The final major of the tennis season get underway Monday at the 2012 U.S. Open. We're previewing each section of the draw. Up next: The Murray Region.
With the U.S. Open starting on Monday, let's take a look at each "region" (each region equals one-quarter of the bracket) of the tournament, its most interesting matches, and its most fascinating story lines. We've already previewed The Federer Region; up now is The Murray Region.
Top Five Seeds
No. 3 Andy Murray
No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
No. 12 Marin Cilic
No. 15 Milos Raonic
No. 17 Kei Nishikori
Top Four First-Round Matches
No. 15 Milos Raonic vs. Santiago Giraldo. As we will discuss below, the 21-year old Raonic could be ready to make a run in a slam, but he must first get past the trick Giraldo, who held his own with Raonic at Wimbledon (Raonic won, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4). Giraldo is a perfect "form check" kind of player: if you play well, he probably cannot beat you, but if you are off at all, look out. The two have split two meetings; Giraldo took out Raonic on clay two years ago.
James Blake vs. Lukas Lacko. For all I know, Lacko is an incredibly likable guy. But the No. 54 player in the world will be playing the role of antagonist in his first-round match against Blake. As I mentioned in the video preview above, Blake is just about done. The 32-year old has fallen out of the Top 100, but hard court is his surface -- he has made three slam quarterfinals in his career, all on hard courts (one at the Australian Open, two at the U.S. Open). He has also begun to play a bit better recently; he took out No. 35 Kevin Anderson in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, then almost did the same to both No. 18 Kei Nishikori and No. 21 Andy Roddick. He brings a hardcore fanbase to Queens, and we'll see if it's enough to earn him a couple more U.S. Open wins.
No. 3 Andy Murray vs. Alex Bogomolov, Jr. Consider this a form check for the Olympic champion, who has barely played in recent weeks. He should be ready to go, but he did drop a straight-set loss to No. 33 Jeremy Chardy in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago, and heeded drop a straight-setter to Bogomolov last year in Miami. He has swept through the other six sets the two have played, but if he isn't in top form, the heavily anticipated Federer-Murray semifinal might quickly be in danger.
No. 24 Marcel Granollers vs. Denis Kudla. The 20-year old Kudla hails from Arlington, Virginia and has only recently begun to attempt making waves at the senior level. He was a top junior player (finalist in the U.S. Junior Open in 2010), and he could at least have a chance against Granollers, who is only 9-8 since his run to the fourth round at the French Open.
Top Three Story Lines
One Final Run For Blake? James Blake tends to put on a show at the U.S. Open, and in Lacko and Granollers/Kudla, he didn't draw the stiffest of competition in the opening two rounds. Still, it's all stiff competition when you rank 115th in the world, isn't it?
It's time, Milos. Raonic has methodically crept up the rankings, from 31st in January, to 23rd in April, to 16th today. He has a big, punishing game, and he continues to improve. But he also hasn't make a serious slam run since his surprising fourth-round finish at the Australian Open almost two years ago. He is 21 -- still very young in today's tennis -- but he has the game to make a run, and he has a solid draw.
Tsonga's Glass Ceiling. Jo-Willie Tsonga is almost in No Man's Land right now; he is a distant sixth in the AP rankings, 540 pounds behind No. 5 David Ferrer and 680 pounds ahead of No. 7 Berdych. He is incredibly likable and in fine form; he is rarely upset in slams anymore -- he has made at least the quarterfinals of four of the last five, falling each time to either Federer, Djokovic or Murray, and to reach the semis at the U.S. Open, he will probably have to get past Murray in the quarters. Can he?
Top Two Potential Later-Round Matches
Fourth Round: Andy Murray vs. Milos Raonic
Second Round: Jo-Wilifried Tsonga vs. Alejandro Falla
Top Player (i.e. the one making the semifinals)
Andy Murray. I would love to make brave, interesting picks here, but this is men's tennis. The Big Four (well, the Big Three until Nadal comes back) have filled in 30 of the last 36 slam semifinal slots. Making a risky pick tends not to pay off.