Bruce Jenkins: Gael Monfils, on the assumption that everyone's a dark horse beyond the top four. He's got a pretty clear path to the quarterfinals if he can get past Tomas Berdych (and he will), and that would set up a potential quarterfinal against Novak Djokovic. If Djokovic's shoulder problems are significant, Monfils could use his astounding all-court movement to win that one.
Venus Williams has one big problem, very early: Sabine Lisicki in the second round. If she gets through that, I see the unseeded Venus beating Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round and getting to the quarters.
Jon Wertheim: Alex Bogomolov wasa teaching pro two years ago, but the 28-year-old American is quietly on to the fringes of the top 40, beating Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga along the way.
Shuai Peng. The Chinese veteran has found her game again, and sits in a favorable spot in the draw to make a deep run.
Courtney Nguyen: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. If you beat Roger Federer in a five-set match, beat him again a month-and-a-half later, and then find yourself in Fed's quarter at the U.S. Open, I'm going to tag you as my dark horse. Tsonga loves the quick hard courts and the New York crowd's energy (give him night sessions please!) will certainly inspire him. An ailing arm forced him to retire to Novak Djokovic in the Montreal final and he took a straight set loss to Alex Bogomolov Jr. last week in Cincy. Should his body hold up, the Frenchman has the firepower to get it done.
Jelena Jankovic. No one seems to love the stage as much as Serena Williams. No one that is, except for Jelena Jankovic. The former world No. 1 has been teetering on the cusp of irrelevance for much of the last year, watching her ranking slip as low as 16. But in her run to the Cincinnati final, where she outplayed Maria Sharapova for most of the match, Jankovic seems to have rediscovered her game and her confidence. The Smiling Serb has been to the finals here before, and she's one of the few players who raises her game against Serena. She'll need to, as they are in the same quarter, but if she serves well and remembers that she has one of the most effective backhand-down-the-lines in the game, don't count her out.
Richard Deitsch: Juan Martin del Potro. Gilles Simon doesn't scare anyone, and a not-in-form Robin Soderling is ripe for the taking, so the draw sets up nicely for Del Potro, the 2009 champion. Plus, a Delpo-Murray clash in the quarters sounds delicious, no?
I'm all-in on the Agnieszka Radwanska bandwagon, a gritty, scramble-for-every-point Murray clone. The plucky Pole has become a tough out, including a semis appearance in Toronto in which she took out Vera Zvonareva and Andrea Petkovic.
Bryan Armen Graham: Andy Roddick turns 29 on Sunday. He's barely over .500 this season. His body and game are betraying him. An unbecoming implosion earlier this month in Cincy left him out of the top 20. But he's a fan favorite in New York and managed to avoid Djokovic and Federer in the draw. Look for him to invoke the spirit of 2003 and give Nadal a stiff challenge in the quarters.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has charted steady progress since winning the U.S. Open girls' title five years ago. Count on the 20-year-old Russian to improve on last year's run to the fourth round -- and maybe even crash the semis.
C.W. Sesno: Fernando Verdasco's game suits up well to the hardcourts, and he's made runs to at least the quarters in Flushing the past two years. In Cincinnati, Rafael Nadal needed three tiebreakers and more than three-and-a-half hours to survive his compatriot, so the fight is still there. Unfortunately, the hard-hitting baseliner faces a tough draw with potential third- and fourth-round matchups against Tsonga and Mardy Fish, respectively.
At the French Open, Sabine Lisicki blew a match point in the second set and fell in a heartbreaker to Vera Zvonareva. Since then, she's won Birmingham and made deep runs in Wimbledon (losing in the semis to Maria Sharapova) and Stanford, where she was rolled by eventual champion Serena Williams. If the 21-year-old can pick up her first career win against potential fourth-round foe Zvonareva, she should make the semis where Sharapova likely awaits.
Jenkins: Robin Soderling. Alex Bogomolov, the late blooming Russian-turned-American, is playing well enough to win this second-rounder.
Victoria Azarenka. The dubious seeding system creates a major casualty, much too early, as Azarenka loses to Serena in the third round.
