As yours truly set out in the Seed Report, the top ten seeds traditionally are the ones involved in the business end of the U.S. Open. In each of the last five years, at least three semifinalists came from inside the Top 10 seeds. So let’s take a look at this year’s top ten and see what stands in their way to getting to the semis and beyond.
1. Novak Djokovic
The early stages of Djokovic’s draw looks fairly simply as one would expect for the top seed. He opens against Joao Souza. A second rounder likely sees him against Vasek Pospisil who has Haider-Maurer in R1. 25th seeded Andreas Seppi is the seeded player to meet Djokovic in the third, but it could be someone like Temuraz Gabashvili. The Russian has a winnable match with Pablo Andujar to start and could get past Seppi or Tommy Paul. Gabashvili possesses that all or nothing game that can produce some electric tennis or a rash of unforced errors. Just ask Andy Murray what that looks like. You’ll fecall Gabashvili pulled off one of the electric performances earlier this summer in knocking off Murray at the Citi Open. Likely though in a best of five, the electricity will fizzle out eventually for the Russian. The fourth round is seeded to see #14 David Goffin. 23rd seed Roberto Bautista-Agut and Jerzy Janowicz are also in that part of the quarter. Goffin took a set from Djokovic in Cincinnati and had him down a break in the third set, so he won’t be lacking confidence. That is also a revenge type match where Djokovic likes to get locked in and destroy someone. His “RoboNole” moments have been less frequent on hard courts this summer, but the Serb certainly can lock anyone down at any time.
The bottom half of the quarter that would see his quarterfinal opponent has seeds Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic Feliciano Lopez and Fabio Fognini. Djokovic will feel good about all the names on that list. Nadal is still well off from his best form, especially on hard courts. Raonic is lacking match prep coming back from his foot surgery and has not looked ready for the physical tests a best of five will bring. Raonic could be an interesting match-up if he can get everything working, but that’s expecting a lot from what we have seen of him the last month.
Djokovic should make it nine straight years of at least making the semis in New York with this path and a Final looks very attainable.
2. Roger Federer
The Swiss maestro comes to the U.S. Open in fine form after another Cincinnati Masters title. While the conditions will not be as quick here, the draw looks conducive to Federer once again being around in the latter stages of a Grand Slam. He opens against Leonardo Mayer. This won’t be an easy match for Federer as he found out in Shanghai last year when Mayer nearly beat him in a third set tie break. Mayer has a sneaky good serve when he finds the consistency, but that’s likely to come and go too much in a best of five to trouble Federer in the end. Don’t be surprised if the sets are very close though. A win puts Fed into R2 against Marcos Baghdatis or Steve Darcis. Darcis was injured in Winston-Salem and Baghdatis had a tough time reading the serve of Pierre Hugues-Herbert in Winston-Salem. Advantage Federer. Round three is seeded for Fed to see 29th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kohlschreiber will have to get past talented youngster Alexander Zverev first. You may also see Lukas Rosol or young American Jared Donaldson in this spot. Kohlschreiber gave Fed a run at his home tournament in Halle, Germany on grass. Federer won a third set tie break to take that one and it happened to be win nine against no losses versus the German. Kohlschreiber might have the best shot at taking a set of the guys likely to see Federer in this group. Still, Federer should work through to the fourth where he’s likely to see one of the two heavy servers in 13th seed John Isner or 21st seed Ivo Karlovic. In 19 career meetings that Isner and Karlovic have had between them against Federer, they hold just two wins.
The quarterfinal slot opposite of Federer is seeded for either #6 Tomas Berdych or #12 Richard Gasquet. Gasquet has the tougher road with Thanasi Kokkinakis to open and then Robin Haase or Dustin Brown. Aussies Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt might have something to say to Gasquet in the third round before any possibility of a Berdych showdown in the fourth. Berdych looked awful in a couple of losses this summer to Donald Young and Alexandr Dolgopolov during the Montreal/Cincinnati Masters swings. His pedigree has been decent in New York though with more on that when we visit the #6 slot. Berdych is 0-2 against Fed in 2015. Gasquet is 2-12 vs. Federer overall. This will be a draw that tests Federer’s ability to play tight sets where tie breaks may decide things. That should be good practice for the late rounds.
