Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 U.S. Open Predictions - Men

For varying reasons, I've missed most of the grand slam tennis this year. Whether it was not having a TV, not being by a TV or life being too stressful for me to pay attention to a TV, I never really got to lock in on any of the first three slams for the full fortnight. In fact, I haven't really latched on at all until at least the first weekend, sometimes not even until the second week. The only full match I saw at the French was the final and I didn't watch a second of Wimbledon - not even round of 16 Monday, my favorite day of the year for tennis. I've tried to pay a bit of attention during the hard court season - yes, I know Mardy Fish is balling out of control right now - and I like to think I still have a decent bit of knowledge of how these things work.

I'm not going to bother with seeds and that's probably best for the both of us: tennis seeding and bracketing would probably be the biggest inanity in sports if not for a little thing called the Bowl Championship Series. I'm just gonna go round by round, starting with the third round (the round of 32, otherwise known as the first round where seeds can meet/the first round where you have mostly solid matchups.) These will almost assuredly be terrible. I have no idea what's going on. I'm trying to guess what will happen in the season finale while having only watched a YouTube recap video of the season itself. But hey, maybe Veena Sud will be directing:

Round of 32: Djokovic over Dodig, Gasquet over Dogloplov, Berdych over Tipsarevic, Monfils over Malisse, Federer over Tomic, Kohlschreiber over Haas, Tsonga over Nieminen, de Bakker over Hanescu, Isner over Soderling, Del Potro over Simon, Wawrinka over Tursunov, Murray over Lopez, Ferrer over Rochus, Roddick over Almagro, Gulbis over Melzer, Nadal over Nalbandian

Nothing too special here. Gasquet/Dogloplov could be fun. I like both players and Richie has a flair for the dramatic at slams. Berdych/Tipsy might be entertaining if the good Tipsy turns up. Federer/Tomic would be real interesting - young lion vs old. I think the German vets each take out their seeds (Stepanek and Troicki, respectively) but the younger has a bit more left at this stage of the game.

de Bakker over Fish is a shot-in-the-dark and more of a signal that I don't buy the Fish hype at all. Djokovic's crash out to Federer in the semis of the French that nobody saw coming was a lesson that no matter how dominant you are on tour, slams are different animals when that target's on your back. Mardy's been brilliant this summer, but how much gas does he have left in the tank after going deep in four tournaments over the past six weeks? Besides, his draws in each tourney but his latest one in Cincinnati were soft and while he was especially masterful in the Masters with the Davydenko domination and then straight setting Gasquet and Nadal back to back before taking Murray deep in to a second set tiebreak before succumbing in the semis, he got to the finals last year and couldn't get past the fourth in last year's U.S. Open. Even if my hail mary doesn't come through, I think Tsonga will in that round this year.

Anyhow, a quick note about Nieminen is that I have him putting a cherry on top of Fernando Verdasco's shockingly disappointing year in round 1. I'll grab Isner in the mild upset of Soderling - the speed of the court and the roar of the home crowd will make the difference there. Is it me or do Murray and Lopez play every slam? Roddick might be tested by Almagro but the Spaniard never seems to hit his potential against superior competition. It's an "on" tournament for Gulbis - one of the few people to beat Fish this summer (final of the Famer's Classic) - as he takes down mercurial Youzhny in round 1 before taking out the lefty Austrian who's better suited to clay. Nalbandian wins a potentially intriguing round 2 senior citizen battle with Ivan Ljubicic before falling to Nadal. I wouldn't call the upset out of play, just unlikely.

