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Jon Wertheim previews the men's U.S. Open with a breakdown of the favorites, dark horses and first-round matches to watch.

By Jon Wertheim
August 22, 2014's Jon Wertheim previews the men's U.S. Open with a breakdown of the favorites, dark horses and first-round matches to watch. Click here for the women's preview. The men's draw is available here and the women's draw is here.

Top 16 seeds

1. Novak Djokovic: The Serb hasn’t done much since Wimbledon -- nuptials notwithstanding -- but he’s made four consecutive U.S. Open finals, he's only a month and a half removed from winning Wimbledon and the hard courts accentuate his fitness. The heart says Federer. The head says Djokovic.

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2. Roger Federer: It's hard not to be nostalgic. And the notion of Federer's winning the title for the first time since 2008 doesn’t seem so fanciful/wishful, not with his recent play, plus the absence of his rival from Spain. He can’t complain much about the draw either. But can he surpass Djokovic in a(nother) winner-take-all match?

3. Stan Wawrinka: The winner of the last hard-court major (the Australian Open in January) hasn’t built much on that achievement. Still, he’s dangerous. And don’t forget: He came within a few points of advancing to the 2013 final.

4. David Ferrer: We applaud Ferrer’s persistence and ability to continue to wring results from his talent. But eventually the machinery has to sputter. Doesn’t it?

5. Milos Raonic: He deserves credit for continuing to climb the org chart. But the corner office still seems like a stretch. He’s kick-down, kiss-up. Time for him to show that he can beat the guys above him.

Milos Raonic on his diet and how he's prepping for the U.S. Open

6. Tomas Berdych: Provided Berdych can beat Lleyton Hewitt in the first round, his draw opens considerably. But does he have the consistency to play seven matches without the (hitherto inevitable) dip?

7. Grigor Dimitrov: Like Raonic, the goal is to build on his Wimbledon semifinal. He opens against Ryan Harrison, and a possible quarterfinal versus Federer is intriguing.

8. Andy Murray: The 2012 winner is still looking to regain his game, with his most recent final appearance coming at Wimbledon in 2013. The good news: He appears to be healthy and in decent form. The bad news: He’s in Djokovic's quarter.

9. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: After Wimbledon, he looked like a stock worth dumping. In Toronto, however, he turned in one of the great weeks in recent tennis history, defeating Djokovic, Murray, Dimitrov and Federer to win the biggest title of his career and suddenly become a contender at the year's final major.

10. Kei Nishikori: The game is there; the durability is not.

11. Ernests Gulbis: He's always a player to watch, though his post-Wimbledon results (straight-set losses to Julien Benneteau in Toronto and Steve Johnson in Cincinnati) don’t inspire great rations of confidence.

Ranking the U.S. Open favorites

12. Richard Gasquet: The 28-year-old Frenchman still possesses a gorgeous backhand. But his best days are, sadly, in the past. He's also struggling with an abdominal injury.

13. John Isner: The highest-ranked American player -- who withdrew from the Winston-Salem Open on Thursday with a sprained ankle -- needs to get through the first week with ease to stand a chance in Week 2. One potential obstacle: Philipp Kohlschreiber, who knocked him out of the third round in each of the last two years, is a potential third-round opponent yet again.

14. Marin Cilic: Credit him for rebuilding his game -- and ranking -- after last year’s suspension.

15. Fabio Fognini: Well, it’s never boring. But it’s time for the results (especially at majors) to compete with the drama. Which is putting it charitably.

16. Tommy Robredo: The 32-year-old Spaniard -- who beat Federer in the fourth round last year and upset Djokovic in Cincinnati last week -- deserves great credit for sustained excellence.

Seeds 17-32 to watch

17. Roberto Bautista Agut: Less as a prediction than as acknowledgement for his steady ascent.

18. Kevin Anderson: Hard serve and winning attitude count for a lot.

19. Feliciano Lopez: Nice career revival for the 32-year-old Spanish lefty, who made the semifinals in Toronto on the heels of a strong grass-court season.

20. Gael Monfils: Tennis’ clown prince actually looked like he wanted to win -- and not simply entertain -- recently.

21. Mikhail Youzhny: The 2010 semifinalist and '13 quarterfinalist is always capable of playing spoiler. But he'll get an immediate test from Wimbledon quarterfinalist Nick Kyrgios.

22. Philipp Kohlschreiber: Not unlike Youzhny, he is a deceptively hard-hitting veteran who can pound into Week 2.

24. Julien Benneteau: The 32-year-old Frenchman defeated Gulbis in Toronto and Wawrinka in Cincinnati.

25. Ivo Karlovic: On the serve alone. He's a potential third-round opponent for Federer.

Dark horse stable

Vasek Pospisil (No. 45): After a lousy, injury-plagued first half of the year, he's been playing his way back into the top echelon where he belongs.

Under-the-radar players to watch ahead of the 2014 U.S. Open

Donald Young (46): Really.

Jerzy Janowicz (52): The optimism of 2013 was exuberant, but there’s so way he’s not a top 30 talent. He upset Dimitrov in Cincinnati and is into the semifinals in North Carolina this week.

Jack Sock (55): The 21-year-old American has made the third round in back-to-back years. He opens against No. 47 Pablo Andujar and could get Nishikori in the second round.

David Goffin (62): A 2012 flavor of the month, Goffin disappeared and now he’s back with a vengeance. He had won 25 straight matches -- a streak that included three Challenger titles and one ATP 250 title -- before losing to Jerzy Janowicz in the Winston-Salem Open quarterfinals on Thursday.

First-round matches to watch

No. 3 Stan Wawrinka vs. Jiri Vesely: The 21-year-old Vesely is a work in progress, but there’s a lot of game there.

No. 6 Tomas Berdych vs. Lleyton Hewitt: It's not often that the sixth seed draws a former winner (granted, from more than a decade ago) in the first round of a Slam.

U.S. Open draw winners and losers

No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov vs. Ryan Harrison: Two trains -- same era -- headed in opposite directions. Dimitrov beat Harrison in the first round of Wimbledon two months ago.

No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny vs. Nick Kyrgios: A rough opener for both. 

Qualifier vs. qualifier: We don’t know their identities yet, but the notion that two players ranked outside the top 100 will play for more than $60,000 has a certain game-show feel to it.

Doubles winner

Bob and Mike Bryan: I'm tempted to ride the hot hand and pick Pospisil and Sock, who won Wimbledon in their debut, followed up with a title in Atlanta and lost in the Cincinnati final. Instead, though, the Bryans -- who won Cincinnati after an opening-round loss in Toronto -- salvage a disappointing year in the majors with their 100th title together.

Singles picks

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic vs. Milos Raonic; Roger Federer vs. Tomas Berdych

Final: Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer

Winner: Novak Djokovic

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)