Rafael Nadal would join Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg with 11 majors if he can defend his U.S. Open title. Mark Lyons/Zuma Press
Rafael Nadal vs. Andrey Golubev (first night match, Ashe): This shouldn't be much of a test for Rafa. After all, Golubev went the good part of five months without winning a match (he snapped the streak two weeks ago in Cincinnati). But I have found myself doubting Rafa more than any of the Big Four this week. His problems seem more mental than anything else. If he can put in a dominant performance here, he might snap out of his negative headspace and start feeling better about his game. A confident Rafa is a dangerous Rafa.
Serena Williams vs. Bojana Jovanovski (second night match, Ashe): Sure, Serena's been dominant in her lead-up, but she's also shown the propensity to struggle in her early-round matches. Serena should roll, but the up-and-coming Serb has enough game to push her if she stumbles out of the blocks.
Li Na vs. Simona Halep (third match, Armstrong): If it wasn't for her semifinal run in New Haven, Li would have been my "crash out early" pick. She's struggled with her timing all summer, and Halep is no pushover. She beat Svetlana Kuznetsova last week and can hit the ball if given the chance. Li loves the pace, but if she continues to struggle with her timing, this could be an early exit for the French Open champ.
Ernests Gulbis vs. Mikhail Youzhny (second match, Court 11): Hey, remember when Youzhny was a U.S. Open semifinalist? No? Well he was. Last year. 2010. Like, less than 365 days ago. It hasn't been a great year for the Russian, but this should be a great match against the consistently inconsistent Gulbis. Youzhny has the court sense and the fight, Gulbis has the firepower. I'm tipping Ernie. Yes, I'm as crazy as he is.
Flavia Pennetta vs. Aravane Rezai (11 a.m., Court 11): Just as with Gulbis-Youzhny, Pennetta-Rezai offers a contrast in styles between two players who have top-20 talent but struggle with consistency. There was a time when Pennetta was the toast of Italian tennis, becoming the first Italian woman to break into the top 10 in 2009. As for Rezai, the temperamental Frenchwoman can outright blast on her forehand side. Whether the ball goes in is a completely different question.
Courtney's Pet Picks