The 2014 U.S. Open draw will be revealed Thursday, but we already know that only three of the four biggest stars in men's tennis will be competing at Flushing Meadows in New York.
Defending champion Rafael Nadal has been forced to withdraw from the final Grand Slam tournament of the season due to a right wrist injury. That leaves the door open for past winners, such as prospective top seed Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer, to have a better shot at the trophy.
Per BBC Sport, Djokovic is the top seed, with Federer coming in at No. 2 in Nadal's absence and Murray all the way back at No. 8.
None of the players that separate Murray from the top two have won a U.S. Open before, and Stan Wawrinka is the only one to have won a major—this year's Australian Open. Murray should still be the third favorite, though he will have a tougher road ahead to advance deep in the event.
Below are some predictions as to how the top stars in men's tennis will fare in the Big Apple.
It's been a rough go for Djokovic since he snapped a five-final winless streak in the Grand Slams by topping Federer in an epic, five-set showdown at Wimbledon.
Djokovic has needed three sets to get his only two wins since triumphing at the All England Club, and he lost in Toronto to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and in Cincinnati to Tommy Robredo. The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg noted how the Western & Southern Open continues to baffle the Serbinator:
Kurt Streeter of the Los Angeles Times certainly believes Djokovic is struggling with how to handle success after such a gritty victory over Federer:
"Just many, many, many things are not clicking these two weeks on hard courts," said Djokovic after the two losses, via ESPN.co.uk. "It's unfortunate, but it's more than obvious I'm not playing even close to what I'm supposed to play. I have to keep on working and trying to get better for US Open."
Despite a dip in form as of late, though, Djokovic figures to rise to the occasion and bounce back in time for Flushing Meadows. After all, he has made the past four finals in this event, only winning once in that span. Therefore, even more incentive exists for Djoker to get the monkey off his back yet again.
Djokovic is going to step up and get back into the groove to reach the U.S. Open final for the fifth straight time because the draw won't be strong enough on his side to topple him in the early stages.
Prediction: Djokovic is U.S. Open finalist.
Three straight losses in the quarterfinals have Murray's form in doubt ahead of Flushing Meadows. A fall to No. 9 in the ATP rankings has seen Murray fail to win a singles title in 2014.
Recuperating from back surgery and getting back into the flow of competitive tennis is partially to blame, but Murray ought to be fit by now toward the end of the season. Switching to Amelie Mauresmo as coach just before Wimbledon threw a wrench in Murray's plans because of the inevitable adjustment period.
Murray discussed the contrasting tactics between his old coach, Ivan Lendl, and Mauresmo—and how it might help his chances in New York, per The Guardian's Keith Mitchell:
[Lendl] was very big on being aggressive and coming forward to finish points but Amélie played with a lot of variety herself. It worked well for her and, when it’s used properly, it can make a big difference.
It’s been a big part of my game since I was young. I played like that when I was a kid and I did it as well when I came on to the Tour until I was 21, 22. But when I was starting to play winning tennis, high-percentage solid tennis, not making many mistakes, moving well, maybe I just got away from using that flair. That’s something I wanted to get back to and try to use in matches.
The best of both worlds, marrying calculated tennis with a bit more fire, could be just what Murray needs to springboard himself into the right direction. However, with his volatile on-court temperament, playing too aggressively could backfire quickly if he's not firing on all cylinders.
It's hard to expect much from Murray because of his uneven play for the entire year. With a difficult draw to get out of and up-and-coming players set to challenge him before he gets too far, the decks are stacked against Murray getting anywhere past the quarterfinals for his fourth straight start.
There is little shame in being one of the final eight players in a Grand Slam. Such a result is short of what Murray's expectations have become, but it will only continue to drive him and culminate in a far stronger 2015 campaign.
Prediction: Murray advances to quarterfinals.
And now we move to Federer, whose run of five straight U.S. Open titles ended with a 2009 loss in the final to Juan Martin del Potro. King Roger hasn't advanced as far since, but he enters Flushing Meadows with ideal circumstances to win it all again.
Nadal has been Federer's kryptonite over the years and the biggest impediment to him winning well more than 17 major titles, which is an all-time record as it is.
FiveThirtyEight drew up a diagram to illustrate how Nadal pulling out of the U.S. Open will bolster Federer's prospects to win:
This would mark Federer's first major since capturing the 2012 championship at Wimbledon, which has always been his best major. Federer has had the second-most success at the U.S. Open, yet he hasn't gotten it done in half a decade.
Last season was one to forget for Federer, but he pushed Djokovic to the brink at the All England Club, lost the final in Toronto to the talented Tsonga and won in Cincinnati over David Ferrer.
Look at how well Federer served it at Wimbledon; he aced Djokovic 13 times in their third set and had 29 aces for the match, per Wimbledon.com. With how he's maintained it amid this latest run on the hard courts, there's no reason Federer cannot take home the title in New York.
Another major at age 33 would only grow Federer's legend and with the health issues Nadal has faced throughout his career, Federer's durability and longevity deserves more appreciation. Adding a Grand Slam triumph to his resume is a great way to ensure that will be acknowledged.
Prediction: Federer wins U.S. Open.
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