The first round of the men’s draw at the U.S. Open is complete and the top eight seeds all advanced in straight sets. Only new world No. 1 Rafael Nadal struggled, surviving a spirited challenge from qualifier Bjorn Phau, 7-6, 6-3, 7-6. The No. 136-ranked German kept Nadal on court for two hours and 59 minutes, probably about an hour and a half longer than the Spaniard expected. The match was reminiscent of Nadal’s opening round match last year against Alun Jones, another qualifier. Jones, a journeyman Aussie, ranked No. 123 at the time, battled Nadal for two hours and 44 minutes before succumbing in four sets. Rafa lost later to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the fourth round. The U.S. Open has never been good to Nadal, with the quarterfinals the farthest the Spaniard has ever advanced. Could it be deja vu all over again? Nadal is to play No. 7 David Nalbandian, whom he has never beaten, in the quarterfinals and Ferrer, seeded No. 4, in the semifinals if the draw proceeds according to form. Granted, this is a new and improved Nadal, playing with unbelievable confidence and unbridled gusto. Still, I think history and fatigue will prevent Rafa from adding a third major to an already incredible year. Look for Roger Federer to put a stop to his slam drought and win his fifth straight U.S. Open title. The Swiss Maestro owns Flushing Meadows. “I still believe it’s an advantage if you know how to win a U.S. Open,” Federer said. “It’s a tough tournament to win.” Federer didn’t seem particularly perturbed about losing the mantle of No. 1 to Nadal the week before the tournament. “Rafa will now feel what I had to feel for a very long time,” said Federer, whose reign lasted 237 consecutive weeks. “So it will be interesting to see how he handles it, but so far he’s been great and he’s played so well on all surfaces now. Maybe it’s nice to go into a Grand Slam for a change not having No. 1 next to me, and it should be interesting.” Lurking, as always, is No. 3 Novak Djokovic, last year’s finalist and winner of the Australian Open in January. Andy Murray, showing improved game and growing maturity, is my dark horse pick to knock off one of the big guns. The No. 6-seeded Brit won his first Masters Series title at Cincinnati earlier this month and is on Nadal’s side of the draw.