The US Open reaches the weekend with 32 of the world’s best racqueteers still vying for the Tiffany & Co. trophy. At last, we find seeded players meeting for a chance at the round of 16, and nine of the Top 10 moving on to compete over the weekend.
Continuing our look at the must-see matches of the tournament, here are our five circled matches of the third round:
Novak Djokovic (2) vs. Julien Benneteau (31)
The last time we watched Benneteau in the third round of a Grand Slam, he brought Roger Federer within two points of a loss on six different occasions, succumbing to the eventual Wimbledon champion 6-4, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-7 (6), 1-6. Just one day after Czech Lukas Rosol knocked out No. 2 Rafael Nadal, it was a surreal 48 hours in London and for tennis fans worldwide. Two months later in New York, it’ll be Djokovic’s job to deny the 30-year-old from France.
The defending Open champ owns a 5-1 career mark against Benneteau, and hasn't lost to him since the Indian Wells Masters in 2006. Djokovic has been nearly perfect against the likes of Paolo Lorenzi and Rogerio Dutra Silva, but Benneteau nearly always plays him tough from the baseline. The two traded sets a few years back in their own Wimbledon match, with Djokovic prevailing 7-6 (8), 6-7 (1), 6-2, 6-4.
Milos Raonic (15) vs. James Blake
It’s hard-hitting analysis when it comes to Raonic, who can get his first serve up past 140 mph and dictates points from far behind the baseline. Raonic is the better player, surely – yet after a roaring summer beating Andy Murray in Toronto and Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych in Cincinnati, he has looked ordinary here in Queens. He drew Colombian Santiago Giraldo for the second straight Grand Slam in the first round, but instead of controlling the action like he did in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win at Wimbledon, Raonic found himself having to make up a two-sets-to-one deficit to advance.
He actually is made-to-order for Blake in many ways, as Blake is an experienced hand that can still return big serves and will make Raonic pay with his forehand at moments in this match. This is all new for Raonic in this venue, as he’ll be entering the stadium courts from here onward. Murray all but assuredly awaits the winner in the Round of 16 – in Blake’s house. A slow start on Grandstand Saturday afternoon could be lethal for the Canadian.
Nicolas Almagro (11) vs. Jack Sock
Sock enters unprecedented main draw territory in the only Grand Slam he’s ever played, after a first round loss to Marco Chiudinelli in 2010 (before winning the boys’ singles title as a junior wild card) and a second round defeat to Andy Roddick last year under the lights. The only unseeded player left in the Federer bracket of the draw, Sock hasn’t dropped a set thus far and will face another baseliner, the Spanish Almagro, for a berth into the Round of 16 on Saturday.
Almagro has rebounded from a straight set one-and-done last year in Flushing Meadows at the hands of the aforementioned Benneteau, knocking out a dangerous hard court player in Radek Stepanek in the first round and then outlasting German Philipp Petzschner on Thursday in five, 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Almagro’s never been beyond this point in his eight US Open appearances, with notable third round losses to Rafael Nadal in 2009 and qualifier Gilles Muller in 2008. It’s a battle between Sock’s forehand and Almagro’s backhand to see who moves into the second week.
Tomas Berdych (6) vs. Sam Querrey (27)
This will be a captivating contest between two men who just squared off a week ago. Berdych reached the final in Winston-Salem (falling to Querrey’s favorite doubles partner, John Isner, in a third-set tiebreak) after his semifinal victory over the “Samurai,” 6-4, 6-3. Berdych then notched an impressive win over the precocious David Goffin in the first round at the US Open, when the Belgian was a trendy pick among fans and pundits alike, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. Four years ago, it was Querrey taking his second career main draw win at the Open by upsetting Berdych, who was ranked No. 22. Querrey must figure out a way to get the ball behind the Czech, but he looks ready to do so after a powerful 19-ace performance against Spain’s Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo.
Jeremy Chardy (32) vs. Martin Klizan
Slovakia’s Klizan has the tournament’s biggest upset thus far to his credit, taking the first set off No. 5 Jo-Wilfired Tsonga and then showing resolve in rallying back from a 1-6 second set to push Tsonga into mistake after baffling mistake. He’ll look to bid “adieu” to another Frenchman, Chardy, who snuck into a seed on the strength of a summer victory over Murray in Cincinnati. Chardy’s covered a long distance since running the European claycourt Challenger circuit for most of 2011, a year in which he did not appear in New York. Both are young players with a pedigree of juniors success – Chardy won the boys’ title in Wimbledon in 2005, Klizan the next year at Roland Garros.
Andy Roddick (20) vs. Fabio Fognini
Any must-watch list from here one out for the men has to include Roddick. His 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 win over Aussie wunderkind Bernard Tomic kicked off the farewell tour in Flushing Meadows on Friday night. If Tomic couldn’t take it to Roddick, the clay-court Fognini certainly won’t. Now Juan Martin del Potro in the quarters? That’s a different story -- likely for a later entry in this series.
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