As we get ready to head into the 2010 U.S. Open at the end of a long stretch of hard court tournaments in America, there are some traditional clear cut favorites who will claim the attention of the media and tennis fans.
Unfortunately, last year’s winner, Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, will not be able to defend his 2009 U.S. Open Championship after undergoing wrist surgery in May at the Mayo Clinic in the United States. He has just recently returned to the practice courts. This means he will not be up to match strength, denying him the ability to compete at such a high level over an extended period.
The usual suspects head the list of favorites, starting with Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 seed, as well as No. 2 seed Roger Federer who has won this tournament five times in the past six years. Additionally, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have made the finals in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Most of the oddsmakers will focus on this quartet of top-ranked tennis elites.
It is also important, however, to consider our Power Rankings, which highlight those players who have recently excelled on the hard courts leading up to the U.S. Open. These are the top ten contenders going into Flushing Meadows.
The Top 10
1. Roger Federer (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 2)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Winner], Toronto [Finalist], Wimbledon [Quarterfinalist], Halle Germany [Finalist]. Power Ranking Points: 1359
After suffering a quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon, Federer took some time off from the tour. As he resumed a rigorous practice schedule, Federer announced to the world that he would meet and work with Paul Annacone, former coach to Pete Sampras.
Their first tournament together was Toronto, where Federer progressed to the final but was not able to overcome Andy Murray, losing 5-7, 5-7. The Swiss came back, however, in Cincinnati, to repeat as champion over Mardy Fish in a hard-fought three-set final. Federer seems well rested and well-prepared to compete in his eleventh U.S. Open.
The state of his coaching trial with Annacone remains up in the air at this point, with no real explanation as to why Annacone did not travel with him to Cincinnati. Regardless, his recent play must revive Federer’s confidence heading into New York.
U.S. Open Success? Half of the time that Federer has gained entry into the U.S. Open, he has won the title. He will remain one of the favorites going into the tournament to win it again in 2010. That is not to say he will be without competition. Everybody enters to win. If Federer, however, plays as he did this past week, his chances look very good indeed.
2. Andy Murray (Last Power Ranking: 6; ATP Ranking: 4)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Semifinalist], Toronto [Winner], Los Angeles [Finalist], Wimbledon [Semifinalist]. Power Ranking Points: 808
Once again in 2010, Murray failed to come through for the Queen by making the final at Wimbledon.
After parting ways with his long-time coach Miles Maclagan, Murray began to heat up the hard courts in America in an all-out effort to bounce back from a disappointing season that began as he lost to Federer in the finals of the 2010 Australian Open.
Murray has enjoyed some success on his best surface, by winning another title in Toronto and making the quarterfinals in Cincinnati. There he lost to Mardy Fish, who went on the play Federer in the finals.
While the heat was horrendous in Cincinnati, it was equal for all who played the daytime matches. Murray, however, must feel adequately prepared and confident as he heads into New York.
U.S. Open success? No doubt, but this tournament is where Murray fully expects to break through. He has the game to do it and Murray likes the fast pace of the hard courts. This could very well be the year for Murray to capture his first major in New York City.
3. Mardy Fish (Last Power Ranking: 10; ATP Ranking: 21)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Finalist], Washington DC [Round 3], Atlanta [Winner], Newport [Winner]. Power Ranking Points: 701
With his slimmed-down physique, Mardy Fish is playing the best tennis of his career, only a year after the young man born in Edina, Minnesota, considered giving up the game altogether.
He has been winning on the hard courts since Atlanta—after starting by winning the grass tournament in Newport. His match record since July is 17-2, with two titles won at Newport and Atlanta.
He reached the finals in the Masters tournament in Cincinnati. On the way to the final match, Fish defeated Fernando Verdasco, Richard Gasquet, Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick. Fish had won five in a row against top ten opponents
Once Fish reached the final, he lost the match to Roger Federer, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in a contest that lasted almost three hours. Fish only lost his serve once, at the end of the third set—that was Federer’s signal to close it out.
U.S. Open success? Fish’s new found speed and his powerful and effective serve make him a prime candidate to take anyone to the limit on the hard courts—that includes the courts at Flushing Meadows. Nobody played harder and overcame more quality opposition than Fish in Cincinnati. You cannot count him out in New York.