Federer should have enough to make it back-to-back trips to the U.S. Open semis and three times in the last five years. He’ll hope to break his streak of not having won the title since 2008.
3. Andy Murray
The overkill for Murray’s first round match against Nick Kyrgios has already worn me down. We can debate the validity of the “random” aspect of the draw, but it is clear that Murray shouldn’t mind this match-up. He has beaten Kyrgios three times, including twice this year at Slams at the Australian and French Opens without dropping a set. Given Murray’s form this summer and Kyrgios’ lack of form, Murray should prevail again. His draw eases from there with Adrian Mannarino or Konstantin Kravchuk in R2. Round three is seeded to see #30 Thomaz Bellucci against Murray. The fourth round should seeds hold would see recently crowned Winston-Salem champion and 15th seed Kevin Anderson or perhaps 20th seed Dominic Thiem. Thiem had the nice run here last year to the fourth round and Anderson was serving very well this past week, but neither is going to keep Andy Murray up at night. Thiem has taken a set off Murray in two career losses, but never faced him in a best of five. Murray is 5-1 vs. Anderson, including two wins this season.
The quarterfinal round is where things could get interesting for Murray as #5 Stan Wawrinka is the seed opposite him in this quarter. Wawrinka’s mental state is or is not a concern depending on who you ask. He’s been riding the “distraction” card from the Nick Kyrgios “sledge” incident this summer with a string of mediocre results. Let’s be honest though, Stan has shown a blatant lack of giving a crap about non-Slams the last few years. 11th seed Gilles Simon, 22nd seed Viktor Troicki and 28th seed Jack Sock are in that part of the quarter too. The only serious contender to Murray not being in the semis will be Wawrinka. They have met at the U.S. Open three times in their 14 career meetings with Wawrinka winning the last two times in 2013 and 2010. The 2013 meeting was the last time they met.
While Murray can certainly make the semis out of this draw depending on what happens, if it is a QF against Wawrinka, I’m favoring the Swiss’ better arsenal of weapons to win what could be one of the matches of the tournament.
4. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori comes to the Open with an injury question again. Last year, there was no telling what shape he was in with the cyst removal from his foot. This year, there is at least some form to go on prior to Nishikori succumbing to fatigue and a hip issue after losing to Andy Murray in Montreal. Nishikori erred on the side of precaution by skipping Cincinnati, so the two full weeks off should have helped. The rigors of five set tennis though will test him surely in this quarter. He will open against Benoit Paire. He is 2-0 against the Frenchman, including a win at a Grand Slam. He beat him in four sets in 2013 at the French Open. That was their last meeting. Paire is as unpredictable as ever, but hard courts don’t seem to suit him that well. He is 39-49 in main draws on the surface in his career. Expect him to stick with Nishikori maybe for four or even five sets as the fourth seed works his way into the match. In the end. Nishikori is more consistent with a better variety and should win unless the injury is still nagging him.
Round two should provide an easier time with Radek Stepanek or Marsel Ilhan. That should move Nishikori to the third round where Tommy Robredo is seeded to meet him as the 26th seed. You may see Alexandr Dolgopolov there instead. He has to get past Sam Groth to open, but has that hot and cold faucet that could find him taking on Nishikori in the third. Dog has only made the fourth round once before and Nishikori owns a 3-0 mark against him with all the wins coming on hard courts. Survival through three rounds could yield a marquee match-up against either of two Frenchman; 19th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or 16th seed Gael Monfils. That looks a very probable shot with both having decent R1 and R2 draws before a potential All-French showdown in the third. Tsonga is 5-2 against Monfils, but Gael won their most recent meeting in Miami this spring. Either one poses a real threat with Tsonga having beaten Nishikori at Roland Garros this year in five sets. Monfils lost their only match-up last year on grass in three sets.
