When the U.S. Open draw came out nearly two weeks ago, most fans and pundits looked at it, thought for a split second and then penciled Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer right into the final.
But now as the eight men's quarterfinalists are set, their meeting on Monday doesn't look like a guarantee even though both top seeds are still standing. That's because the other six men still around are all capable of playing the role of spoiler, and perhaps none more-so than the wild-card of a Frenchman, Gael Monfils.
Yes, you read that right. He's not alone, but Monfils has played phenomenal tennis this fortnight and suddenly looks like a real Grand-Slam contender.
Seeded No. 20, Monfils hasn't dropped a set on the way to the second U.S. Open quarter of his career. His path has included upset wins over No. 12 Richard Gasquet in the third round and a surprisingly efficient 7-5, 7-6, 7-5 victory over No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round.
He'll play Federer in the quarterfinals, where he'll have a chance to turn around his 2-7 head-to-head record with the five-time U.S. Open champion and make it to the semis in New York for the first time. At 28 years old, one of the most entertaining athletes in tennis seems to finally be putting his forehands and backhands above his leaps and dives.
Luckily he can still play entertaining points (even if he doesn't always win them).
Christopher Clarey of The New York Times wrote about why Monfils always both awes and frustrates:
Bring up Monfils around the tennis cognoscenti, and the chain reaction is often the same: a brightening of the expression as memories of past Monfils master strokes scroll through the brain, followed by a shrug and a sigh over what might have been.
'He is the best raw athlete in tennis, maybe ever,' said Paul Annacone, who has coached two greats, Pete Sampras and Federer. 'His lack of winning a major or reaching the ultimate pinnacle is about health, drive and perhaps the other greats of his era.'
Monfils has always had the talent to win a major, he just hasn't always seemed to care enough to put it all together. With his theatrics down a bit and his confidence up, he should be able to really challenge Federer, and the sky would be the limit from there.
Tom Perrotta @TomPerrotta
"Why didn't you cut out all the BS and play like this when I was working with you?" -- all of Gael Monfils' coaches ever2014-9-2 19:24:54
Of course, Monfils isn't the only player who could take Federer out before the final. In the semis he could potentially meet either No. 6 Tomas Berdych or No. 14 Marin Cilic, who are both in fine form.
Berdych has six wins over Federer in 18 matches and beat him the last time they played at the U.S. Open back in the 2012 quarters. Cilic has lost to Federer each of the five times they've played, but he's playing inspired tennis under the tutelage of Goran Ivanisevic. Both have upset potential.
Then, of course, there's the other half of the draw, where there are three contenders to stop Djokovic before he reaches the final.
First and foremost, we can't forget about Andy Murray. The other member of the Big Four plays Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, and he certainly has a shot at taking Djokovic out. After all, he beat Djokovic in the finals in both of his major wins.
Murray is seeded No. 8 after a rough year, and Djokovic leads their head-to-head 12-8, winning the only match they played this year in straight sets. However, Murray only now seems to be really finding his game after back surgery last fall. He's motivated and ready to win.
"I’m not too concerned about being part of the Big Four," Murray told Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times. "I want to try to win these events; that’s what motivates me."
The winner of the Djokovic vs. Murray clash will face either No. 3 Stan Wawrinka or No. 10 Kei Nishikori.
Wawrinka famously beat Djokovic at the Australian Open this year on his way to his win there, while Nishikori has one career win over Djokovic, too, back in 2011.
So, while Djokovic and Federer are still the favorites to make it to the final, there are plenty of players who are capable of causing an upset this late in the game.
With Monfils and his comrades still around, those who penciled in the final match might want to locate their erasers.