The tennis calendar's final major kicks off in New York on Monday, and the draw is an interesting one.
In the top half, top seed Novak Djokovic may have to go through one of Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals, and one of Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic in the semifinals. On the bottom half, 2nd seed Roger Federer may have to defeat Grigor Dimitrov and David Ferrer successively to make his 26th Grand Slam final.
The big hooplah when the draw came out seemed to be how stacked Djokovic's half was, with Wawrinka, Raonic, Murray, Tsonga, Isner, and Nishikori. While it definitely is the tougher half of the draw, we all must remember that it is only the pre-tournament draw and no matches have been played.
If Djokovic makes the final having to go through Isner, Murray/Tsonga, and Wawrinka/Raonic, that would be a great accomplishment. But there is certainly a chance that he won't have to do that. Isner could fall to Kukushkin, Llodra, or Kohlschreiber. Murray has a tough path to the 4th round where he would play Tsonga, as he might have to go through Haase, Stepanek, and 31st seed Fernando Verdasco (who nearly beat him at Wimbledon last year). If Tsonga displays the kind of form he showed in Toronto, he should make the 4th round without dropping more than a set, but with him these days you never know.
Federer's side definitely looks to be the easier of the two before the tournament starts, but I would really caution placing his nametag in the final slot just yet. We have seen many times a player who has been glossed over as a supposed simple win come out big and pull off a shocking upset. Federer is too experienced to not be only focused on his first round match against Australian Marinko Matosevic. If or when he gets by that, only then will he look toward the 3rd round. And so on.
There are a few examples we have seen of Federer in Grand Slams where he faces tough matches in the early rounds where few expect a stiff challenge. Maybe the most notable one was the 1st round at Wimbledon in 2010 when Alejandro Falla nearly shocked the tennis world. But there have also been other instances. Who came closest to denying his 7th Wimbledon title two years ago? Not Djokovic or Murray, but Julien Benneteau. Who came closest to knocking him out during his run in New York in 2008 to win his 13th major? Again, not Djokovic or Murray, but Igor Andreev in the 4th round. Andreev also gave Federer quite a scare in the 1st round of the Australian Open in 2010 when he nearly took a two sets to one lead.
The point is, don't count your chickens before they hatch. That is a saying seemingly as old as time itself, but it remains a popular one for a reason.
Yes, given Federer's current form, he is the heavy favourite to come through that half. But he knows it won't be easy, and he still has to win 6 matches to play for the trophy. Ivo Karlovic is dangerous should he be faced across the net in the 3rd round. Yes, the big man can't return well and Roger returns his serve better than anybody (arguable), facing him is always stressful to an extent as you know losing one service game can cost you the whole set.
If it isn't Karlovic, then it could be Jarkko Nieminen, who is a steady vet with the experience to make it a tough match. Roberto Bautista-Agut is on the up'n'up and he has the type of flat hitting that could trouble Roger. If it isn't Dimitrov in the quarters, it could be Gael Monfils, who has proven to be a dangerous opponent the last few years. In the semis, of course we would all like to see David Ferrer, but it could be Tomas Berdych, who has always given Roger difficulty especially at the majors. It could also be Ernests Gulbis, who has already beaten Roger this year at the French Open.
Now, having said all of this, I do expect Federer to make the final - I just hate it when people start talking about the true difficulty of a draw before the tournament even starts - when we have no idea who will be in the 4th round, quarters, and semis. As I wrote on Twitter - "tough" draws can fall through and "easy" draws can be filled with unexpected threats.
Given the way Roger has played this whole year, and especially since Wimbledon, I think he is in the perfect mindset to capture his 18th major title. He has played 10 matches the last few weeks, but with those matches, five of which were 3-set wins, comes the confidence and assurance that he can get it done when it matters most, even if he hasn't been sharp on the day or had some blips on a usually clean radar. Though he was tired after the Cincinnati win last week, he has had his chance to rest, and we must remember that this is a Slam, so he will have a day off between matches and even two days off at one point I believe (but don't quote me on that). And as I have re-iterated numerous times to anyone that would listen, there is a day off between the semis and finals this year. So even if he was to have a tough 4 or 5-setter in the semis against Tomas Berdych or David Ferrer, he wouldn't be at a disadvantage like he would have last year.
And just in case you are superstitious, there is virtually zero chance of Federer being put on Louis Armstrong Stadium where he lost last year to Robredo. With Nadal out, he will be the main attraction every day he's playing.
It should be a great US Open and by the end of it I so hope that we can see Roger lift that trophy for a 6th time. For me as a fan, it would probably be even sweeter than his last Wimbledon win, considering the struggles he went through last year and how hard he has worked to play better this year.