The U.S. Open is the season's final Grand Slam tournament, and it also represents the final opportunity for unheralded players to make a big impression.
Although the men's and women's draws are stacked with stars such as Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, other stars are certain to emerge. There are always a few surprises in every big tournament, and this one will be no different.
Based on favorable draws and good recent form, here are three under-the-radar players who will make a run deep into the 2014 U.S. Open.
As the No. 19-seeded player in the men's draw, Feliciano Lopez isn't being talked about much. The 32-year-old Spaniard has never advanced past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam event, and he is always overshadowed by the sport's biggest names.
With that said, Lopez has proven to be a capable hard-court player over the years. Two of his four career ATP titles have come on that surface, and he has enjoyed some recent success against players who are expected to thrive in New York City.
In fact, Lopez advanced all the way to the semifinals at the Rogers Cup in Toronto a couple of weeks ago. He ultimately fell to Federer, but he scored big wins over Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic along the way. His victory over Raonic was particularly impressive since the 23-year-old was playing in front of his home fans in Canada.
According to ATPWorldTour.com, Lopez believes that the attacking brand of tennis he played against Raonic and others during the tournament helped him immensely.
"With Milos, I have to be aggressive, because if not, he's going to dominate," Lopez said. "I have been [playing] this game the whole week and it was working perfectly. So for me there was no reason to change it while playing Milos today."
Based on the success he had playing aggressively, it will be interesting to see if Lopez keeps it up. He is in a part of the draw that lacks big-name star power with Berdych and David Ferrer leading the way. Provided Lopez can get past a potential matchup with Ernests Gulbis in the third round, a match against Berdych with a quarterfinal berth on the line is possible.
Lopez just beat Berdych in Toronto, so he has the ability to do it again. An encounter with countryman Ferrer could be on tap after that, and it would be a winnable match to make it as far as the semifinals before the competition truly heats up.
Sloane Stephens is viewed by many as the future of American women's tennis, but 19-year-old Madison Keys may have an even brighter future. She has yet to experience the same success as Stephens at the Grand Slam level, but Keys is improving at what looks like an extremely rapid rate.
This season has been Keys' best to date as she picked up the first WTA title of her career. Keys defeated Angelique Kerber in the AEGON International final back in June, and she parlayed that into a third-round showing at Wimbledon.
All of that happened on grass courts, but Keys definitely has a game capable of translating to hard courts as well. Keys is tall and powerful, and she has one of the most dominant serves in the women's game. That should give her a big advantage against most at the U.S. Open.
Keys has never made it past the second round in this tournament, but she is very comfortable with her surroundings:
Also, Keys is starting to step up against top players. Although she fell to Sharapova in the second round at the Western and Southern Open last week, she pushed the Russian star to three sets and gave her everything she could handle.
If Keys can advance past Jarmila Gajdosova and the winner of Aleksandra Krunic vs. Katarzyna Piter in the first two rounds, then a match against reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova awaits.
That won't be easy by any means, but Kvitova has never made it past the fourth round at the U.S. Open, and playing Keys will be like playing against her own reflection. They are similar players who figure to cancel each other out for the most part.
A win in that match would really open things up and give Keys a chance to make it a long way on her home turf.
As one of the most underrated hard-court players in the world, Spain's Tommy Robredo has to be excited about the U.S. Open. The 32-year-old veteran has been playing some good tennis of late as well, and he has a favorable draw that he is capable of capitalizing on.
Robredo is installed as the No. 16 seed, and he does not have one of the "Big Four" players in his quarter. Stanislas Wawrinka and Milos Raonic are the top two players in his part of the bracket, which makes Robredo a prime candidate to challenge for an unlikely semifinal spot.
He very nearly made it that far last year as he upset Federer in the fourth round before falling to Rafael Nadal in the quarters. Fortunately for Robredo, his road to the semis looks much easier on paper this time around.
Robredo is somewhat inconsistent, but he can play with the very best when he is on his game. That was apparent at the Western and Southern Open when he shocked Djokovic in the third round. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he dropped serve just once in that straight-sets victory, per Carole Bouchard of L'Equipe:
It is difficult to map out Robredo's potential matchups with certainty, but he will face Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the first round before possible meetings with Vasek Pospisil and Mikhail Youzhny. A fourth-round encounter with Wawrinka would then loom, followed by a quarterfinal match against Raonic.
That won't be a walk in the park for Robredo, but it is undoubtedly a draw that he can navigate. He is a savvy player who has been in this tournament many times, and it is entirely possible that this is his best chance ever to make a run.
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