Mats Wilander once roughly said that no one should predict a Grand Slam title for a player until he wins his first because breaking through at a slam is different than winning a 250, 500 or 1000 level event. I will take a look at the men who have already won major titles.
My preliminary view is that Roger Federer, aside from his first match and a possible quarter versus Dimitrov, has about as favorable of a draw as he could hope for and he has a 19-2 match record since Roland Garros. Federer may not be the outright favorite, but this draw is set up well for him. Novak Djokovic is ideally suited for this surface, but is 1-4 in US Open finals. A second US Open title coupled with 4 Australian Open titles, 4 US Open runner-up finishes, and many hard court Masters 1000 titles would help Nole continue to climb the ladder of the best hard court champions. His draw has done him no favors and his play in Toronto and Cincinnati will not have anyone in hyper-intimidated mode, but Novak is #1 in the world for a reason. Andy Murray could reverse the entire script for his 2014 campaign with a second US Open title. Facing Tsonga and Djokovic to even reach the semifinal round is not ideal, but at some point a player has to beat big names to win a title. Lleyton Hewitt will need to cash a big Czech to get out of the first round, but if he does, the bottom half of the draw is not as loaded as the top half. A quarterfinal finish would be a big accomplishment for Rusty at this stage of his career. Stanislas Wawrinka is in the tougher half of the draw and his results have been fairly uneven since he won Monte Carlo. Still, if the Swiss bully gets his game going he could win this title.
Who Could Break Through?
Grigor Dimitrov had his chances versus Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon semifinal round and pushed Rafael Nadal for 3 sets in the Australian Open quarterfinal round before wilting in the 4th set. Milos Raonic lacks instinctive movement, but Ivan Lendl overcame that. Milos is 11-3 in slams this year and has been quite consistent in Masters 1000 events. Federer dealt him one-sided losses at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, but each man would have to win 6 matches for Milos to have a NY date with Fed. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Nole, Murray, Dimitrov and Federer consecutively to win Toronto and only dropped one set in those four showdowns. He is a player to watch, but his draw is no easier than it was in Toronto.
Who are the Dangerous Floaters?
I define a floater as someone who is unseeded and unlikely to win the tournament, but who could pull a big upset and/or make a deep run in the draw. Tennis matches are immeasurably easier to win if one can break his opponent’s serve. Most of the floaters have an elephant gun serve. Here are thetwo most obvious big serving floaters: Jerzy Janowicz and Ivo Karlovic. Other dangerous players include: Mikhail Kukushkin, Benoit Paire, Nick Kyrgios, Vasek Pospisil, Jack Sock, Lleyton Hewitt, Teymuraz Gabashvili, Dominic Thiem, Federico Delbonis, Bernard Tomic, Dustin Brown, Denis Istomin, Jurgen Melzer and Marcel Granollers.
This is easily the hardest quarter in the draw. Aside from Nole, Murray and Tsonga players such as “Mr. Variety” Philipp Kohlschreiber, big serving John Isner and Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco lurk.
Prediction: Nole d. Murray in 4 sets to advance to the semifinal round
Youzhny and Kyrgios should be a must see first round match. If Nishikori can regain his Madrid and Miami form, he could reach the semifinal round. However, I think Stan benefits from a 3 out of 5 set format, and Milos Raonic has been so consistent in Masters 1000 events this year. I predict seeding hold up and those two facing off in the quarters.
Prediction: Milos Raonic d. Stanislas Wawrinka via many tiebreak victories
I could see this quarter producing a lot of interesting results. 6th seed Tomas Berdych will need to be focused to fend off 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt who beat Juan Martin del Potro in the 1st round last year. Berdych will face either Darcis or Kilzan just to reach the 3rd round. Steve Johnson could add to a nice hard court season with a win or two in this quarter. Bernard Tomic vs. Dustin Brown in the first round should be awesome if solely for their different levels of affect on the court. If Kevin Anderson has recovered from a tough loss to Dimitrov in Toronto, he could do a lot of damage. I would imagine players feel like facing Gilles Simon is a bit like going to the dentist. Jerzy Janowicz showed signs of life in Cincinnati by beating Dimitrov and then was runner-up in Winston-Salem. Marin Cilic has seemingly lost a bit of momentum, but is still very dangerous. David Ferrer played well in Toronto and Cincinnati, but has not had his best year in 2014. Who comes out? I have no idea, but I have to make a prediction.
Prediction: Marin Cilic d. Tomas Berdych to reach the semifinal round in a rematch of their dark match at Wimbledon
First, I wonder what Ryan Harrison did to consistently draw seeded players at majors. Dimitrov may not like seeing Harrison in the first round, but as our friends at 538 point out Harrison’s draws make him the unlucky 1 percent of players receiving repeatedly bad draws. Roger Federer ought to reach the quarterfinal round. The Fed has a tricky first round match and potentially tricky 3rd round match, but he is in good form and favored. Dimitrov should be waiting if he can navigate a manageable draw. There the second career meeting between hitting partners, friends and business partners will likely take place. Can Federer beat a player he has inspired in many ways?
Prediction: Roger Federer d. Grigor Dimitrov in 4 tight sets
From there, I would predict Nole to beat Milos and Federer to beat Marin. A Wimbledon rematch should go 4 or 5 sets. Who do I think will win the final if this scenario plays out? If Nole is focused and not spent, he’d be favored, but Roger is already in good form. If the match were today, I’d take Roger in 4.