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By Chris Oddo | Friday, August 22, 2014

Novak Djokovic, 2014

Even after an extremely shaky hard court summer, Novak Djokovic comes in as the US Open favorite. Will he come good?

Photo Source: Jonathan Moore: Getty

Without Rafael Nadal in the US Open Draw, and with Andy Murray still yet to reach a final since winning Wimbledon last season, one would think that there will be two mystery semifinalists in New York on the men’s side in two week’s time.

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Many would agree on that, but what not many are sure of, is: who? That is why we’re sitting down to tap away at the keys in hopes that by the end of this exercise—also known as the “draw preview” or “draw breakdown”—we’ll have our answers in red boldface.

So, let’s get to it then, starting from the top:

Novak’s Quarter:

Can you remember a year in which the consensus favorite has been a shell of his former self for all summer? Well, we can’t either, but it’s 2014, and it’s apparently a brave new world, one in which Novak Djokovic is supposedly going to turn the clock back to 2011 despite all his recent struggles in Toronto and Cincinnati.

The funny thing? Personally, we are inclined to join the “experts” and do so as well. It feels quite strange, having watched keenly as Djokovic dropped two of four matches on hard courts this summer. He committed an inordinate amount of unforced errors on the backhand side, and lacked feel, energy, patience and passion.

Two weeks later Djokovic is handed the most difficult draw of any of the top four seeds, and somehow, we're convinced that he’s going deep. Why? Well, for starters, even the guys he may face in this so-called difficult draw (Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, third round, John Isner, round of 16, Andy Murray or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, quarterfinals) are not really a match for Djokovic in their current form. Naturally, there is the odd chance that Andy Murray suddenly remembers—and plays like he remembers—that he’s an absolute phenom on a hard court, but after a year of fuddy-duddying around how likely is it that he just turns it on in New York?

Hard to say, but, strange as it sounds, the safest and most likely bet is to go with the player who has reached four consecutive finals in New York, despite his recent hiccups in North America.

Other things to consider: John Isner’s ankle injury and the presence of Philipp Kohlschreiber as a possible 3rd-round opponent make it more unlikely that the big American will even reach the round of 16 to spoil Djokovic’s open. As for Murray or Tsonga, one should reach the quarters, but could very likely be out of gas by the time they get there.

Pick: Djokovic

First-Rounder to Watch: Andy Murray vs. Robin Haase or Julien Benneteau vs. Benoit Paire

Stan’s Quarter:

A quick glance at Stan Wawrinka’s post-Australian Open stats reveal a pre-Australian Open (worse, pre-2013 Wawrinka) pattern, save for his victory in Monte-Carlo. In other words, the potential is there but the results have not been. Wawrinka threatened to go deep in Cincinnati, which would have instantly made folks stand up and consider him as a possible US Open contender, but he was bounced out of the draw rudely by Julien Benneteau in the quarterfinals, causing further doubt in his ability to make another run to match or even top last year’s semifinal run in New York.

After glancing at Wawrinka’s draw, it’s hard to imagine anybody other than Milos Raonic or Wawrinka (or possibly Tommy Robredo) coming out of this section. Kei Nishikori would have normally been given serious consideration but he’s been out since Washington, D.C. after he needed a minor procedure on his foot.

So this section could very likely be about who can stay away from the upset bug in the early rounds. Wawrinka seems way more primed for the upset, which could leave Robredo and Raonic playing a quarterfinal match. If that happens, we’ll take the Canadian on the strength of his 2-0 record vs. Robredo on clay. If Milos can do it on clay, he can surely get past Robredo on fast New York hard courts.

Pick: Raonic

First-Rounder to Watch: Nick Kyrgios vs. Mikhail Youzhny or Stan Wawrinka vs. Jiri Vesely

Ferrer’s Quarter

Ferrer is a two-time semifinalist in New York, and he reached the quarters last season before falling to Richard Gasquet in five, so he’s certainly a threat to go deep again (he proved that much by coming within a set from winning the title in Cincinnati last week). But will he?

How about Tomas Berdych, the second-highest seeded player in this section? Well, he’s been bad all summer, so unless he can will himself into form it could be tough. Truthfully, this is a very difficult section to call. There are a lot of potential dark horses (Marin Cilic, Ernests Gulbis, Kevin Anderson, Feliciano Lopez, Jerzy Janowicz?) but none has really jumped out this summer in the way that, say, Juan Martin del Potro did in 2009.

When in doubt, go with the proven commodity. Ferrer has proven that he’s got the good to go deep in New York on many occasions, and nothing in his draw really looks to be standing in his way until at least the round of 16.

That said, there have to be some surprises at the year’s last major, right?

Pick: Cilic

First-Rounder to Watch: Berdych-Hewitt or Cilic-Baghdatis

Federer’s Section:

Many believe that Roger Federer was handed a cupcake (or as Brad Gilbert says, a Betty Crocker) draw at the U.S. Open, but is that because Federer is so much better than most players or because he got a lucky draw?

Well, maybe a bit of both, but given Federer’s form of late (four straight finals and the title last week in Cincinnati) it is hard to imagine that Federer won’t find himself back in the US Open semifinals for the first time since 2011. He’ll not face anyone higher ranked than Fabio Fognini (seeded 15) before the quarterfinals, and there really aren’t many dangerous floaters that present matchup issues with Federer (is Marinko Matosevic a trap first-rounder? We don't think so, but it could prove to be Federer's trickiest encounter in the first round).

The real danger lurks in the quarterfinals, where if Grigor Dimitrov has caught fire and made it to the last eight, he might be too smoking-hot to stop at that point. But what are the odds?

Pick: Federer

First-Rounders to Watch: Dimitrov-Harrison

Semis: Djokovic over Raonic, Federer over Cilic

Final: Djokovic over Federer


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