The 2013 U.S. Open is set to commence on Monday, Aug. 26. The top tennis players in the world will take center stage at the final Grand Slam event of the season, all looking to etch their names into the record books.
Which dark-horse contenders should we be watching in New York City?
The Big Four in men's tennis are well-established. Some combination of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal have ruled over the sport for the better part of a decade. With that being said, there is always a possibility for an underdog to rise and shock the greats.
We've seen it before and, come the U.S. Open, we may just see it again.
Countless players have built up momentum entering the 2013 U.S. Open, using hard-court tournaments to develop into viable threats. While their past Grand Slam success may vary, each player is worth watching at this year's event.
The question is, will they live up to the hype?
Richard Gasquet, France
Most Recent Result: 2nd round (Western & Southern Open)
Best U.S. Open Result: 4th round (2005, 2006, 2010, 2012)
Richard Gasquet has reached the fourth round of 11 separate Grand Slam events, including six of his past seven and eight of his past 10. That includes the 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2012 U.S. Opens.
Gasquet hasn't been spectacular since Wimbledon, but he's one of the most consistent Grand Slam performers in the world. Even if he misses out on the stage of the final eight, Gasquet is significantly greater than the average and belongs with the second-tier stars.
Just don't think the 27-year-old is incapable of breaking through and joining the best in the world.
Gasquet has experienced trouble against tennis' Big Four, but he's also struggled to break through the glass ceiling of the fourth round. Much like Andy Murray did by winning a Grand Slam, Gasquet looks like a player needing a fourth-round victory to spark his run to the top.
With a world ranking of No. 9 overall, there's a strong possibility that this is the year Gasquet overcomes his fourth-round woes.
John Isner, USA
Most Recent Result: Final (Western & Southern Open)
Best U.S. Open Result: Quarterfinal (2011)
John Isner has established as much momentum as any player in the world entering the 2013 U.S. Open. He's reached the finals of three of his past four tournaments, winning the Atlanta Open on July 28.
Most recently, Isner defeated Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, Gasquet and Milos Raonic in consecutive matches.
Isner lost in the final of the Western & Southern Open, but it wasn't without extraordinary play. He beat Raonic in straight sets, del Potro in three and took down the world's No. 1 by defeating Djokovic 7-6, 3-6, 7-5.
During the final, Isner lost to Rafael Nadal by a count of 6-7, 6-7—a result that was more encouraging than disappointing.
Isner was upset in the third round of the 2012 U.S. Open, but he reached the quarterfinals as recently as 2011. With confidence from earning victories over some of the world's best, Isner now enters the U.S. Open with the opportunity to enter the ranks of legends.
Past success or not, we're talking about a 6'8" powerhouse who can serve with the best of them.
Isner's big serve has been complemented by a pleasantly surprising volley game in recent events. He's improved upon flaws, appears as focused as ever and will now enter the U.S. Open as a legitimate dark horse.
Isner certainly has the momentum to make a deep run.
Milos Raonic, Canada
Most Recent Result: 3rd round (Western & Southern Open)
Best U.S. Open Result: 4th round (2012)
Milos Raonic is widely regarded as one of the most promising young players on the ATP Tour. At the age of 22, he's already worked his way up to a world ranking of No. 11 and has defeated both del Potro and Tommy Haas in 2012.
With a fourth-round finish at the 2012 U.S. Open, Raonic is now primed and ready to break into the final eight.
Raonic has proven to be a step ahead of the average but a step below the best. While incapable of reaching his full potential at 22, that's hardly reason to write him off as a pretender as we approach the 2013 U.S. Open.
Winning the title may be a long shot, but Raonic is more than capable of pulling off bracket-altering upsets.
Raonic most recently defeated Janko Tipsarevic before losing a tight match against Isner. In both clashes, he displayed just how far he's come as a player, showing that, at any given moment, Raonic could strike and make a run.
It took a meeting with Andy Murray to stop him in 2012.