Men's 2011 U.S. Open Preview: Nobody Hotter in Top 10 Than Novak Djokovic

JA AllenSenior Writer IAugust 24, 2011

Men's 2011 U.S. Open Preview: Nobody Hotter in Top 10 Than Novak Djokovic

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    As the 2011 U.S. Open gets underway on Monday, August 29, we suddenly realize that the last major of year has arrived.

    Many compelling storylines have carried us to this point. Throughout the year, the sports media remained poised on the brink, waiting, as Serbian Novak Djokovic first surpassed No. 2 Roger Federer and then No. 1 Rafael Nadal to secure the top spot on the men’s tour.

    Beginning in January, as players journeyed to Melbourne, Australia, the year appeared to stretch ahead forever. The talk then concerned Nadal winning the 2011 Australian Open. The victory would have made Nadal the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to own all four slam titles at once.

    Dreams of the Rafa Slam ended in Australia when Nadal endured a left thigh injury. Nadal lost his quarterfinal match to compatriot David Ferrer 6-4, 6-2, 6-3––in pain yet, all the while, refusing to retire.

    Aspirations of Federer winning his fifth Australian Open Championship also died when the Swiss lost to Djokovic in the semifinals––in straight sets. Djokovic went on to demolish Andy Murray in the finals, also in straight sets.

    Since scaling to the men’s top 10 in 2007, the Serb finally managed to make it all the way to the top in 2011. He took Federer’s No. 2 ranking at Indian Wells, defeating the Swiss in the semifinals. Djokovic took Nadal’s No. 1 ranking at Wimbledon, as well as the championship trophy.

    The new world No. 1 lost twice in 2011. He was defeated in his semifinal bid at Roland Garros to Federer. Djokovic also lost to Murray on Sunday, August 21 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Otherwise, the Serb has won every other match in 2011, ready for the upcoming U.S. Open.

    Djokovic continues to dominate the power rankings heading into the last major of the season.

    Following are the top 10 men, with rankings based on their last four tennis tournament appearances.

No. 10: Nicholas Almagro, Spain

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    Last Power Ranking: NR

    ATP Ranking: 10

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Round 3], Roger’s Cup [Quarterfinalist], Gstaad [Semifinalist], Hamburg [Finalist]

    Power Ranking Points: 263

    2011 has been a good year for Nicolas Almagro. The Spaniard climbed to the No. 10 spot after being ranked 20th approximately a year ago.

    Although Almagro continued to compete on clay after Wimbledon, his hard court play also brought good results.

    The Spaniard has consistently done well on the hard courts throughout his career.

    In Canada, Almagro advanced to the quarterfinals where he lost in straight sets to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who would go on to the semifinals.

    In Cincinnati, after toughing out a win over the big-serving Croat, Ivo Karlovic, Almagro found himself up against the No. 8 seed Tomas Berdych in the third round. Almagro would lose that contest 6-2, 6-2.

    U.S. Open Prediction

    Almagro has never advanced beyond the third round at Flushing Meadows. In 2010, he lost to a red-hot Sam Querry, who dispatched him 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. In 2009, Almagro ran into Rafael Nadal in the third round, eventually losing that encounter.

    With his top-10 seeding this year, Almagro should be able to avoid playing those highly ranked players until at least the second week of the tournament.

    So while no one expects Almagro to win the U.S. Open, there is a good change that he will last into the second week.

No. 9: Gilles Simon, France

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    Last Power Ranking: NR

    ATP Ranking: 12

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Quarterfinalist], Roger’s Cup [Round 64], Hamburg [Winner], Stuttgart [Round 32]

    Power Ranking Points: 285

    After suffering through almost a year of injury, in addition to the subsequent retooling of his game, Gilles Simon is at long last back up in the ranking where his talent dictates he should be.

    It has been a long road back for Simon.

    This year, he won two tournaments. His first win came in Sydney on the hard courts and his second came more recently on clay at Hamburg. Simon likes both surfaces and uses his defensive skills to take the initiative, often converting defense into offense.

    With deceptive speed and deft court movement, Simon is a dangerous opponent for any player because of his tenacity. The Frenchman does not concede points without a fight.

    Simon advanced to the quarterfinals this past week in Cincinnati, losing to eventual champion Andy Murray 6-3, 6-3. At the Roger’s Cup in Montreal, the Simon was upset by German Philipp Petzschner in the opening round of play. This had followed Simon's tournament win in Hamburg.

    U.S. Open Preview

    In five appearances at the U.S. Open, Simon had never advanced beyond the third round. He lost to Rafael Nadal, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Juan Martin del Potro, Fernando Verdasco and Richard Gasquet––mostly players with powerful groundstrokes.