If Nishikori gets past that landmine, the “random” draw could pit him in a rematch against last year’s Champion Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals. Cilic is seeded 9th as the top seed in the other half of this quarter that also has #7 David Ferrer, #17 Grigor Dimitrov and #27 Jeremy Chardy. A return with Cilic might be easier than a match against Tsonga or Monfils. Nishikori beat Cilic earlier in the summer in D.C., wearing him down in three sets.
Projection: Fourth Round
There’s too much in this quarter for me to see Nishikori getting through with the question marks again surrounding his fitness. He could get to the quarters, but I think the fourth round against one of the Frenchman may do him in.
5. Stan Wawrinka
It’s time for Wawrinka to drop the “woe is me” act from the Kyrgios’ incident. That was a long time ago in a Galaxy north of the border. It seemed a bit of a convenient excuse for any losses this summer, but that’s not going to wash at the U.S. Open. It will still be the talk of the first round because the media is the media after all. For the Stanimal though, this should be his chance to exercise some demons on the court. He has shown that he will effort hard in Slams. That is what I expect. The first two rounds should be innocuous enough with Albert Vinolas-Ramos to start with and then either Hyeon Chung or James Duckworth. The third round is seeded to see Wawrinka against Jack Sock. It could be Gilles Muller who is also in that part of the draw. Both scenarios should see the consistency from the ground equaling a win for the Swiss.
To the fourth round, Stan should see another good match-up that goes in his favor. The seeds in that part of the quarter include #11 Gilles Simon and #22 Viktor Troicki. Simon could test Stan’s resolve, having beaten him twice in six meetings. Stan owns both Grand Slam wins, the French Open in 2015 and 2012. Ernests Gulbis could figure into this picture too depending on his mood and effort. In all cases, Stan’s recent Slam pedigree looks the best to survive and advance. I touched on a potential quarterfinal match-up against Andy Murray above. Wawrinka owns two wins over Murray at the U.S. Open and that will definitely have a big match feel to it. Wawrinka won those two clashes before he became a Grand Slam Champion, so I think his belief is higher this time than it was before.
I probably come across as crass and uncaring for thinking this, but I really believe Wawrinka has been playing possum with everyone for the last month. The pressure is certainly not on him to produce because the public perception is that he’s been harmed and is a fragile little flower. Bullpucky. This might be one of the best dupe jobs in history if Wawrinka makes another run at a title “in spite of, etc, etc.” fill in your headline. He may not get past Murray in the QFs, but something tells me he’s going to do work this next two weeks.
6. Tomas Berdych
The Czech gets glossed over some in the talk of guys who can step in and snatch a Grand Slam from just outside the top tier of Djokovic, Federer and Murray. That may have some to do with Berdych’s propensity for seemingly being a bridesmaid and never a bride. He gets near the prize, but never wins it. This year, he has been consistent. He made the semis in Australia and then the fourth round both at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Berdych has been good at the USO the last three years, making the semis, fourth round and quarterfinals most recently in 2014. Round one should be simple against inexperienced American Bjorn Fratangelo. The second round might see a stiffer test in the form of Denis Kudla or qualifier Jurgen Melzer. Kudla has cooled considerably since his semifinal showing in Atlanta and Melzer is a step slower at age 34. Both those factors should help Berdych advance past one of them. Kudla could potentially push Berdych a bit if he finds his best form, but that form has been missing for well over a month.
The third round would see Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Janko Tipsarevic, Sam Querrey or Nicolas Mahut waiting. Querrey is the only name there who might stick with Berdych for a bit. Still, five out of six career match-ups say Berdych is better. The fourth round is seeded to see #12 Richard Gasquet waiting, but he has a tough road to get there with Kokkinakis in R1 and #24 Bernard Tomic possibly in R3. If it is Gasquet, Berdych has had his number lately with three straight wins over the Frenchman to even their career meetings at 6-6.
Berdych should be in the hunt for a quarterfinal spot that may land him against Roger Federer. That would likely be the end of the run in another good, but not great Grand Slam for the Czech.
