It’s hard to believe, but the 2014 tennis season is reaching its apex already with the final major of the year in Flushing Meadows, New York. The US Open may not be the final event on the calendar, but for many casual fans of tennis as well as the top players, it might as well be. After the US Open is a series of events with inflated belonging on the tour, handing out large sums of cash and points mainly to allow players who struggled in the first eight months of the year to stay afloat both financially and in the rankings. However, we here at the Bad Man Bureau are focused on the final major of the year and will be along the way as we provide a preview of the tournament and a recap of the goings-on. We start with a breakdown of thirty-two players you’ll need to know for this event, either contenders (those ranked in the top ten that could hoist the trophy), darkhorses (players ranked outside the top ten who could stun the world with a successful two week stint), sleepers (unseeded players that could make some noise at this year’s US Open), some duds (highly ranked players who might be having a short stay in the Big Apple), the Americans (the hometown others who will be sure to garner fan support), and others to keep an eye out for. As we looked at the women’s singles yesterday, today we’ll be focusing on the men.
Novak Djokovic (rank: 1)—Djokovic is the defending finalist of the men’s singles and with Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal, he should be the first favorite, right? Perhaps not. He’s performed just okay in the two Masters warm-ups, but in both events, he failed to live up to his seeding. Then again, Djokovic will put his game into another gear come the US Open, but will it be enough after some scratchy form in the leadups?
Roger Federer (rank: 3)—Roger has done extremely well for himself post-Wimbledon, reaching the finals of both Toronto and Cincinnati, walking away with the title in Ohio. Given his successes in North America this year, he should probably be considered the favorite to win yet another US Open title, making it his first major crown since Wimbledon 2012.
David Ferrer (rank: 5)—He’ll need some help if he wishes to hoist his first major winner’s trophy, but David Ferrer may be getting it. Nadal has withdrawn; Murray is still trying to round back into form; Djokovic is off a bit, and much of the field is questionable in their own chances. The run to the finals at the Cincinnati Masters should improve his confidence greatly that he could be one of the last men standing.
Milos Raonic (rank: 6)—The Canadian has kept up his hot pace since his Wimbledon semifinal, compiling a solid 10-2 record on the North American hardcourts, including a title in Washington DC. His serve allows Raonic to get out of trouble, but his groundstrokes as well as his returns game are potent enough so that he’s a threat to win even if his serve is slightly off, as he managed to do in matches this summer.
Grigor Dimitrov (rank: 8)—Like Ferrer, Dimitrov might need a bit of help if we’re to consider him a true contender for the title, but given that he’ll be bestowed a top eight seed at the US Open, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could have a surprise run to the final weekend. He reached the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, running out of gas against eventual champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He’ll need to pace himself better in New York if he wants to reach another major semifinal; he can’t be playing multiple matches that go the distance like he did in Canada if he wishes to make a deep run.
Andy Murray (rank: 9)—Andy Murray obviously benefits greatly from Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal, as it grants him a top 8 seed, thus guaranteeing he’ll avoid Djokovic or Federer until the quarterfinals. His form still hasn’t rounded back to its peak from before the back surgery, when he was considered a real threat to win just about every event. Nevertheless, his results at the majors when he’s played in them this year show reason for optimism.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (rank: 10)—Tsonga turned around his 2014 season with one title, which just so happened to come at the Rogers Cup a few weeks before the US Open. In that run to the title, Tsonga beat six players ranked in the Top 50 and four consecutive Top 10 wins (Djokovic, Murray, Dimitrov, and Federer). That kind of run should bolster his confidence, and if he can keep his mind focused and the ball in play, he should have a potentially big run in store.
John Isner (rank: 15)—Isner may have done himself a bit of a favor with his dismissive comments of the New York crowd last year, wondering publicly why the fans would support someone other than the home nation’s top ranked player in a highly contested match; fans may have taken heed and will back him. With his booming serve, he’s likely to play many tiebreaks. He just needs to avoid long matches early on and Philipp Kohlschreiber, who’s knocked him out of the last two US Opens.
Marin Cilic (rank: 16)—Cilic zoomed back up the rankings this year on the back of several great results during the winter hardcourt season. His summer results haven’t been nearly as impressive with just two Round of 16 appearances at the two Masters Series events, but he did lose to a higher ranked player both times (Federer in Toronto, Wawrinka in Cincinnati) and won a set in both matches.
