Federer is back to try to reclaim his throne as the top dog on the hard courts, but the five-time champion enters the tournament as the second seed behind Rafael Nadal. The two are thus on a collision course for another classic final against one another. But there are plenty of stumbling blocks that will be laid in their path when the final draw is set later this week. Let’s take a look now at the 32 seeds and how they might fare in this tournament. (All odds from sportsbook.com)
THE TOP FIVE SEEDS
It's crazy to think, but Nadal and Federer haven't played a Grand Slam final against one another since the Spaniard won the 2009 Australian Open -- despite the two men taking five of the six titles on offer in the span since!
1. Rafael Nadal (Spain) — The Spaniard is back to 2008 form, coming off victories in the French Open and Wimbledon once again. He also now has a hard-court Grand Slam to his name after having won the 2009 Australian Open. Thus Flushing Meadows remains the one venue at which he has yet to conquer a Grand Slam in his career, and Nadal will be motivated to justify his top seed this year. He has played little since Wimbledon, choosing to rest instead of pushing him schedule too hard — exactly what caused his burnout at the end of 2008 and his lost season of 2009. In his return to competitive play after his win in London, he has reached the semifinals of the ATP event in Toronto and the quarters in Cincinnati, losing to Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis in the respective tournaments. It’s not his best surface, the DecoTurf of New York, but never count out the world’s top-ranked player… ODDS OF VICTORY: 5/2
2. Roger Federer (Switzerland) — … The most likely victor, though, is going to be Roger Federer, the man who long held the number-one spot in the world and has been on a tear leading into the Open. You can damn near pencil him in for the finals, a spot that has been his domain in the draw for the past six years and running. Last year his reign ended when he lost that marathon to del Potro on the heels of his own French/Wimbledon double, but he’s the most recent champion on the hard courts after taking this year’s Australian Open in Melbourne. He’s also reached the finals in Toronto (where he lost to Murray) and won the Cincinnati event over surprise American Mardy Fish. All signs point to Federer claiming his second Grand Slam title of 2010 and silencing his doubters (myself amongst them) that say his career is starting to enter its final stretch after he’s failed to reach the semifinals at the past two Grand Slam tournaments. ODDS OF VICTORY: 2/1
3. Novak Djokovic (Serbia) — The Serb was touted as the next great of the sport after his 2008 Australian Open title, the man to break up the Nadal-Federer axis at the top of men’s tennis. He has reached the semifinals each of the past three years in Queens, and has played consistent tennis leading into this year’s U.S. Open. But with Djokovic nothing ever comes easy. He hasn’t won a title since beating Mikhail Youzhny in Dubai back in February, a streak wholly at odds with his seed in the tournament. He hasn’t been in a Grand Slam final since that 2008 victory in Melbourne, a run of ten Slams and counting where he’s been out of play before the last day. Injuries are always an issue, as is a breathing condition that could potentially be exacerbated in the September heat of the borough. Odds are Djokovic will play his way to at least the quarters, cementing his place amongst the top five in the game, but failing to claim a second Grand Slam for his trophy case. ODDS OF VICTORY: 12/1
Is Murray, after beating Nadal and Federer to win the ATP Toronto tournament, playing well enough to win his first Grand Slam?
