The 2013 U.S. Open is moving closer to the closing stages with every passing day, with contenders emerging and pretenders facing elimination. With the fourth round upon us in the men's draw and the quarterfinals taking shape on the women's side, the time for illegitimacy is gone.
The question is, which dark-horse contenders have the best shot at winning the 2013 U.S. Open?
There are no shortage of stories to follow from the 2013 U.S. Open, as countless players have already exceeded expectations. With that being said, feel-good stories don't always translate to a realization of a Grand Slam dream.
Fortunately, there are players who can turn surprising the world into shocking it. Momentum only lasts so long, but regardless of what a player's seeding is, they belong.
Here's the select few who could prove it.
David Ferrer, Spain
ATP Rank: No. 4
U.S. Open Seed: No. 4
Next Opponent: No. 18 Janko Tipsarevic, Fourth Round
When you're ranked No. 4 in the world, it's difficult to comprehend why you'd be a dark-horse contender. When you play on the same tour as Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, however, the questions are answered.
Only one player besides those four men has won a major championship since the 2005 Australian Open, when Marat Safin took home the title. That individual, Juan Martin del Potro, was eliminated by Lleyton Hewitt in the second round.
Now you know why being No. 4 doesn't guarantee contention.
Outside of the big four, David Ferrer is unquestionably the most consistent men's tennis player when it comes to Grand Slams. He's reached the quarterfinals in seven consecutive Grand Slam events and, in 2013, reached the finals at the French Open, semifinals at the Australian Open and quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
Who's to say he won't close out the season with a title in New York?
Ferrer will face No. 18 Janko Tipsarevic in the fourth round, and would face either No. 8 Richard Gasquet or No. 10 Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals. All three of those men are strong competitors, but Ferrer would be favored in every match.
Even at 31, Ferrer is one of the best-conditioned players in the world, frustrating even the most precise players with his ability to return any shot. While a potential semifinals bout against Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer is far from favorable, Ferrer isn't just another good player.
If anyone can take the giants of tennis down, it's Ferrer.
Flavia Pennetta, Italy
ATP Rank: No. 83
U.S. Open Seed: N/A
Next Opponent: No. 21 Simona Halep, Fourth Round
Unseeded contender Flavia Pennetta has been absolutely sensational at the 2013 U.S. Open, defeating No. 4 Sara Errani and former winner Svetlana Kuznetsova. Up next, she draws No. 21 Simona Halep with a shot at the quarterfinals.
Should she reach that plateau, Pennetta would face either No. 10 Roberta Vinci or fellow unseeded Italian Camila Giorgi.
Her potential semifinal opponents include No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, No. 13 Ana Ivanovic and unseeded foes Daniela Hantuchova and Alison Riske. In other words, Pennetta isn't just a surprise contender at the U.S. Open, but she has a true shot at the title.
Should we be surprised?
Pennetta reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open in 2008, 2009 and 2011, missing the 2012 event with an injury. Not only is that a sign of her consistency, but it means that, when healthy, Pennetta has been a title contender at every U.S. Open event over the past half-decade.
Don't be too shocked if she finally breaks through, unseeded or not.
If Pennetta hadn't missed both the 2012 U.S. Open and 2013 Australian Open due to injury, she'd likely be a seeded participant. Without a number next to her name, however, she's become the surprise of the tournament, despite experiencing significant success in recent years.
With a road to the title that's beyond favorable, this may just be the year that an unseeded women's player shocks the world.
Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland
ATP Rank: No. 10
U.S. Open Seed: No. 9
Next Opponent: No. 5 Tomas Berdych, Fourth Round
Stanislas Wawrinka has long been regarded as a player who's bound to break into the ranks of the world's elite. Prior to 2013, however, Wawrinka struggled to live up to the hype, inconsistently experiencing success in Grand Slam events.
In 2013, Wawrinka has worked his way up to an ATP World Tour ranking of No. 10 and is now primed and ready to strike.
Wawrinka has a tough task ahead of him, as his next opponent is No. 5 Tomas Berdych and the two who follow could be Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. With that being said, Wawrinka has been playing the best tennis of his career and is more than capable of winning those matches.
Wawrinka defeated Murray 6-1, 6-2 at the 2013 Rome Masters, and also beat Murray at the 2010 U.S. Open. The last time the Swiss star faced Djokovic, he lost at the 2013 Australian Open by a count of 6-1, 5-7, 4-6, 7-6, 10-12.
When you come that close, it's clear that you can break through.
Getting past Berdych will be a daunting enough task, but Wawrinka has experienced success against the Czech star in the past. Wawrinka has defeated Berdych in two of the past three matches in which they've met on hard court.
While Berdych may be favored in the fourth round, Wawrinka's level of play has been extraordinary thus far. History says his momentum will be halted, but Wawrinka appears to be the real deal in 2013.