Toronto Preview

With the U.S. Open Series heading into week four, the big guns will finally grace us with appearances on consecutive weeks in Toronto and Cincinnati. We’ve already seen a resurgent, lighter Mardy Fish take the inaugural Atlanta title, Sam Querrey defend his title in his home tournament at UCLA and finally David Nalbandian take 500 points and about a 70 ranking spot increase at Washington. The question is: who will win with everybody in action this week?

Nadal’s Quarter
Winner: It would be insane to bet against Nadal. The man is supremely talented and even more supremely focused in his goal of winning the U.S. Open for the first time. This tournament will give us the first look at a healthy and rested Nadal on the hardcourts when seemingly every other threat is struggling. Juan Martin del Potro may not make it back to the Open, Federer has lost his swagger, Murray has taken a step back and seemed disinterested in non-majors, going only 11-8 in such events and Djokovic looks as if he maxed out in 2008.

Dark Horse: Watch out for Sam Querrey. The American is currently ranked inside the top 20 and has played great tennis on the hardcourts. He defended his title in L.A. with less than perfect performances until he finally dispatched the Murray plague that had done him in the four previous meetings. Querrey willed himself to victory even when he didn’t have his best stuff – the mark of a true champion. Don’t be surprised if he really challenges Nadal in the Round of 16. Another potential true dark horse in this quarter would be Janko Tipsarevic. He’s played some excellent tennis in North America so far, throttling Marcos Baghdatis and Sam Querrey along the way.

Early Exit: It seems like the Roddick-Cilic part of the draw will provide the quarter with the early exit. Andy Roddick played absolutely lethargic in his loss against Gilles Simon – a man he should never in a million years lose to – and he’s even getting medical tests before the tournament. Who knows where his head will be, but the good news is that he keeps a bye for one last week before he drops out of the top 10. It’s the first time ever there are no Americans in the top 10 of the ATP rankings. If that’s not enough incentive for Roddick to play his best, he will also have the added bonus of a chance to get payback on Yen-Hsun Lu for his unbelievable Wimbledon upset of Roddick in his first match. Another possible early exit I could see happening is Marin Cilic only because he played a bunch of matches in the grueling humidity in Washington D.C. The good news for Roddick and Cilic is one has to get to the quarters – or do they?
Best potential match: Nadal vs. Querrey – The entire world will get the chance to see if the Southern California boy is for real.

Murray’s Quarter
Winner: Robin Soderling is poised to continue his dominance. He’s actually accumulated more points than Andy Murray this year, and the next two weeks could allow him to overtake Murray for the No. 4 ranking and give him control of his own quarter at the U.S. Open. Soderling has only a measly 10 points to defend, while Murray has 1,360.
Dark Horse: Fernando Gonzalez hasn’t played since the French Open and has drawn Gael Monfils right away, but Monfils seems more interested in entertaining people than winning matches, and if Gonzo can get that first win under his belt, he may become confident. Gonzo’s section is quite manageable considering players like Monfils and Murray stand in his way – two players who haven’t been playing well lately.
Early Exit: It’s tough to put David Ferrer’s name on this line because he’s the ultimate grinder. He’s like a bulldog on the court, never giving an inch of breathing room to any opponent, but he has drawn an in-form David Nalbandian. I’m not quite sure how motivated Nalbandian will be after winning a tournament last week, maybe he’ll be a little tired too, but he should still be able to keep his momentum for his first few matches.
Best potential match: This section includes many juicy portions starting with Gonzo vs. Monfils and Ferrer vs. Nalbandian in the first round! A Murray-Soderling quarter would be amazing. The two would be able to prove who the real No. 4 is on the courts.

Federer’s Quarter
Winner: Paul Annacone joins Roger Federer for the first time and we should see some results immediately. Annacone should add a little bit to Fed’s volleying game right away. Down the line, Annacone needs to focus on Fed’s second serve and backhand, but for now – Rog just needs confidence. Winning matches at a Masters Series should help accomplish that.
Dark Horse: I actually feel this quarter is Berdych vs. Federer all the way and there really shouldn’t be any dark horses. The one I will give is Alejandro Falla. He took Fed to five sets at Wimbledon, and he can run just about any ball down. He’s on his way to eclipsing his career-high No. 58 ranking.
Early Exit: Nicolas Almagro has been consistently inconsistent this year. He’ll do great in a tournament – usually a 250 – and then flop in the next – usually a more important tournament. He’s a clay-first player, yet possesses a huge forehand and a potentially intriguing hardcourt game. He hasn’t played a hardcourt match since March, so that’s also potentially unnerving.
Best potential match: This bracket looks a bit pedestrian until you reach the potential quarterfinal of Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer. It would be a rematch of the Wimbledon quarterfinal where Berdych dethroned the king of grass. Berdych has won their past two meetings so that gives the match even more intrigue.

Djokovic’s Quarter
Winner: Novak Djokovic appears to have been given the draw from heaven. The only legitimate threat in his mind would be Nikolay Davydenko, but he hasn’t been healthy or played well since January.
Dark Horse: Jurgen Melzer has played his best tennis in recent months and actually holds a victory over Djokovic at this year’s French Open, but I think the Djoker will be more focused this time around.
Early Exit: Fernando Verdasco has been in a downward spiral ever since playing amazing tennis at the 09 Aussie Open. Meanwhile, Marcos Baghdatis doesn’t seem to care much about how he does – as long as he’s having fun. Finally Davydenko has struggled lately. All three of these guys could potentially go out early, but at least they all have one thing in common – they’ll play each other.
Best potential match: Djokovic vs. Davydenko – not too many matches to get excited about, so we’ll go with the most obvious.

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer – Federer is poised to prove he can win another major and he takes Toronto seriously. He beats Djokovic in straight sets. Rafael Nadal vs. Robin Soderling – Can Soderling get under Rafa’s skin? If you saw the French Open, you would say ‘No way’ and be right. Rafa takes Soderling out to set up the dream final.

Final: Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal – Although Nadal dominates Federer in career head-to-head battles (14-7), it’s only 3-3 on hardcourts. Unfortunately for Federer, I think Nadal takes this match to prove he’s really ready to win the U.S. Open and then sits out the following week in Cincy just so he can stay primed for the Open. Nadal wins in straights with Fed tattering off toward the end of both sets – something Federer has been accustomed to doing recently.

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