4. Andy Murray (Britain) — Fresh off his sweep of Nadal and Federer in the semis and finals of the ATP Toronto tournament, Andy Murray comes to New York confident of his chances to capture his first career Grand Slam. Two years ago he lost to Federer here in the final 6-2 7-5 6-2, still overmatched against the Swiss champ at the time. This winter he played his second career Grand Slam final in Melbourne, again against Federer, and kept things a lot closer despite losing in straight sets 6–3 6–4 7–6(11). His victory over his nemesis in Canada (giving him a 7-5 edge in their career series), coupled with just his fourth victory in twelve tries over Nadal, show he’s on form. Of course, he did follow up the tournament with his more-traditional inconsistency by losing in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati to wild-card entry Mardy Fish. Which Murray will show up in New York when the first round gets underway on the 30th? That may be the most vexing question of all… ODDS OF VICTORY: 7/2
5. Robin Soderling (Sweden) — The man who put himself on the map as the man to knock off the defending champion at each of the past two French Opens (Nadal in the 4th round in 2009, Federer in the 2010 quarterfinals) has had a relatively quiet year outside of the clay-court season. Just like Djokovic, his last victory came back in February against (you guessed it) Mikhail Youzhny. This one was a fortnight prior, but the story unfolds pretty much the same. Like Djokovic he’s been a spoiler rather than an achiever throughout the season. He hit the semifinals at both Indian Wells and Miami. His clay-court campaign was commendable, with finals appearances in Barcelona and once again at Roland Garros. But since then he’s largely underwhelmed, leaving him either a dangerous darkhorse or a fading pony down the stretch. Bet the latter. ODDS OF VICTORY: 15/1
THE REST OF THE TOP 16 SEEDS
6. Nikolay Davydenko (Russia) – After a dominant end to 2009, winning the ATP Shanghai Masters and the ATP Tour Finals to close out the year, the Russian was a trendy pick to really heat up in 2010 and challenge for the first Grand Slam of his career. Instead he’s been surprisingly off the radar. Since defeating Nadal at Doha, Qatar in January, Davydenko has yet to win another tournament. In fact, he has only reached the quarterfinals of a tournament once since getting to that point in the Australian Open. The good sign, though, is that his most recent quarterfinal appearance was at the last tournament in Cincinnati, where he lost to Roger Federer in a spirited 6-4 7-5 match. ODDS OF VICTORY: 40/1
Runner up at Wimbledon after reaching the semifinals at the French Open, the 24-year-old late bloomer has really had his loudest season to date this year. Up to his highest career ranking of #7 in the world, his seed at Flushing Meadows reflects the danger he presents to every one of the other top players. He’s quieted down a bit since losing to Nadal at Wimbledon; but just like Nadal, his quarterfinal appearance in Toronto and third-round fight against eventual semifinalist Marcos Baghdatis show that he is warming back up his game at just the right time. Don’t be surprised if he peaks in the second week and makes a run to the semifinals for his third straight Slam. ODDS OF VICTORY: 15/1
Berdych burst onto the scene this year with second-week appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon... can he up his game even more at Flushing Meadows?
7. Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) –
8. Fernando Verdasco (Spain) – Last of the top eight seeds, Verdasco has been just as inconsistent as the guys around him this year. He defeated Andy Roddick to win in San Jose back in February (shades of the Soderling and Djokovic stories ring through) and had a strong clay-court season with victory in Barcelona and runner-up placings in Monte Carlo and Nice. He then promptly bombed out of Wimbledon in the first round. He reached the quarterfinal here a year ago, but hasn’t been in the final eight since. He likes the hard courts, having reached his only Grand Slam semifinal in Australia in 2009, so he could break his slump with another quarters showing. ODDS OF VICTORY: 80/1
9. Andy Roddick (U.S.) – You have to go back to 2006 for the last time Andy Roddick was seeded this low in the draw for the U.S. Open… and that year he went all the way to the finals before losing to Federer in the 6-2 4-6 7-5 6-1 championship match. He won the only Grand Slam of his career here on home turf in 2003, beating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final to capture the hardware. But even the #9 seed might be a little high for how Roddick is playing right now. After losing to Mardy Fish in Atlanta and Cincinnati and Gilles Simon in Washington, he’s dropped out of the top ten in the rankings — the first time since their inception in the open era that no American has been in the world top ten. He revealed after dropping out of the Toronto field that he is in the late stages of mononucleosis, the same illness that sapped Federer of his form in 2009. Let’s hope he’s healthy for New York, his favorite of the Grand Slams. ODDS OF VICTORY: 15/1
