Picking a winner for the U.S. Open, which begins tomorrow, is more complicated than it was three weeks ago when the Rogers Cup began in Montreal. The top four players — really, the only serious contenders — were competing for the first time since Wimbledon in back-to-back Masters Series events leading up to the last major of the year. Form was spotty and results were inconsistent. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic won Montreal, but showed some signs of vulnerability for the first time all year, struggling in a three-set final against red-hot American Mardy Fish. Last week at the Cincinnati Masters, Djokovic’s travails continued as he fell into the kind of frustrated funk that used to plague him from time to time in a semifinal match against Gael Monfils. Djokovic righted course and prevailed over Monfils in three sets, but had to retire against Andy Murray in the second set of the final the next day, feigning a sore shoulder, but really more exhausted and out of gas. A logical question is whether or not Djokovic is tapped out or if Cincinnati was just a one-week anomaly? Djokovic was 57-1 before the loss and considered virtually unbeatable. Then there is No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal. The former No. 1 Spaniard lost in his opening round at Montreal to Ivan Dodig and in the quarterfinals at Cincinnati to Fish. Hardly the kind of results you want to bolster confidence heading into Flushing Meadows. No. 3 Roger Federer, winner of just one tournament all year, was bounced in the third round at Montreal by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and in the quarterfinals at Cincinnati by Tomas Berdych. The Fed seems to be fading a bit. Andy Murray, ranked No. 4, rounds out the top. Murray lost in his opening round at Montreal to Kevin Anderson, but won in the upset at Cincinnati. Murray is still looking for his first major title. Commentator and former great John McEnroe, always one to stir the pot, likes Murray’s chances for the coming fortnight. “The hungriest man in the draw should be Murray,” McEnroe said. ” I think this is his best shot to win one.” Never one to toot his own horn, Murray begs off the assessment. “It’s a silly thing to say. It will be Federer is not playing well and Rafa is struggling and Djokovic’s shoulder is sore. But I know come Monday they’ll all be fine,” said Murray, a three-time Grand Slam runner-up, including this year’s Australian Open. A gander at the four quarters of the draw. Djokovic, in the top half, should revert to his previous form and win his quarter without too much difficulty, He could get challenged by Nikolay Davydenko in the third round and No. 9 Berdych in the quarters. Federer, in the second quarter, is pegged to win this section and meet Nole in the semis. Don’t think it’s going to happen. No. 8 Fish, en fuego this summer and playing before a home crowd, should dispatch the Swiss Maestro. In the bottom half, Murray, who beat Fish as well as Nole at Cincinnati, is my pick to win the third quarter. No. 14 Stanislas Wawrinka might challenge the Scot in the fourth round, as might No. 6 Robin Soderling in the quarters. Defending champion Nadal has the easiest draw and is a cinch to win the fourth quarter. Interesting possible matchups are David Nalbandian in the third round and Ernests Gulbis in the fourth round. Gulbis, who won in Los Angeles earlier this summer, is the only one I can see pushing Rafa in this section. Djokovic takes out Fish in one semi on Super Saturday and Murray edges Nadal in the other. More on the final down the road.
Djokovic and Murray Primed to Meet in U.S. Open Final
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