7. David Ferrer
The Spaniard is definitely one of the big question marks heading into the tournament. His elbow tendinitis is an unknown bother at this point. It was troublesome enough to keep him from playing Wimbledon and all the hard court prep for the U.S. Open. His opening round match normally would be a slam dunk against Radu Albot. Albot has decent chops on hard courts, but most of that has come against lower tier talent at the Challenger level. With the elbow untested, even that match could be tricky until Ferrer proves his health. If he advances, the second round sees him against Filip Krajinovic or qualifier Alejandro Gonzalez. Gonzalez lost in straight sets to Ferrer last year at the Australian Open, but that was a different version of both. Gonzalez beat Fognini at this year’s Australian Open and Dmitry Tursunov at the U.S. Open in 2014. He has shown he can take advantage of an opponent at less than full motivation and fitness.
Should Ferrer pass the first two rounds, the third could see him against 27th seed Jeremy Chardy or the winner of Martin Klizan-Florian Mayer. Ferrer is 7-1 vs. Chardy, 1-0 against Klizan and 5-2 vs. Mayer. All good numbers, but all dated meetings that will not mean a ton this year. A healthy Ferrer can win here though, but at less than full health an upset is something you can make a case for in that round. The fourth round is the farthest I can see Ferrer making it with either 17th seed Dimitrov or 9th seed Cilic to be in his way. As much as I love watching Ferrer grind, I think asking him to rise up after a lengthy time on the shelf could be a bit much as the matches progress.
Projection: Third Round
A healthy Ferrer makes the fourth round. If his elbow is any issue at all, I think an earlier exit is more likely. Since it is all guess work right now, I’ll go a round earlier.
8. Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal may be the most fascinating seed to watch the next two weeks in New York. Nadal has shaken off a shoulder concern from Hamburg with decent play in Montreal and Cincinnati. He always seems mentally ready or at least talks the talk, but he will have to hope his game can walk the walk for a deep run. All eyes will be on 18-year old Borna Coric when these two battle in round one. I touched on what to expect in that match with Rafa as a possible upset candidate in R1. Many are going to give Coric this match simply because he beat Rafa last year and Rafa of course is a lesser version of the dominant player we had seen in his prime. I think it’s short sighted to do so based on last year’s win alone in Basel for Coric over Nadal. Rafa was far less than 100 percent and his mental state was very poor after a rough stretch.
That being said, Nadal can expect a test to open and will need to be consistent to beat Coric. I think this will be a matter of great pride for Nadal and I expect him to pull out the win after some nervy moments in four or five sets. He could get another young stud in Elias Ymer in the second round. The qualifier faces Diego Schwartzman in the opening round. A win there could see Rafa against any of the following; 32nd seed Fabio Fognini, Steve Johnson, Pablo Cuevas or Dudi Sela. I’d expect that the winner of Fognini-Johnson is most likely to be that opponent. Fognini seems unlikely, but Johnson has had a tough time winning at the U.S. Open. He has lost his first round match three of four times he has played in the main draw. Give that Fognini has beaten Nadal two of their past three meetings and played him tough in Hamburg in a loss this year, that would be a fun match to see.
The fourth round would provide another interesting sight for Nadal with seeds Milos Raonic or Feliciano Lopez possible to be there. He could also see a friendly face in Fernando Verdasco instead. Verdasco plays Tommy Haas in round one and then would face Raonic. A healthy and in-form Raonic would be very tough on Nadal, but that version of the Canadian isn’t likely to be there unless he flips a switch in New York. Lopez would be a stern test as well after beating Rafa in Cincinnati earlier this month. A win there would get Rafa to the quarters where Djokovic and the end of his stay in New York would come.
Projection: Fourth Round
Just Rafa being the current version of Rafa, I’ll go fourth round out for him. There are some tough customers in his part of the quarter who won’t be intimidated. A quarterfinal though should not be out of the question if he can find some consistency.
9. Marin Cilic
This is a monster tournament for Marin Cilic. The defending Champ still has plenty to prove as his career really has stalled somewhat following his shocking win here last year. Injury robbed him of the start of the season and the Australian Open. Upon return, it took him months to recapture some good form. He has shown decently in both Slams he has played this year, making the fourth round at the French Open and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Since the grass season ended though, Cilic has looked a bit out of sorts on hard courts. He started well enough at the Citi Open with a semifinal showing. Kei Nishikori dismantled him in the last two sets of their three setter there though and he has gone 1-2 with losses to Tomic and Gasquet since then.
