The first week of the 2011 US Open is history. Play resulted in few surprises on the men’s side of the draw––a predictable state of affairs in men’s tennis.
The stability of the men’s tour is in direct contrast to the women’s––although Serena Williams may normalize life at the top if she decides to stay on schedule.
Outside the top four men is another matter, as players 5-10 seem to careen like the fleeting leaders in most NASCAR races—falling back, surging forward, perhaps crashing into barriers. These men make a run but never quite push their way into the top four.
At this year’s US Open, (6) Robin Soderling, (7) Gael Monfils, (9) Tomas Berdych and (10) Nicolas Almagro are no longer relevant, although Soderling pulled out before the tournament got underway. Almagro, Monfils and Berdych went out in the first, second and third rounds, respectively. Only (5) David Ferrer and (8) Mardy Fish are both still alive for the second week.
At least two of the top four seeds will not make it to the final, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the two playing their best at the moment are on the same side of the draw––Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Rafael Nadal appears to be struggling both mentally and physically, although he will get stronger the longer he survives. Andy Murray seemed ready to lose in his second round encounter with Robin Haase of the Netherlands after losing the first two sets; but the Scot came on strong in his third round match against Feliciano Lopez.
Going forward, what are the pitfalls awaiting the top four men as they progress through the draw at this year’s US Open?
The fourth round begins on Monday with all four top seeds reigning in their respective quarters for the moment.
Novak Djokovic's Quarter
The No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic must face Alexandr Dolgopolov, the up-and-coming Ukrainian, seeded No. 22. Dolgopolov made a name for himself at this year’s Australian Open by extending Andy Murray to four sets in their quarterfinal match––which Murray eventually won.
The 22-year-old from Ukraine is regarded as one of the new men to watch on tour, but he remains in the same vein as players like Gilles Simon—great counter-punchers with quick feet and quick reflexes but lacking in substantial power or any real weapon to allow him to dominate in a match. Still Dolgopolov can run down almost any ball hit and return it with deft touch and accuracy.
Regardless, Djokovic will move on to the quarterfinals.
Roger Federer's Quarter
Roger Federer must get beyond Spaniard Juan Monaco, unseeded in this tournament. Monaco took out Tommy Haas, who is trying to make another return to the tour after one more shoulder surgery.
Federer and Monaco have met twice with the Swiss leading in their head-to-head 2-0. Earlier this year, the two met in the second round at the ATP Masters tournament in Miami where Federer took control of the match after an opening set tiebreak, winning 7-6, 6-4.
Previously they had faced each other in Hamburg on the clay in 2007 with Federer winning 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Their matches are always competitive, so this will be no gimme for the world No. 3.
Expect Monaco to give Federer a very tense match; one that the Swiss will win and move on to another of his seemingly unending slam quarterfinal matches.
Rafael Nadal's Quarter
Rafael Nadal will face Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, who made the quarterfinals at the US Open in 2008. Nadal, after a scratchy opening set, pushed Argentine David Nalbandian aside to advance to the fourth round.
The prospect of playing Muller cannot exactly fill Rafa with confidence because Muller has actually defeated him once––on grass at Wimbledon in 2005. Even this year at Wimbledon, Muller was close, eventually losing 7-6, 7-6, 6-0 in a third-round encounter with Nadal. After two exhausting tiebreaks, Muller ran out of gas in the third set.
This match, while it may give the world No. 2 a migraine, will not see Nadal deterred from making the quarterfinals at the 2011 US Open.
Andy Murray's Quarter
Andy Murray got past the handsome Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the third round and will now face a surprising fourth-round survivor––American Donald Young. The only time Murray met Young in the past, the American won––at Indian Wells earlier this year.
Ranked No. 84, Young has been touted as a “soon to be” tennis talent since his junior tennis days. The American has never managed to live up to those expectations until now. At age 22, many hope this run at the US Open will boost Young over the top and convince him that he has the talent to succeed at the highest levels of the sport.
Regardless of the hype and the New York crowd support, expect Murray to get past Young to advance to the quarterfinals.
Some of the best fourth-round matches, however, will not involve the top four players. One of the most intriguing will be between John Isner and Gilles Simon. The latter took out another big serving giant—Juan Martin del Potro—to advance.
The match between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish should be a real tussle on court pitting two big guys who move well, serve well and are on hot streaks against each other. This one promises lots of fireworks for tennis fans.
Another match that promises to reveal a great deal is the one between Andy Roddick and the fierce Spaniard, David Ferrer. This one will prove whether Roddick is back and up to the task of being a player in the conversation again.
Djokovic vs. Janko Tipsarevic: The two Serbs will meet in an entertaining quarterfinal contest with Djokovic winning this one. The two have met twice previously with the world No. 1 winning both times. Tipsarevic has enjoyed a great run but he will not get past Djokovic in this quarterfinal match.
Federer vs. Mardy Fish: Whether the opponent is Fish or Tsonga, this will be a very tough match for Federer. The Swiss’ serve must be hitting the mark and his timing and footwork perfect in order to win.
Even though the Swiss has won six of the seven times he has faced Fish, a new Mardy Fish is on court these days with all the confidence in the world. Tsonga, of course, has almost equalled Federer in their head-to-head with the Swiss holding a slight edge at 4-3. Tsonga, however, has won their last two meetings at Wimbledon and at Montreal.
Nadal vs. David Ferrer: If Nadal is suffering mentally or physically, the man he does not wish to see on the other side of the net in this quarterfinal contest is his countryman David Ferrer. But, no doubt, that is who will be there on Tuesday to face the world No. 2.
This could be a tough go for Nadal judging by his past matches at this year’s US Open. But Nadal has defeated Ferrer 13 of the 17 times they have met, so it would be a monumental upset for Nadal to lose this match.
Murray vs. Gilles Simon: It was shocking to watch Simon unravel Juan Martin del Potro in an absolutely riveting match on Sunday. The wily Frenchman absorbed the del Potro power and sent it back over the net with dividends. Murray, however, plays similarly to Simon. This is going to be a real battle of wits on court.
Still in their eight meetings, Murray has won seven, including a quarterfinal dismissal of the Frenchman at Cincinnati. But Simon is back all the way after battling injury for about the past two years and he is dangerous.
Who will move on the semifinals? That is the million dollar question. Djokovic will survive to the semifinals without a doubt. The Serb has not really been tested during the whole tournament. He has yet to drop a set.
Federer, as usual, has survived some stiff opposition, getting past Marin Cilic in the third round in four sets. Getting past Tsonga or Fish in the quarterfinals will be a real test but one the Swiss will pass at this 2011 US Open because he wishes to win the last major of the year.
After all, the world No. 3 has won at least one major in every calendar year since 2003. It is a trademark he does not wish to discontinue.
Djokovic will face Federer in one semifinal contest.
Nadal will find a way to survive a supreme challenge by David Ferrer in the quarterfinals because the world No. 2 wants to defend the US Open title he won a year ago.
It also means retaining his grasp on the No. 2 ranking as the tour moves into the fall indoor hard court season where Nadal has a harder time competing. This year especially, with injuries and fatigue plaguing his game, Nadal will afford himself some much need space at the top by winning at Flushing Meadows.
Murray is in the greatest danger of failing to make the semifinals, but when it comes to being wily, no one rises to the occasion greater than the Scot. Getting through a rough couple of early round matches may put some steel in the Scot’s resolve and see him through to the finish line.
Murray will face Nadal in the second semifinal contest.
Who will win it all? Stay tuned...