    Simon does not have a big weapon to hurt any of the power hitters who can blow him off the court. But he plays smart with such finesse that he could do some damage this year. Expect Simon to advance to the second week.

No. 8: Gael Monfils, France

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    Last Power Ranking: NR

    ATP Ranking: 7

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Quarterfinalist], Roger’s Cup [Quarterfinalist], Washington DC [Finalist], Hamburg [Quarterfinalist]

    Power Ranking Points: 289

    After appearing briefly in the men's top 10 in 2009, Gael Monfils again found himself there in April of this year.

    With new-found confidence, Monfils reached a career-high ATP ranking of No. 7 in July, following Wimbledon.

    Currently, Monfils is a frequent survivor at the end of tournaments, even though he has no titles to date in 2011.

    In Cincinnati, Monfils lost in the quarterfinals to eventual finalist Novak Djokovic, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. The Frenchman also advanced to the quarterfinals in Montreal, losing again to Djokovic––this time in straight sets, 6-2, 6-1.

    Monfils did make the finals in Washington, D.C., where he lost to Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-4 in a match the Frenchman probably should have won.

    Although many have touted Monfils' talent throughout his career, he has never been able to overcome his proclivity to play to the crowd rather than to the style of tennis that would win the match. When pressed, Monfils goes for too much, giving up too much court to the opposition.

    U.S. Open Prediction

    Last year Monfils advanced to the quarterfinals of the US Open where he met and lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets 6-7, 1-6, 2-6. The Frenchman seemed to give in after losing that opening set tie-breaker.

    In previous years, Monfils survived to the fourth round losing to Rafael Nadal in 2009 and Mardy Fish in 2008.

    The Frenchman, who loves to run and slide on the clay, is not entirely comfortable on the hardcourts but his play has vastly improved on all surfaces this season. He will make it to the second week of the 2011 US Open but will lose before the semifinals.

No. 7: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France

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    Last Power Ranking: 4

    ATP Ranking: 11

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [R32], Roger’s Cup [Semifinalist], Wimbledon [Semifinalist], Eastbourne [R16]

    Power Ranking Points: 317

    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is back, often providing scintillating tennis these days. The big man has always had the athletic ability to make the game exciting. But now he appears to be practicing and perfecting his game.

    The Frenchman came alive on the grass at Wimbledon, where he made it to the semifinals. Tsonga fell to the eventual winner, Novak Djokovic, despite winning the opening set in a tie break.

    At the Rogers Cup earlier this month, Tsonga advanced to the semifinals, losing to Djokovic once again. At the Western and Southern ATP Masters, Tsonga faded quickly, going out in the second round to Alex Bogomolov, Jr. in straight sets.

    U.S. Open Prediction

    Tsonga has only played at the U.S. Open three times, 2007-2009. He was injured during last year’s tournament.

    In 2009, he advanced to the fourth round, losing to Fernando Gonzalez in four sets. In both 2007 and 2008, Tsonga went out in the third round.

    This year, Tsonga has shown signs that he has the desire to win as well as being fully fit and injury-free. You have to like his new-found exuberance for the game and his chances for advancing very deep into the draw at Flushing Meadows.

No. 6: Rafael Nadal, Spain

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    Last Power Ranking: 2

    ATP Ranking: 2

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Quarterfinalist], Roger’s Cup [Round 2], Wimbledon [Finalist], London Queen’s [Quarterfinalist]

    Power Ranking Points: 339

    It hardly seems fair when you think about it. First Nadal had to struggle to overcome Roger Federer from 2005 to 2008, finally breaking through to seize the No. 1 ranking.

    In 2008, Nadal won the French Open and Wimbledon, back to back. He took over the top spot just prior to the U.S. Open, which Federer managed to win that year.

    Then, Nadal lost it all in 2009 after finally winning the Australian Open on hard courts. Unexpectedly, world No. 1 Nadal went out early in the French Open to Robin Soderling on such bad knees that the Majorcan had to withdraw, unable to defend his crown at the 2009 Wimbledon Championships.

    Federer resumed the No. 1 spot.

    In 2010, Nadal had the best year of his tennis life, winning three majors––the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He took back the No. 1 ranking and was prepared to hold all four major titles at one time when injury again reared its ugly head.

    Nadal was unable to secure the 2011 Australian Open championship, which instead went to Novak Djokovic. Djokovic tracked Nadal down, took away the No. 1 spot and has won every final they appeared in together.

