Friday August 24th, 2012

In what must rank among the most absurd stats in sports -- one we trumpet every chance we get -- one of the Big Three (Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal) has won 29 of the last 30 major titles. With Nadal out, Djokovic down and Federer 31, can a new figure end this oligopoly?

Top 16 seeds

1. Roger Federer: He's ranked No.1. He won the most recent major. He won the U.S. Open every year from 2004-2008. He beat Djokovic both at Wimbledon and in Cincinnati. It's a boring pick -- and longtime observers think he's past the point of winning a major off of grass -- but he's our pick.

2. Novak Djokovic: After winning in Australia to start the year, Djokovic has backslid a bit in 2012. But he's always been cozy both on hardcourts and in New York. He's the defending champ. And this is a terrific opportunity to salvage his season. The game is there. The state of his mind and body is less certain.

3. Andy Murray: We like the rule "You have to win a major before you can be favored to win a major." But Murray is testing it. After Murray's excellent adventure at the Olympics -- and his fine track record in New York -- you're well within your rights to pick him. A win would mean that all four majors would be won by each of the top four highest-ranked players.

4. David Ferrer: You admire the work ethic. And he has played deep in this event before. But winning seven matches without a "kill shot" is a big ask. Apart from the talent gap, he's prone to burning too much energy in week one. And hard-serving Kevin Anderson (soon to be an American?) is a potentially rough first round test.

5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: A lovely, entertaining player to have around. But still needs to show he's a true A-lister. After a freak fire hydrant injury in Canada (don't ask), there may be a health issue as well. An easy week one draw, but he is in Murray's quarter.

6. Tomas Berdych: Always a bit flighty, the Berd-Man tends to waft and in and out of the conversation. He'll either hit through David Goffin in round one, and win handily; or he'll lose to a patient, efficient, minimalist.

7. Juan Martin del Potro. Absolutely a top-shelf contender. Former winner (2009) is coming off a strong show at the Olympics. You worry about his body enduring seven best-of-five matches -- on asphalt and potentially in heat. But a real chance to win a second title. In the Djokovic quarter but we know how that went on the last big stage (Del Potro took down Djokovic for bronze at the Olympics.)

8. Janko Tipsarevic: The cut-and-paste: Fine player. Congrats on reaching the Top Ten. Not a credible threat to win majors.

9. John Isner: What an up-and-down year for Isner. Wins over Federer and Djokovic. Modest performances at the Majors. A nice chance to salvage his season. But after deep disappointment at Wimbledon, he's found some mojo this summer. Best hope for U.S. representation during Week Two; In Ferrer's section, he has a real shot at the semis.

10. Juan Monaco: One of the more muscular players on tour deserves credit for late-career striving. But how much further can his game take him?

11. Nicolas Almagro: A fun-to-watch veteran who has mastered beating lower-ranked players and has an abominable record against the elite. Could lose early against tricky veteran, Radek Stepanek.

12. Marin Cilic: Big game -- and has enjoyed past U.S. Open success, including a takedown of Murray -- but still too erratic.

13. Richard Gasquet: Tons of talent. A stop-traffic-gorgeous backhand (and game in general) but still doesn't give much indication he's cut out for real greatness.

14. Alex Dolgopolov: Modestly-built, strategic player. But more an annoyance than a threat.

15. Milos Raonic: The Canadian has firmly established himself a credible, future top tenner -- the most recent bit of evidence was his run in Cincinnati. But we await the major breakthrough.

16. Gilles Simon: You love the minimalist tennis. But by now we know the dance steps to the Simon Shuffle: win, win, win, out in round four.

Seeds 17-32

17. Kei Nishikori: Fine young player who likes the hard courts.

20. Andy Roddick: A past winner and he does have a hardcourt win over Federer this year. His body has been waging a relentless revolt for several years now. But, owing to a kind draw, at least he could still be in the draw coming his 30th birthday on August 30th.

21. Tommy Haas: Former top five player having an exceptional season.

23. Mardy Fish: An annus forgettabilis for American veteran. But he can close out the year on a high note with a strong showing at his home Slam.

27. Sam Querrey: Quietly, Querrey querulously... OK we quit. He's playing well of late.

Dark Horse Stable

Grigor Dimitrov: You still get a feeling the breakthrough is a question of when, not if.

Brian Baker: Best story men's tennis has given us in years.

Bernard Tomic: An awful lot of talent that will eventually pour forth.

Jerzy Janowicz: Listen to this guy play and then realize that grunting is not exclusively a WTA issue.

Blue plate first-round upset

Kevin Anderson def. David Ferrer. (Realistically, all 16 of the top men should win their first match.)

Early Matches to watch

Federer vs. Donald Young: The good news is that Young will be setting no records when, likely, he loses.

Jack Sock vs. Florian Mayer: Young American with a challenging, but winnable first rounder.

Qualifier TBD v. Qualifier TBD: One player, ranked outside the top 100, is guaranteed nearly $40,000. Which can make for quite an incentive.

Murray vs. Alex Bogomolov Jr.: A lousy year for ABJ, but he did beat Murray on U.S. hardcourts in 2011.

Juan Martin del Potro vs. David Nalbandian: Plataforma especial.

Doubles winner

Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi: They're the top seeds for a reason.

Singles picks

Top half: Federer def. Murray Bottom half: Djokovic def. Isner Winner: Federer

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