1. Rafael Nadal: Remember when everyone was calculating how long it'd take for Novak Djokovic to overtake Nadal at No. 2 in the world? Now, it's "How long can he be number one?" And "Can he win the ultimate hard-court tournament? I think yes. It will be interesting, though, to see if he can continue his recent run of success against James Blake if they both make the semifinals. Also looming in his quarter of the draw is Ivo Karlovic, a real nightmare on fast courts. But, he can take heart. If he were the two seed, he'd have Ernests Gulbis/Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic, and Richard Gasquet to deal with. Who is that two seed again?
2. Roger Federer: Will the slip to No. 2 light a fire under his behind? More importantly, will his doubles gold medal make him come into the net? OK, let's be serious. Fed's still on the brink of history. He's also still near the end of 2008 without a major to his name. Despite the slump, these factors still make him very dangerous. No one wants to play him. Except maybe ...
3. Novak Djokovic: It's all gravy for Djokovic. He's managed to stay in the mix while Federer and Nadal cement a legendary rivalry. But Djokovic is young. He's confident, and he even borders on cocky. He flamed out at Wimbledon, and despite a tricky draw (Robby Ginepri, Jo-Jo Tsonga, Roddick/Gulbis), he'll rise to the occasion. For him, that'll mean trying to show Federer who's really number two.
4. David Ferrer: He could practically sleepwalk through to the quarters, although Gilles Simon could give him fits in the fourth round. Anyway, the ride ends with Andy Murray.
5. Nikolay Davydenko: Um, pass.
6. Andy Murray: Murray had a real nice start to the summer, but lost in the first round in Beijing. Sign of things to come? Not necessarily. He did get to go to the U.S. earlier to train. He's about ready to make some real noise at a Grand Slam. And if there's one thing New Yorkers love, it's upstarts who play to the crowd and are in need of a set of braces.
7. David Nalbandian: I would like to point out that he lost to Frank Dancevic in the first round at Wimbledon this year. Frank Dancevic. (You know, Dancevic was bestowed the honor of playing for Canada at the Olympics. Know why? Because there aren't any other male Canadian tennis players.) Know who beat Dancevic in round two at Wimbledon? Bobby Reynolds. Yes, this is what it's come to for David Nalbandian. I have never heard of the person he's playing in the first round, but I think he's got a decent shot.
8. Andy Roddick: So let's get this straight. Roddick dodges the Olympics to play in two stateside warmup tournaments to get ready for the Open, and then wins neither of them? Oh-KAY! See, what'll stink for Roddick when he loses early is that he won't be able to use the ol' jet lag excuse.
9. James Blake: Hopefully, Blake will have taken two lessons from the Olympics: (1) Never turn your back on Fernando Gonzalez. (2) Blake can play with the big boys. If he doesn't come to the Open brimming with confidence over that Federer win, then he's just slow. Having said that, he's totally going to lose to Nadal in the semis.
10. Stanislas Wawrinka: The other Swiss Miss ... ter. Nothing flashy about this one, though. He's worked himself into the top 10, but where's the weapon? The lack of one will cost him against Andy Murray in the fourth round.
Gael Monfils (32): Can he beat David Nalbandian and James Blake just to get to a quarterfinal with Rafa Nadal?
Jo-Jo Tsonga (19): It might be lofty to pick him for the round of 16 in his first tournament back from injury, but who's going to beat him? Carlos Moya? Marat Safin?
Ernests Gulbis: Considering he's unseeded, he really lucked out with getting Andy Roddick in round two, instead of, say, Rafael Nadal. Expect Gulbis to send Roddick to early training for the 2012 Olympics.
Players NOT to watch:
Juan Martin Del Potro: Not that he isn't immensely talented, but getting too excited about his summer so far is a bit premature. If he beats the dormant Guillermo Canas, I'd be kind of surprised.
Scintillating first-round matches:
Roddick v. Santoro: You know, I truly feel that every year, the draw organizers get together and say to themselves: "Hey, wouldn't it be fun to see Fabrice Santoro play (insert anyone he can't beat) in the first round of the U.S. Open at 9 p.m.?" Ha-ha-hell!, Santoro's saying somewhere. It is mean to pick on the old man, but at least these guys know good entertainment when they see it. Plus, with Roddick's confidence in the trunk, who knows?
Safin v. Spadea: Purely for comic relief. Quick riddle: What do you get when you cross two head cases? Answer: Duh! Safin v. Spadea!
