My dog, Otto the German Shepherd, is a tennis nut.
“You haven’t analysed the men’s draw for the US Open. Today’s the 27th and the tournament begins on the 29th,” pestered Otto.
“I know. I’ve just been a little wrapped up in other things,” I reply, tiredly.
“But you have to do the men’s draw. That’s like manna for tennis followers,” insists Otto.
“Oh, I’m sure there are multiple draw analyses floating around the Internet. The smart ones can visit USOpen.org and figure it out themselves,” I attempt to fob off my companion.
“But that’s not the point, is it? It’s good for you, too. You can’t follow the US Open without delving into the draw. It’s like going into a dark night without a torch.”
Otto is a member of the local debate club.
“Yes, you do have a point there. But I’ll need a hand,” I concede.
“Oh, golly. I though you’d never ask. I’d love to assist you,” Otto recognizes the importance of being earnest.
“Thanks, Otto. Much appreciated.”
I am gratified.
Thus, the men’s draw at the US Open, presented by Otto and yours truly:
First Quarter—Novak Djokovic
“This one’s easy,” says Otto.
“Yes, that’s right,” I nod my head. “Who’s going to argue with us putting Novak through this quarter? He’s 57-2 this year and seemingly indefatigable.”
“Not quite. He did withdraw against Andy (Murray) at Cincinnati, you know,” reminded Otto.
“Yes, but that’s a minor blimp. He’s human, after all. I think he’s been playing smarter this year with a well-managed schedule.” I have switched loyalties to Novak this year. Sorry, Federer.
“I agree. Who’s looming in the quarters?”
Otto skims through the lower half of his quarter.
“Tomas Berdych will have something to say about Novak getting to another semi.” Otto looks up from the draw.
“He did have that win against Roger at the Cincinnati Open, didn’t he? That’s a boost of confidence in an indifferent year.” I hope that Tomas can put doubts to rest.
“Berdych has a probable third-round encounter against either Philipp Petzschner or Janko Tipsarevic,” Otto points out.
“Gael Monfils is seeded to clash against Tomas in the fourth round. But he has a tough opener against little Federer, Grigor Dimitrov.”
I check to see who’s next in line.
“So it could be Dimitrov in the fourth for Tomas, eh?” Otto broods over the possibilities.
“That could be interesting.” I am non-committal—my enthusiasm has dimmed.
“Ivan Dodig or Nikolay Davydenko for Novak in the third round.” Otto is back to the title favorite.
“Could Dodig cause another upset?” I recall the Croat’s Rogers Cup upset of Nadal in the second round.
“Only if Novak’s as tired, lackluster and burnt as Nadal was.” Otto dampens my hopes.
“Richard Gasquet is seeded to meet Novak in the fourth round. How many sets, you reckon?” I query.
“Three or four.” Otto replies.
Otto’s Pick: Novak Djokovic
Possible Spoiler: Tomas Berdych.
Nikolay Davydenko versus Ivan Dodig
Kei Nishikori versus Alexandr Dolgopolov
Tomas Berdych versus Gael Monfils.
Second Quarter—Roger Federer
Otto is a huge Roger Federer fan, but even he admits that the great Swiss is on the wane.
“Roger may be the third seed, but there’s no guarantee he’ll go all the way.” Otto mulls over Federer’s draw.
“Who could stop him meeting Novak in the semis?” I question.
“Young, talented Aussie, Bernard Tomic, could make life very difficult for Roger in the third round. Tomic, though, has to wade through either Marin Cilic or Ryan Harrison before his shot at glory.” Otto is always on the lookout for rising stars.
“It’s probably Harrison in the second. Home crowd support and all that.” I factor in familiar conditions and fanatical support.
“Assuming he comes through, it’s either Victor Troicki or Radek Stefanek standing in his way.” Otto is characteristically optimistic of Federer’s chances.
“I think he can get through either of those. It’s the quarterfinal opponent whom Roger will fear most,” I look ahead.
“Who’s that?” Otto barks.
“Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.” I have Otto’s full-fledged attention.
“Ooooh.The Ali, who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Once is lucky, twice is a charm, thrice is a habit ” Otto is not unmoved by Tsonga’s pyrotechnics on court.
“Mardy Fish is seeded to take on the Frenchman in the fourth round,” I remind Otto that Tsonga has to win four on the trot to keep his date with Federer.
“Mardy has Michael Llodra to contend with in the third. Llodra, with his serve-and-volley style of play, can be a handful.” Otto knows how to play this game.
“And Tsonga has Fernando Verdasco,” I underline Tsonga’s third-round opponent.
