26 August, 2012

2012 US Open Men's Bracket Breakdown


The Grand Slam tennis season winds to a close with the US Open, but there's nothing to be wistful about; not yet anyway.  The two weeks when tennis' non-stop carnival decamps on our doorstep here in New York always yield some of the most dramatic, heart-pounding action of the season.  With one quarter of the men's game's Fab Four, Rafael Nadal, sidelined with a knee injury, this year's tournament is certainly down a few watts in terms of star power.  On the other hand, the Spaniard's absence is a crack in tennis' great wall that means opportunity for the rest of the field.  For the first time in a long time, the US Open has been rendered wide open.

So who will seize the day and emerge as the champion?  Almost just as importantly, what are the matches worth watching in the first few days of the Open?  Well, check out our 2012 US Open men's draw preview to find out...





Hereafter known as the Federer quarter, headlined as it were, some would say traditionally, by Roger Federer.  The top ranked player, looking for an Open Era record sixth US Open title, wasn't done too many favors by the draw gods.  He opens against mercurial American Donald Young, whose tough luck opener almost looks as if it came gift-wrapped from Patrick McEnroe with a smiley-faced card attached.  Young came into the last US Open playing the best tennis of his life, eventually cracking the ATP Top 40 before well...cracking. He's 3-21 this year and in front of a New York crowd that loves Federer as much it loves rooting for its own, we don't expect the win column to grow this week.  After Young, Federer's likely to face Bjorn Phau, then ex top tenner Fernando Verdasco.  On paper the Verdasco match sounds like a potential corker, but Federer has beaten the Spaniard four times and only dropping one set.  Verdasco will need to triple his career long effectiveness versus the Fed and win three sets to take the match.  The next obstacle for the Swiss superstar comes from a very talented section boldfaced by slumping 23rd seeded American Mardy Fish, 16th seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon, Russia's dangerous floater Nikolay Davydenko and the big serving Croat Ivo Karlovic.  With a boost from the hometown crowd and having always played his best ball in the American summer, we predict Fish will battle through to the Round of 16 tilt with Federer.

The bottom half of the quarter is headlined by sixth seed Tomas Berdych, who lost a third set tiebreak in the final of Winston-Salem to John Isner on the eve of this event.  He also has a potentially tough opener against the baby-faced Belgian David Goffin.  Goffin was already a darling of the tennis cognoscenti when he came to Roland Garros.  Then he qualified, beat Radek Stepanek and racked up two more wins before falling in a highly entertaining fourth round match with his childhood hero Federer.  Goffin is the quintessential "big match" player; of his ten tour level match wins this year, half have come at majors (he also reached the third round at Wimbledon).  If Berdych has a hangover, emotional or otherwise, coming into his match versus Goffin, he could be in trouble.  The only other players in this section with the juice to make runs here are suddenly seeded Sam Querrey, who's had a strong summer, winning the LA title over an Olympics-depleted field after an otherwise forgettable year; and German Florian Mayer.  Mayer opens his run against last year's breakout American, Jack Sock.  Eleventh seed Nicolas Almagro is here too, but unless Ion Tiriac sneakily installed blue clay courts in Flushing, he'll labor to make it past Stepanek in round one, or Philipp Petzschner in the second.  If Querrey can stay upright through a third round meeting with Berdych we like the laconic Californian's chances to match his buddy Isner's takedown of the Czech star...and eventually face the Fed.

First Round Five (five best matches in this section during round one)

Nicolas Almagro (11)  vs. Radek Stepanek 
Tomas Berdych (6) vs. David Goffin 
Roger Federer (1) vs. Donald Young
Gilles Simon (16) vs. Michael Russell 
Somdev Devvarman vs. Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo 

Dark Horse

Sam Querrey

Semifinalist

Roger Federer



Andy Murray has become quite a fashionable pick for US Open glory following his gold medal performance at the London Olympics, but to stand atop the podium in New York, Murray will have to get through this tricky quarter.  The first couple of rounds should be a cakewalk for the third seeded Scot, he opens versus American-cum-Russian Alex Bogomolov, Jr. likely followed by Ivan Dodig.  Longtime next-big-thing Thomaz Bellucci and big serving Spaniard Feliciano Lopez are Murray's most likely third round opponents.  Edge to Lopez to make the third round, but from there, Murray's 6-0 record against the man his mum once dubbed "Deliciano" speaks volumes.  The other section of the draw is chock-full of big hitters.  Canada's burgeoning star Milos Raonic is surprisingly looking for his very first win in Flushing after missing the event in his breakout 2011 season.  The 6'5" Canuck is ranked a career high 16th in the world on the back of quarterfinal finishes at the Canada and Cincinnati Masters, but he has yet to have his major event coming out party.  To go big in the Big Apple, Raonic has to get past the tough Colombian Santiago Giraldo in the first round, the winner of Igor Andreev and Paul-Henri Mathieu in the second and if expectations hold, either sentimental fave James Blake or 24th seed Marcel Granollers in the third round.  A Raonic-Blake third round would have all the makings of a raucous Labor Day weekend night session blockbuster, just putting that out there USTA, with the winner taking on Murray for a spot in the quarters.