He gets qualifier Guido Pella to open his defense of the title and that should allow for a relatively smooth start. His second round opponent will be Loucas Pouille or qualifier Evgeny Donskoy. Donskoy enjoys hard courts, but has had trouble parlaying Challenger success on the surface to the ATP level. He wins about 66 percent of his Challenger matches on hard courts, but is just 16-28 on the main tour. He is 5-6 at Grand Slams and the hard court slams have treated him the best with four of those five wins split between the Australian and U.S. Opens in 2013. Donskoy poses the more troubling second round match for Cilic. If Cilic advances there, the third round could find 17th seeded Grigor Dimitrov. They have met just once with Cilic winning in Brisbane back in 2014 7-5, 7-5. Dimitrov seems about one and a half steps from grabbing that big win to get him on track. He absolutely choked against Andy Murray in Cincinnati. It will be interesting to see if that has any lingering effects. The U.S. Open has not been a great tournament for the DimiGod either with last year’s fourth round showing as his best by far.
Should Cilic survive to the fourth round, a quarterfinal trip should await him. There are a lot of questions in the bottom part of this half of the quarter, so Cilic might be the best answer.
10. Milos Raonic
The Canadian will start the Open against American Tim Smyczek. Raonic’s power will not be a good match for Smyczek, but Milos will need to prove that his fitness is good enough for a best of five scenario. The serve alone should help Raonic start well and unless something flares up with the foot, expect him to advance. The second round could be more daunting with the winner of Verdasco-Haas awaiting. I have a hard time believing Haas can come up with enough consistency to win a best of five based on what we have seen from him this summer. So, think Verdasco in that spot.
Verdasco is 3-3 against Raonic with all three losses coming on hard surfaces. The lefty has made life tough on Milos though, winning at least a set off of him in five of their six meetings. Survival through two rounds could see him playing 18th seed Feliciano Lopez, but Lopez has to get past Nicoloz Basilashvili First. The Gerogian upset him at Wimbledon. Mardy Fish is also in this section and with a winnable first round match and massive crowd support likely, don’t be totally shocked if he’s there waiting in R3.
Should Raonic manage to weave his way to the fourth round, I do fancy his chances of taking it a step farther with Nadal, Fognini or Steve Johnson among the mix that could be waiting. Nadal might have the confidence at that point to be a major pain, but Raonic will also have improved confidence if he is still alive. His game matches well against all of those potential players. That being said, I am not sold on Milos being primed for a run due to his lack of match play coming back from injury. Raonic lost in straight sets to Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez in his only two matches since Wimbledon. They were close, but he did not look all that solid overall.
Projection: Second Round
I think if Milos is going to be booted, it will need to come early before he grows in confidence. Verdasco can do that in the second round. If not, the third round would be my next guess as Feliciano Lopez would provide a similarly tough task.
Quick Draw McGraw
A quick look at the four quarters. I’ve got listed some of the opening round matches that might spring an upset. A dark horse or two for each quarter. These are players who will not necessarily make the semifinals, but ones that can cause some turbulence in their quarters with some surprise wins early. And then finally, a look at potential quarterfinal match-ups.
First Quarter: Djokovic (1)
R1 Upset Watch
Haider-Maurer over Pospisil
Carreno-Busta over Janowicz
Herbert over Bautista-Agut
Bolelli over Goffin
Djokovic def. F.Lopez
Second Quarter: Nishikori (4)
R1 Upset Watch
Millman over Stakhovsky
Albot over Ferrer
Tsonga def. Cilic
Third Quarter: Murray (3)
R1 Upset Watch
Tiafoe over Troicki
Krajicek over Giraldo
Wawrinka def. Murray
Fourth Quarter: Federer (2)
R1 Upset Watch
(Q) Melzer over Kudla
Kokkinakis over Gasquet
(Q) J.P. Smith over Youzhny
Zverev over Kohlschreiber
Donaldson over Rosol
Federer def. Berdych