Rafael Nadal takes the court as the defending champion when the US Open gets underway on Monday, August 29.
Last year Nadal overcame Novak Djokovic to capture his first US Open trophy, adding the last piece to his career grand slam in the process.
It marked the pinnacle of the best year in Nadal’s career. In 2010, he won three slam titles––the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. Nadal regained the No. 1 ranking, seizing it from Roger Federer when the Swiss faltered at Roland Garros.
At one point, the former world No. 1 had an opportunity to possess all four major championships at one time by winning the Australian Open in 2011. No man had accomplished that feat since Rod Laver did it in 1969.
Nadal, however, was unable to win his "Rafa Slam" at Melbourne in 2011. An unfortunate injury sent him out in the quarterfinals, losing to David Ferrer. The 2011 Australian Open title was captured by Novak Djokovic. This win marked the beginning of a remarkable run for Djokovic that ended at the French Open.
Djokovic proceeded to block Nadal at every opportunity, winning their next five contested finals. The Serb finally took away the No. 1 spot at Wimbledon, pushing Nadal back down to No. 2.
Still the world No. 2 has managed to have a very successful year. He won the 2011 French Open title, and Nadal has hopes of repeating as champion at the 2011 US Open.
As he readies for battle to reclaim his US Open championship, Nadal must be very satisfied with his draw. There appear to be no major stumbling blocks for the No. 2 seed all the way to the semifinals.
Since Nadal appears to get stronger with each match, it works out to his advantage that all his early-round contests look manageable.
What are Nadal’s odds of success? As we take a look at the potential draw of the former world No. 1, we can gauge the level of competition and the odds of Rafael Nadal making it through to the next round.
Currently ranked world No. 97, Andrey Golubev will open against the reigning US Open champion, Rafael Nadal. That cannot be the way Golubev hoped to begin this major tournament.
The two players have never faced one another on the tennis court.
In 2010, Golubev won his only career title at Hamburg on clay, defeating Jurgen Melzer in the final.
That year, the man from Kazakhstan also advanced to the finals at Kuala Lumpur, losing to Mikhail Youzhny in the final 7-6, 2-6, 6-7. The Kuala Lumpur tournament was contested on hard courts.
This year, however, has not been a good one for Golubev. He enters the US Open with a 5-23 record. With zero titles to his credit, Golubev very often lost in the first round before he could settled into the action.
So far in his career, Golubev has never advanced beyond the second round at the US Open.
There is no reason to expect that Rafael Nadal has a chance of losing this match. It will prove to be a good opener for the world No. 2.
Nadal will succeed to the second round. Golubev’s odds of winning this match are 100:1.
In 2010, Nicolas Mahut, along with American John Isner, gave the world an epic opening round Wimbledon match that remains one of the most memorable moments at the All England Club.
The Frenchman's name will be forever linked to that marathon match––the longest in tennis history.
This same Mahut will more than likely be Nadal’s second-round opponent.
The Frenchman, however, must first dispatch qualifier Robert Farah of Columbia. Mahut’s superior experience should see him through this opener and send him on to meet Nadal in Round 2.
Ironically, Mahut and Nadal have met once before with Mahut winning their 2007 quarterfinal match at the Queen’s Club on grass, 7-5, 7-6. The Frenchman is one of few who can claim a winning head-to-head record over Nadal.
That will hardly sustain Mahut, however, as he prepares to face Nadal on the hard courts at Flushing Meadows.
With a ranking now at No. 98, Mahut has spent considerable time rebuilding by playing Challenger events in 2011.
In fact, the last two years, Mahut had to try qualify to gain entry into the US Open. He did not make it into the main draw of the US Open in 2009 and 2010. This year, however, he gained direct entry into the US Open field because his ranking rose into the top 100.
Even so, there is no way Mahut can overcome the power of the Nadal game.
Mahut defeating Nadal at the US Open in 2011 would be another 100:1 shot. It just will not happen. Nadal will move on to the third round.
Nadal's third-round opponent is a bit difficult to predict.
Assuming Argentine David Nalbandian can get by American Bobby Reynolds in Round 1, and Ivan Ljubicic can put away Blaz Kavcic of Slovakia in his opener, these two veterans could meet in Round 2, giving us one of the more interesting second-round encounters.
Because of Nalbandian’s constant injured state and his struggle to return to form, the seeding should prevail. In their head-to-head, Ljubicic leads the Argentine 5-3.
A win would send Ljubicic into the third round to face Nadal, although Ljubicic has not enjoyed a particularly injury-free summer himself.
After a minor surge in 2010 that saw him rise into the men’s top 20, Ljubicic, now age 32, has drifted back, and is currently ranked No. 31 and seeded No. 30 at this tournament.
During his career Ljubicic challenged Rafael Nadal nine times, winning twice.
In 2010, he met and defeated Nadal at Miami in the semifinals 3-6, 6-4, 7-6. Ljubicic went on to win that Masters tournament. In 2005, Ljubicic defeated Nadal at Qatar during the quarterfinals 6-2, 6-7, 6-3.
Otherwise, Nadal has owned the Croat, defeating him seven times––four times on clay and three times on hardcourts.
