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US Open Tennis 2013: Toughest Potential Test for Top Stars Before Quarterfinals

Jeffrey RuthFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2013

US Open Tennis 2013: Toughest Potential Test for Top Stars Before Quarterfinals

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    The 2013 U.S. Open might be more than just a tough test for the top tennis stars.

    It could very well be a test they fail before the quarterfinals.

    Surprise losses happen in every Grand Slam. In New York, there have been downright shocking results in the early rounds over the years.

    Just ask Andre Agassi.

    In 2000, Agassi was the defending champion and ranked No. 1 in the world. Those credentials weren't enough to stop him from losing to No. 37 Arnaud Clement in the second round, 3-6, 2-6, 4-6.

    Or what about Ana Ivanovic? She was also the No. 1 player, but she also lost in the second round. Ivanovic was done in by qualifier Julie Coin, ranked No. 188, 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, in the 2008 Open. Richard Pagliaro of Tennis.com regarded it as one of the most shocking upsets of U.S. Open history.

    Could that happen to a top player this year?

    Absolutely.

    There are some surprising head-to-head records on the resumes of the top four men's and women's stars. Each has the chance to face an opponent before the quarterfinals that they just don't match up well against.

    Rafael Nadal and Agnieszka Radwanska, for example, have losing records against much-lower-ranked players that they might run into.

    That's more than enough to explain Nadal's dour expression.

    Time to explore some intriguing tests.

No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska vs. No. 18 Sabine Lisicki

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    Fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska could meet No. 18 Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round of this year's U.S. Open and that could be bad news for the Pole.

    Radwanska currently trails in their head-to-head series, 2-1. That includes a 2011 hard-court loss to Lisicki in Stanford, Calif., where the German triumphed, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2.

    Lisicki also defeated Radwanska at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, 6-4, 2-6, 9-7. It is hard to decide which loss may be more fear-provoking for Radwanska. Either way, she can't afford to take their potential meeting lightly.

    Not that Radwanska seems too worried. In her blog for ESPN.com on July 18, 2013, Radwanska had other things on her mind about her upcoming trip to New York:

    I hope I can go on an extended run there, so I get even more time to shop 'til I drop.

    To make that run, she will have to get through Lisicki in the fourth round.

No. 3 Andy Murray vs. No. 31 Juan Monaco

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    The good news for Andy Murray is that it has been three years since he has played Juan Monaco. The bad news is that the number three could be an omen.

    The Wimbledon champion could meet up with No. 31 Monaco in round three of this year's U.S Open.

    Valencia, Spain's hard courts were the site of their last match when Murray came out on the losing end, 2-6, 6-3, 2-6. That evened their record against each other at 2-2.

    Monaco would be eager to tip the balance his way and given Murray's recent disappointing results in Cincinnati and Montreal, he just may do it.

    By contrast, the Argentinian had a strong showing his last time out. He defeated Jurgen Melzer, 6-3, 6-2, in Cincinnati before losing a well-fought battle against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, 5-7, 2-6.

    Alex Kay of MailOnline.com agrees that Andy Murray has a tough draw in New York, but he disregards the threat of Monaco. By concentrating only on later-round opponents, Kay could really be missing a special battle.

    Hopefully, Murray doesn't make the same mistake.

No. 2 Victoria Azarenka vs. No. 15 Ana Ivanovic

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    The last time that Victoria Azarenka lost a set to Ana Ivanovic was way back in August.

    The problem for Azarenks is that it's still August.

    Although Azarenka hasn't lost a match to her since 2010, the fact that Ivanovic was able to stay so close recently on the hard courts in Carlsbad, Calif., is troubling. A 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 win is hardly a convincing scoreline. A fourth-round meeting could be just the venue for the Serbian to use that momentum to break through and make a deep run at the U.S. Open.

    Jon Wertheim, of SI.com, knows this potential, but in his analysis of the women's seeds in New York, he seems to be waffling a bit. He notes that, "the former No.1 still tantalizes with some nice results now and then," but goes on to point out that she is not really powerful.

    You can't have it both ways. Look for this to be a tough test for the second seed.

No. 2 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 41 Nikolay Davydenko

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    Yes, Rafael Nadal could have difficulty with Nikolay Davydenko.

    Hard to believe? Not at all.

    Nadal has a 5-6 losing record against Davydenko. The last time that the Mallorcan won on the hard courts was in 2006 at the Masters Cup. He has lost the last six, including a 6-3, 6-2 straight sets drubbing in 2011 at Doha, Qatar.

    It remains unlikely that Nadal will actually lose if they do meet in the third round. Look for him to even their series at 6-6.

    According to Eben Novy-Williams of Bloomberg.com, a quarterfinal between Nadal and Roger Federer is already set. Is this wise? Hopefully, the team and supporters of the world No. 2 player aren't using this method to motivate their man.

    A meeting with Davydenko would be quite a challenge for Nadal well before a match with Roger Federer.

No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 17 Sloane Stephens

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    Serena Williams loses to Sloane Stephens—again!

    Although it is conjecture to believe that would happen in their potential fourth-round match at the 2013 U.S. Open, it has already happened this year in a Grand Slam. And yes, it was on a hard court.

    Stephens won their quarterfinal clash at the 2013 Australian Open, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. In doing so, she evened their head-to-head record at one apiece.

    It is not to hard to imagine that happening again.

    Jane McManus of ESPN.com doesn't agree. In her Aug, 22 article, she wrote, "Serena, Azarenka destined for final."

    Despite heading into this year's U.S. Open having reached the finals in her last three tournaments and winning two of them, Williams hasn't had the most fun at Grand Slams this year. Another loss to Stephens would cement that point.

No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 28 Grigor Dimitrov

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    Novak Djokovic should not lose to Grigor Dimitrov in the round of 32.

    But wait a minute. That is exactly what happened at the 2013 Madrid Masters. The native of Haskovo, Bulgaria won, 7-6 (6), 6-7 (8), 6-3.

    Did Dimitrov expect to beat a player of Djokovic's caliber?

    "Of course this has been what I've been working for, to play matches like that, and why not win them?" he said, according to the ATP tour website.

    Djokovic atoned for that loss soon after by defeating Dimitrov in straights in yet another round-of-32 battle at the French Open.

    They could meet at that very same point once more in New York. Expect Djokovic, the world's No. 1 player, to easily win his opener against Ricardas Berankis and likewise against the Benjamin Becker/Lukas Rosol first-round winner.

    Then the fun could start if Dimitrov does his part.

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