It’s the last day of August and the first day of the U.S. Open tomorrow. Questions may reign about the likely winner in the men’s draw, but in reality, in my view, not many. Will there be a surprise victor, such as last year’s champion Marin Cilic? Don’t think so. I see one of the Big Four, just as they have in 38 of the last 42 Grand Slam finals, winning the title. It’s much more likely, though, a three-man race. Some would say two. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, with this year’s Australian Open and Wimbledon titles already in his pocket, appears to be the favorite. No. 2 Roger Federer, in extraordinary form this summer, is a strong second choice, despite not winning a major since Wimbledon in 2012. No. 3 Andy Murray, with two Slams, including the 2012 U.S. Open, on his resume, certainly has a puncher’s chance. Funny how rankings tell the story. The fourth member of the Big Four, Rafael Nadal, has taken a tumble and is now ranked No. 8. So scratch that thought. There needs to be a substitute for No. 4, and I see that as world No. 5 Stan Wawrinka, this year’s French Open champion and 2014 Australian Open titleist. Wawrinka can get on a roll and pound any opponent off the court. A quick look at the draw offers some perspective. Djokovic heads the 1st Quarter and is seeded to meet Nadal in the quarterfinals. Rafa has a tough first round opponent in 18-year-old Borna Coric, who beat the Spaniard last year at Basel. Nadal could meet Fabio Fognini, seeded No. 32, in the third round and big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, No. 10, in the fourth. Fognini has beaten Rafa twice this year, and Raonic has defeated Nadal once. That said, Rafa will battle through and meet Djokovic in the quarterfinal. Nole wins and advances to the semifinals. No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori tops the 2nd Quarter and should meet David Ferrer, seeded seventh, in this section’s quarterfinal. I see No. 16 seed Gael Monfils and No. 17 seed Grigor Dimitrov pulling off upsets to reach the quarterfinal, with the Frenchman prevailing to meet Djokovic. In the 3rd Quarter, Murray should survive a tough opening round match against Nick Kyrgios and meet Wawrinka —can’t see anyone in the Stanimal’s way — in a battle to reach the semis. Wawrinka’s firepower will be too much for the Scot in this one. On the bottom in Quarter 4, Federer is seeded to meet No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych for this section’s honors. Federer faces a dicey test with Leonardo Mayer in the first round, and then the always dangerous Philipp Kohlschreiber, the No. 29 seed, potentially in the third. Big servers No. 13 John Isner or No. 21 Ivo Karlovic loom in the round of 16. Federer will survive those challenges and beat Berdych, who has an easier path to reach the final eight. Djokovic and the Swiss will win their semis to set up a dream final, with Nole winning to capture his third major of the year and second title at Flushing Meadows.
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