This is the first of Ricky's five-part U.S. Open preview series, running through Sunday.
Part 1: Draw preview
Part 2: Draw analysis
Part 3: Top 25 contenders
Part 4: Weekly "Approach Shots"
Part 5: Full tournament predictions
With the U.S. Open draw ceremony just hours away, everyone—and I mean everyone—is making a fuss over the possibility of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal being in the same half of the bracket.
And understandably so.
Quick. When was last time Federer and Nadal were NOT the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds at a Grand Slam? If you guessed the 2006 Australian Open (which Nadal missed due to injury), then you are correct. The last time it happened when both of them were actually in the tournament was two majors prior at Wimbledon in 2005 (Nadal was seeded fourth behind Federer, Andy Roddick, and Lleyton Hewitt).
So, after that brief but interesting history lesson, it is obvious that the potential for a Nadal-Federer semifinal is a big—and RARE—deal. Nonetheless, I’m not going crazy over it. I’d like to think that Nadal’s placement in the draw will NOT be the first thing that I am going to look at when it comes out on Thursday afternoon, but I admit that it probably will be just because it’s impossible not to. I’m confident, however, that I won’t lose any sleep over it on Thursday night. Well, at least not a LOT.
In all honesty, there are plenty of things I am more interested in when it comes to the draw, even though they may not necessarily be the first things I look for when I see it.
For me, the keys to the draw are Andy Roddick and Juan Martin Del Potro. To make it easy, we’ll still refer to Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic as “the Big 4” even though Roddick and Del Potro are starting to put pressure on that elite group. We know that each member of “the Big 4” will avoid every other member of “the Big 4” until the semifinals. Two of “the Big 4” will avoid both Roddick and Del Potro in their quarters of the draw, while the other two will be slotted with either Roddick or Del Potro. And THAT is the most interesting aspect of Thursday’s draw. Yes, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Nikolay Davydenko (the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds) are formidable opponents, but they are in a tier below Roddick and Del Potro. It’s safe to assume that every one of “the Big 4” will be hoping see either Tsonga or Davydenko in his quarter as opposed to Roddick or Del Potro.
Yes, even Federer, who leads the head-to-head series with Roddick 794-3, and who just lost to Tsonga. You think Federer could lose to Tsonga twice in-a-row, the second time at a Grand Slam? Think again.
After I sort out the top six players in the draw, I will next look for what plenty of tennis fans refer to as “the dangerous floaters.” Those, of course, are the players who are unseeded, but whose talent is such that they either SHOULD be seeded, or have a strong chance of taking out a seed. Hewitt was looking like he would qualify as such, but a late surge during the U.S. Open Series has earned him a seed.
So there not many “dangerous floaters” in this particular slam, but still there are enough to note. Marat Safin is absolutely abysmal at the moment, but it would be hard to argue that he does not remain talented. Nobody wants to play John Isner simply because of his serve, as most of his matches come down to just a few points here and there (plus he is playing great right now). I bet some of the top players don’t even want to face Ernests Gulbis. They SHOULD want to play him—because Gulbis has been one of the worst players on tour in 2009—but I bet some of them still don’t. To a lesser extent—but still worth noting—look out for Philipp Petzschner, Ivan Ljubicic, Mikhail Youzhny, Jeremy Chardy, and Richard Gasquet.
I’ll also be looking for weak parts of the draw that could set up well for a run to the second week of the tournament by an unseeded player. Those won’t be hard to find. Unseeded participants will be drawn to face a seed no later than round two, and it’s easy to see which seeded players the unseeded ones will want to be closest to in the bracket: (14) Tommy Robredo, (21) James Blake, (25) Mardy Fish, and (30) Viktor Troicki. Nor would it be too terrible to be placed near (9) Gilles Simon, (15) Radek Stepanek, or (31) Lleyton Hewitt, as those three have been dealing with various injuries of late.
In conclusion, let’s get back to the whole Federer-Nadal thing. Even if you do find the semifinal possibility fascinating, keep in mind that it means NOTHING unless both Federer and Nadal actually make it that far. The chances of that happening, in my opinion, are considerably less than 50 percent. Nadal, for obvious reasons, is no lock for the semis. Even when healthy he has never been to the U.S. Open final. Federer is a virtual lock for the semis (after all, he is ALWAYS in the semifinals of a slam), but perhaps not quite as much of a lock as usual despite being in fine form. Yes he has won the last two Slams and picked up the Cincinnati title, but he has still lost more than his fair share of matches in 2009 and has survived many more near-losses.
So, that’s what I’ll be poring over just past noon on Thursday. How about everyone else? Did I miss anything?
And, finally, are there people out there who will take one look at their printed version of the draw and immediately tear it to shreds if Federer and Nadal are in the same half? Personally I would not go that far, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be tempted to!
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