4. Rafael Nadal (Last Power Ranking: 1; ATP Ranking: 1)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Quarterfinals], Toronto [Semifinals], Wimbledon [Winner], Queens London [Quarterfinalist] . Power Ranking Points: 614
The U.S. Open is the one missing jewel in the Nadal grand slam crown. He would love to win it all in New York, where the courts are very fast. This fact alone keeps Nadal from being a shoe-in to win the U.S. Open, because that micro-second he loses on his timing is enough to keep him from winning this tournament.
He still has the fighting spirit and the never-say-die-attitude to win it all. Perhaps with a bit a luck in the draw in the early rounds, Nadal will walk away with the prize. You can’t ever count the Majorcan out.
So far on the hard courts, Nadal has been tested and dismissed in the semifinals by Andy Murray in Toronto and by Marcos Baghdatis in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati.
Nadal is already scheduled to make an appearance at the World Tour Finals in London in November, and he is assured the year-end No. 1 ranking. The rest of this season will be spent fine-tuning his game and preparing for his run at the Australian Open in 2011—especially if he wins the 2010 U.S. Open. A win in New York could usher in Nadal’s era of dominance in tennis.
U.S. Open success? Most consider this Nadal’s best chance so far to make the finals and perhaps even win this tournament. He has much more competition on this surface than on clay or grass. But nothing will get in Nadal’s way, except a better player. Nadal will never beat himself. His chances of winning in New York remain excellent.
5. Marcos Baghdatis (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 18)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Semifinalist], Toronto [Round 1], Washington DC [Finalist], LA [Quarterfinalist]. Power Ranking Points: 476
Last year at this time, Baghdatis had fallen to No. 109 in the ATP Rankings. He had suffered from numerous injuries during the previous year, was out of shape, and definitely seemed on his way out of the game. Now, after participating at the Masters Tournament in Cincinnati, the Cypriot finds himself ranked again in the top twenty.
Baggy’s perfectly pure strokes and anticipation seemed back to the level that got him into the finals of the Australian Open in 2006. Still only 25 years old, Baghdatis appears ready to fight his way back into the top ten and challenge for another major championship.
The tennis world had pretty much given up on Baghdatis as they watched him falter and fail. But the Cypriot never quit trying. He has played an inordinate amount of tennis to get his ranking back where it belongs, heading into the upcoming U.S. Open.
U.S. Open success? Baghdatis is scheduled to play at the Pilot Pen Open this week in New Haven after just competing for the past two weeks in a row. It means no rest for the Cypriot before the Open, and Baghdatis has played a lot of tennis this summer in the heat and humidity. This may limit his ability to advance deep into the draw. Making it to week two may be a stretch for Baghdatis after the rigors of the summer hard court season.
6. Novak Djokovic (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 3)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Quarterfinalist], Toronto [Semifinalist], Wimbledon [Semifinalist], Queen’s Club [Third round]. Power Ranking Points: 452
Djokovic seems to be treading water in 2010, not moving forward but also not falling back, as are most of the players on tour, except Nadal. Last year Djokovic finished as a finalist in Cincinnati, losing to Federer while also losing to Roddick in the quarterfinals at the Rogers Open in Montreal.
In 2009, the Serbian lost to Tommy Haas in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Not much changed this year. He has won one title in 2010 in Dubai on hard courts, defeating Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the finals.
It has not been one of Djokovic’s better years on tour. The summer extremes during the past two weeks have been particularly hard on the Serb, who has breathing difficulties during periods of excessive heat and humidity.
Still, the Serb is one of the purest ball-strikers on tour and he remains a threat to find his game at any time and win it all.
U.S. Open success? The exuberant Serb seems to have lost his love of the game, and it shows in his on-court demeanor and his often negative attitude. Djokovic needs to get his enthusiasm back in order to give him that impetus he needs to win—to be confident that he can and will win. He has won a major at the Australian Open in 2008. The Serb needs to win again and reassert that desire he expressed in the past to be the No. 1 player in the world.
7. Andy Roddick (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 9)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Semifinalist], Washington D.C. [Round 3], Atlanta [Semifinalist], Wimbledon [Round 4]. Power Ranking Points: 416
Roddick’s minor bout with mononucleosis left him a little weakened as he came into Cincinnati. He ran out of gas in his semifinal match against his friend Mardy Fish. But Roddick was not alone, because most of Fish’s opponents did not seem able to keep up with the rejuvenated American.
Roddick had taken the first set and was leading 5-2 in the second set when a rain delay interrupted play momentarily. When Fish returned, he broke back and leveled the set, sending it to a tiebreak, which Fish won. Then he ran off the third set 6-1 to steal the match away from a depleted Roddick.
