This year's draw for the U.S. Open, which starts Monday, lacked the drama that draw announcements from the last few years had. Mainly this is because of Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from the tournament due to lingering knee tendinitis. So, instead of waiting to see if Nadal and Roger Federer are on the same half of the draw, the question this year was - who gets lucky enough to draw David Ferrer in the semifinals?
Now, on the surface, this may seem a bit cruel to utter such a statement, considering that Ferrer is one of the best and most consistent players in the world. But the fact is the 30-year-old has never reached a Slam final and has never won a Masters title, either. And he's only advanced past the fourth round of the U.S. Open once, back in 2007 when he made it to the semifinals.
Additionally, the three players ranked above him - Federer, Djokovic and Murray - all own dominating records against him. Federer is 13-0 against Ferrer; Murray is 6-5 but only one of those losses wasn't on clay, and Djokovic is 8-5, with just two of those five defeats on a surface other than clay.
No player would ever state such a thing as, "whew, I'm thrilled to be in Ferrer's quarter, I have a much easier path to the semifinals of a Slam." This would be great disrespect to Ferrer, one of the most liked and polite competitors on the tour, a very popular guy and a player who, despite his very short stature, generates tremendous power and precision from the backcourt.
But the fact remains, the following players are undoubtedly excited about their chances to make it to the final four: John Isner, Richard Gasquet, and Jarko Tipsarevic, the highest ranked player, at No. 8, outside of Ferrer in this section.
Of the aforementioned players, only Gasquet has even made it to the semis of a Slam previously, that was in 2007 at Wimbledon. And I look for Gasquet to finally make his second semifinal in a Slam. He's played quietly good tennis at the Slams the last two years - he's reached the fourth round in five of his last six Slam outings - and with his varied game he doesn't have an obvious bad matchup. He'll likely take on Isner in the quarters. Gasquet owns a 2-1 record against Isner, having just defeated him in straight sets on hard courts at the Canadian Masters event earlier this month.
The other player who must be thrilled with how the draw appears at first glance is Federer. The once-again No. 1 player in the world was gifted a very easy path to the semifinals. Except for a possible tricky match against Mardy Fish in the fourth round, Federer looks to breeze into the final Saturday at the Open. Tomas Berdych is his likely semifinal opponent and he's had his way against Federer on some big stages before, having taken him out of the 2004 Olympics and at Wimbledon in 2010. However, Berdych has not looked like himself lately and I doubt will stand a chance against Federer.
Djokovic's path to Slam glory in New York is not as easy, as he'll likely take on Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarterfinals. If Del Potro's irritable wrist injury doesn't resurface and he's had a chance to rest after an exhausting two months, this has the potential to be a blockbuster encounter.
If Del Potro isn't in prime physical shape, look for Andy Roddick to find a path to the quarterfinals. While his career is decidedly coming to an end, Roddick's love of the U.S. Open may fuel a late charge. With a relatively easy draw, Roddick could sneak into the last weekend.
So that leaves Murray. The reigning Olympics gold medalist was not given a break by the draw gods and he'll have the hardest task by far of the top players if he is to make the semifinals.
Murray's job will get serious in the fourth round when his likely foe will be Milos Raonic. Raonic, the Pete Sampras-like server from Canada has been touted by many, including myself, as the next great player. He has yet to make his presence felt deep in a Slam but this may be his year. Murray's superb return game will have to be in top form to stem a charge by Raonic.
After Raonic, next up for Murray would be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Though Murray owns a dominating 7-1 record against the athletic Frenchman, Tsonga is an ever-dangerous player who, while sometimes seeming to play in a lackadaisical haze, is also capable of turning matches around in an instant with his vicious serve and all-court game. Just like the Del Potro-Djokovi possible quarterfinal match, a Murray-Tsonga quarterfinal could be riveting.
If Murray is able to withstand his tough draw (and with coach Ivan Lendl by his side, one suspects Murray won't be whining much) this is his time to finally win that elusive Slam. The Olympic title removed a good deal of self-doubt from Murray's previously sagging shoulders and I look for him to win in New York.
Semifinals: Murray d. Federer, Djokovic d. Gasquet
Final: Murray d. Djokovic