The Biggest Obstacles for All the Top Seeds at US Open 2014

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2014

The Biggest Obstacles for All the Top Seeds at US Open 2014

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    The top seeds at the U.S. Open are almost always assured of a berth in Week 2 (Sorry, Agnieszka Radwanska). Some have scares, others coast, but none have an easy road to the final.

    Some players, like Roger Federer, have it easier than others with regards to external influence. For others, like Maria Sharapova, the challenge is more internal. She makes things harder for herself than she needs to.

    All of the players deal with heat and rain, sun and lights, yet what other obstacles roadblock even the game’s best from winning Grand Slam No. 1 or No. 18?

    Read on to see what and who could possibly thwart the men’s and women’s top remaining seeds.

No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard: Is Her Rising Celebrity a Distraction?

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Eugenie Bouchard, the tournament’s seventh seed despite reaching every Grand Slam semifinal and the Wimbledon final, hasn’t been the same since she returned from the All England Club.

    It appears Petra Kvitova’s drawing and quartering of Bouchard’s game had an incredibly resonant effect on Bouchard. When she resumed play in the hard-court season, she promptly lost three of four matches (she also may have been dealing with a nagging leg injury).

    Maybe Bouchard’s biggest obstacle is her meteoric rise as a celebrity. She’s got the game and she’s got the look. Filip Bondy of The New York Daily News wrote:

    That’s the thing with Bouchard, who must be very, very careful right now. She is already the attractive face of women’s athletics in Canada, surpassing the popularity of the formidable national soccer team. Even before Wimbledon, she signed a three-year deal to become the chief endorser of Coke and Diet Coke in Canada. Bouchard’s handlers are dressing her in skin-tight tennis dresses that appear exceedingly uncomfortable in the baking sun of Flushing Meadows.

    Her emphatic first-round drubbing of Olga Govortsova (6-2, 6-1) was the type of thing Bouchard needed given her hard-court play to date.

No. 5 Milos Raonic: Too Much of a Perfectionist?

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Everyone knows Milos Raonic can serve. He’s a Wimbledon semifinalist and a French Open quarterfinalist. What could be holding this Canadian back from winning his first Grand Slam?

    Raonic’s own hang-ups on perfection could also be a handicap to his development and advancement in the tournament. Ivan Ljubicic, Raonic’s coach, told Jennifer Quinn of the Toronto Star:

    I think the most important thing with Milos, and perfectionists in general, is separate the important stuff from the unimportant stuff, because he does have a tendency to treat everything in his life with the same importance, which is not the case. So you have to avoid wasting energy, mental energy, on unimportant things.

    On the power of that big serve, Raonic crushed Taro Daniel in straight sets using 20 aces and 58 winners.

No. 5 Maria Sharapova: Her Own Worst Enemy

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Could No. 5 Sharapova’s biggest challenge come from New York’s noise ordinance laws? Is it somehow possible her screaming—or whatever that sound is coming out of her mouth—has gotten worse? Mute buttons all over America are getting a good workout.

    Sharapova dropped the first set in her second-round match against Alexandra Dulgheru. Sharapova double faulted nine times and had 46 unforced errors. She grinded, yes, but it wasn’t pretty.

    “As tricky as it is, you have to expect not to play your best tennis and find a way to win,” Sharapova told reporters after, per the Associated Press (via NJ.com).

    ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe noted during the television broadcast that Sharapova hasn’t looked like a Grand Slam winner during the U.S. Open prep tournaments, and she did little to gain anyone’s confidence that she can go deep in this tournament.

    New York Daily News' Pat Leonard wrote, “Sharapova, 27, however, may not be able to afford the same slow start in the third round against 28th-ranked Sabine Lasicki of Germany, who trounced then No.1-Sharapova in the 2012 Wimbledon final and dispatched the USA’s Madison Brengle on Wednesday, 6-4, 6-1."

No. 4 David Ferrer: He Shares Roger Federer's Bracket

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    David Ferrer, the fifth-ranked player in the world and the No. 4 seed at the U.S. Open, needs to have fun while he can. Why? He shares the same bracket with No. 2 Federer.

    There isn’t a player on the planet, maybe with the exception of Rafa Nadal, who wants to play Federer. Ferrer should avoid Federer like a horde of brain-thirsty zombies. Ferrer is 0-of-16 against Federer.

    This is a losing streak that started in Vienna in 2003. As Ferrer’s game improved, Federer merely kept pace and disposed of Ferrer in the quarters, semis and finals whenever they’ve met. Ferrer meets the same end every time. This is Edge of Tomorrow stuff.

    These two could meet in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows, and if Ferrer wants to win his first Grand Slam, which he does, he needs to also win his first match against Federer.

No. 3 Petra Kvitova: The Post-Wimbledon Hangover

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The last time Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon, she was promptly bounced from the first round of the U.S. Open. So maybe Kvitova’s biggest obstacle is already behind her.

    She’s a big body with a big left-handed delivery. She made Bouchard look about as comfortable as Homer Simpson on a treadmill at Wimbledon.