Wertheim: Robin Soderling: The Swede is suffering from a wrist injury that will bother him. If this weren't a Slam, it's unlikely he'd be playing.
Caroline Wozniacki: Pick your reason -- tension with dad, the excitement of a new romance, insecurity with her game, lack of full comfort with her new racket -- the elusive first major feels a long way off right now.
Nguyen: Robin Soderling. I had to do a double-take when I saw him seeded sixth. He spent two years striking fear into the heart of Federer and Nadal fans and started the season on fire, only to be hobbled by injury since the spring. He did not play any lead-up tournaments to the Open, so without any proof of his match-fitness, General Sod may find himself sputtering to grind out best of five matches.
Petra Kvitova. The young Czech has obviously had a phenomenal year, winning titles on all four surfaces (yes, indoor counts as a "surface") and of course, her crowning glory at Wimbledon in July. But the charmingly shy 20-year-old has won only one match since, and has admitted she suffers from asthma in the heat and humidity. With little match play before the Open, I just don't see her getting out of a quarter that includes Maria Sharapova, Peng Shuai, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Lucie Safarova.
Deitsch: Robin Soderling last played on a hard court in February and the Open will be his first tournament in six weeks because of a wrist injury. He's the sixth seed, but a very shaky one.
Everyone loves the flamboyant Francesca Schiavone, but her summer (losses to Lucie Safarova and Jelena Jankovic) portend an early arrivederci.
Graham: Sixth-seeded Robin Soderling is fearless with a weapons-grade forehand, but he's been dogged by a wrist injury and won't make it past the first weekend.
Caroline Wozniacki may be the least-fancied top seed since, er, Dinara Safina. Not even home-court advantage will help the 21-year-old Dane salvage a bumpy summer that's seen her muddied coaching situation take the forefront.
Sesno: Since March, Andy Roddick has been terrible. He's lost in his first match in four of five Masters 1000 events (Miami, Madrid, Rome, Cincinnati), missed the French and crashed out early in Wimbledon. To say Roddick has struggled on the big stage is an understatement, and the only reason for second-guessing putting his inevitable flameout here is whether we can even consider Roddick a top player.
With an over-packed schedule and poor play in the hard-court swing, Caroline Wozniacki isn't ready to capture her first Slam. Don't be shocked if she falls to Daniela Hantuchova or Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round.
Jenkins: The USTA makes some news. First, executives will have a major announcement regarding the tournament's approach to rain delays. This will be an immediate issue, with the hurricane season in full force, and writers will be demanding answers. Maybe the USTA plans to refurbish Armstrong and turn it into a roof-covered alternative. Maybe it's something even more bold. But something has to be done. Secondly, the tournament will unveil plans for a new seeding system next year, allowing for recent performances, history at the tournament, perhaps other considerations. When the mild-mannered Chris Evert tears into a system that seeds Serena No. 28 after her dominant summer, it's time for a change.
Wertheim: There are a good dozen players hanging on so they can play through the London Olympics. But that's a long way off when you're injured or lacking motivation. Don't be surprised if a high profile player offers a retirement announcement.
Nguyen: The tennis Twitterverse will be lighting up as rain, hurricanes, and aftershocks wreak havoc during the fortnight. Stick a bunch of tennis players in a room, tell them they can't go outside, and give them access to their phones? Planking will be the least of our worries. I can't wait.
Deitsch: I'd predict Andy Roddick will have a sarcastic press conference but you asked me to be bold, so let's go with this: Radwanska or Lisicki makes the semifinals.
Graham: Hard to say who will win the fourth-round match between Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but look for the winner to upset Federer for a place in the semis.
Sesno: Let's get the far-from-bold predictions out of the way first: Roddick will bicker with a chair ump, emergency rooms will be packed with blown-out eardrums from the Serena-Azarenka grunt-fest and Pam Shriver will find Rory McIlroy in the stands for a barrage of questions about his new romance. Bold prediction? All of the top-four seeds -- ailing Djokovic and Nadal, declining Federer, and head-case Murray -- will fall short of the semis for the first time in well over a decade.
