10 Burning Questions Ahead of North American Hard-Court Season

Jeff Cohn@jeff_cohnCorrespondent IIIJuly 31, 2013

10 Burning Questions Ahead of North American Hard-Court Season

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    The North American hard-court season, or as I refer to it, the summer swing, has just gotten underway.

    It carries much importance in the media, particularly because of the U.S. Open.

    Much history has been made during the summer swing in the past three or four years, and with the top of the game at a most unusual state for the first time ever, we will not be able to make predictions as easily this time around.

    The men's game is still very strong and provides much entertainment in each tournament, but how will this part of the year play out?

    Here are 10 burning questions ahead of the North American hard-court swing.

Will Mardy Fish Be Back to Normal?

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    Mardy Fish was a Top 10 player and seemed to be leading the USA in his efforts just a few years ago.

    Reaching his peak after beginning to focus on his workouts and diet more, he was looking impressive during the North American hard-court tournaments. His great serve, compact volleys and deadly backhand allowed him to play at a high level on the fast courts.

    But then his game and health started to fall apart, and he withdrew from many tournaments.

    He seems to be in much better shape now. He won a tight first-round match against Matthew Ebden at the Citi Open—maybe he can do well here, if not for the ATP 1000s.

    Fish faces Julien Benneteau as his next opponent.

Will Roger Federer Be Able to Pick His Game Back Up?

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    Clearly, too much has been written about Roger Federer's slight decline and lack of form.

    He also switched to a racquet with a somewhat larger head, but it is unclear as of now if that has or will make any sort of difference.

    He may skip Montreal if his back spasms do not get better, but this is a new concern that has become prominent with his aging on tour.

    I think he will pick his game up considerably, but I have no idea when.

    It would be great to see the fallen legend back in the headlines again at the U.S. Open, but this question may remain unanswered until 2014.

Can Andy Murray Continue to Ride This Wave of Momentum?

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    Andy Murray has been consistent on all surfaces but clay, and he's appeared to be the most dominant fast-court player in the past year.

    Last year he seemed to come out of nowhere in the run to his first major ever, the U.S. Open.

    He seems to have dismissed the argument of nerves and expectations, so let's see if he can hold up physically.

    His first serve, movement and consistent groundstrokes have made the difference for him, but he may not be able to get away with his passive second serve against the harder hitters in these big events.

    If he does not finish off the year strong, at least he did far better than many expected thus far.

Which American Will Lead the Pack?

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    John Isner and Sam Querrey are neck and neck in the rankings, but Big John has enjoyed more success—though not much.

    But he may be back to his Top 10 ways again.

    In fact, he won the title in Atlanta last week (without ever breaking serve, mind you) and had understandable losses in the majors.

    Mardy Fish is the next highest-ranked American at 64, but James Blake recently jumped 14 places in the rankings to No. 77.

    Then of course, the Harrison brothers are doing alright in the smaller tournaments, and Jack Sock looks to be incredibly promising. Let's see how they do in the events they may be able to qualify for.

Is David Ferrer Game Enough to Take Home a Big Title?

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    David Ferrer, otherwise known as the scrappiest Spaniard on the tour, has obviously improved beyond imagination.

    Winning his first ATP 1000 title in Paris last year and reaching his first major final in Paris this year, he has been stepping it up significantly since the Big Four became more prominent than ever.

    When analyzing his past three hard-court results in the major tournaments, we see that his chances for the summer are looking pretty good.

    He suffered a quarterfinal defeat in last year's Australian Open to Novak Djokovic, a semifinal defeat in the Open to Djokovic and a semifinal loss to the Serbian star at this year's Aussie Open. So his biggest problem has been Djokovic, and on clay it has been Rafael Nadal.

    Maybe he will never be able to overcome those big obstacles, but I think a title is still very feasible.

Which Players in the Top 20 Can Give the Biggest Stars the Toughest Time?

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    This slide is just meant to acknowledge the players outside of the Top 10 but within the Top 20 that pose significant threats.

    Tommy Haas has been doing a great job when facing the top players, but he should likely be a Top 10 member soon.

    Milos Raonic and Nicolas Almagro are guys with huge games that get a little bit too mental in the important moments. They need to improve this, along with maybe shaping up their return of serve.

    Jerzy Janowicz is clearly headed on his way to greatness. He has barely been competing on the ATP tour and is already seeing monstrous results.

    But the man who has stolen the spotlight of late, winning two tournaments in a row and losing in the final of the third, is Fabio Fognini. In the Top 20 for the first time, he has a deceptively good game with a great mix of spin and power. Let's see how he performs in the big moments. 

Will Rafael Nadal Do Well on the Hard Courts?

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    Rafael Nadal has been plagued by injuries in the past few years. But even worse, he has been plagued by hard-court syndrome.

    Rafa's success has still been exceptional considering he was always known as the one-dimensional clay-courter but he still plays too similarly to his clay self when on the hard surface.

    If he wants to win several tournaments this summer in the U.S., he must try new strategies, like standing in closer for the return of serve or working on tweaking his backhand a bit.

    Whether or not he wins events outright, fans will be happy to see him healthy and back on the court.

Which Youngstar Will Prevail in the Summer Swing?

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    Bernard Tomic, Federico Delbonis, Jerzy Janowicz, Benoit Paire and Grigor Dimitrov are just a few of the names to look out for during the North American hard-court season.

    These men each have very unique shots and talents on court. This bunch also has a certain flair.

    The young stars have had decent results, but they have been a little bit infrequent. Now it is just a matter of piecing the entire puzzle together and moving up into the top tier on the tour.

    So long as they use their weapons effectively, the solid results can and will be theirs.

Will Novak Djokovic Set His Sights on Any Tournaments in Particular?

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    Novak Djokovic, along with all of the top guys, usually does not focus on one tournament in particular for a section of the year (besides the French Open, since he has not won it yet).

    Aside from the fact that the U.S. Open carries more weight compared to the ATP 1000s, Nole always gives it his best effort and scrambles around the court looking for more titles.

    Last year, he was unexpectedly great during the summer swing, though he did fall short in a few finals.

    Maybe if he concentrates his efforts on Cincinnati or another tournament of his liking, he can begin a string of impressive wins and stay ranked as the No. 1 player in the world for some time to come.

Will the Summer Be as Entertaining as We Expect It to Be?

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    This part of the year is always a fun time for tennis fans, spectators, commentators and players.

    The matches have an energetic feel and are incredibly thrilling. Every successive year attempts to beat the previous one in terms of memorable matches and historic wins or upsets.

    Last year, the U.S. Open was greatly affected by weather and other windy conditions, so hopefully this time around it will be much simpler and more fun.

    These 10 questions can mostly be answered by the conclusion of the Open, but at that time there will be at least 10 more new ones that will keep us all on the edges of our seats.