Power Ranking the Top 20 Men's Players Heading into 2013 US Open Tennis

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistAugust 19, 2013

Power Ranking the Top 20 Men's Players Heading into 2013 US Open Tennis

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    Rafael Nadal led the way at Cincinnati's Western and Southern Open with his ninth title this year. He is only the fourth player since 1990 to pull off the Canadian-Cincinnati sweep, something that even Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have not done.

    Only Andre Agassi in 1995 was not able to win the U.S. Open after this feat. Patrick Rafter (1998) and Andy Roddick (2003) rode this momentum all the way to U.S. Open titles.

    But if Nadal is playing great tennis, there will still be many battles at the top to decide the U.S. Open champion. There is no overwhelming favorite, but a handful of legitimate champions are all looking to seize the title.

    The following slides will count down the top 20 players who can do damage at the U.S. Open. Much of this article evaluates their recent results and potential to play well on hard courts. Who will be ready to make some noise?

    The final slide will also reveal what needs to happen for Nadal to reclaim the No. 1 ranking at the U.S. Open.

Dishonorable Mention:

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    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 

    The world No. 8 player will be sidelined with a left knee injury. The U.S. Open will miss him.


    Fabio Fognini

    He completed a sensational clay-court run immediately following Wimbledon, but the world No. 18 is finding life on hard courts much more difficult. Winning only four of 12 matches on cement, including a meltdown at Cincinnati, does not look good for his chances at the U.S. Open.


    Marin Cilic

    He has been resting at No. 19 in the rankings, but he's unlikely to play anytime soon after allegations that he is in trouble for doping. He will not be playing at the U.S. Open.


    Janko Tipsarevic

    He has spent 2013 on a sharp decline, winning only 15 of 32 matches and dropping from the top 10 in the rankings to No. 21. Normally he is a very good hard-court player, but has been in such a funk it's hard to see him turning it around in New York.


20. Bernard Tomic

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    ATP Ranking: No. 52

    Recent Results: While many tennis fans impatiently wonder if the 20-year-old will put together his troubled talent and become a bona fide tennis star, the reality is that he was awful at Montreal and Cincinnati, losing in the first round and at qualifying.

    It would seem that he is a non-contender for the U.S. Open.

    U.S. Open Outlook: However, Tomic has shown this year that he is capable of putting together a surprising run at the U.S. Open. In January, he won the Sydney tournament on hard courts. At Wimbledon he battled Tomas Berdych in the fourth round.

    He is learning the pains of both winning and losing. At some point he will put together his experiences and shot variety. At 6'5" and with effective flat shots and changes of pace, Tomic has the ability to set up opponents and cause trouble.

    He has an outside chance of storming into the second week, but a tough draw or self-destructive play could send him packing by Tuesday of the first week.

19. Andreas Seppi

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    ATP Ranking: No. 23

    Recent Results: Tennis fans may want to do a double-take in examining Andreas Seppi's 2013 hard-court record. He has won 12 of 21 matches, which is far above his 7-10 record on clay. So he gets the nod over fellow Italian Fabio Fognini to succeed on this surface.

    U.S. Open Outlook: He has become a solid bet to reach the fourth round in Grand Slam tournaments, but don't expect him to do much in big matches against top players. He does not have the firepower to rock New York, but he is a consistent performer and enjoying his run near the top 20.

18. Nicolas Almagro

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    ATP Ranking: No. 16

    Recent Results: Nicolas Almagro prefers clay, but he has good hard-court skills. He got in extra work with clay following Wimbledon but has been a first-round casualty at both Montreal and Cincinnati. He will be seeded and should be physically ready for the U.S. Open.

    U.S. Open Outlook: The problem with Almagro is mostly between the ears.

    He has had a history of self destruction. Sometimes he plays angry and loses his concentration. There is always the hope he can just play tennis one point at a time and stay positive.

    He is capable of making a second-week run, but it's a long shot.

17. Mikhail Youzhny

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    ATP Ranking: No. 24

    Recent Results: Mikhail Youzhny had wins at Montreal and Cincinnati. He defeated Ernests Gulbis in the latter and has the veteran experience and composure to play well on hard courts. It's been a few years since he was a top-10 player and rising threat, but he is still a fighter.

    U.S. Open Outlook: Though his game is best suited for grass, Youzhny can still use his excellent slice backhand to trouble opponents. He hits the ball early. On fast surfaces, he can use this advantage to attack opponents.

    Above all, he has been through wars against talented players and will probably not beat himself. He works hard and fights harder.

