As usual, it’s all about The Big 3: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. And since it’s 2014, we’ll throw Stan Wawrinka in there as the Rafa replacement (who won’t be playing in this year’s US Open, due to a wrist injury).
But what if (and I know, it’s a big “if”) something unexpected happens? What if there is an early upset or two and tennis fans are allowed to show their enthusiasm for players outside the usual top 3? Who might they be, these surprise players, at this year’s US Open (which begins on Monday)?
With Nadal out, Djokovic slightly distracted from imminent fatherhood, and Federer’s chances of winning becoming slighter with each passing year, maybe this year’s US Open will find a couple of new finalists. At least that might create a little excitement in what has become an all-too-predictable sport.
Let’s take a look at the possibilities, one quarter of the men’s main draw at a time… (click here to view the men’s singles draw)
THE FIRST QUARTER
This is Novak Djokovic’s quarter. With the challenges ahead of him, it is also the quarter that has been much discussed in the past few days. Eventually, Novak will face John Isner… Then, he would face Andy Murray or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. Djokovic has been beaten by all 3 of these players. This Open just might be the opening that Andy Murray is hoping for. He hasn’t won a tournament since Wimbledon a year ago, but it might just be time for another title.
Keep your eye on: the No. 1 American, John Isner. The opportunity to make it to the final at the US Open is in Isner’s capability, if all the circumstances line up correctly (and this year things are lining up nicely for him).
The third-round match to watch for: John Isner vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber (of Germany). If Isner can break his challenging record against Kohlschreiber, anything is possible for Isner.
The First Quarter Surprise Semifinalist just might be: JOHN ISNER.
THE SECOND QUARTER
This is Stan Wawrinka’s quarter. If you’re a fan of the Canadian top player, then you’ll think this is Milos Raonic’s quarter. The truth is, it’s possibly many players’ quarter, depending on who is in “the zone” over the next week and a half.
The third highest seed in this quarter is Kei Nishikori (No. 10), who will likely face a strong opponent in American Jack Sock in the second round. The fourth highest seed here is Tommy Robredo (No. 16), but it is unlikely Robredo will defeat Wawrinka.
Keep your eye on: Australia’s Nick Kyrgios. He is a player with passion and heart and nothing to lose… always a threatening blend at a Grand Slam. In general, this is quarter presents the greatest opportunity for a surprise semifinalist.
The second-round match to watch for: Jack Sock vs. Kei Nishikori. Everything has fallen into place for Sock’s game in 2014. He has put in the smart, hard work on a consistent basis; his mind and his body have made the type of progress indicating that Sock is ready to make a significant run in the next 2 weeks.
The Second Quarter Surprise Semifinalist just might be: JACK SOCK
THE THIRD QUARTER
With Rafael Nadal out of the picture, the third quarter is pretty much nobody’s to claim. Still, there are several formidable possible semifinalists here, including David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Ernests Gulbis, Lleyton Hewitt and Marin Cilic. The first-round match between Berdych and Hewitt promises to be one of the most exciting showdowns early in week number one.
Keep your eye on: top South African player Kevin Anderson. Like Isner, Anderson is a player with exceptional height and booming serve. Anderson has never gone beyond the fourth round in a Grand Slam, but he has reached the last 16 on five occasions.
The second-round match to watch for: Kevin Anderson vs. Jerzy Janowicz.
The Third Quarter Surprise Semifinalist might just be: KEVIN ANDERSON
THE FOURTH QUARTER
Federer. What more can one say?
The only other story in the fourth quarter in Grigor Dimitrov.
Keep your eye on wild-card entry — 17-year-old American Jared Donaldson, who plays Gael Monfils in the first round. Part of the thrill of the US Open is getting a sneak preview on the outer courts of a player you’ll likely be seeing in Arthur Ashe Stadium in a few years. For my money, Jared Donaldson just might be one of those players.
The Fourth Quarter (Not-So-Surprising) semifinalist might just be: ROGER FEDERER