10. David Ferrer (Spain) – Three years ago the Spaniard reached the semifinals in Queens, but at 28 years old and down to #12 in the world rankings time is running out for Ferrer to capture that one defining victory of his career. Unfortunately his form suggests that he’ll achieve otherwise. He won on the clay in Acapulco earlier this year and reached the finals in Rome (also on clay), but his hard-court play has been anything but encouraging ahead of the U.S. Open. He hasn’t won a title on the surface since October 2007, and he was ousted in the first round in Cincinnati after reaching only the third round in Toronto. There is nothing to suggest something similar this time around — he’s been eliminated from the past ten Grand Slam tournaments in the fourth round or earlier. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
11. Marin Cilic (Croatia) – The past two hard-court Slams for Cilic have provided some inspiration to believe he could be on the cusp of winning one in the near future after reaching the quarterfinals in New York last year and the semifinals in Melbourne back in January. He also won tournaments on the surface in Chennai, India and his native Zagreb sandwiched around that Australian Open semis appearance. But he failed to impress at the past four Masters Series events. The spring saw him sputter at Miami and Indian Wells, and he wasn’t even been able to get out of the first round at either Toronto or Cincinnati. The 21-year-old still has a developing game, and his game is suited to the courts in Flushing Meadows, but he might not be in the right mindset right now to win. ODDS OF VICTORY: 50/1
After all those near-misses against Djokovic and Soderling in February, coupled with his win over Cilic in the final of the BMW Open on the clay in Munich in May, had to count for something in the seeding for the veteran Russian. His recent performance makes this guy worry that we might see him in the wrong head space once again. When he’s on his game, few guys in the world can beat the man on any given day. But far too often lately he’s been having some terrible days. Case in point were his recent showings in Toronto and Cincinnati, where he won just one of three matches in two short stays. He hasn’t been past the second round in Queens since making the semis in 2006, and this year promises little more. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
Can Mikhail Youzhny harness his temper and his true potential to be a danger to more than his forehead in this draw?
12. Mikhail Youzhny (Russia) –
13. Jurgen Melzer (Austria) – Melzer has tasted more success this year than at any previous point in his long career. The 29-year-old Austrian had never progressed beyond the third round of a Grand Slam tournament prior to this year, when he reached the quarterfinals at the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon. Could he keep his newfound streak of success into the second week of Slams alive? He also gained the confidence of winning a Grand Slam when he and men’s doubles partner Philipp Petzschner took the Wimbledon title this July. He was less than stellar in Toronto and Cincinnati, but this veteran has now learned what it takes to claim the big ones in the sport… a lesson he might just apply to go to the fourth round (and possibly beyond) yet again. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
14. Nicolas Almagro (Spain) — Almagro retreated to the clay following his first-round ouster at Wimbledon, winning lower-tier tournaments in Bastad, Sweden and Gstaad, Switzerland (over Robin Soderling and Richard Gasquet respectively). His return to the hard courts has been less than smooth, though, as he crashed out in the second round in Toronto and after just one match in Cincinnati. A true Spanish clay-court specialist, the 25-year-old from Murcia has never won a tournament on another surface nor even reached a final. Don’t expect that to change in Flushing Meadows on this stage. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
15. Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia) — He’s four years removed from his #3 world ranking, but Ljubicic is still a dangerous foe on any given day. Just ask Andy Roddick, who was muscled out of the victory at Indian Wells by the Croat in two brutal tiebreaks, 7–6(3) 7–6(5). The biggest black mark against him, though, is his otherwise barren record as of late. He hasn’t advanced beyond the third round of a Grand Slam in over four years, and at 31 it is getting harder and harder for him to overpower the next generation of players off the court. Expect a couple of victories, but not much more, from this veteran. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
16. Marcos Baghdatis (Cyprus) — The Cypriot star has had an up-and-down season this year, but his hard-court play has been the brightest light in his return to the sport after knee and ankle injuries sidelined him for much of 2008 and 2009. He ended last year with a win in Stockholm before opening 2010 with a win over Richard Gasquet in Sydney to take the pre-Australian Open warm-up tournament. That preceded a third-round appearance in Melbourne followed by a 5-2 record at Indian Wells and Miami. He was the runner-up in Washington against David Nalbandian before reaching the semifinals in Cincinnati. If the wily 25-year-old can recapture his best form, watch out. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