“What do you think?” Otto raises his head.
“Tsonga, if he’s not hurt,” I assert.
Otto’s Pick: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Possible Spoiler(s): Mardy Fish, Bernard Tomic.
Bernard Tomic versus Roger Federer.
Roger Federer (Bernard Tomic) versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Third Quarter—Andy Murray
Otto is quite enamored of tennis pundits’ views that this US Open is probably the Scot’s best chance to claim his first Slam.
I start out with the top half of the drawer.
“It’s Robin Soderling in the top half of this quarter. Poor Robin—he’s struggling this year.” Robin Soderling has not quite enjoyed the same kind of success he did in 2009 and 2010.
“Yes, it’ll be tough on him to take on a red-hot Andy Murray in the quarters,” Otto’s opinion coincides with mine.
“Soderling has Alex Bogomolov, Jr. to contend with in the second round before he can look that far.” Bogomolov, Jr. has risen to 44 in the world rankings.
“Alex has heart and some stirring results recently.
He beat Andy Murray at the Miami Masters and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Western and Southern Open.”
“Don’t you say?” I am incredulous.
“Marcos Baghdatis or John Isner for Robin in the third. It’s not going to be easy for the Swede.” Otto has Robin’s opponents lined up.
“Is it ever?”
“Robin’s woes continue in the fourth. 2009 US Open champ, Juan Martin Del Potro, awaits,” Otto continues.
“Oh, Robin, if Baghdatis or Isner don’t get you, Potro sure will,” I sing out.
“Potro has Gilles Simon to tackle in the third round, but he should be able to get past him. Four sets, you think?”
“Sure. But consider a pro Somdev Devvarman. He’s plays Andy Murray in the first round,” I play the national card.
“Yes, that’s unfortunate. Surely, no one expects Som to go through, but he can put up a decent fight like he did against Rafael Nadal this year at Indian Wells. Or maybe Murray’ll lose it. Who knows?” Otto is realistic about Somdev’s chances. He’s German, after all.
“Yes, that was some match, wasn’t it? I’ll pencil it in—a must-see.” I will not miss this opener for the world.
“Somdev’s aiming to be in the Top 50 by the end of the year. He’s No. 64 now. Can he get there?” Otto is rhetorical.
“He sure can,” we chorus.
“Murray has it easy all the way through until he hits Swiss No. 2 Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round.” Otto ploughs ahead.
“How many sets—to Murray? Four or five?”
Otto’s Pick: Andy Murray
Spoiler: Juan Martin Del Potro.
John Isner versus Marcos Baghdatis
Somdev Devvarman versus Andy Murray
Robin Soderling versus Alex Bogomolov Jr
Juan Martin Del Potro versus Gilles Simon
Juan Martin Del Potro versus Robin Soderling
Stanislas Wawrinka versus Andy Murray
Fourth Quarter—Rafael Nadal
We finally arrive at the bottom quarter, the defending champion's section.
“Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer are drawn for a repeat of their Australian Open quarterfinal match,” Otto is quick on the draw.
“Aha! A chance for Nadal to extract his pound of flesh.” I , for one, was very disappointed with the Mallorcan’s premature exit at the Australian Open, dashing hopes of a ‘Rafa Slam’.
“Ferrer’s seeded to take on home favorite, James Blake, in the second round,” Otto points out.
“Andy Roddick is Ferrer’s possible opponent in the fourth round, but not before an interesting all-American tie against Ryan Sweeting in the third,” I have Roddick’s measure.
“Nadal, on the other side of the draw, has marathon-man Nicholas Mahut to take care of in the second round and possibly David Nalbandian in the third.” Otto checks up on Nadal’s half.
“With Mikhail Youzhny his probable fourth-round opponent, this draw looks pretty easy-going to me—until the semis.”
“Yes, Nadal should sail all the way through to a matchup with Murray.”
Otto’s Pick: Rafael Nadal
David Nalbandian versus Ivan Ljubicic
Semifinal 1: Novak Djokovic defeats Jo Wilfried Tsonga
Semifinal 2: Andy Murray defeats Rafael Nadal
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Possible Upsets: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga takes his first Grand Slam. Juan Martin Del Potro reprises his 2009 title win.
Otto’s expert conclusion:
“Although I’m tempted to go with Andy Murray, given his recent good form and Novak Djokovic’s injury withdrawal in the final at Cincinnati, Murray’s history of disintegrating in Slams weighs heavily against him. I install Djokovic as favourite.”
Quote of the day:
Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion, rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science. – Gary Zukav