The Draw, U. S. Open 2013

By Jane Voigt

August 23, 2013 -- When the tournament committees for Grand Slams announce draws, people listen.  

Yesterday was no different in Flushing Meadows, home of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the U. S. Open. As the bell struck noon, the games with names began. 

Twitter fluttered jabs from journalists. Some projected third round clashes while others extended their vision out to the barely visible horizon. These brave Tweeters took high risk positions on future outcomes much as a financial trader might on Wall Street. They foretold quarterfinalists and even semifinalists. Many are certain, too, that with his amazing season well in hand Rafael Nadal will be the last man standing on Monday, September 9. 

And who else on the women's side is the favorite besides Serena Williams? Not one name rose to the top of the pack, even when considering Victoria Azarenka's two wins over Williams in Cincinnati and Doha this year. Pundits cannot usurp the 16-time grand slam champion. It's a major, not a 'practice' tournament. All players ramp up for the last one of the year, especially Americans on their home DecoTurf blue courts. 

Roger Federer, seeded No. 7 for the first time in ten years, has caused ripples for predictors. His membership in the Big Four has been relinquished, perhaps temporarily or for the foreseeable future. He is 32, but he is Roger Federer. 

His season was dreary except for a fine performance against Nadal in the quarterfinals of Cincinnati one week ago. Federer of old came to play that night -- comfortable on the fast surface, cracking serves and dispatching inside-out forehands with the enthusiasm of times gone by. And there was a Federer changed enough by Nadal beat-downs to run around loopy, twisty lefty serves that have aimed for his backhand ever since the Spaniard met Federer for the first time in Miami in 2004, and defeated him. 

Assuming Federer's fourth position in The Big Four is David Ferrer, pictured below at the Western & Southern Open, Mason, Ohio. His record lately has waned, as has his luck-of-the-draw. 

CincyFerrerAug132013

In his first Roland Garros final, he met King Rafael Nadal and was gone in straight sets. Ferrer had faced him in the quarterfinals of Madrid and Rome, too. No wins there. He was out in the first round in The Netherlands, lost to Del Potro in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, didn't make it past the first round in Montreal where he lost to Alex Bogomolov Jr. ranked No. 83. In Cincinnati Ferrer fell in the fourth round to 35-year-old Dmitry Tursunov, 62 64, a weak finish to a gritty hard-court summer.  

Steve Tignor, in his regular review of draws on tennis.com, made a good argument that the decade-long dominance by the real Big Four -- Novak Djokovic, Nadal, Andy Murray, and Federer -- will repeat their performance in New York. 

"'The final major of 2013 is hardly wide open -- the Big 4 have won all 15 Grand Slams played in this decade,'" Tignor wrote. 

There are threats to the enclave. 

Juan Martin del Potro, seeded No. 6 and in Djokovic's quarter, has thwarted the Serbian, yet cannot claim dominance. Their head-to-head in 9-3. Del Potro, though, won the bronze medal over Djokovic at the London Olympics and knocked him out of Indian Wells in March. Their semifinal match at Wimbledon was one for the classic reels. Djokovic got away with the win, but had nothing left in his tank when he faced Murray in the final. 

Grigor Dimitrov lurks, too, in Djokovic's quarter. The 22-year-old Bulgarian flirted with celebration in Madrid where he edged Djokovic in the second round. The handsome Dimitrov -- Maria Sharapova's current boyfriend -- cried as he stumbled in disbelief to the net. More than likely he will cry tears of defeat in New York if and when he faces Djokovic in the third round. 

Novak Djokovic will make his way to the semifinals. 

Waiting for him will be Andy Murray, the defending champion who looks to add a third Grand Slam title to his resume. Murray's only challenge in that quarter of the draw is Tomas Berdych. And it's formidable and fresh on the Scotsman's mind. 

CincyBerdychAug172013

Berdych, pictured left in Cincinnati, leads Murray in their outright head-to-head record, 6-4. On hard courts, however, they come up even at 3-3. Murray defeated Berdych last year in the semifinals of the U. S. Open, but lost to the Czech in Cincinnati last week in straight sets. Their games are similar and they both thrive on blue DecoTurf. There will be scores settled in Flushing Meadows if these two competitors face off in the quarterfinals. 

The bottom half is weighty. If Rafael Nadal hopes to make his fourth consecutive appearance in the final, he must play his best consistently. He will be on guard from the get-go. Ryan Harrison first, the perhaps the surging and unexpected semifinalist in Montreal, Vacek Pospisil. Then, there is John Isner for a third round nightmare serving match. And, yes, Roger Federer will most likely be the one across the net in the quarterfinals. 

Thus, Federer's No. 7 seed is less disposing than thought. However either Nadal or Federer will be eliminated in the quarterfinals. No big four semifinals can be projected. Then, who, is the fourth? David Ferrer? 

With his lagging play combined with a section of threats -- Milos Raonic, Jerzy Janowicz, Ernests Gulbis -- Ferrer may not see a court past the third round. Although Jerzy Janowicz is a babe in the woods on tour, lacking serious strategies and a record to stand on, he could make his way to his second semifinal grand slam of the year. As the draw goes, his luck is on the rise. 

At the tippy top of the game two characteristics distinguish the decade's worth of champions. One is consistency. The other is mind set. In tandem they secure the mysterious secrets of fifteen slams where shear dominance has prevailed. It's hard to buck the trend right now. 

Photo credits tennisclix.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013