17. Gael Monfils (France) – Monfils has somehow impressed the seeding committee enough to place him at the head of the second half of the list. He’s made just one final this season, on the clay in Stuttgart where he lost to Albert Montanes. He hasn’t made it past the third round of a Slam since reaching the fourth round here last year (as well as the year before that). Monfils seems to raise his play in New York, something he’ll need to do to right his ship as of late. He’s a longshot, but he definitely has a shot. ODDS OF VICTORY: 100/1
18. John Isner (U.S.) — The 25-year-old latecomer to the professional game was supposed to be the heir apparent to Andy Roddick as the preeminent American in the sport once the veteran retires, but Isner appears unready to seize that title and run with it. He won the Auckland tournament ahead of the Australian Open, where he reached the fourth round. He’s also reached three other finals, at lower-tier tournaments in Memphis, Belgrade and Atlanta. His kick serve is among the best in the game, and he’s at his most dangerous on hard courts. Another fourth-round appearance could be in his future. ODDS OF VICTORY: 80/1
A surprise finalist against Federer at the ATP tournament in Cincinnati last week, Fish has quietly set himself up as perhaps the most dangerous American in the draw. His summer really began with a finals appearance in London against countryman Sam Querrey. He rebounded after the loss and his ouster at Wimbledon to win ATP events in Newport on grass and in Atlanta on the hard court against local favorite John Isner. His final against Federer, where he stole the first-set tiebreak before losing 6–7(5) 7–6(1) 6–4, could just be prelude to a Grand Slam breakthrough for the 28-year-old from Minnesota. Bookmakers might not see his danger, but fans of the sport should pay heed. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
Mardy Fish: No respect from the bookies, but plenty of reason to cheer after the 2010 season he's had so far...
19. Mardy Fish (U.S.) —
20. Sam Querrey (U.S.) — A third straight American rounds out the top twenty in the seeds, and he might just be the most versatile of the group at the moment. Querrey has won tournaments on all three surfaces so far this season. His win indoors on the hard court in Memphis against Isner prefaced his repeat performance against his compatriot on the clay in Belgrade. Prior to Wimbledon he won the warm-up in London over Fish. And he arrives at Flushing Meadows confident after beating Andy Murray in Los Angeles to begin August. Querrey could be a dangerous draw if he can get on a roll like he did in reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon in July. ODDS OF VICTORY: 50/1
21. Albert Montañés (Spain) — The Spaniard has been a model of consistency this year, reaching the third round at every one of the three previous Grand Slams in 2010. He also put on a strong showing during the clay season, exploiting his strongest surface for wins in Estoril and Stuttgart. But Montañés has never won a tournament off of his familiar clay, and the U.S. Open is probably not the time he’s going to start. Another third-round appearance to make it 4-for-4 in the Slams this year? Sure… but nowhere near a victory. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
22. Juan Carlos Ferrero (Spain) — In another lifetime, the former world #1 would’ve been among the top seeds in this tournament. The 30-year-old, though, hasn’t even reached the final of a hard-court tournament since losing to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Auckland in 2008. He’s won three tournaments this year, most recently in Croatia to begin August, but they’ve all been on clay and it is hard to imagine Ferrero rediscovering his lost all-around form at this point in his career. That 2003 loss to Roddick in the U.S. Open final might just be the closest the Spaniard gets to winning a second Slam to go with his title from Roland Garros earlier that year. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
23. Feliciano Lopez (Spain) — The third straight Spaniard in the bunch is probably the best suited to make a run in this tournament. He won a hard-court event earlier this year against Stephane Robert in Johannesburg, and reached the third round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. His play on the hard courts as of late has been less than inspiring, two early losses in Toronto and Cincinnati marring his shot at coming to Queens as a more viable contender. He beat Nadal earlier this year in London ahead of Wimbledon, so he can beat the best when he plays his best. It’s doubtful he’ll string together seven straight games of his best, but he is good for an upset or two. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
He’s only been out of the second round of a Grand Slam twice in his five-year career, but the Latvian still has the potential to strike fear in the games of greater opponents. His most memorable victory so far this year was his second-round ouster of Roger Federer from the Italian Open in Rome, and Gulbis has also claimed wins over guys like Berdych and Youzhny. He was also the first to take a set off of Nadal on clay this year. So the 21-year-old should be good for a surprise or two in this tournament. ODDS OF VICTORY: 80/1
