Just when we're ready to bury 33-year-old Roger Federer, he rises like the Phoenix and surprises us -- again.
He did it at Wimbledon in 2012, winning his all-time record 17th Grand Slam singles title. Now, the Swiss champion has what appears to be a navigable path to No. 18.
With the withdrawal of No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, Federer received the No. 2 seed -- and a supremely favorable draw as unveiled Thursday at the US Open site in Flushing, N.Y.
Federer won another title last week in Cincinnati, defeating David Ferrer in the final -- for the 16th time in 16 matches. The same No. 4-seeded Ferrer that Federer would meet in this US Open's semifinals. His potential quarterfinal opponent? Twenty-three-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, who reached the quarters at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Dimitrov, however, is 0-3 in first-round US Open matches.
No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, has a nasty little draw; he'd see top-ranked American John Isner (who has withdrawn from the Winston-Salem event with a sprained ankle) in the fourth round, and either 2012 US Open champion Andy Murray or Toronto champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters. Ugh.
With that, let's look at some storylines that will come into play Monday when the tournament begins:
Best first-round match
There was a moment at Wimbledon when it looked like 33-year-old Lleyton Hewitt might retire. Why didn't the fiery 2001 US Open champion pull the trigger? The possibility of matches like this one, a first-round encounter with No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych. Watch out, Tomas.
Favorite most ripe for the picking
Berdych finds himself in a tough quarter. Even if he gets by Hewitt (hardly a given), he's got some tough sledding ahead, with the winner of a potential Feliciano Lopez-Ernests Gulbis match in the fourth round. And then there's the No. 4-seeded Ferrer to contend with in the quarters. We won't even discuss the possibilities of the semifinals.
Top-eight seed with easiest path
The last time Federer won this event was 2008, and his last final came five years ago. The back issues that have chipped away at his production seem to have cleared up, and no one on the men's side enters this US Open in better form. It says here that Federer will reverse the aging process and reach the final.
Best Cinderella candidate
The last time out in a major, Wimbledon, 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios took out Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. The Aussie teenager gets No. 21 seed Mikhail Youzhny, who six weeks ago lost to 17-year-old Alexander Zverev in his first match at Hamburg. Seems doable, no? The path to a fourth-round encounter with No. 16 seed Tommy Robredo also seems reasonably plausible.
American with friendliest path
Believe it or not, your golden ticket winner is ... wild card Tim Smyczek. The 26-year-old Florida resident is ranked at No. 91, sixth among American men. He's only 6-11 this year, but last year he reached the Open's third round, losing there to Marcel Granollers in five sets. This year, he gets a qualifier in the first round, then a probable tilt with No. 17 seed Roberto Bautista Agut and a probable third-rounder versus No. 15 seed Fabio Fognini. Tough, but not as difficult as the draws of injured John Isner and Sam Querrey.