Tommy Robredo (rank: 18)—Robredo has had a decent summer as part of his hardcourt preparations. After a rough start to his post-Wimbledon campaign, highlighted by early round upsets in Bastad and Hamburg, Robredo reached the final of the clay court event in Umag, Croatia. That boost of confidence may have aided his US Open campaign, as he’s collected several Top 30 scalps on the hardcourts, including one of current world number one Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati.
Feliciano Lopez (rank: 21)—As a lefty with a big serve, Feliciano can cause damage on hardcourts. That was on display in Toronto, when the Spaniard knocked off three Top 20 players—including homecrowd favorite Milos Raonic—en route to a semifinal showing. His backhand is his far weaker side, but Feliciano has always managed to mitigate that weakness into solid play. He could be in store for a surprise run.
Julien Benneteau (rank: 27)—The thirty-something Frenchman seems to enjoy doing this. Once left as a floater heading into the US Open, Benneteau once again performs some magic late in the US Open Series to jump up the rankings and emerge as a potential danger to the contenders. With his run to the semifinals in Cincinnati, where he knocked out Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, Julien has done it again. He’ll be seeded at Flushing Meadows, and if his form holds, he could reach the second week.
Dominic Thiem (rank: 44)—Thiem has not had a good summer hardcourt season, going 0-2 at the two Masters events, but he should consider his summer swing a success, reaching his first ATP World Tour final in Kitzbuhel. He may be going into New York on a three-match losing streak, but in all three matches, he fought hard, losing in three sets each time.
Vasek Pospisil (rank: 45)—He was unable to defend his semifinal points from his breakthrough run at the hometown Rogers Cup, which has caused Vasek to drop out of the seeded range. However, between his run to the final of the Citi Open in Washington DC as well as his play as part of the world’s hottest doubles team on tour right now, Pospisil could be poised to pull off some upsets in New York this year.
Jack Sock (rank: 55)—A lot of this depends on the draw—in particular, he needs to avoid Milos Raonic, who has knocked him out of three of the last six events Sock has played—but Jack has otherwise played great tennis this summer, reaching back-to-back semifinals in Newport (on grass) and Atlanta. And as part of the doubles team “Pop Sock”, he’s started to incorporate volleying and net rushes into his arsenal, which already boasts a strong serve and forehand.
David Goffin (rank: 62)—David Goffin is the hottest player on the ATP World Tour right now; he simply can’t lose. He is currently on a twenty-four match winning streak, comprising of three challenger titles, his first ATP World Tour title on the clay in Austria, and he’s won two qualifying matches and two rounds thus far in Winston-Salem. Any player coming in with poor form will most certainly want to avoid the Belgian in the draw.
Rafael Nadal (rank: 2)—Even before his withdrawal from the US Open, Rafael Nadal honestly belonged here. Nadal is a rhythm player, and by failing to play any warm-ups to the major that has been most difficult for him to win at, it would be easy to argue that the defending champion simply wouldn’t be the best pick to hoist the trophy again.
Tomas Berdych (rank: 7)—It’s hard to make heads or tails of Berdych. The big Czech has just two third round appearances and a second round appearance in three hardcourt events. Not great preparation. His baffling is evidenced by his wins and losses: in Canada, Tomas defeated Lu Yen-Hsun in the second round, but just a week later, he was defeated in the second round by… Lu Yen-Hsun.
Kei Nishikori (rank: 11)—Nishikori comes in with injury questions (a common refrain for the man from Japan it seems). He’s played only one tournament since Wimbledon—the Citi Open in Washington DC. While he did manage to reach the quarterfinals there, he struggled to beat his first two opponents, being pushed to three sets in both encounters, before being dismissed by Richard Gasquet.
Ernests Gulbis (rank: 12)—Since his breakthrough major result at Roland Garros, Ernests Gulbis has been mired in a slump, failing to win back-to-back matches in any of the four events he’s played since then. His hardcourt record post-Wimbledon is a pedestrian 2-2. Gulbis is mercurial and could turn it on for the final major of the year, but it’s hard to bet on that when he seems to be in a big funk.
Juan Martin Del Potro (rank: 13)—The 2009 US Open champion withdrew from the event this week due to his continuing rehabilitation from wrist surgery. Juan Martin can’t come back soon enough.
Joao Sousa (rank: 37)—Joao Sousa has benefited from a number of withdrawals to make him a seeded player, but he’s probably one of the seeds that other players will want in the first round. To be honest, Sousa has been terrible this summer. He’s failed to beat a player in the Top 40 all summer, and if you look at just his hardcourt results post-Wimbledon, he has just one win—against world number 172 Chase Buchanan.
