After Roger Federer secured the No. 2 spot in the rankings with his win in Cincy, guaranteeing that he could not meet Rafael Nadal before the finals of the US Open, I fully expected the low hum of a possible Federer-Nadal final to whip itself into the full-blown frenzy of a swarm of African honey bees.
But with Federer only now beginning his return to the form he had pre-French and Wimby quarterfinal exits (thank you, Mr. Soderling and Mr. Berdych), and with Nadal's perhaps less than blazing return onto the summer hard courts, there seem to be more questions than answers regarding the inevitability of a FEDAL Showdown at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Will Mardy Fish's current hot streak and "just say no" policy to cheese and chocolate reward him with a shiny trophy to raise above his newly svelte body? (A huge serve and that bullet backhand might also have a hand in it.)
Will the typically oppressive heat of the Open prevent Novak Djokovic from making a real run to the final? (Or will he complete his Retirement Grand Slam and retire from all four Majors?)
Will this new wave of "Big Boys" tennis led by the likes of Robin Soderling and Tomas Berdych, with their blow-you-off the-court flat groundstrokes, actually blow anyone off the court? (And if they were to meet each other in the finals, what would that signal for the state of tennis going forward?)
Will perennial underachievers Ernests Gulbis, Richard Gasquet, or Fernando Verdasco inflict enough damage to shake up the draw? (Or possibly even make a surprise appearance in a semifinal?)
Will Andy Roddick's recovery from a recent case of mild mono prevent him from making a deep run? (Or will he push through only to be SlamBlocked by Fed in the semis?)
Will an injury that should have required a four- to six-week recovery period prevent John Isner from making a real impact, since he's shown up in two? (And will that impact be enough to replace his historic match against Nicolas Mahut in the forefront of people's minds?)
Will Nikolay Davydenko's recent return from a wrist injury make it even more difficult for him in a five-set format than it normally is? (Oooh, painful flashback to AO 2010.)
Will Andy Murray's arrival at the tourney with his mother acting as his de facto coach prove that "Mother knows best?" (Maybe a little more Mom and a little less British press are just the things he needs to net him his first Major.)
Will the time Nadal took off to heal his knees be just the thing that will allow him to arrive fully fit for a final appearance? (Or will it have created a rust on his game that he won't be able to scrape off in time?)
Will Paul Annacone's official integration into the Federer family improve Fed's return of serve, aggressive net play, and break point conversions soon enough to yield measurable results for this tourney? (And while he's at it, maybe he could also raise Fed's numbers on successful challenges.)
Federer wants to prove he's not being aged out of his sport and take down another Major on his way to his declared goal of No. 20. Nadal wants his first US Open and to complete the Grand Slam, Murray wants that monkey off his back, not to mention the British press, and to win his first Major...and Djokovic...eh, well I'm not sure he actually cares all that much right now.
This year, though, more than others in the recent past, it seems that besides the top four, there could be any number of other players turning up for the showdown at center court.
What we do know for sure is that the crowd will be loud, the music will be rockin', and with Juan Martin del Potro out with an injury, unable to defend his title, when the dust settles, there will be a new sheriff in town.
**PLEASE NOTE** This article was written before the start of the Open, but owing to the fact that there were delays that prevented it from being posted immediately, that means some of these questions have already been answered! ;-)
R.I.P. Roddick and Berdych.