4. Rafael Nadal
5. Milos Raonic
10. Gael Monfils
15. Roberto Bautista Agut
18. Pablo Cuevas
24. Lucas Pouille
31. Albert Ramos-Vinolas
32. Benoit Paire
Nadal should enjoy his half of the quarter. The other seeds stuck in with him are Bautista Agut, Pouille and Ramos-Vinolas. RBA looked about spent on Saturday in the Winston-Salem final, so he could now be a candidate for an early upset. Playing fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in round one will be rough with just one day of rest. RBA has won both previous meetings, but this is a really tough spot now for him. As for Nadal, he opens with Denis Istomin and should work over the inconsistencies of the Uzbeki. Rafa’s seed on the way to a fourth round run is Ramos-Vinolas who has been up and down.
The best first rounder in the top half should be Thomaz Bellucci against Andrey Kuznetsov. Bellucci isn’t likely to produce the home cooking he scored in making a surprising quarterfinal run at the Rio Olympics. Kuznetsov is an unknown after a weird week in Winston-Salem where he advanced on a retirement and a walkover before losing to eventual champion Pablo Carreno Busta. He’s got the chops on hard courts to be tough, but hasn’t shown enough recently to suggest that he will be a tough out.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Lucas Pouille. The 24th seeded Frenchman hasn’t done much since his Wimbledon quarterfinal, but has a draw that could open up if RBA is gassed from the long week in Winston-Salem. Pouille has to get past veteran Mikhail Kukushkin to open, but then could have a legit shot to get to round four despite never winning a match at the USO in the past.
Raonic gets Dustin Brown to open. Brown injured his ankle severely in Rio, but appears ready to go this week. On hard courts, I don’t think he would pose a big threat to the Canadian even if fully healthy. The 5th seed should enjoy a nice path in this half to the quarters, unless Monfils is able to shake off a back injury and catch fire again. Monfils has a tough opener against Gilles Muller. La Monf is the real danger to Raonic’s chances of a deep run if healthy. Raonic will have to adjust to not having John McEnroe with him as well as his former coach split with him this past week to avoid any conflicts between working with Raonic and his commentating commitment with ESPN. I don’t think that will hold any ill effects for Raonic.
Pablo Cuevas and Benoit Paire are also in this half as seeds. Cuevas might be fortunate to get a win in this draw. He opens against Dudi Sela who can be tough as nails on this surface when he’s on his game. If Cuevas survives there, he could very well see a familiar clay court foe in Nicolas Almagro in round two. Nico can be a danger on this surface, but has not been in the best run of form this season. Paire too seems like he will be fortunate to win more than one as he opens against Dusan Lajovic. The Serb beat Paire on clay earlier this season and could be a surprise if wrist and elbow problems that plagued him in Los Cabos are gone. In that tournament, Lajovic surprised Bernard Tomic and he also played Fernando Verdasco tough in a loss in Atlanta on this surface. He is no push over.
A win would see Paire likely against Marcos Baghdatis. The Cypriot starts with Facundo Bagnis, a match he should expect to win relatively easily. Paire owns a couple wins over Baghdatis, but they have been tough matches. The Frenchman’s inconsistency means he could be out in round one or headed to round three likely to see Raonic.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
If Gael Monfils is fully healthy, then this quarter gets a whole lot more interesting and looks more like a three horse race with Nadal, Raonic and Monfils. Also as I laid out, Pouille could be a deep runner here if RBA is gassed in that part of the top half. Nadal has a far easier path to the quarterfinals and so long as he can maintain some consistency like he did in Rio, he should have a great shot to be in position to play for a semifinal.
Raonic has fallen short of the quarters each of his five trips to New York. This appears to be his best shot to break that streak, although Monfils may have something to say about that. Rafa has taken five of six from Raonic and plenty of those have come on hard courts. The draw fell well for Nadal and this might be one of his best chances in years to get himself a shot to be involved in the business end of a Slam not named the French Open. Raonic seems the logical choice based on surface, but ease of the draw points toward Nadal.
Predicted Semifinalist: Rafael Nadal