    Still Nadal has managed to have an incredible year. He won the French Open and has hopes of repeating as champion at the 2011 U.S. Open.

    While Nadal, as well as the rest of the field, wait patiently for Djokovic to falter and fall back to earth, the world No. 2 must figure out a way to win against the world No. 1. 

    U.S. Open Prediction

    Nadal will be one of the favorites as the 2011 U.S. Open gets underway. As the No. 2 seed, expect Nadal to be ready to defend his title with every fiber of his being.

    So far, the U.S. hard court season has not yielded particularly good results for Nadal. But for him, the important thing, besides winning back the No. 1 ranking, is winning major championships. Nadal has already lost one trophy to Djokovic, and he does not wish to lose two in a row. 

    Expect Nadal to advance to the semifinals and even further, depending on the draw.

No. 5: Roger Federer, Switzerland

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    Last Power Ranking: 5

    ATP Ranking: 3

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Quarterfinalist], Roger’s Cup [R16], Wimbledon [Quarterfinalist], Roland Garros [Finalist]

    Power Ranking Points: 370

    Yes, Roger Federer turned 30 earlier this month. It had to happen eventually.

    How has it affected his playing prowess? While the Swiss Maestro can still create moments of magic on the court, he can also fail to bring his A game with him all the time.

    There is no way to predict when those down moments will occur. But they seem to happen in nearly every tournament, especially when Federer is forced to play every day, as he must during the Masters tournaments.

    So, while Federer maintains his No. 3 spot in the ATP rankings, winning the U.S. Open in 2011 has to be paramount for the Swiss. It is his last chance to win a major in 2011. Federer, of course, has won at least one major every calendar year since 2003, when he won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.

    In 2008, with the same fate facing him, Federer came on strong to win the U.S. Open and save his season.

    Federer has yet to win a title in 2011. He has won at least one title every year since 2001, so winning at Flushing Meadows would serve a double purpose.

    U.S. Open Prediction

    Federer enters the U.S. Open as part of the discussion. He will fall behind Novak Djokovic in terms of being a favorite to win.

    Neither Federer nor Rafael Nadal had outstanding results on the American hard courts in 2011. Most tennis fans will approach their chances of winning with skepticism. But these seasoned Grand Slam winners cannot be overlooked.

    Federer will adapt to the rhythm of playing in New York City; plus, he will not have to face playing every day against the top-ranked players––at least not until the second week.

    You have to give Federer a shot for winning this tournament. He has, after all, won the U.S. Open five times previously. He would love to make it six. 

No. 4: Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic

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    Last Power Ranking: NR

    ATP Ranking: 9

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Semifinalist], Roger’s Cup [Quarterfinalist], Bastad [Semifinalist], Wimbledon [R16]

    Power Ranking Points: 488

    The sleeping giant seemed to spring to life this summer often bringing his A game to the American hard courts. 

    Tomas Berdych advanced to the semifinals in Cincinnati, capitulating to Djokovic after squashing Federer in the quarterfinals. The Czech retired to the Serb after losing the opening set 7-5.

    In Montreal, Berdych lost in the quarterfinals to Janko Tipsarevic in straight sets 6-4, 6-4.

    Even though Berdych is often around for the end of tournaments, he has won no titles to date in 2011. Most remember that in 2010 Berdych made it to the finals of Wimbledon after defeating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals and Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Berdych lost to Rafael Nadal in straight sets.

    Berdych also advanced to the semifinals of the 2010 French Open, losing to Robin Soderling.

    2011 has not provided any such major highs for Berdych. Even though he made it to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, Berdych lost in the first round at the 2011 French Open and his Wimbledon campaign ended in the fourth round as he fell to Mardy Fish.

    U.S. Open Prediction

    Berdych has never advanced beyond the fourth round of the U.S. Open. In 2010, he stumbled coming out of the blocks, losing in the first round to Michael Llodra of France.

    Berdych certainly has the game to succeed but he has never shown the mental acumen necessary to win a major. He could survive to the second week, but he will not be one of favorites to win title.

No. 3: Mardy Fish, United States

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    Last Power Ranking: 6

    ATP Ranking: 8

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Semifinalist], Roger’s Cup [Finalist], Los Angeles [Finalist], Atlanta [Winner]

    Power Ranking Points: 748

    The truly remarkable Mardy Fish continues his “Year of the Fish” campaign on American hard courts, having impacted the outcomes of tournaments all summer long. Because of his superlative performances, Fish has won the U.S. Open Series title.

    This means the American is eligible to win an additional $1 million bonus should he win the U.S. Open. Fish clinched the title when he defeated Richard Gasquet in the fourth round of the Masters tournament in Cincinnati.

