr Dolgopolov (he of the epic tiebreaker against Djokovic last year in New York), Stanislas Wawrinka or Marcos Baghdatis. Yes, all three are highly talented, but over five sets on a hard court, no upset.
The top part of the section gives us one of the most enticing first-round clashes: Juan Martin del Potro versus fellow Argentinian David Nalbandian. Del Potro is on an upward curve, yet how will his left-wrist injury affect the 2009 U.S. Open champion (mentally as well as physically)? He's also 1-3 against Nalbandian.
Whispers of retirement swirl around Andy Roddick. The savvy, passionate New York fans will know that, and Roddick will need their support to reach the second week. Roddick potentially plays Aussie Bernard Tomic in the second round: The predictable versus the unpredictable.
Prediction: Djokovic def. Nalbandian
Semifinals: Federer def. Murray; Djokovic def. Tipsarevic
Final: Djokovic def. Federer
U.S. Open 2012 -- Aug. 27-Sept. 9
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Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock
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