1. Roger Federer: After walking the desert for the first five months of 2009 and coming up only with mouthfuls of sand, Federer is suddenly the player to beat again. He looked like a world beater last week in Cincinnati (his first hard-court title of 2009) and has, of course, won the Open every year since 2004. As if he needed it, his draw is awfully soft as well. The rest of the field prays for colic.
2. Andy Murray: Lost a bit of momentum with a decisive defeat against Federer in Cincinnati. And his draw isn't easy, starting with Ernests Gulbis in the first round. Still, we'll stick with Murray as our pick. He's won two of the last three high-stakes hard-court events. His game and fitness are at "Slam-winning" levels. Above all, he can compete without the pressures he faces at Wimbledon.
3. Rafael Nadal: Odd to see Nadal seeded third -- and playing Richard Gasquet off the bat. The good news: Nadal ought to be fairly fresh for a change, having missed June and July to recover from the knee injury. The bad news: He's still not at full strength, as evidenced by his play in Montreal and Cincy. He may well complete the complete Slam. But not this year.
4. Novak Djokovic: The reports of his demise have been exaggerated. His downer year still has him squarely in the top five. Be interesting to see a) if he can (re)ingratiate himself to the NYC crowd. (Cut him some slack: You hate to see an entertainer repress his personality for fear of getting booed.) And b) how the addition of Todd Martin as consigliere figure affects his play.
5. Andy Roddick: Top American won over Tennis Nation at Wimbledon, and rebounded fairly nicely with solid, not great, results in the hard courts. Roddick unapologetically builds his year toward this event. Let's see what he's got. Look forward to the possible quarterfinal rematch with Djokovic.
6. Juan Martin del Potro: Not known as a great mover, J-Po has transitioned gracefully from "prospect" to "legit contender." We still question whether he's cut out to win 21 sets, sometimes under awful conditions. But he's in the mix. A loss before the quarters would constitute a sizable upset.
7. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Always an intriguing player. He can serve, he can volley, he can return, he can pound the ball. He beat Federer on hard courts this summer. He also lost to John Isner and Chris Guccione. Go figure. Is he turning into one of those "any given day" players?
8. Nikolay Davydenko: As always, you have to applaud his tenacity. He's still in the upper ranks, despite scandal, injury and a game predicated on little more than exasperating consistency. Not a threat to win majors. But give him his due.
9. Gilles Simon: Frenchman possesses an almost mesmerizingly efficient game -- it recalls Miloslav Mecir's. But his track record at majors is nothing special.
10. Fernando Verdasco: Lefty can play on hard courts, but is he more than a handsome, fun guy, content reaching quarterfinals?
11. Fernando Gonzalez: Your guess is as good as anyone's (including his). Haven't heard much from the flayin' Chilean lately. Which means he could be due for a big showing.
12. Robin Soderling: His "danger factor" is well-documented. And hard courts suit his game just fine. Swede has been relatively quiet this summer, though.
13. Gael Monfils: A wild card. Health is always an issue. But on talent alone, he's a threat every time he takes the court. Brutal first-round match against countryman Jeremy Chardy.
14. Tommy Robredo: As we've said before, the usual Grand Slam dance. A few wins, a forgettable loss. Nice press conference. Move on.
15. Radek Stepanek: Solid veteran who knows how to win.
16. Marin Cilic: With Gulbis slumping, the palindromic Cilic, 20, has emerged as the best younger player in tennis.
17. Tomas Berdych: Just when you think he's putting it together, he crashes. Just when you're prepared to write him off, he plays well again.
18. David Ferrer: After losing his way a bit, Ferrer appears to have some mojo back, nearly beating Federer in Cincy. If you want entertainment, check out how passionately he berates himself while he plays. Just do so in Week 1, because he's unlikely to stick around much longer.
20. Tommy Haas: After a terrific run earlier this summer, he cooled off a bit on the American hard courts.
22. Sam Querrey: Your U.S. Open Series winner will double his prize money.
27. Ivo Karlovic: The Ace Machine has been on the fritz a bit since Wimbledon. (Perhaps because he's emerged as the most unlikely rapper since Matisyahu.) Still dangerous.
Fabrice Santoro: A final appeal to catch him while you can.
Jeremy Chardy: Hard-hitting Frenchman on his way to the top 10.
Marat Safin: Safin has already indicated that he's checked out mentally. Applaud him as he plays his final Grand Slam event. Recall the brilliance he showed winning the event nine years ago. And, sure, wince thinking about how much better his career could have been had he kept his head a bit more.
Leonardo Mayer: Lots of buzz here. Eager to see him play.
Richard Gasquet vs. Rafael Nadal: Someone had a sense of humor.
Civil wars:Nicolas Massu vs. Fernando Gonzalez (Chile), Gael Monfils vs. Jeremy Chardy (France), Juan Martin del Potro vs. Juan Monaco (Argentina).
Fabrice Santoro vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero: Last possible Grand Slam match for the Magician.
Andy Murray vs.Ernests Gulbis: Dangerous first-rounder for second seed.
Blue-plate upset special: Chardy over Monfils.
Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic
Federer vs. Andy Roddick
Murray vs. Berdych
Federer vs. Murray