    In 2007, Roger Federer actually collected the bonus by winning the series title and then winning the U.S. Open. 

    Fish reached the semifinals in Cincinnati, losing to eventual champion Andy Murray. The American reached the finals in Montreal, where he lost to Novak Djokovic in three sets. Fish also reached finals in Los Angeles and repeated as the defending champion in Atlanta.

    U.S. Open Predictions

    Fish had never really competed well in the majors throughout his career until 2008. That year he made the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open with hard courts by far his best playing surface. In 2010, the American advanced to the fourth round before falling to Djokovic in straight sets.

    But 2011 is a whole different matter. With Fish playing with new-found confidence, using his experience and his superior fitness, you cannot ignore the possibility that the American has a real shot to go the distance.

    While Fish may not be one of the favorites with odds makers, his play deserves attention. Plus, who can overlook the motivation to win an additional million dollars!

No. 2: Andy Murray, Great Britain

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    Last Power Ranking: 3

    ATP Ranking: 4

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Winner], Roger’s Cup [R32], Wimbledon [Semifinalist], London Queen’s Cup [Winner]

    Power Ranking Points: 1,118

    Andy Murray has suffered through much of 2011 labeled an also-ran. After Novak Djokovic leaped ahead of the two titans at the top, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Murray seemingly was left in the dust.

    To date in 2011, Murray has won titles at both the Queen’s Club and most recently at Cincinnati, defeating his pal Djokovic in the final. The Scot delivered the Serb's second loss of the season while improving Murray’s odds going into the 2011 U.S. Open.

    Although pundits have pointed out repeatedly that Murray is fading, Murray has managed to construct a very successful season starting with making the finals of the Australian Open, where he lost in straight sets to Djokovic. 

    Murray also made the semifinals at the French Open, a place he traditionally does not do well at. He lost to Nadal in straight sets.

    After winning at the Queen’s Club, defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final, Murray again met Nadal in the semifinals of Wimbledon, losing in four sets.

    U.S. Open Predictions

    Murray professes his love of the U.S. Open, feeling that his best chance to win a major may come at Flushing Meadows. He made it to the 2008 finals, but beyond that he has never fared that well.

    Last year, Murray lost in the third round to Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, and in 2009 he went out in the fourth round to Marin Cilic. Still, the win in Cincinnati should provide Murray with a great deal of confidence. 

    Murray will be a favorite to win the U.S. Open. At age 24, there is still plenty of time for Murray to win majors––just as those in the tennis world expected him to do. But playing under such a high degree of expectation adds pressure that he does not need. 

No. 1: Novak Djokovic, Serbia

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    Last Power Ranking: 1

    ATP Ranking: 1

    Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati [Finalist], Roger’s Cup [Winner], Wimbledon [Winner], Roland Garros [Semifinalist]

    Power Ranking Points: 1,410

    Finally, it happened. Novak Djokovic suffered his second loss of the season in Cincinnati. The Serb retired in his match against the No. 4 seed Andy Murray in the Western & Southern Masters final on Sunday, losing the match 6-4, 3-0.

    The summer provided no let-up for the world No. 1, as he struggled to keep his amazing winning streak alive in Canada followed by a trip to Cincinnati.

    As the other top-three seeds faded in Montreal, Djokovic held on to his nerve and his composure to win his fifth Master’s Shield of the season, defeating Mardy Fish in a three-set final.

    Prior to Cincinnati, Djokovic monopolized the headlines and seized all the trophy hardware at the conclusion of every tournament he entered––except, of course, the French Open, where Roger Federer upended him in the semifinals.

    Otherwise, Djokovic has won every other match this year, with everyone watching and waiting with bated breath for him to lose.

    Everyone can collectively exhale now.

    Despite his loss, Djokovic remains well ahead of Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 player in the world in ranking points. Throughout 2011, Nadal had to endure losing to Djokovic in five consecutive finals, including Wimbledon.

    U.S. Open Prediction

    Djokovic—whose fitness and mental edge carried him through the first eight months of the year—looked fried mentally and emotionally during the Sunday final in Cincinnati. But there is no reason to expect Djokovic to lessen his intensity or his confidence on court at the U.S. Open. Djokovic remains everybody’s favorite to win the title.  

    With a 57-2 record, including titles at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Djokovic will be primed to win the title in Flushing Meadows, the last major of the year. There will not be many who bet against Djokovic adding this trophy to his mantle.  

    The power rankings list the players in form, based on recent results. The season-long series is authored by JA Allen, Marianne Bevis and Feng Rong, whose formula provides the rankings.