Additionally, Ljubicic has never done that well at the US Open. In 2010, he went out in the first round to Ryan Harrison who was ranked 220th at the time. In 2009, Ljubicic, ranked No. 51, went out in the first round to Novak Djokovic.
The furthest Ljubicic has ever advanced at Flushing Meadows is the third round. He just never seems to find his footing at Flushing Meadows.
No one should expect Ljubicic to defeat Nadal in Round 3. The odds of the Croat doing that are 20:1.
In Round 4 it could be Mikhail Youzhny, Jurgen Melzer, Igor Kunitsyn or Ernests Gulbis who advance to meet Nadal.
While it would be safe to pick the highest seed, in this case––and perhaps, at long last––Gulbis will live up to his talent and make a run at this year’s US Open.
For years the tennis world has speculated, waiting for the talented Latvian to make his move and claim prestigious titles while scoring some impressive victories on the men’s tour.
Generally, however, Gulbis has lived to disappoint. Nonetheless, there are some signs, like his title win earlier this summer in Los Angeles, that lead us to believe this may his time.
At age 22 and currently ranked at No. 55, Gulbis needs to find some consistent success to give him impetus to keep working hard to perfect his game.
The US Open, however, has never brought out the best in the Latvian’s game. In 2007, Gulbis advanced to the fourth round of the US Open, losing to Carlos Moya. But in the past two years, he has not made it past the opening round.
So far, Gulbis has met and lost to Nadal four times. While he has the game to give the Majorcan a real battle, Gulbis has never quite risen to the occasion. They met earlier this year in Qatar with Nadal winning 7-6, 6-3.
Nadal will win this fourth-round encounter unless Gulbis can play a perfect match. The odds of him defeating Nadal are 10:1.
Whether his opponent is Andy Roddick or Nicolas Almagro, David Ferrer will survive to meet Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of the 2011 US Open.
Ferrer has enjoyed an excellent year, coming into the US Open with a 40-12 record including two titles to add to his record. The Spaniard secured trophies at both Auckland on hard courts and at Acapulco on clay.
Ferrer made the semifinals of the 2011 Australian Open, as well as the fourth round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
He has enjoyed some success at previous US Opens, advancing to the fourth round last year where he lost to countryman Fernando Verdasco in a five-set marathon.
The furthest Ferrer has advanced was the semifinals in 2007 when he lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
Ferrer is relentless. It is his major strength. He never gives up in a match, fighting until the last ball is struck. Unfortunately, that has brought him few victories against his friend Rafael Nadal, who leads in their head-to-head 13-4.
In 2007, Ferrer did, however, defeat Nadal once at the US Open in the fourth round.
Still, expect Nadal to move on to the semifinals. The odds of Ferrer overcoming Nadal during the 2011 US Open quarterfinals are 3:1.
Andy Murray has not defeated Rafael Nadal since the Toronto Masters in 2010, over a year ago.
In fact, Nadal has won their last four semifinal contests. With their head-to-head standing at 12-3 in favor of Nadal, many would describe that as a stranglehold.
Murray, however, comes into the 2011 US Open brimming with confidence again after he defeated Novak Djokovic to capture the masters title in Cincinnati.
Murray also won the title at the Queen’s Club just prior to Wimbledon. But the win did not help the Scot secure the Wimbledon crown.
Unfortunately at Wimbledon in 2011, Murray once again met Nadal in the semifinals where he lost in four sets after winning the opening set.
A month earlier, Murray also lost in the semifinals at Roland Garros to the former world No. 1 in Nadal.
There seems to be a pattern in place where Murray is always drawn into Nadal’s half of the draw. This scenario was repeated at the 2011 US Open.
It is like the tennis Gods are telling Murray that this will be Sisyphean task––to defeat Nadal in a major semifinal. Until he does, Murray will be forced to face the Majorcan over and over again.
It is up to Murray to break that streak and begin a new one where he wins their encounters, rather than Nadal.
The question is––can he do it? That is one of the major questions of this championship. The odds for Murray winning are 50-50 or 1:1. This one could go either way.
If Rafael Nadal survives his semifinal match against Andy Murray, he would undoubtedly face the man Nadal dreads to see across the net in the final––Novak Djokovic.
After all, Djokovic has defeated Nadal in their last five finals, including the 2011 Wimbledon championship match in July.
The 2011 final would be played with Nadal shrouded in doubt while the Serb overflowed with confidence. These are not exactly the best conditions for the No. 2 seed to win the US Open championship again this year.
The match, in fact, would be a repeat of last year's final when Djokovic had to overcome Roger Federer in the semifinal to reach championship match against Nadal. But in 2010 the Serb had little left for the final, and Nadal prevailed in four sets to claim his first US Open championship.
Djokovic has gone a long way to equalize his head to head with Nadal, shaving five losses off his total deficit by moving from 7-16 to 12-16 at the conclusion of Wimbledon in 2011.
In Nadal's thinking, the US Open represents the final battle line for the season.
A win in New York City would right the Majorcan ship and set the stage for a comeback in 2012.
The Fall indoor hard-court season has never been a positive for Nadal, but doing well at the US Open and the year-end championships in London could salvage what many regard as a down year for Nadal.
The odds of Nadal defeating the Serb at this point with the information we have coming into the 2011 US Open stand at 3:1.