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U.S. Open men's seed report

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

No. 2 Rafael Nadal, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, is 15-0 on hard courts this year and 53-3 overall.

SI.com's Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's seeds at the U.S. Open. Read on for the dark horses, top first-round matchups and predictions. Click here for the women's report.

Top 16 seeds

1. Novak Djokovic: His hard-court skills are unimpeachable. He is a former champion. But can he regain his edge over Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal? He could get a workout against talented (and undersized) Ricardas Berankis in the first round.

2. Rafael Nadal: I didn't envision writing this on Jan. 1 or even July 1, but Nadal is the player to beat. His play on the North American hard courts this year has been a revelation, he appears to have solved the Djokovic Riddle and his knees are healthy.

3. Andy Murray: The defending champion and the winner of the previous Slam, at Wimbledon. If any of the top three win, it will be no surprise at all. If a player outside the top three wins, it will be a shock.

4. David Ferrer: As ever, he has the admiration of the Kingdom of Tennis for his industriousness and commitment to fitness. As ever, he lacks the weaponry to win majors. Since Wimbledon, he lost his opening match in Montreal and his second match in Cincinnati.

5. Tomas Berdych: A Federer slayer (and semifinalist) in 2012, he can beat anyone under the right conditions. But he still lacks the consistency and focus to win seven straight matches.

6. Juan Martin del Potro: If anyone outside the ND/RN/AM axis can win, it's Delpo, the 2009 champ. In his last two tournaments, he lost to John Isner and Milos Raonic in hard-court matches that could have gone either way. Does he have the mettle/confidence to close those out in New York?

7. Roger Federer: Still recovering from the shock of that unsightly "7" before his name. Obviously, it's been a rough year for Federer, reaching a crescendo this summer. If his lower back is up to it and his confidence is comparably healthy, Federer -- bolstered by great fan support -- can rekindle the fire and make a deep run. That's the hope anyway. (Alas, he lands in Nadal's quarter again.)

8. Richard Gasquet: Love the flair and backhand. A likely middle-weekender, as usual, but he's only 1-15 in fourth-round matches at Slams.

9. Stanislas Wawrinka: He's been to the quarterfinals once and the fourth round three times at the U.S. Open. But he's also one of those Baghdatis types who can check out mentally and become upset fodder, as he was against Donald Young in 2011.

10. Milos Raonic: After a dismal first half of the year, he made noise again in Montreal and Cincinnati. The Slam breakthrough still eludes him (Raonic has yet to advance past the fourth round in any major), but there's too much game not to think it's a case of "when" and not "if."

11. Kei Nishikori: He's becoming a next-generation Ferrer, an admirable grinder and defender but insufficient power to win big.

12. Tommy Haas: Federer has eclipsed him for sentimentality, but how do you not like a 35-year-old on the cusp of the top 10?

13. John Isner: He's always dangerous on the comfort the U.S. hard courts, as he showed in winning the Atlanta Open and Citi Open and beating Djokovic and del Potro en route to the Cincinnati final. One key: Can he get through early rounds without exhausting much energy? That would help him with Nadal looming in the fourth round.

14. Jerzy Janowicz: Can he piggy-pack his stellar Wimbledon with another strong Slam showing?

15. Nicolas Almagro: He is what he is. The Spaniard is an emotive player with a nice backhand and big serve who has been stuck in the 10-16 range for most of the past several years.

16. Fabio Fognini: The creative and quirky player had a great run on clay after Wimbledon, winning two titles and advancing to the final of a third tournament. But he turned in a pretty shabby effort his last time out.

SI Now: One-on-one with Andy Murray
On Thursday's SI Now, Sports Illustrated's Maggie Gray talks with professional tennis player Andy Murray about heading into the U.S. Open as the reigning champion, what it was like to finally win at Wimbledon, and how dangerous Rafael Nadal is.

Seeds 17-32 to watch

17. Kevin Anderson: The hard-serving former Illinois star is always dangerous. He has a tough first-rounder against No. 51 Daniel Brands.

19. Tommy Robredo: Not much of a threat to play deep. But let's pause and acknowledge a tremendous comeback for the 31-year-old Spaniard.

21. Mikhail Youzhny: The 2006 U.S. Open semifinalist opens against Nicolas Mahut.

22. Philipp Kohlschreiber: The deceptively powerful German scores the periodic upset -- last year he beat Isner in a five-setter in the third round here -- and can give the top seeds trouble.

24. Benoit Paire: Gets props for his unique style, tennis cortex and artist's temperament.

25. Grigor Dimitrov: Lots of talent, and no longer has to sweat the potential distraction of dinner with the girlfriend's dad.

26. Sam Querrey: American due for a strong showing.

30. Ernests Gulbis: Say this about the guy: It's seldom boring.

32. Dmitry Tursunov: Back from injury and suddenly playing top-tier tennis. He beat Ferrer in Cincinnati and pushed del Potro to three sets.

Dark horse stable

Alexandr Dolgopolov: He lacks height and body mass and is prone to injury. But he's too good to be ranked No. 38.

Vasek Pospisil: The Canadian broke through in Montreal, upsetting Isner and Berdych and reaching the semifinals.

Daniel Brands: Neither match was on hard courts, but he took a set off Nadal at the French Open and beat Federer at the Swiss Open last month.

Ivo Karlovic: The good doctor is cranking up the serve again.

Gael Monfils: Because he's Gael Monfils.

Lleyton Hewitt: The former champion courtesy.

First-round matches to watch

Rafael Nadal vs. Ryan Harrison: Harrison has been cursed by bad draws at majors; this takes the Junior's cheesecake.

Novak Djokovic vs. Ricardas Berankis: Djokovic will win but might sweat.

Lleyton Hewitt vs. Brian Baker: Big opportunity for Baker to beat a former champ.

Andy Murray vs. Michael Llodra: Defending champ draws a crafty veteran.

Daniel Brands vs. Kevin Anderson: Lousy draw for both.

Radek Stepanek vs. Stanislas Wawrinka: This is my blue-plate upset special.

Doubles winner

Bob and Mike Bryan, to complete the calendar Grand Slam. It's mid-August and the Bryan brothers have clinched the year-end No.1 ranking. Enough said.

Singles picks

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray; Rafael Nadal vs. David Ferrer

Finals: Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal

Winner: Rafael Nadal

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