Round of 16: Djokovic over Gasquet, Berdych over Monfils, Federer over Kohlschreiber, Tsonga over de Bakker, Del Potro over Isner, Murray over Wawrinka, Roddick over Ferrer, Nadal over Gulbis

Richie could make that REALLY fun, but as usual, he most likely will not. Berdych/Monfils has match of the round potential. Kohlschreiber never troubles Fed. Tsonga overpowers de Bakker. Del Potro/Isner would have by far the most electric atmosphere of the round and could create a classic if they bombed away deep in to the night. I think the Argentine's got a bit more of an all around arsenal, though. Murray and Wawrinka had a classic of their own at Wimbledon a couple years ago but I don't think this one's as tight. Ferrer has disappointed at this event since his enthralling late night win over Nadal and subsequent semifinal run in 07. I only really have him here because of a pathetically easy first week draw (what's left of James Blake's career or a qualifier in round 2 and Florian Mayer is the possible seed in round 3) and Roddick should handle him with ease. An interesting note is that Andy usually runs in to fellow Americans at these things, particularly this one, and he could meet Jack Sock, the reigning U.S. Open juniors champion, in round 2. Who wouldn't love to see that one? Our generation's American star (keep your snarky comments to yourself) against the next generation's. I suppose Gulbis could stun Nadal if Rafa's knees flare up but that seems heavily unlikely.

Quarterfinals: Djokovic over Berdych, Federer over Tsonga, Del Potro over Murray, Nadal over Roddick

Berdych retired against Nole in Cincinnati and is 1-7 against him lifetime. Speaking of poor head to head records, that's Federer against Tsonga this summer, but Roger never lets anyone keep him down for too long unless he's named "Rafa." Moreover, he tends to thrive when everyone gives up on him, which seems to be occurring yet again and would seem to be likely should this matchup commence. As for DelPo/Murray, the Scot is becoming renowned for his Flushing Meadow meltdowns since his 08 final appearance. This matchup and Del Potro's pounding forehand provides the chance for another. And of course Nadal/Roddick would be the talk of America for the day, we all know it wouldn't be competitive. Unless Rafa's knees weren't right...

Semifinals: Federer over Djokovic, Del Potro over Nadal

Cincinnati was a harbinger for Djokovic. This run he's been on has taxed him physically, mentally, and emotionally. One of the few matches I've been able to catch this summer was his with Monfils in that tournament and he was treating it like it was a slam final. Every match is a war for him at this point just because of how much he's being gunned for and what this year has evolved in to. He already flamed out to Federer in the French semi and I'm not sure he'll fare much better on a considerably faster service where Federer's superior serve will be a bigger factor. Remember, Roger collapsed to lose their semifinal last year and while he's been melting down routinely this year, I don't think he loses it against Nole if he has it again this year. And then we saw Del Potro/Nadal in the semis here two years ago and it wasn't pretty. Of course the Argentine isn't playing nearly as well but if he gets to this stage of the tournament, his forehand will be popping and if that's the case, Nadal can't beat him on this surface. He's perhaps the one player on tour Nadal simply cannot grind down and Rafa's topspin won't be able to save him on concrete.

Final: Federer over Del Potro

Just when you count him out......

But isn't it this way with all of the all time greats? Sampras had the 02 U.S. Open. Ali had the Rumble in the Jungle. Tiger will have the 2012 Masters. Whenever people start telling them that they're not great anymore, that they're starting to lose it and they can't get it back, that they have no chance against the younger, up-and-coming competition, they use this as motivation to pull out whatever pieces of greatness they have left inside them. Greg Rusedski said that Sampras was, "a step and a half slower" after their third round U.S. Open match in 02 and predicted he would lose next round (or so Wiki claims.) Sampras turned around and took out the 3rd (Haas), 11th (Roddick), 24th (Sjeng Schalken) and 6th (Andre Agassi) seeds to win the tournament. Not sure if any of Fed's opposition will give him bulletin board material but he's sure to get easy motivation from all the people who recall his collapse in the 09 version of this match to give the Argentine what will probably forever be known as the best win of his career. No matter how it went down, this would be a spectacularly fascinating final.

Though to be fair to the men's game, you could say that about any one of a number of potential finals. It's really anyone's slam at the top. And unlike the women, it's all quality and class.

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