Jenkins: Nadal d. Federer. Take Djokovic in his quarter after a five-set thriller against Monfils. Federer gets some Wimbledon revenge over Tsonga, who won't be in top form after a tough win over Fish. Del Potro, warming to the scene of his '09 victory, upsets Murray. Nadal has a breeze into the fourth round, where he outlasts David Ferrer. Djokovic, clearly not at his best, reaches the end of the line against Federer. The revitalized Nadal has too many weapons for Del Potro, then wins the final against Federer, who once again can't sustain his brilliance over the full course of a major.
S. Williams d. Kvitova. Caroline Wozniacki's run ends against Li Na in the quarters. Serena breezes to that point, easily dispatching Jelena Jankovic. Take Petra Kvitova over Maria Sharapova in a titanic quarterfinal rematch of their Wimbledon final, and expect Marion Bartoli to will her way into the semifinals. Serena wins a tough 3-setter against Li, Kvitova overpowers Bartoli, and it's Serena over Kvitova for the title.
Wertheim: Djokovic d. Nadal. Djokovic will continue his reign and pick up his first win at the U.S. Open.
S. Williams d. Sharapova. Serena has just looked too good in her return to action.
Nguyen: Djokovic d. Murray. Andy Murray can lose in the first round or he could finally break through to capture his first Slam. Neither result would surprise me. But Djokovic has earned the right to go into any match as the clear favorite.
S. Williams d. Sharapova. The title in Cincinnati has to give Sharapova confidence both in her game and in her ability to simply claw her way to a win when she's not playing well. But Serena's the woman to beat. Her form over the last month has been downright scary.
Deitsch: Djokovic d. Nadal. Let's proceed with the conceit that Djokovic's shoulder can withstand seven matches after he pulled out of the Cincy final. The guy is 57-2 on the season and has beaten Nadal five consecutive times including twice (Indian Wells, Miami) on hardcourt (He's also won 11 of his last 14 sets against Nadal). Most importantly, he's currently crawling around in Rafa's head, and I'm not sure the Open is where Nadal finally breaks back. I came very close to picking David Ferrer over Nadal here and a finals appearance from the James Brown of the ATP Tour would not surprise me.
S. Williams d. Radwanska. Williams is seeded an absurd 28th, but we all know she's the de facto favorite. The women's draw lacks depth and danger, and while Azarenka and Li both possess weapons, Serena is as strong a favorite to win this title as we've seen in years. The paucity of the draw has me thinking we'll see a surprise finalist, so I'm taking a flyer on A-Rad. I'll hedge my bet and say the winner of Kvitova-Radwanska in the Round of 16 meets Serena on the final Saturday.
Graham: Murray d. Djokovic. The door to opportunity seldom requires a picked lock, but instead only needs the right combination. And the factors may never converge more favorably for Murray than now, with Djokovic (bum shoulder), Nadal (out of form) and Federer (on the wane) as vulnerable as he could hope for. The former U.S. Open boys' champion has all the shots. He can attack, he can defend. He's been to three Grand Slam finals. Now is the time. After outlasting Nadal in the semis, he'll get past Djokovic for that cathartic first major.
S. Williams d. Kvitova. Serena rolls into Queens on a full head of steam, having won 12 straight matches and a pair of hardcourt titles since a fourth-round loss at Wimbledon. The three-time champ was already the betting favorite even before she was gifted a favorable draw. If she survives a third-round test against the underrated Vika Azarenka, look for Serena to survive a young-lion-vs.-old-lion test in the final opposite superstar-in-waiting Kvitova.
Sesno: Fish d. Ferrer. I'm going for it. Now physically fit, Fish wisely pulled out of Winston-Salem to rest up and has been playing exceptional in the hard-court swing. With the top seeds questionable, the men's side looks up for the taking.
S. Williams d. Kvitova. Serena will blast her way past Azarenka in the third round, and cruise through the rest of the tournament for her fourth U.S. Open title.