    He's a dangerous opponent in any round, but if he is playing well, he could make the second week at the U.S. Open.

16. Stanislas Wawrinka

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    ATP Ranking: No. 10

    Recent Results: Things have not gone well for Stanislas Wawrinka in winning only one of three matches at Montreal and Cincinnati. He's much better on clay, but he has proven to be a threat on hard courts, especially with his epic battle against Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open.

    U.S. Open Outlook: Now would be a good time to regroup for a few wins. He has his excellent, penetrating backhand and is a good competitor. Like any player on the ATP, it's difficult for him to beat the very top players, but he also seems willing to try again.

    Look for him to get to the second week. Maybe the matchups will be kind and he can go a little further.

15. Grigor Dimitrov

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    ATP Ranking: No. 28

    Recent Results: He had a disappointing first-round loss at the Canada Open, but Grigor Dimitrov played better at Cincinnati, advancing to the fourth round and taking the second set against Rafael Nadal. For several months, he has made some incremental advances with tougher play and upsets against top players.

    But he has the tendency to follow that up with poor performances against lesser talent.

    U.S. Open Outlook: He gets love on this list because he has the talent to make a deep run at the U.S. Open. The problem is he has never been past the fourth round in any Grand Slam tournament. Inconsistency and lack of fitness need to be conquered in best-of-five matches.

    But he is one of the few players outside the top 10 who could catch lightning in a bottle. The odds are against this happening, but it's possible.

14. Kei Nishikori

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    ATP Ranking: No. 12

    Recent Results: Kei Nishikori has silently moved up to the edge of the top 10. He is usually consistent against lesser opponents, but he's been a disappointment over the past few weeks. Losses to Richard Gasquet and Feliciano Lopez showed that he has a long ways to go if he is to become a legitimate contender for the U.S. Open.

    U.S. Open Outlook: It's amazing to consider that his best showing at the U.S. Open was his fourth-round appearance as an 18-year-old in 2008. He has to be thinking that it's time again to make a run into the second week.

    He will need to be consistent with his entire game. He can't overwhelm his opponents with power, but he can be a dogged competitor. Getting to the fourth round should be his minimum goal. Perhaps a quarterfinals appearance is possible, given a good draw.

13. Ernests Gulbis

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    ATP Ranking: No. 33

    Recent Results: His highlight was a huge win over Andy Murray at the Canada Open. He eventually lost a tight third set to Milos Raonic and delivered a few choice words about Canadian tennis. He then was out in the first round with a tough opening match against Mikhail Youzhny.

    U.S. Open Outlook: The mercurial Gulbis is a streaky player and very dangerous on hard courts. He has the talent to hit big on both sides and backs it all up with a big serve.

    If he keeps his composure and doesn't spend more time inciting the crowd than concentrating on his work, he can win four or five matches at Flushing Meadow. He has the moxie to mix it up with the top players on the tour, and his game still has a higher ceiling. Nobody wants to face him.

    At the very least, he should be good for an entertaining perspective or two if someone gives him the mic.

12. Milos Raonic

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    ATP Ranking: No. 11

    Recent Results: Until the Canada Open, Milos Raonic had not been playing good tennis. Then he took advantage of his draw and got all the way to the finals before getting blasted by Rafael Nadal. He was defeated by John Isner at Cincinnati, who is an even bigger and stingier server.

    U.S. Open Outlook: It's still hard to think of Raonic as a legitimate top-10 player. For all the talk of the ATP's depth of players, inconsistencies and weaknesses plague the outer edges of the top players. It's like seeing underneath the perfect, delicious top of a muffin. A lot of crumbling can occur.

    Raonic could serve his way into the final four rounds, but his footwork is plodding. He has not proven himself with enough big matches to suddenly string together several of them at the end of the U.S. Open. Sell his stock after the fourth round, if he is still there.

11. Richard Gasquet

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    ATP Ranking: No. 9

    Recent Results: Richard Gasquet has been on the edge of the top 10 through consistently making it as far as quarterfinals. That's about his limit.

    He was crushed by Novak Djokovic in Montreal and then crumbled against John Isner's serving at Cincinnati.

    U.S. Open Outlook: Gasquet has almost no chance of winning the U.S. Open, but neither does anyone else near his ranking level. He doesn't scare any of the top players despite his all-court package.

    Maybe he can ride the perfect wave to the semifinals if the draw clears up along the way, but don't hold your breath.