The other side of the quarter is headlined by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  The magnetic young-Ali lookalike may not be a household name, but in tennis circles, his matches are always considered appointment viewing.  He starts against Karol Beck, before likely seeing another tough Colombian in Alejandro "On" Falla (pronounced fi-yah, ergo the moniker) in the second.  Rising Aussie Matt Ebden and talented 32nd seeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy will contend for the right to face Tsonga in round three, Chardy being the form player given his strong US Open Series.  Kei Nishikori, the Japanese 17th seed and two American journeymen Bobby Reynolds and Tim Smyczek are in the top section which is likely to won by big serving Marin Cilic.  Cilic and Tsonga have a 1-1 head-to-head record and both players can be prone to some puzzling results relative to their copious talent, that said these two should be the last men standing in their section.

First Round Five (five best matches in this section during round one)

Jeremy Chardy (32) vs. Filippo Volandri 
Matt Ebden vs. Tatsuma Ito 
Thomaz Bellucci vs. Pablo Andujar 
Milos Raonic (15) vs. Santiago Giraldo
Marcel Granollers (24) vs. Denis Kudla

Dark Horse

Jeremy Chardy

Semifinalist

Milos Raonic



Spain's David Ferrer has earned the fourth seed and thus we should name this the "Ferrer Quarter," though there's a part of us that wants to go with the "Yankee Quarter."  Being our national tournament, there are Americans aplenty, wild cards, qualifiers and direct entries alike, but this quarter houses our best prospect for a deep run this year, ninth seed John Isner.  Back to him momentarily, the top of this quarter is headlined by the polarizing Serb Janko Tipsarevic.  After presumably dispatching Guilliame Rufin, Tipsarevic should see another American in this section, Brian Baker.  If the USTA has any heart, Baker will make his US Open return awash in applause on Ashe Stadium at night.  Timeslot notwithstanding, we'd love to see the American who lost seven years to injury make a US Open homecoming in the big house.  Baker launches his open against Czech journeyman Jan Hajek before presumably making a date with Tipsarevic.  It's a winnable second round for Baker, but assuming the stars don't align, Baker, who's won just one match on the US hardcourts this summer after a breakthrough European campaign, will fall to Tipsarevic.  Viktor Troicki will likely meet his compatriot in round three with the presumed winner, Tipsarevic, moving on to meet presumably either Isner or Philipp Kohlschreiber.  Isner is 3-0 against the German, but all of their matches thus far have gone the distance.  We'll see what the Winston-Salem champ has in the tank by then to fuel his game (specifically his serve).  Isner's defending a quarterfinal result in last year's Open and will likely stare down Tipsarevic in the fourth round to match that feat.  The two have only played twice and thus the tea leaves are murky.  They split their matches, Isner won the most recent; Tipsarevic won their only hardcourt match. It should be noted that Tipsarevic pulled out of Cincinnati due to heat two weeks ago.  New York, often boiling during the first week of the Open, has been rather cool this year, so no obvious advantage there.  

The only slightly less murky bottom half has David Ferrer, unexpectedly quiet after an unexpectedly strong showing at Wimbledon, leading the charge.  Ferrer was the recipient of a nasty opener too, against the big-serving, barely unseeded 35th ranked South African Kevin Anderson.  The winner of that contest, and it could frankly be either man, should see smooth sailing against the winner of Igor Sijsling and Daniel Gimeno-Traver before facing either Gilles Muller, Lleyton Hewitt or 28th seed Mikhail Youzhny in the third round.  If form holds we'd have a Ferrer/Youzhny third rounder, but Anderson/Hewitt would in no way surprise us.  The ageless Tommy Haas is seeded 21st...stunning if for no other reason than the fact that he was ranked 2nd in the world a full decade ago and oh yeah, he ended 2011 ranked 205th!  If there's a guy in the draw, other than Baker, who you could say deserves a break or two, it's Haas.  The German didn't get one in his opener, he instead sees his name next to erratic Latvian talent Ernests "Plural As I Wanna Be" Gulbis.  How erratic you say?  Gulbis commenced the year in Doha ranked 61st, was down to 93rd by Roland Garros, beats Berdych at Wimbledon, then loses to Jerzy Jankowicz in the next round, rebounds to 67 in the world and enters the Open at No. 153.  In the Latvian edition of Forrest Gump, the quote about life being like a boxes of chocolate was probably just translated as "Ernests Gulbis, enough said."  Next up, the winner of two NCAA champions Illinois' Rajeev Ram (who won the doubles & team titles in 2003) and USC's Steve Johnson (winner of the 2011 & 2012 men's singles titles), with the veteran Ram, the prohibitive favorite.  This section is headlined by resurgent 13th seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet, now under the tutelage of former pro Sebastien Grosjean.  Gasquet opens versus Spain's Albert Montanes and could take on 31 year old Austrian Jurgen Melzer next; that is IF the Austrian can end his four match losing streak against another NCAA product, qualifier Bradley Klahn.  If Ferrer survives his opening test, the section really starts to open up for him.  If he doesn't, it's a pick 'em.