Donald Young (rank: 46)—We’ve been tempted by Donald Young finally getting it together before, but this appears to be a case where he’s learned how to win matches week in, week out. His summer results on the hardcourts have been decent: he’s 6-4 in the US Open Series, highlighted by a run to the semifinals in Washington DC. Furthermore, none of the losses have been bad. His loss in Atlanta was to the eventual finalist (Sela); his loss in Washington was to the eventual champion (Raonic); and his loss in Canada was to an eventual semifinalist (Dimitrov).
Steve Johnson (rank: 49)—After a flawless college career, it’s taken some time for Steve Johnson to learn how to win on the ATP World Tour. However, he’s winning with more regularity in 2014, as evidenced by his Top 50 ranking. His US Open Series results (a 5-4 record) tells us one thing: if he can avoid Milos Raonic (losses in Washington DC and Cincinnati) and Sam Querrey (losses in Atlanta and Winston-Salem), Steve Johnson could be looking at a fairly big result in New York.
Sam Querrey (rank: 56)—Once a Top 20 player, Sam has yet to return to those heights—or honestly, anything close to them. He’s simply too passive to fight for a deep run at an event these days; he wins his first round match, then he loses his second round match. His US Open Series results show this perfectly: in the first three events, he’s reached the second round in all of them but no further. But could Winston-Salem be the start of something? He’s reached the quarterfinals thus far at the event.
Wayne Odesnik (rank: 180)—Wayne Odesnik won a main draw wildcard as a result of his winning the USTA Pro Circuit US Open Wild Card Challenge (maybe the USTA should shorten this just a bit?), but what kind of support will he get in New York? He’s American, so some of the home crowd will support him, but he also hasn’t received any good will from many players and fans alike since his arrest at an Australian airport in 2010 with human growth hormone with him.
Noah Rubin (rank: 584)—Potentially a rising American star, the Wake Forest freshman (Go Deacs!) has had a stellar summer on the juniors tour, winning the Wimbledon Boys Championship and then the USTA Under-18 singles and doubles titles, thereby granting him wildcards in both the men’s singles and doubles events in New York. In his ATP World Tour debut, he fell to fellow American Bradley Klahn in a third-set tiebreak in Winston-Salem.
Lleyton Hewitt (rank: 41)—The former US Open champion has a never-say-die attitude, and it’s helped him come back from surgery after surgery. Now relatively healthy, Lleyton Hewitt will try to lead the Australian contingent to success in Flushing Meadows. His summer got off to a great start with a title in Newport on grass, but since then, he’s slumped to a 2-3 record on the hardcourts.
Jerzy Janowicz (rank: 52)—Janowicz has failed to build upon—or even defend—his points from his breakthrough results in recent years (finalist in Bercy in 2012, Wimbledon semifinalist in 2013), and as a result, the tall, combustible Pole is falling down the rankings. However, with his rocket serve and punishing groundstrokes, he could be a real threat. He also appears to be rediscovering his form: in his last two events (Cincinnati and Winston-Salem), he’s compiled a 5-1 record and is still alive in the quarterfinals of the latter.
Marcos Baghdatis (rank: 86)—Marcos Baghdatis knows how to delight a crowd, but he almost failed to reach the main draw of the US Open. It wasn’t until he won back-to-back challenger events in Vancouver, Canada and Aptos, California that he had a ranking that could get him into the main draw directly. The Cypriot has been playing mainly on the challenger level this season, but he might still have some magic in him.
Dustin Brown (rank: 98)—Speaking of excitement, Dustin Brown can bring it. He’s everything the sport of tennis needs to avoid being considered a homogenous sport: the Jamaican-turned-German tennis player is tall, wears dreadlocks, and plays a strong serve-and-volley game that lets him fly around the court. He may not win a match at the US Open, but he could have the crowds entertained throughout his match.
Benoit Paire (rank: 99)—It was just last year when Benoit Paire was considered a member of the new generation of top players. Since then, he’s had surgery and is just trying to get back into form. He’s playing better than he had been earlier in the season, qualifying for both summer Masters events and falling to two players who will be seeded at the US Open (Wawrinka in Canada, Karlovic in Washington) in third-set tiebreaks.
Michael Llodra (rank: 193)—Honestly, this one is a head scratcher. Llodra was given a wildcard as part of a reciprocal agreement with the French Tennis Federation. He is one of the world’s best doubles players, but the question has to be asked: why did he get it? Llodra is on the downside of his career, and he’s not particularly a crowd favorite. Was there not a young Frenchman with a potentially long, bright future who could have gotten the wildcard?