24. Ernests Gulbis (Latvia) —
25. Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland) — After reaching the fourth round in 2007 and 2008, Wawrinka blew a favorable path to at least the third round when he lost to Ecuador’s 33-year-old veteran Nicolas Lapentti in a five-set marathon match. After going up easily in the first two sets 6-4 6-3, he blew tiebreaks in the third and fourth sets and opened the door for his challenger to stage the upset. The Swissman will be hoping to avoid a meltdown of similar proportions this year. He reached the final on the hard courts of Chennai against Cilic in January, and won on the clay against Victor Hanescu in Casablanca. He should get to at least the third round after last year’s hiccup. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
26. Thomaz Bellucci (Brazil) — The 22-year-old Brazilian has always shown his greatest strength on his native clay, but he’s long been touted as a player with the potential to adapt his game to the faster pace of the hard courts. He won in Santiago earlier this year against Juan Monaco (on clay), and went as far as the fourth round at Roland Garros for his best-ever showing in a Grand Slam event. The youngster won a match in Queens each of the past two years before bowing out; he could win two this year but probably won’t advance past the third round. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
27. Fernando Gonzalez (Chile) — He’s played in a hard-court Grand Slam final before, taking Federer to a first-set tiebreak in Melbourne in 2007 before succumbing to the Swissman in straight sets, 7-6(2) 6-4 6-4. The 30-year-old has played an abbreviated schedule this season, though, and he hasn’t won a tournament on hard courts since Beijing in 2007. Time might be passing this Chilean by as a new generation overtakes him in the rankings. He was in the quarterfinals in New York last year, though, so anything is possible. ODDS OF VICTORY: 100/1
28. Radek Stepanek (Czech Republic) — The veteran Czech player was a runner-up to Andy Roddick in Brisbane this past January before the Australian Open, but has done little of consequence since. He was dropped in the first round in Melbourne, reached just the second round at Indian Wells and was largely absent throughout the spring calendar. He was in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows last season, but his form indicates that he’s nowhere near attaining similar heights in 2010. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
29. Philipp Kohlschreiber (Germany) — The German has been remarkably consistent on hard courts and indeed all surfaces in 2010. He has reached the third round at every Grand Slam so far this season and has gone at least that far in six straight over the past two years. In 2009 he was in the fourth round in New York and with a favorable draw could advance that far yet again. His quarterfinals appearance in Toronto shows he’s on good form right now, so if the 26-year-old gets on a roll he could very well spring a surprise or two on a favorite. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
30. Juan Monaco (Argentina) — Monaco was in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows in 2007, but has never otherwise advanced beyond the opening round of the tournament in five other tries. Other than a loss on the clay to Thomaz Bellucci in the February final in Santiago, Monaco has enjoyed relatively little success this year. Could his quarterfinals appearance at Indian Wells have swayed the seeding committee this much, or was it simply a matter of his top-32 ranking? Either way, there were more deserving players for a seed. ODDS OF WINNING: N/A
A surprisingly low seed for a dangerous competitor, Nalbandian is one of the bookmakers’ favorites as the U.S. Open nears. He won the ATP event in Washington, DC earlier this season over Marcos Baghdatis and made it to the quarterfinals in Toronto. He reached the semifinals here in 2003 and the quarters again in 2005, so the late rounds will not psych Nalbandian out. He hasn’t played a Grand Slam event since the 2009 Australian Open, enduring hip surgery and abdominal problems since then. But he’s back and in good form again (on both an ATP and a Davis Cup level) and could be a dangerous darkhorse for the field. ODDS OF VICTORY: 10/1
David Nalbandian is everyone's favorite darkhorse after a resurgent 2010 in both the Davis Cup for Argentina and on the ATP Tour...
31. David Nalbandian (Argentina) –
32. Lleyton Hewitt (Australia) – The 29-year-old Aussie was the 2001 champion over Pete Sampras in New York, so he’s always a guy to watch out for as a dangerous draw. He beat Federer in Halle, Germany earlier this year and reached the fourth round at both Wimbledon and his home Grand Slam. But his performance at every other ATP Masters Series event this year — 0-for-getting out of the second round — probably is a truer sign of his form. He’ll get up enough to reach the third round in Queens, but his run should end there. ODDS OF WINNING: 100/1