With the USTA releasing the 32 seeds for the men’s draw of the last Grand Slam tournament of the 2010 season, it is time to discuss just who might emerge victorious at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York when the final is played on Sunday 12 September. The most glaring omission, of course, is defending champion Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine slugger knocked off Nadal and Federer in his semifinal and championship matches last year en route to the title — the former in straight sets, 6-2 6-2 6-2, and the latter a five-set thriller in which del Potro vanquished Federer at Flushing Meadows 3–6 7–6(5) 4–6 7–6(4) 6–2 for the Swissman’s first loss at the venue since David Nalbandian upset him in the fourth round of the 2003 U.S. Open.
Federer is back to try to reclaim his throne as the top dog on the hard courts, but the five-time champion enters the tournament as the second seed behind Rafael Nadal. The two are thus on a collision course for another classic final against one another. But there are plenty of stumbling blocks that will be laid in their path when the final draw is set later this week. Let’s take a look now at the 32 seeds and how they might fare in this tournament. (All odds from sportsbook.com)
THE TOP FIVE SEEDS
1. Rafael Nadal (Spain) — The Spaniard is back to 2008 form, coming off victories in the French Open and Wimbledon once again. He also now has a hard-court Grand Slam to his name after having won the 2009 Australian Open. Thus Flushing Meadows remains the one venue at which he has yet to conquer a Grand Slam in his career, and Nadal will be motivated to justify his top seed this year. He has played little since Wimbledon, choosing to rest instead of pushing him schedule too hard — exactly what caused his burnout at the end of 2008 and his lost season of 2009. In his return to competitive play after his win in London, he has reached the semifinals of the ATP event in Toronto and the quarters in Cincinnati, losing to Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis in the respective tournaments. It’s not his best surface, the DecoTurf of New York, but never count out the world’s top-ranked player… ODDS OF VICTORY: 5/2
2. Roger Federer (Switzerland) — … The most likely victor, though, is going to be Roger Federer, the man who long held the number-one spot in the world and has been on a tear leading into the Open. You can damn near pencil him in for the finals, a spot that has been his domain in the draw for the past six years and running. Last year his reign ended when he lost that marathon to del Potro on the heels of his own French/Wimbledon double, but he’s the most recent champion on the hard courts after taking this year’s Australian Open in Melbourne. He’s also reached the finals in Toronto (where he lost to Murray) and won the Cincinnati event over surprise American Mardy Fish. All signs point to Federer claiming his second Grand Slam title of 2010 and silencing his doubters (myself amongst them) that say his career is starting to enter its final stretch after he’s failed to reach the semifinals at the past two Grand Slam tournaments. ODDS OF VICTORY: 2/1
3. Novak Djokovic (Serbia) — The Serb was touted as the next great of the sport after his 2008 Australian Open title, the man to break up the Nadal-Federer axis at the top of men’s tennis. He has reached the semifinals each of the past three years in Queens, and has played consistent tennis leading into this year’s U.S. Open. But with Djokovic nothing ever comes easy. He hasn’t won a title since beating Mikhail Youzhny in Dubai back in February, a streak wholly at odds with his seed in the tournament. He hasn’t been in a Grand Slam final since that 2008 victory in Melbourne, a run of ten Slams and counting where he’s been out of play before the last day. Injuries are always an issue, as is a breathing condition that could potentially be exacerbated in the September heat of the borough. Odds are Djokovic will play his way to at least the quarters, cementing his place amongst the top five in the game, but failing to claim a second Grand Slam for his trophy case. ODDS OF VICTORY: 12/1
4. Andy Murray (Britain) — Fresh off his sweep of Nadal and Federer in the semis and finals of the ATP Toronto tournament, Andy Murray comes to New York confident of his chances to capture his first career Grand Slam. Two years ago he lost to Federer here in the final 6-2 7-5 6-2, still overmatched against the Swiss champ at the time. This winter he played his second career Grand Slam final in Melbourne, again against Federer, and kept things a lot closer despite losing in straight sets 6–3 6–4 7–6(11). His victory over his nemesis in Canada (giving him a 7-5 edge in their career series), coupled with just his fourth victory in twelve tries over Nadal, show he’s on form. Of course, he did follow up the tournament with his more-traditional inconsistency by losing in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati to wild-card entry Mardy Fish. Which Murray will show up in New York when the first round gets underway on the 30th? That may be the most vexing question of all… ODDS OF VICTORY: 7/2
5. Robin Soderling (Sweden) — The man who put himself on the map as the man to knock off the defending champion at each of the past two French Opens (Nadal in the 4th round in 2009, Federer in the 2010 quarterfinals) has had a relatively quiet year outside of the clay-court season. Just like Djokovic, his last victory came back in February against (you guessed it) Mikhail Youzhny. This one was a fortnight prior, but the story unfolds pretty much the same. Like Djokovic he’s been a spoiler rather than an achiever throughout the season. He hit the semifinals at both Indian Wells and Miami. His clay-court campaign was commendable, with finals appearances in Barcelona and once again at Roland Garros. But since then he’s largely underwhelmed, leaving him either a dangerous darkhorse or a fading pony down the stretch. Bet the latter. ODDS OF VICTORY: 15/1