After he snared the Olympic gold medal, Murray reestablished himself as a legitimate Grand Slam title threat. He played very well in Australia early in the year and had a good Wimbledon for the most part. Butm after losing so many matches to the rest of the Big Four at the majors, it was fair to say that he had to prove he had the willpower and game to win a Grand Slam before he could be talked about in the same breath as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
While Murray still feels like he has to show that he can win seven straight matches at a major, his ability to knock off Djokovic and Federer in a pressure-packed Olympics played in his home country was enough for me to grant him at least co-favorite status in New York City.
Murray has often said how much he likes the speed of the US Open hardcourts, as well as the event itself, which tends to be louder and sometimes more lively than the other Slams. Perhaps that’s the reason why he was able to win the Olympics at Wimbledon rather than Wimbledon at Wimbledon; it was a very different crowd and one that was notably more vocal than the tea-sipping crowd that tends to fill the seats during the first week in July.
Murray will need to amp himself up against Dodig, who has a huge serve and is capable of pulling off upsets on a great day. The Croatian doesn't move that well and is not overwhelming of the ground, but he packs plenty of punch and is not to be taken lightly.
But how exactly he is going to contend with Murray over the long haul is questionable. Murray should be able to hold fairly easily, string him out from the baseline and get enough serves back to put himself into a neutral position, where he will be able to dictate. Grant Dodig a set, but no more - Murray in four sets.
Looking at the draw, Isner has the best shot of any American male of reaching the semis. He’s in No. 4 David Ferrer’s quarter, which is a much better segment to be in rather than having to think about facing Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray in the final eight. But Big John has had decent Slam draws before and not reached the final four, so he has to show that he can stay mentally strong enough when the matches grow long and tight before he is considered a lock to reach the second week.
Malisse is growing long in the tooth at the age of 32 (at least tennis-wise) but he’s been very committed this year and hovering just outside of the top-50. He has power off both wings, a decent serve and can volley if he needs to. But he’s going to have a lot of trouble returning Isner’s service bombs and contending with his huge forehand if Isner is in a good headspace, which he should after a positive week in Winston-Salem.
The American realizes this could prove to be a very difficult first round. Malisse has a 2-1 record against him, although Isner did tackle him in two tiebreaks in Nice in the late spring. Everyone in the tennis world knows how well Isner can serve, but his US Open fortunes will be tied to how well he returns, volleys, moves and strikes his backhand. Take Isner in a nail-biting four-setter.
MEN’S MATCHES OF NOTE
Former US Open semifinalist David Ferrer leads his quarter as the fourth seed and by all rights he should be considered the man to beat in his segment given how well he’s performed at the Slams over the past two years. Don’t be surprised if the Spaniard makes it to the final four, but also don't be stunned if the likes of the gigantic Kevin Anderson of South Africa (who, by the way, is married to an American and lives in Illinois) takes him out. It all hinges on how well Anderson serves because Ferrer will jam him up elsewhere. The Spaniard in four… France’s Richard Gasquet, who reached the final of Toronto is also capable of reaching the final and shouldn’t have too many problems with Albert Montanes… NCAA champion Steve Johnson, an attacking player, will take on another American who likes to move forward toward the net, Rajeev Ram. This should be a delightful contest that will likely be played on a back court, with Ram coming through in five… Promising young American Ryan Harrison hasn’t had the best of summers, but he can redeem himself in New York City, which would start with a win over Benjamin Becker. This is a match that Harrison should and will win, but the German will take a set from him… Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 champion is completing a Golden Slam of wildcards this year and will take on Tobias Kamke. I’m not convinced the veteran Aussie’s body will hold up for a deep run, but he has enough knowledge and willpower to get through his opening round in four sets.
After looking very rusty in the first set of her win over American 16-year-old Victoria Duval, Clijsters found her rhythm and confidence. For about 15 minutes or so she looked liked the woman who has won three crowns here. Somewhat fortunately for the 29 year-old, she gets to play another teenager before she’ll be forced to face another veteran in the third round.
Clijsters says she is going to go all out in her attempt to win her last Grand Slam before retirement, but she is playing three events here and that will almost surely tax the body of woman who has been battling injuries all year.
But although she would love to win the doubles with her good friend Kirsten Flipkens and the mixed with Bob Bryan, her eyes are on winning her fourth singles title. In great form, she is certainly capable of doing so, but she hasn't played at an extremely high level since the start of the year in Australia so she will have to find fifth gear pretty quickly.
Robson is a terrific ball-striker when she gets her feet set. The lefty can dictate with her forehand and has a pretty soild backhand too, but she doesn’t move that well. She also has a good first serve, but struggles with her consistency.
The problem for Robson is that, not only can Clijsters match her offensively , but even if she catches fire, Clijsters is capable of getting numerous balls back and turning points around quickly. The British hopeful is usually good for one excellent set against elite players, but no more. She’ll push Clijsters in the first set, but then fall quickly in the second.
It has been good to see that 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova managed to get her asthma under control in North America, because fans on the continent have missed out on seeing a tremendously talented competitor play her best.
Since arriving in Montreal, the tall and powerful Czech has been lethal, winning Montreal, reaching the semifinals of Cincinnati and then grabbing the title in New Haven, where she clinched the Emirates Airline US Open Series points title, which comes with a chance at a huge payday.
Because of her US Open Series run, Kvitova has transitioned into huge title threat, which she was not last summer even though she had won Wimbledon. She owns the biggest left-handed forehand in the game, a hard backhand, excellent volleys and a well-placed first serve.
In Cornet, she’ll face a scrappy, former top-20 player who once looked like she would hang around the top echelons of the game for a long time, but then lost her confidence and some of her spirit. She’s a fine counterpuncher who likes to dig in, but unless it’s super hot and humid and Kvitova has trouble breathing, she’ll hit right through the Frenchwoman in straight sets.
OTHER MATCHES OF NOTE
It will be fun to watch Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens constantly attack the net against No.1 Victoria Azarenka, and then get passed time and time again… Maria Sharapova will face Lourdes Dominguez-Lino in the night match and, unless it’s super windy, she should be able to run away with the match… It appears that after her first round romp, the 2011 winner, Samantha Stosur, is ready to put up a stern defense of her title. The Aussie should pound past Edina Gallovits-Hall… Li Na is playing better than she has all year and will whip Aussie Casey Dellacqua… Russian Nadia Petrova, who is looking to become a US resident, could have serious trouble with Simona Halep, who can belt the ball. I’m sensing a three-set win for the young Romanian… American Varvara Lepchenko needed three long sets to score her first round win ,but should be settled down and will best Anastasia Rodionova in straight sets…Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova won Washington but won't be able to punch past the tricky Zheng Jie… Stanford standout Mallory Burdette has plenty of ability, but she didn't see service bombs like Lucie Hradecka can hit when she was in school.