Thursday, August 27, 2009

U.S. Open Men's Preview: The Joy of Six?

Here I was ready to throw Roger Federer off the Statue of Liberty (ah, another good thing about the re-opening of Lady Liberty's crown to visitors for the first time in eight years -- a whole new batch of "homicidal" metaphors).

Can you say, "stupid?"

Earlier this year, Federer left Australia with his head down and tears in his eyes, commenting about how glad he was that the hard court season was over (remember, this is the same person who once set an ATP record with 56 consecutive hard court victories during 2005-06). A year after he was dethroned as the king of men's tennis, it was yet another moment that raised eyebrows.

But I guess we should have known how dangerous it was to question the logic of a mono-free former King.

Federer found his footing on the clay, winning his first Roland Garros title to complete a career Grand Slam. Then he outlasted Andy Roddick in a 16-14 5th set to re-claim his Wimbledon throne, stepped back into the #1 ranking in place of the injured and/or absent Rafael Nadal, and passed Pete Sampras on the all-time slam title list (with #15).

But then, earlier this month, Federer returned to the hard courts and choked away a 5-1 3rd set lead over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Montreal, double-faulting on match point. He arrived in Cincinnati with new #2-ranked player Andy Murray (on a four-match winning streak over Federer, plus an exhibition match victory) looming in his path in the semifinals, and it was so easy to mentally put one's foot down and believe that Federer's five consecutive U.S. Open titles was more than likely going to be enough.

But then he defeated Murray in the SF, and Novak Djokovic in the Cincy final, in straights sets to win his second Masters title of the season and move to within one of tying Andre Agassi with seventeen career Series crowns.

Now, Federer heads to New York with his aura re-established, or at least as intact as it can be without a 100% Nadal there to challenge it, for the first time in more than a year. After a brilliant summer run of 26 victories in his last 27 matches, riding a 34-match U.S. Open winning streak, Federer is the favorite to set an Open Era men's record with a sixth consecutive title at a single grand slam (and match big Bill Tilden's U.S. Open run from 1920-25).

I didn't really want to pick Federer to win the Open yet again... but he may have left me no choice.

**ROUND OF 16**
#1 Federer d. #21 Blake
#22 Querrey d. #8 Davydenko
#4 Djokovic d. #27 Kohlschreiber
#5 Roddick d. #20 Haas
#7 Tsonga d. #17 Berdych
#3 Nadal d. Chardy
#6 del Potro d. #24 Ferrero
#2 Murray d. #19 Wawrinka

...during ESPNEWS' coverage of the unveiling of the Open draw, Patrick McEnroe called Blake's early potential match-ups a "dream draw" for the recently-injured-and-traditionally-always-prepared-to-choke American. Translation: Blake could very easily lose in the 1st Round. Anyway, I'll pick him to make it this far. But I really don't believe it'll happen. Del Potro would be a cool slightly-under-the-radar (compared to the "Big 4 or 5") pick to win this title, by the way.

#1 Federer d. #22 Querrey
#5 Roddick d. #4 Djokovic
#7 Tsonga d. #3 Nadal
#2 Murray d. #6 del Potro

...Djokovic might just have to stare down his Open nemesis Roddick, now with a whole new fan base after his near-miss at SW19 (not to mention those "fans" who latched onto him when he became "Mr. Brooklyn Decker"... of course, come to think of it, those "fans" might root against him now on principle, just for jealousy-inspired spite). Nadal did win in Melbourne, proving his hard court slam mettle. But that was many months, wear-and-tear and aching knees ago. The returning-to-action Rafa might not be prepared to go at full speed on this surface for two weeks... not yet.

#1 Federer d. #5 Roddick
#2 Murray d. #7 Tsonga

...Murray has passed Nadal for #2 on the computer, but he's still yet to fulfill his potential in the clutch in a slam. Whether it's been at the Open or Wimbledon, he's been bested in the biggest matches against players he's had fine records against in the past. Still, I'll pick him to reach his second consecutive U.S. final. Roddick needs to face Federer again, just to erase that Wimbledon final from his memory banks. Ever since failing to top Federer there, he's shown a nagging inability to win close matches (twice losing tight ones to del Potro, then dropping a pair of tie-breaks against Querrey, during his U.S. Open lead-up schedule). Of course, that doesn't mean he'd succeed in given a second chance at Flushing Meadows.

#2 Federer d. #2 Murray

...Federer beat Murray here a year ago, and he's not trying to "save" his season this time around. A win here would make 2009 one of his "classic" campaigns, if not his best ever.

All for now.


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