US Open Tennis 2013: Sleepers with Best Chance to Take Down Top Stars
It would be a lie to say that top stars at the 2013 U.S. Open don't have the best chance to take home the trophy.
Between Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal on the men's side and Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Li Na on the women's, the amount of noticeable talent at the final Grand Slam of the year is off the charts.
But there's something to be said for the "sleeper" in sports these days.
Be it fantasy football or tennis reality, picking sleepers is no easy task. It's a little bit easier as Day 8 at the U.S. Open approaches, though, largely because there are only 16 men and women still in contention for their respective singles titles.
With an eye toward a few names you might or might not be familiar with, here's a look at three players with the best chance to crash the party in the Big Apple this week.
*For a complete look at the Day 8 schedule at Flushing Meadows, visit USOpen.org.
No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny
Youzhny is anything but a newcomer to the ATP Tour, and as such, he automatically qualifies as a threat to make some noise over the final two days of action.
As country singer Toby Keith might put it, he ain't as good as he once was, but he's as good once, as he ever was.
The 31-year-old Russian has long been a top-20 player; he currently sits just outside of that mark as the No. 21 seed in New York. Throwing that ranking to the wind, he looked like his younger self in a throwback win over fellow aging star Tommy Haas in the third round.
When Lleyton Hewitt officially became his fourth-round opponent, BATennisWorld was quick to joke about how Youzhny's next opponent brings back memories of simpler times:
Mikhail Youzhny pervails, 6-3 6-2 2-6 6-3, over Tommy Haas, and will face Lleyton Hewitt in the round-of-16. Welcome to 2003 (?) #USOpen— BATennisWorld (@BATennisWorld) September 2, 2013
Categorically, the U.S. Open has been Youzhny's best tournament. He's never been past the quarterfinals at the other three major championships, but he recorded his two best finishes at a Grand Slam when he made the U.S. Open semifinals in 2006 and 2010.
Could a repeat performance be in the works?
How far will Youzhny go?
If Youzhny gets past Hewitt, there's a good chance Novak Djokovic will be waiting in the next round. There's no sugarcoating the difficulty of that matchup, but the career record between the two men (5-3 Djoker) isn't one that gives reason to believe there's not a semblance of a chance.
In fact, Youzhny took a set from Djokovic earlier this year in Monte Carlo before eventually bowing out.
Five of Youzhny's last six losses on tour have come at the hands of top-tier opponents. There's a reason he hasn't ever reached a Grand Slam final, but that reason won't matter if he can turn back the clock four more times in New York.
If you cried out "who?" in your head, you're not alone.
The No. 136 player in the world on the WTA Tour made national headlines by taking down former world No. 1 and six-seeded Caroline Wozniacki in Round 3, but she's by no means a national name.
That hasn't stopped her from completing an epic upset to reach the fourth round.
As noted by the U.S. Open's official Twitter account, excitement was in the air as the Italian started to make her push toward completing her comeback:
Live Tennis made sure everyone knew just how big of an upset we were talking about with this tweet following the match:
New York Newsday's Jeff Williams had an excellent look at Giorgi in his latest piece, chronicling how a girl who has dealt with injuries and personal struggles in tennis is on the brink of the greatest breakthrough of her career.
When she steps on the court to face fellow Italian Roberta Vinci, it will be the first time she participates in a fourth-round match at a Grand Slam. The experience issue is there, but her comeback victory over Wozniacki in three-set fashion was an experience in and of itself.
Giorgi lost to eventual champion Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon earlier this year, and is in position to do even more damage to the women's rankings if she can get past Vinci. The winner of Simona Halep and Flavia Pennetta would wait in the quarterfinals, while Victoria Azarenka or Ana Ivanovic stands the best chance to reach the semis.
It's been an improbable run for Giorgi so far, but why write her off now? She's playing great tennis, took some time off after Wimbledon that has clearly rejuvenated her body and has a win over a top-10 woman as evidence to why she can continue to shine.
It won't be easy, but Giorgi is a dark horse candidate to make the top four.
No. 10 Milos Raonic
With one more win at the 2013 U.S. Open, Milos Raonic will be in uncharted waters.
For the second straight year, Raonic has a chance to reach the quarterfinals at the final Grand Slam tournament of the year. Richard Gasquet stands in his way.
The 22-year-old has been outstanding through three rounds. Adding up his totals from wins over Thomas Fabbiano, Pablo Andujar and Feliciano Lopez, Raonic has dropped just one set.
As noted by Tennis.com's Twitter account, Raonic has confidence on his side.
Raonic: I can get in position to win a Slam http://t.co/xWhcTun4aE— TENNIS.com (@tennis) August 28, 2013
According to freelance tennis journalist Chris Goldsmith, he has also got a power serve to dispatch against opponents:
Fastest Male serve so far at the US Open. 1 Raonic 145mph, 2 Isner 141mph, 3 Sock & Wawrinka139mph, 5 Verdasco, Karlovic & Querrey 138mph— Chris Goldsmith (@TheTennisTalker) September 1, 2013
If this stat from tennis journalist Matt Cronin doesn't paint Raonic as a threat to reach the quarterfinals, I don't know what will:
Raonic has great chance vs Gasquet: According to @tomtebbutt Richard is 1-15 in 4th rounds of Slams— Matt Cronin (@TennisReporters) September 2, 2013
In their lone previous meeting (on a hard court) in 2012, Raonic also recorded a victory against Gasquet.
Which sleeper has the best chance to go the farthest?
If Raonic can get past his French opponent in the fourth round, a showdown with either Janko Tipsarevic or David Ferrer awaits. Looking even further ahead, there's a more-than-likely chance Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal will be waiting in the semifinals.
The young star in the making has to take care of business on Monday before accomplishing loftier goals, but at the moment, the deck appears to be stacked in his favor. It would be disappointing to not see Raonic take advantage.
Favorites are fun, but sleepers often leave lasting memories in tournaments like the U.S. Open. Over the next few days, it will be exciting to see if these three competitors fall under that category.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant on Twitter.
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