10. John Isner

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    ATP Ranking: No. 14

    Recent Results: He is one of the few players who has found a groove in the summer hard-court season. He won the Atlanta tournament and was a semifinalist at Washington D.C. He also upended Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro at Cincinnati on his way to the finals.

    U.S. Open Outlook: It's almost impossible to expect that John Isner can win the U.S. Open, but he has a few distinct advantages that make him a tough out. He is one of the toughest players on tour in holding serve and has comfort in winning tiebreakers. He also understand his own formula for winning. There are no surprises for his preparation and game plan. He can keep it simple.

    Of course he also struggles to see break-point opportunities, and he does not have the footwork for good defense. He must have time to use his forehand.

    Maybe the American crowd will energize him, and it's suddenly conceivable that he could be a U.S. Open semifinalist. But if he has a few bad serving holds, it could be an early exit.

9. Tommy Haas

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    ATP Ranking: No. 13

    Recent Results: Tommy Haas had to withdraw with a shoulder injury after trailing 5-0 in his first match at the Canada Open. He rebounded well with two match wins at Cincinnati. He was also up on 6-1, 5-5 in the quarterfinals before Roger Federer put him away.

    U.S. Open Outlook: Haas is right at home in America, and his all-around tennis game is well-suited for hard courts. Unlike many other foreign players, Haas has lived and trained in America and is familiar with the pressures and environments at places like New York.

    He is also capable of winning big matches. He is unafraid to compete and could be a dangerous contender to go deep into the second week. He is always an interesting story when playing well.

8. Jerzy Janowicz

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    ATP Ranking: No. 15

    Recent Results: The high of being a Wimbledon semifinalist is long gone. Since then, Jerzy Janowicz has played lackluster tennis.

    He was not sharp at Montreal and ultimately was pushed aside in a second-set loss to Rafael Nadal. He can be excused for that. But to lose to veteran James Blake 6-1, 7-5 is downright awful. Maybe he needed to see how much Blake cared to play inspired tennis and flash his aging but talented skills.

    U.S. Open Outlook: He is listed this high simply because he has a lot of potential. His huge serve, big forehand and delicate drop shots can stymie even the very best players. He has the kind of in-your-face attitude to battle the top players and has not failed enough for debilitating self doubts.

    If he gets on a roll, he could conceivably match his semifinal run at Wimbledon and take some cracks at more big matches. He has been shaky, but this will make it easy to give his full attention to his coach. He should be focused.

7. David Ferrer

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    ATP Ranking: No. 4

    Recent Results: "Disastrous" sums up David Ferrer's recent tennis.

    He lost in the second round to a qualifier at Montreal and in the third round to a qualifier at Cincinnati. Clearly, he is not playing contending tennis, and perhaps it's too much to ask after his career-best peak as a finalist at the French Open.

    U.S. Open Outlook: For most of the past year, Ferrer has been consistent in handling lesser opponents. He could very well get on track and zoom to the final eight.

    The problem is when he plays an opponent that is more talented.

    If he runs into an inspired Tomas Berdych, he could be finished. Asking him to defeat Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic feels like an impossible mission.

    Is this already the gradual decline after seeing his career's best tennis? Probably so.

6. Tomas Berdych

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    ATP Ranking: No. 5

    Recent Results: Tomas Berdych has pulled off his usual up-and-down rotation with his performances in Canada and Cincinnati. At the former, he lost his second match in a third-set tiebreaker to Vasek Pospisil, a wild card he should have handled with kid gloves. Then he zoomed all the way to the semifinals at Cincinnati on the strength of a straight-sets win over Andy Murray.

    U.S. Open Outlook: Last year, Berdych defeated Roger Federer on his way to the semifinals, but the windy conditions bothered him. Andy Murray put him away easily. His mental game and confidence has a way of withering at the biggest moments.

    He is always capable of beating anyone on a given day when he is serving well and able to set up for his groundstrokes. If his opponent is hesitant or decides to trade groundstrokes with Berdych, he can usually dictate a victory.

    The problem comes when he is forced to play more defense. Typically this will not bode well against the more well-rounded top three players.

    Keep your eye on Berdych, but don't bet the farm. A semifinal appearance again is possible but unlikely.

5. Juan Martin del Potro

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    ATP Ranking: No. 6

    Recent Results: He crashed against big-serving Milos Raonic at the Canada Open after only one win in the tournament. He did pick himself up with three match wins in Cincinnati, but he split two tiebreakers with John Isner and then lost the final set of their semifinal match.

