US Open Tennis 2013: Sleepers to Watch at Flushing Meadows

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistAugust 26, 2013

US Open Tennis 2013: Sleepers to Watch at Flushing Meadows

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    The 2013 U.S. Open is sure to have its share of upstarts and upsets. There are several talented tennis players who can trouble the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams. This tournament, in particular, is deep and dangerous and allows greater parity between the stars and the rest.

    This article will examine four players, each from the ATP and WTA, who are not top-20 players, but are capable of beating anyone on a given day. It will examine one player from each quarter of the draw.

    Which sleepers can create the most nightmares in their portion of the bracket? Who will roll into the second week?

WTA Top Quarter: Francesca Schiavone

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    WTA Ranking: 56

    Clearly Francesca Schiavone's best years are now behind her. It was just three years ago she was the French Open champion on her way to an eventual No. 4 ranking, but she is 33 years old and losing frequently to the WTA's top stars.

    However, she is experienced, savvy and capable of challenging her first opponent, World No. 1 Serena Williams. Schiavone likes clay but is versatile to bring her game to Flushing Meadow's hard courts. She is able to hit excellent backhand volleys, floating drop shots and creative angles.

    At the French Open, she defeated favorites Kirsten Flipkens and Marion Bartoli before getting crushed by Victoria Azarenka.

    In the past month, she has lost to Williams, Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska. That's quite a line-up to get prepared for the U.S. Open. The problem, is, of course that Williams is a strong bet to win their opening match. But if Schiavone does pull off the upset, she could cruise forward to play Sloane Stephens in the fourth round.

    She has the toughest opening task in tennis and it would be unlikely to expect the upset, but if it happens Schiavone could create a memorable run deep into the second week.

ATP Top Quarter: Grigor Dimitrov

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    ATP Ranking: 29

    Tennis fans know the 22-year-old Grigor Dimitrov has exceptional talent and skill. Though the misapplied moniker "Baby Federer" attempts to compare his all-court skills and potential to the Swiss legend Roger Federer, he is now maturing into a more dangerous and capable player.

    He defeated World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Madrid and has twice pushed Rafael Nadal to three sets (Monte Carlo and Cincinnati). He can play remarkably good defense and hit spectacular highlight shots. His single-handed backhand is tough enough to deal with loopy topspin or flat power.

    What he has lacked is consistency and fitness. After big wins, he can be vulnerable to players of lesser caliber. And for all his potential, he has still not cracked the second week of a Grand Slam tournament.

    Look for Dimitrov to battle Djokovic in the third round. If he plays near his best, it will be a tremendous match and possible leap into becoming a formidable contender. He only needs the confidence of winning more big matches and tasting what it's like to be one of the very best.

WTA 2nd Quarter: Ekaterina Makarova

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    WTA Ranking: 26

    The left-handed Ekaterina Makarova has made steady progress in arriving as a seeded player. She has been an Australian Open quarterfinalist and French Open doubles champion. Last week, she defeated Sara Errani who is the fourth seed for the U.S. Open. She is looking for more.

    She has a good serve and plays well when she chooses to be aggressive. Her backhand down the line can be a weapon. If she can move her opponent around, she can force more errors.

    She is set up to do well in the first two rounds, but could then face Sabine Lisicki, Agnieszka Radwanska and possibly Li Na before a semifinal appearance. This won't be easy, but she is certainly a sleeper.

ATP 2nd Quarter: Jeremy Chardy

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    ATP Ranking: 36

    Early in 2013, Jeremy Chardy had moved to No. 25 in the rankings following his Australian Open run to the quarterfinals. Since then, it's been more of a struggle than success.

    Despite his all-around talents, Chardy has been mostly a win-one, lose-one kind of player. He likes clay, but he also has the game to perform so much better on hard courts. He could certainly look to improve his mental and competitive toughness. If he had the kind of confidence of a player like Ernests Gulbis or Bernard Tomic, he probably would be a top-20 player, if not better.

    Chardy is also in the portion of the men's bracket that contains a lot of wild-card kinds of players. He will face serve-and-volley Wimbledon surprise Sergiy Stakhovsky. There is also Julien Benneteau and Tomas Berdych ahead, either of who could be hot or cold.

WTA 3rd Quarter: Simona Halep

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    WTA Ranking: 23

    Simona Halep is suddenly becoming a familiar name to tennis fans. Fresh off her (New Haven) fourth title in 2013, she appears to have a much higher ceiling for being a tennis contender at age 21.

    She has defeated players in the top 10 several times with a respectable 19-32 record in these matches. Her beatings at the hands of Serena Williams are not the most surprising results in the WTA, but she has not been deterred from picking up more momentum this summer.

    An aggressive baseliner, Halep also has the quarter of the draw with Sara Errani and Caroline Wozniacki. There are good, but not dominating, players in her path. She could be one of the few favorites to emerge out of the chaos.

ATP 3rd Quarter: Ernests Gulbis

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    ATP Ranking: 33

    There will be considerable interest for tennis fans looking at the David Ferrer section of the draw. There are a handful of potential semifinalists including Ferrer, Jerzy Janowicz, Richard Gasquet and Ernests Gulbis. And the Latvian Gulbis might be the one standing.

    He combines his big serve and backhand with an improved forehand. At times, he is simply overpowering and showed this in Montreal by knocking Andy Murray off the court. He has top-10 ability.

    Gulbis may get Ferrer and Janowicz in the third and fourth rounds. If he wins, he will be the favorite. But first he needs to quit losing matches to the likes of Milos Raonic. He should be better than that.

    He is not only the ultimate sleeper, but he is also sure to provide some interesting bulletin board material.

WTA Bottom Quarter: Alize Cornet

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    WTA Ranking: 28

    It's been four years since her best tennis at age 19, but Alize Cornet has been steadily marching back to the top 20. Maybe she is ready to put together her experience for a leap forward. At the 2013 French Open, she took the first set off Victoria Azarenka before falling in the third round.

    She prefers clay, but Cornet has the game to compete better on hard courts. She takes few chances, but makes fewer errors than her opponents. She is a style mismatch for opponents who are more aggressive, though certainly no match for Serena Willliams' power.

    Look for an interesting matchup with Azarenka in the third round, but that's likely where the journey will end. It's also possible she could keep progressing and find the confidence to go deeper in the draw if she gets through that major hurdle.

ATP Top Quarter: Sam Querrey

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    ATP Ranking: 31

    There are a lot of dangerous players in the bottom quarter of the draw. Ryan Harrison and Nikolay Davydenko have specific strengths to try and trouble Rafael Nadal. Fernando Verdasco and Philipp Kohlschreiber can win unexpected matches with their best aggressive tennis.

    But Sam Querrey gets the nod. He loves playing in the United States. He is a good hard-court player with a big serve, which is essential for doing damage at the U.S. Open. He only needs the power to set up his forehand. If he has his day, he can be trouble for Roger Federer in a possible third-round match.

    Above all, the U.S. Open will be competitive. Players like Querrey can ride the New York crowd and overachieve. Its not likely to happen, but always possible. That's life as a sleeper.