Yesterday the sporting world's attention turned to one of its very biggest and best events; The U.S. Open.
Most people across the tennis world are hoping for the one final in which Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have not stared one another across the net. The problem is that the path to get that final is full of land mines for each player.
These days most player's games are built for hard courts. There are plenty of talented veterans and rising young stars who have the game and overall firepower to have a chance to keep Federer and Nadal from the meeting we would all like to witness.
So I'm going to list the top ten players who I think could stand in the way of each player.
The field against Nadal:
David Nalbandian - David Nalbandian has been on a roll as of late. After spending most of the last eighteen months recovering from hip surgery, Nalbandian has finally started to show the form he had prior to his injury.
Nalbandian has turned out to be an almost impossible opponent for Nadal over the years. Prior to his win in Miami last year, Nadal had never once defeated Nalbandian. Even though he has won the last two meetings, an in-form Nalbandian is still a big threat to Nadal getting to U.S. Open final.
Andy Murray - While Nadal owns an 8-4 record against Murray, Murray pretty much owns Nadal on hard courts. The surface suits Murray's game much better than Nadal's. On this surface, Murray is more comfortable playing aggressive tennis, and often has Nadal on the ropes only a few strokes into a rally.
Murray is the biggest potential obstacle Nadal has in getting to the final. The question is whether Nadal will have enough left in the tank to take down Murray in a possible semi-final match. Only time will tell.
Fernando Verdasco - It ranks certainly as one of the very best matches of the past decade. I'm talking of course about the Nadal/Verdasco slug fest that occurred in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2009.
It was the first time that Fernando Verdasco ever took it to Nadal. Until then Nadal owned Verdasco thoroughly, and although Nadal won the match en route to the title, Verdasco showed that when confident, he has the goods to beat anyone.
Nadal however has never lost to Verdasco, and I think he is a better player now. But nobody ever thought Verdasco would do what he did that night. Who knows what would happen if he had the chance to do it all over again this year.
Nicholas Almalgro - In the last year or so we have begun to see a change in Almalgro. He's always been talented. He's always had blistering ground strokes, but he could never put everything together, and often found himself fading in the third for fourth set.
These days Almalgro is starting to show his potential. He pushed Nadal a couple of times this year, most recently at the french open. Almalgro's game is best on hard courts and it might be here where everything comes together.
Thomas Berdych - Early on in their respective careers Berdych was the top dog in his battle with Nadal. He won the first three matches, but since has been outclassed by the Spaniard, most recently in the Wimbledon final.
But even though he lost their most recent duel, this year has been a coming-out party for Berdych. He's beat Roger Federer a couple of times this year with Wimbledon being his signature victory. When Berdych is on he is hard to beat. To beat Nadal he will have to be at his best, but it is possible.
Sam Querrey - Querrey has been making a steady climb up the rankings over the last couple of years, and has show flashes of what he might become in the future. Like most young players though, he can be inconsistent, but like Berdych, Querrey's game is best on hard courts and it's here that his chances against Nadal are best.
Ernest Gulbis - Gulbis has been a frustrating player. At times his game looks simply unbeatable, and other times it falls apart with ease. Gulbis beat Federer in Rome this year and gave Nadal almost more than he could handle on his beloved clay which begs the question; what if his game were at it's peak on the hard stuff? If so, he could probably beat anyone including Nadal.
David Ferrer - Ferrer's game is best suited on clay like Nadal's but he is quick and has the ability to win here or at least make a decent run. Against Nadall he would have to play the match of his life, but his tenacity and hard work are unmatched.
Phillip Kohlschreiber - Kohlschreiber is always a tough nut to crack for Nadal. While he's always been on the winning end of their battles, they have been tough affairs. Nadal has often been pushed very hard in order to win and nothing so far from Kohlschreiber indicates that his game will fall off. Against Nadal he will do everything in his power to win and he believes he can win.
Alexandr Dolgopolov - The first time I saw Dolgopolov was in Rome this year against Nadal. He pushed Nadal much harder than I would have imagined. His serve is among the best I have seen in some time, and his forehand is quite wonderful. He's climbed up the rankings very quickly and seems poised to soon join the top twenty. Although his prowess on hard courts is not great, his game has developed as quickly as his ranking which might bode well.
Against Nadal he would probably lose, however I never thought he would give Nadal a run for his money in Rome, and it's possible he could do so again.
The field against Federer:
Juergen Melzer - For Melzer this year has been something of a renaissance and career revelation combined. During the clay season Melzer's game suddenly came alive. He's always been a shot maker, but he's also always been wildly inconsistent. Now the errors and mental and physical have dropped and his results speak for themselves.
Robin Soderling - Soderling was once like Berdych. His game was always dangerous but his mental game was not. He would often lose matches late because of either pressure or simply mental fatigue.
The last eighteen months have been big for Soderling. He's beaten Nadal and Federer at Roland Garros, and his career high ranking of number five in the world has not been about luck but skill and good results.
Can he defeat Federer? Certainly. His game on hard courts is impressive and Federer will need to be firing on all cylinders to beat him.
Novak Djokovic - Among all of his possible opponents Djokovic is probably the most dangerous. His game is excellent. If he wants to defeat Federer however like he did in Australia a few years ago, he will have to to place exceptionally well.
Djokovic has managed to be on the winning end of a fair few battles against Federer, but here the stakes are higher and Federer will not go quietly.
Mardy Fish - Of anyone this summer Fish has been the best. After shedding over twenty pounds, his game and stamina have been surprising and he pushed Federer hard in the Cincinnati final.
Marcos Bhagdatis - Bhagdatis is a bit of an enigma. Three to four years ago he was one of the biggest and brightest of the young stars in the game before lack of motivation and his love of food proved to be the harbinger of doom to his career.
Andy Roddick - Andy Roddick has rarely been on the winning end of his matches with Federer over their respective careers. No victory by Federer or loss by Roddick has been harder than their epic Wimbledon duel last year.
Roddick does not possess the natural skills necessary to defeat Roger, and yet their epic duel showed that Roddick can win if he plays his very best game. On hard courts however it would be much more difficult.
Gael Monfils - Monfils has been bursting with potential for the better part of four years now and has yet to cash in on any of it. Though he is dynamic in game, his body is a fragile as glass. He is often out for at least a third of the season with injuries.
Given ample confidence and full health however, he has the ability to give anyone, even Federer a tough match.
Nikolay Davydenko - If this was the Nikolay Davydenko from the end of last year, he might be a favorite for the title, but due to injury earlier this year he has not been in form. He has shown improvement recently but is far from his best. He might be able to make a tough match for Federer, or even a win. It would however be a surprise.
Leyton Hewitt - Hewitt is getting older. There is no way to get around it. But before his career is done, he would like to make at least one more run for a title. His chances are waning and while his game is not as dangerous as it once was, he is still tenacious and much like Nadal, his drive is unmatched.
He beat Federer in Halle earlier in the summer. The U.S. Open is different, but it might be just the time to make his run.
Fernando Gonzalez - I remember when Gonzalez defeated Federer twice in a row a few years ago. It was surprising, and yet it showed that he had the firepower to beat him. Since, he has had little success but his forehand is among the best in the game.
He has been suffering from an injury recently so his overall health and form may not be conducive to a victory over Federer.