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Federer, Murray, Roddick and Nadal Stand Out of the Heap as U.S. Open Favorites

The U.S. Open draw has been unveiled with the usual suspects at the top pack.  Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are the highest seeds followed respectively by Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.  For some, the path has multiple green lights, but for others it is lined with yellow flags.  Here’s a breakdown of the draw.

After his victories at the French Open and Wimbledon, Nadal is once more in pursuit of the U.S. Open trophy, the sole major he lacks.  In 2008, the Spaniard was halted in the semifinals by Murray and last year in the same round by Juan Martin Del Potro, the champion.  Although Nadal has been the most prolific performer on grass and clay this season, hardcourt has been a different story.  Nadal has a lone final appearance in January in Doha and went down to Nikolay Davydenko.  With neither injury nor fatigue an issue this time, Nadal is capable of going the distance.  However, there may be a significant boulder in his way in the quarterfinals.

Finally in shape after hip surgery, David Nalbandian has made himself part of the conversation and could clash with Nadal in the quarterfinals.  Although Nadal recorded the win at their last meeting at the Sony Ericsson Open in March, Nalbandian’s form has improved markedly since then.  Moreover, Nalbandian took the title as a wildcard at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic earlier this month.  As a result, the Argentine will not be an easy customer for the Spaniard.

While Fernando Verdasco, the eight seed, is technically another likely quarterfinal counterpart for Nadal, Verdasco is at best a minute obstacle.  With a 10-0 record against his countryman, in a five set match, Nadal is a sure bet.

De novo, Nadal has been placed on a collision course with Murray to reach his first U.S. Open final.  Twice on hardcourt this year, Murray has comprehensively beaten Nadal including the Rogers Cup two weeks ago.  After dreadful results most of the season, Murray is at last in form and defended his title in Toronto.  If they clash in the semifinals, Nadal will have a tough time getting a pass.

Beforehand, Murray may need to handle his own spot of bother in the shape of Sam Querrey in the round of 16.  In the final of the Farmers Classic in July, Querrey prevailed over Murray.  In addition, Tomas Berdych, the French Open semifinalist and Wimbledon finalist, is a probable quarterfinal rival for Murray.  Therefore, a Murray-Nadal semifinal is not set in stone.

The bottom half of the draw is also intriguing with Robin Soderling, Andy Roddick, Djokovic and Federer, the projected quarterfinalists.  Yet, Mardy Fish and Marcos Baghdatis may spell trouble for the top seeds in that section considering their performance this summer.

The last time Federer encountered Lleyton Hewitt, it was the Halle final.  That day, Hewitt walked away with the trophy.  In the third round, Federer may get the opportunity to pay Hewitt back.  A similar scenario could unfold with Soderling who will likely be Federer’s quarterfinal match-up.  Soderling derailed Federer in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. Neither Soderling nor Hewitt has posted good results during the summer hardcourt season.  Conversely, Federer defended his title in Cincinnati and is playing his best tennis since his triumph at the Australian Open.  Hence, Federer’s chances of advancing to the semifinals are strong.

Still with the lingering effect of mononucleosis, Roddick reached the semifinals in Cincinnati last week. If illness is a non-factor, Roddick should have no difficulty getting by Davydenko in the round of 16.  Complications may come in the quarterfinals if Roddick faces Baghdatis or Fish.  The latter ousted Roddick in the semifinals in Cincinnati and Atlanta this summer after being winless nine consecutive times.

Out of deference as the third seed, Djokovic can be said to be a contender.  However, the Serb’s performance these past few tournaments leads one to question his physical and mental toughness in a torrid New York heat.  So, depending on the weather, Baghdatis or Fish could sneak through, thwarting a possible Roddick-Djokovic semifinal.  Nevertheless, if it comes down to a Roddick-Djokovic semifinal, Roddick should be in the driver’s seat.

Federer, Murray, Roddick and Nadal, in that order, are the heavyweights while Nalbandian, Soderling, Djokovic and Berdych are the middleweights with an outside chance for the title.  With major number seventeen, Federer would be three shy of his set objective of twenty.  After being denied twice, Murray is hopeful that on this occasion he will join the elite club of major champions.  For Roddick, a second trophy would silence the critics who are determined to label him as a “one slam wonder”.  By completing the career grand slam, Nadal would demonstrate that he is indeed a complete player and elevate himself to legendary status.

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