    U.S. Open Outlook: Juan Martin del Potro may not want to run into big servers at the U.S. Open. Despite his baseline talent and more well-rounded game against those players, he can get out of rhythm and find himself playing his opponent's match.

    He will also need to string together two or more big matches against the Big Four, and recent history says this is too much. There should at least be confidence he can win it all. After all, he defeated younger versions of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to win the 2009 U.S. Open.

    It's unlikely, but possible he could win the 2013 U.S. Open.

4. Roger Federer

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    ATP Ranking: No. 7

    Recent Results: The Swiss Maestro’s plan to use a new, larger racket will be at least temporarily scrapped. His extra clay-court matches nearly derailed his opportunity to compete on hard courts.

    He skipped Toronto to give his back rest and healing. It appeared to pay off at Cincinnati; he pushed rival Rafael Nadal to three tough sets. He is happy to be competing, saying in NYTimes.com that "I’m happy with my progress along the way... I think it was a good step in the right direction."

    U.S. Open Outlook: Federer was a U.S. Open long shot with questions about his back. The answers are still lingering in the air, but the sun is breaking through the mists of uncertainty.

    When Federer is serving well and able to control the action with his forehand, he can defeat anyone.

    Most of all, he must be able to recover well between matches. His fans will be holding their breaths each time he rips off a serve. If he is pushed to five sets a couple of times, it could wear him down in his quest to beat the top three in the world.

    The bottom line: Federer is still a contender at age 32, and anything is possible when he is healthy and playing on hard courts.

3. Andy Murray

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    ATP Ranking: No. 3

    Recent Results: Murray’s performances in Montreal and Cincinnati were nothing short of uninspiring. He was pummeled by Ernests Gulbis and grilled by Tomas Berdych, both of whom can overpower him by hitting through the court.

    It’s been a weak showing for Murray’s tune-ups to defending his U.S. Open title.

    U.S. Open Outlook: Murray has shown he is no longer afraid of battling for five sets in Grand Slam venues. Because his game plan will always be built most around his defensive counter-attack, he will be impotent unless he plays with relentless energy. He must scowl and physically impose his attitude into each match.

    Title defenses are never easy, and Murray will likely find the road more difficult this time around. He is capable of winning the U.S. Open, but this year Rafael Nadal is also in the draw.

2. Novak Djokovic

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    ATP Ranking:  No. 1

    Recent Results: Novak Djokovic’s semifinal loss to Rafael Nadal at the Canada Open may have opened the door for his rival’s confidence. It also showed his forehand could be erratic and that Djokovic’s charmed run in 2011 is a distant memory.

    His quarterfinals loss to John Isner at the Western and Southern Open cost him points and the possibility of facing Nadal for some much-needed vengeance.

    U.S. Open Outlook: Will he be able to stop the hard-charging Spaniard from taking his No. 1 ranking?

    He is still considered one of the favorites to win the U.S. Open, but he'll likely have to grind out a big match at some point. He no longer caries an invincible aura.

    He has not won a Grand Slam outside Australia in two years. This title may be more important to Djokovic if he is going to stay at the very top of men’s tennis. The clock is still ticking, and it's his responsibility to keep winding it up.

    His consistency at Grand Slams is almost a sure bet to get him to at least the semifinals. From there, he needs his best tennis for two matches. If he brings it, he will be raising the trophy for a second time.

1. Rafael Nadal

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    ATP Ranking: No. 2

    Recent Results: Right now, very few tennis fans are calling Rafael Nadal a clay-court specialist. Some apologies are in order.

    Nadal’s 15-0 record on hard courts now includes his North American Masters 1000 triumphs at Montreal and Cincinnati. Among the victims were Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on surfaces they prefer.

    U.S. Open Outlook: In two weeks, he erased questions about his knee and seven-week absence following Wimbledon.

    He has enhanced his game with more frequent attacks inside the baseline and has been determined to use both sides of the court with his forehand. He has been a strong server and especially looked to follow up opponents’ returns with his devastating forehand.

    There’s still a lot of debate if Nadal, Djokovic or Andy Murray is the favorite for the U.S. Open title, but Nadal is playing the best tennis. This makes him the current favorite to parade down Broadway with the big silver trophy.

    Battle for the No. 1 Ranking:

    1. If Nadal wins the U.S. Open and Djokovic loses before the final, the Spaniard will reclaim the ATP No. 1 ranking.
    2. Djokovic can keep the ranking by advancing to the finals even if Nadal wins the title.
    3. Nadal can also claim the No. 1 ranking if he loses in the final and Djokovic loses before the quarterfinals.