    The Wall Street Journal’s Tom Perrotta wrote:

    After her first Wimbledon title, in 2011, Kvitova had a miserable summer in America. She lost three of her five matches, including a first-rounder at the U.S. Open. Stardom was overwhelming her and her family.

    "We needed a little bit more time to get used to what was happening around us," she said.

    She already overcame the funk of 2011. She won the Connecticut Open without dropping a set and looks about as sharp as she did at Wimbledon.

No. 3 Stan Wawrinka: Keeping His Cool and the Novak Djokovic Problem

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Careful, Wawrinka. Seriously, be careful.

    During Wawrinka’s second-round match, a match he won in a fourth-set tie break, Wawrinka got the full heckle from a fan during his serve.

    Chris Case of USA Today noted, “It’s hard to tell who the cheers and boos were for, though I tend to think the initial applause was for Wawrinka finally calling out the loud-mouth and the boos were either in response to the fan’s reaction or because of Wawrinka’s annoyed persistence."

    Tennis is, on the whole, more dignified than most other sports. New Yorkers be crazy.

    The Australian Open champ escaped what should’ve been an easy match with a win. Sports being what it is, people may only pile on going forward. What would his countryman Federer do?

    Exactly (If you were thinking a triple roundhouse scissor kick, you’re wrong.).

    Wawrinka also shares his bracket with Djokovic, who has a 15-3 advantage over him.

Simona Halep: Managing the Pressure of Being No. 2

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Whoever would have thought Simona Halep, cool as an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, would have trouble being on the big court? It’s true.

    “It's really difficult, the first round of the tournament," Halep said, per Jane McManus of ESPN. "Today was a big challenge for me because I played the first match of this tournament on center court. It's not easy to manage the situation."

    Halep escaped a scare in her first-round match against unseeded Danielle Rose Collins. She made easy work of her second-round match and appears to be gaining momentum.

    She’ll need as much momentum as she can garner, but with the loss of Agnieszka Radwanska from her bracket, Halep’s road to the final got a little bit easier.

    "It's not easy," Halep said. "It's a little bit of pressure. I can say more pressure because everyone is telling me that I have a chance to win this title. But still I'm very far. I have to take match by match and to see if I can win more matches here. Every match like today was tough, and every match is tough here."

No. 2 Roger Federer: Trying to Be Like Mike

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Federer has not won a Grand Slam on the hard courts since the 2010 Australian Open. He has not won a U.S. Open since 2008. 

    Federer has made more headlines by his recent bromance with His Airness Michael Jordan in the stands. Federer looks cooler than ever.

    Jordan has six championships, and Federer aims to grab his sixth U.S. Open this fortnight.

    It looked like Federer had No. 18 in his sights at Wimbledon, but an epic match against Djokovic squashed any hope of that. If anything, that loss made Federer stronger.

    He won the ATP Masters 1000 Cincinnati and lost in the final at the ATP Masters 1000 Canada. He’s made three straight finals dating back to Wimbledon.

    “It’s just amazing having Michael here,” Federer said, per The Guardian. “Growing up he was my big sporting idol. Having him here is unbelievably special and the collaboration is unique. I love it.”

No. 1 Serena Williams: Putting Her Dismal Grand Slam Year Behind Her

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Serena Williams is the world No. 1 with five titles and a 38-6 record in 2014. The problem is that three of those losses came way too early for Williams in the Grand Slams. In Australia, she exited in the fourth round. At the French Open, she lost in the second.

    Wimbledon wasn’t any better. In fact, it was worse. She lost in the third round to Alize Cornet, then withdrew from her doubles commitment because of a viral illness.

    Williams has since won two of the three hard-court tournaments she entered and looks poised for a strong run to redeem what has been, by her lofty standards, a disappointing year. A win puts her at 18 Grand Slams, tied with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

    "I've decided I'm not going to overthink it. I think I've overthought every Grand Slam so far this year. It didn't really work out great for me," she said, per Tom Gatto of Sporting News. “So worst-case scenario, I'm just going to stay positive and do the best I can. That's all I can do."

No. 1 Novak Djokovic: Putting a Stop to Those RUPs

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Djokovic has as many runner-up finishes as he does Grand Slam wins: seven.

    The U.S. Open is particularly mean. He won one title but has finished second four times and three out of the last four years. He has reached four straight U.S. Open finals and is the favorite to win his second.

    A rematch of the Wimbledon final with Federer would be almost too much to ask for. Federer has the easier trip to reach the final, while the Djoker has some work to do to get around Wawrinka and Andy Murray.

    Lauren Collins of The New Yorker wrote (in the only way New Yorker writers know how to write, which is to say, awesome):

    He is dominant, but he is not universally adored. His showy personality and subtle game are a niche taste. Haters call him Djokobitch. Jerzy Janowicz, the Polish player, said recently that he was “a fake.” But now, with the waning of the Federer-Nadal duopoly, which has fixated tennis for the past decade, the love he craves is within his reach. This week, at Flushing Meadows, where he was once booed, Novak Djokovic will attempt to assert his sovereignty.

    His fifth straight trip to the finals could break that spell of RUPs and lead to the coronation Collins spoke of.

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