The question remains—can Roddick get himself back into shape in time for the U.S. Open, which begins in a week? Roddick, of course, won the U.S. Open in 2003 and has been hoping for a repeat since that time. But this may not prove to be his summer because of his recent illness, which sent his ranking out of the top ten for the first time since 2006.
U.S. Open success? After watching Roddick compete in Cincinnati, it seems highly unlikely that the American can sustain a winning effort at the Open in a week’s time. Nothing, of course, is impossible. But the oddsmakers will not be backing Roddick to come away with the trophy on September 12.
8. Tomas Berdych (Last Power Ranking: 4; ATP Ranking: 7)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Round 3], Toronto [Quarterfinalist], Wimbledon [Finalist], French Open [Semifinalist]. Power Ranking Points: 360
There is no doubt about the fact that when Roger Federer met Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals at Toronto, the Swiss recalled their match at Wimbledon in the same round. Berdych dismissed him in four sets and prevented Federer from advancing into the next round. It was Federer’s earliest dismissal from Wimbledon since 2002, when the Swiss was unceremoniously dumped in the first round.
This time it was Federer who survived in three sets to dismiss Berdych.
Berdych also found himself out in Cincinnati, losing to Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in round three. The American hard court season has been brutal, especially during the heat of the day. But on the year, Berdych continues to hang tough in the top ten and in our Power Rankings.
His first appearance in a major final at Wimbledon seemed to mark his coming of age into the upper echelons of the men’s game. His next tournament will be the U.S. Open, where he will again be a top ten seed.
U.S. Open success? With his big serve and his equally potent forehand, plus decent foot speed, the talented Czech should work his way easily into week two of the U.S. Open. Once the draw comes out later this week, we will be able to assess his chances more completely. But, no doubt about it, Berdych is one player who could win the Open in 2010.
9. David Nalbandian (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 33)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Round 3], Toronto [Quarterfinalist], Washington DC [Winner], Monte Carlo [Quarterfinalist]. Power Ranking Points: 347
Talk about returning from the depths! Nalbandian has spent much of the year trying to return from injury—hip surgery in 2009. But, other injuries cropped up and kept the Argentine from participating in tournaments. Finally, Nalbandian’s rank fell to 151 in July, as the Argentine came back to help his countrymen during Davis Cup competition against Russia.
Nalbandian was ranked 117 as he entered the Washington D.C tournament. After winning the tournament, defeating Marcos Baghdatis, the Argentine’s ranking rose to No. 45. Since then, Nalbandian has been playing a great deal of tennis in an attempt to get back into the top twenty—so that he would be seeded at major events and masters tournaments.
In the process, Nalbandian has been playing some very solid tennis, exhibiting the strengths that took him to the very top of the men’s game, once ranked as high as No. 3 in 2006.
U.S. Open success? Nalbandian has always had the game to win a major, but he has never found the courage to finish it off. Maybe this will be the year that he decides it is time to claim a title for himself. The way he has been playing of late gives indication of a new-found desire to win. Maybe New York will be lucky for the Argentine.
10. Robin Soderling (Last Power Ranking: 8; ATP Ranking: 5)
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Round 3], Toronto [Round 3], Bastad [Finalist], Wimbledon [Quarterfinalist]. Power Ranking Points: 205
Soderling lost to the resurgent David Nalbandian in Toronto and to Andy Roddick in Cincinnati, as the American returned to action after a slight detour because of illness. During a season that would seem to be to the Swede’s liking, Soderling has enjoyed minimal success.
Perhaps the Swede has come to love the clay and abhor the heat and the fast pace of the summer hard courts. With Murray teetering, Soderling had an opportunity to advance up the ranking ladder.
But that was not to be, as Murray did well and Soderling did not. That is not to say that Soderling will not bounce back in New York, but it seems high unlikely that will happen. Much depends on the draw coming out this week.
U.S. Open success? Soderling’s recent mediocre results are baffling, considering the fact that earlier in the year, the Swede enjoyed semi finishes at both Miami and Indian Wells. But, there is more ahead. You cannot forget that Soderling played Federer very tough in the U.S. Open last year, and we know he has the confidence to beat the big boys. The week off to rest and prepare may be all Soderling needs to refuel and find another gear in his game.
With thanks to Feng, whose unique system produces the Power Ranking points.