The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Rafa v. Blake, Ferrer v. Murray, Gulbis (uh-huh) v. Djokovic, Gasquet v. Federer
Semifinals: Rafa v. Murray, Djokovic v. Federer
Final: Nadal v. Djokovic
First, a quick word: Women's tennis is boring! I actually had fun filling out the men's draw. I nearly fell asleep three times for the women. Yes, there are lots of up-and-comers out there, but is there one matchup that gets you excited? Yes, you! Is there one that even approaches Fed-Nadal? OK, even Fed-Blake? Wawrinka-Youzhny? All right, Venus and Serena intrigues me slightly. Who's got a reason to love women's tennis these days? Right now, I'm at a mild liking.
Women's tennis needs to DO SOMETHING? Let's move on.
1. Ana Ivanovic: You know, when it comes to women's tennis, I'm starting to think that 1 is just a number. And I don't think she's ready for prime time, between her shaky performances of late and an injury tap-out in Beijing. Her first round is tough, against upstart Casey Dellacqua. What is that I smell? An upset?
2. Jelena Jankovic: If they ever do an update of the board game "Operation", they have got to use Jelena Jankovic as the model. It's like a game, trying to figure out which injury she'll have next. Anyway, if she can avoid injuring her earlobe, she's got a sweetheart of a draw, with no really tough matches until Vera Zvonareva in the quarters, then possibly Elena Dementieva in the semis. This could be Jankovic's half to dominate.
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova: The problem is that men's tennis has spoiled me. I want Rafa-Roger-Novak. I get Ana-Jelena-Sveta? Not too fired up about these ladies yet. Especially not this lady. She's got game, but considering her experience -- and her Slam win -- is mentally shaky. If she plays Dementieva in the quarters, I pick Kuznetsova to crack first.
4. Serena Williams: It's been a hit-or-miss sort of season for Serena. Here's her chance to wind up the season on a good note. She's got a Bondarenko sister in the first round (Venus gets the other one in the third, if seeds hold) and not much resistance along the way. Oh, hold on. My phone's ringing. It's the French Open, reminding me that Serena lost in the third round this year to KATARINA SREBOTNIK! Ai Sugiyama, get ready for your close-up!
5. Elena Dementieva: Winning in Beijing will certainly boost her confidence, but will it translate to the biggest prize in tennis -- a major? She's got a tough draw -- tougher than the Olympics, with Kuznetsova and Jankovic standing in the way of the final.
6. Dinara Safina: It's been a breakthrough year for Safin's sis. (Maybe now, her brother will have one, too.) She's crumbled at the last hurdle of her big opportunities so far -- the French and Olympics. The top half of the draw is all hers, but what will she do if she's under the lights of Flushing Meadow against a Williams sister?
7. Venus Williams: She won Wimbledon. (Flavia Pennetta) And Olympic doubles gold with her sister, despite the fact that there's no rhyme or reason to their doubles game. (Petra Kvitova) There's one thing that's not the name of Venus' game, and that's consistency. (Those are some of the "big names" she's lost to this season.) Also, (Aggie Radwanska is in her half of the draw and might be really, really dangerous). And (so is Serena Williams).
8. Vera Zvonareva: She sure has come a long way from crying during changeovers. Anyway, she's certainly worthy of the top ten, but I think her run at the Open will end with Jelena Jankovic.
9. Agnieszka Radwanska: Not this year. But soon, she'll win her first major.
10. Anna Chakvetadze: Not a really good year for Chakvetadze. She had a good warmup in New Haven, but she seems to lack the confidence to take down even names like Li Na and Dementieva, let alone Kuznetsova.
Dark horses: Ooh, horses! Where?
Players NOT to watch: Where do we start? Top of the draw? 'kay:
Amelie Mauresmo, who might be the only player whose confidence has plummeted after winning two majors
Nicole Vaidisova. Both her boyfriend, garden gnome Radek Stepanek, and her injuries have managed to corrode her game.
Lucie Safarova, despite her warmup tournament win in Forest Hills. Not even the Pilot Pen. Beat the big girls, Lucie!
Lindsay Davenport. I feel bad putting her on this list, but let's be realistic. 'Taint easy being a part-time tennis player, even when you're as fit as a Williams sister. It's even harder when you're a new mother playing girls almost twice as fast as you, although she can still outhit most people. Davenport really needs to ask herself what she's gaining out of this comeback, besides representing the U.S. at the Olympics. I'm guessing the answer to that question will be made public after her U.S. Open.
Scintillating first-round matches: Ha ha. Nothin' cooking here, except maybe Venus v. Stosur.
The way it'll go down:
Quarterfinals: Petrova v. Safina, Serena v. Venus, Dementieva v. Kuznetsova, Zvonareva v. Jankovic
Semifinals: Safina v. Venus, Dementieva v. Jankovic
Final: Venus v. Jankovic
Winner: Either Venus or Jankovic.