First Round Five (five best matches in this section during round one)

Viktor Troicki (29) vs. Cedrik-Marcel Stebe
Philipp Kohlschreiber (19) vs. Michael Llodra
David Ferrer (4) vs. Kevin Anderson 
Tommy Haas (21) vs. Ernests Gulbis
Mikhail Youzhny (28) vs. Gilles Muller

Dark Horse

Tommy Haas

Semifinalist

John Isner




The Novak Djokovic quarter of the draw holds much more intrigue than it did a year ago, when an unbeatable Djokovic-like cyborg "Robo Nole" laid waste to the ATP tour for a solid nine month stretch.  This year's Djokovic is much more of a humanoid.  He's "only" won three titles, but those three: the Australian Open,  Key Biscayne and the Canada Masters are three of the biggest hardcourt titles on offer.  He's lost ten times this year, but six of those were to other members of the Fab Four and the lowest ranked player he's fallen to was a then 11th ranked John Isner (in a third set tiebreak at Indian Wells).  Eh, that stuff happens.   That said, there should be precious little intrigue in the early going.  Djokovic opens versus Paolo Lorenzi of Italy, before likely taking on Russia's big hitting Teymuraz Gabashvili.  Assuming he withstands that firepower, the first seed in his way is Frenchman Julien Benneteau.  The 31st seeded 30 year old can certainly put a scare to the Serb, recall his winning the first two sets at Wimbledon versus a stunned Federer, but in a best of five, we don't see the fright becoming terminal.  The section above them houses Stanislas Wawrinka (who has to be glad to be sheltered away from his country/bogey-man Federer), Alexandr Dolgopolov and their first round challengers: Sergiy Stakhovsky and Marcos Baghdatis respectively.  On the comeback trail from a disappointing Olympics, Djokovic won't miss this opportunity for redemption.

The top half holds what we're calling the best first round match of the tournament: David Nalbandian versus his Argentine Davis Cup teammate/foe Juan Martin del Potro.  Why?  First, there's little love lost between the two, as evidenced in their bitter Davis Cup battle when they lost the final to Spain in 2008. Plus Nalbandian, though ranked 45th now, is still in pretty solid form, as of course is the seventh seeded Del Potro.  They haven't played in nearly four years, but interestingly the 6'6" Del Potro is just 1-3 against his 5'11" compatriot.  In short, the 2009 US Open champion will have his hands full from the very first round.  Next on the docket for the winner is likely to be fiery American Ryan Harrison.  Fast-driving, fast-serving Aussie Bernard Tomic is in the other half of this section with a sudden sentimental favorite, No. 20 seed Andy Roddick.  Since the 2003 champion last visited New York, he has his ups and downs for sure.  On the down side, he hasn't been past the third round at a major since last year's US Open and he's struggled with various injuries.  On the flipside, he's won two titles this summer Eastbourne and Atlanta.  In other words, what to expect is anyone's guess.  Roddick should get past fellow American Rhyne Williams in the first round, but Tomic, looming next, will be more of a worry.  The Aussie's ranking recently dipped due to a loss of points from the prior year's Wimbledon, but he's still a young gun worth watching.  There's also 10th seed Juan Monaco who does the vast majority of his damage on clay.  That said, we'd be remiss not to remember that he made it all the way to the semis of Miami defeating Roddick, Gael Monfils and Fish along the way.  He will likely face the winner of Roddick/Tomic in round three.

First Round Five (five best matches in this section during round one)

Juan Martin Del Potro (7) vs. David Nalbandian
Stanislas Wawrinka (18) vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky
Ryan Harrison vs. Benjamin Becker
Andreas Seppi (26) vs. Tommy Robredo
Edouard Roger-Vasselin vs. Fabio Fognini

Dark Horse

Andy Roddick

Semifinalist

Novak Djokovic


Semifinals: Federer def. Raonic; Isner def. Djokovic

American tennis witnessed somewhat of an Indian Summer at the London Olympics, combining for three gold medals, but in singles, the men were shut out.  Sitting in the David Ferrer quarter of the draw, John Isner has to be licking his chops.  He has a day off between matches, a surface that rewards his weapon of a serve and a format that ensures his matches will end in a fifth set tiebreak worst case scenario.  Best yet for him, until the semifinal, there's no player that, all things being equal,Isner shouldn't beat; that's where things get interesting.  Where exactly is Djokovic and is he playing well enough to render Isner's tomahawk serve moot?

Milos Raonic is due for a breakthrough and why not here?  Andy Murray seems to be in a bit of a post-Olympics hangover (though we haven't seen him with Prince Harry) and no one else in the Canadian's quarter is a sure thing.  Roger Federer will make sure Raonic doesn't completely reset the table at this tournament, but things are lining up for the Canadian to make a run until he does.  Then, unless he comes out flat against the "kid" playing in front of this home crowd, a la the gold medal match in London, Federer will go one further.

Champion: Roger Federer

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