The final major of the tennis season started Monday at the 2012 U.S. Open. We're previewing each section of the draw. Up next: The Ferrer Region.
Top Five Seeds
No. 4 David Ferrer
No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic
No. 9 John Isner
No. 13 Richard Gasquet
No. 19 Philipp Kohlschreiber
Top Four First-Round Matches
No. 4 David Ferrer vs. Kevin Anderson. The thing about tennis draws is that, while the top 32 players are seeded and evenly distributed throughout the field, No. 33 is randomly placed in the draw, as are other high-quality players. A top seed in no way earns you an easy first-round match, and Ferrer's reward for the No. 4 seed is drawing the world's No. 35 player. At 6'8, Anderson is almost a full foot taller than Ferrer, but Ferrer has built a career out of slaying Goliaths. This match should be an aesthetic treat, as almost no matchup in tennis will provide more physical and stylistic contrast than this one.
No. 9 John Isner vs. Xavier Malisse. Rankend in the top 20 a decade ago, the 32-year-old Malisse has long since reached the "journeyman" stage of his career. But he has made the fourth round of the U.S. Open three times (the last time was in 2005), and he made a lovely run to the fourth round at Wimbledon this summer. John Isner has won two hard court tournaments in the last month and looks in fine form, but Malisse is tricky.
No. 21 Tommy Haas vs. Ernests Gulbis. Somehow, Tommy Haas is once again ranked in the top 25. The 34-year-old German has overcome countless injuries in his career, and in 2012 he has continued to grind out results. He took out Gilles Simon in Montreal in August and almost did the same to Djokovic. He knocked off three seeded players in making the finals at Hamburg in July. He knocked of Granollers, Berdych, Phillip Kohlschreiber and Federer to win in Halle in June. He is a bit of a wildcard in this tournament, simply because he could make a long, long run, or he could fall to the ultra-talented, ultra-flaky Gulbis right out of the gates. The enigmatic Gulbis has frustrated tennis fans for a long time with his ability to look incredible one moment (he took out Berdych in straight sets in the first round at Wimbledon) and listless the next (he lost to qualifier Jerzy Janowicz in the second round). This could be the most unpredictable, interesting match of the first round.
Steve Johnson vs. Rajeev Ram. The good news about two low-ranked Americans facing off in the first round is that one of them is assured of making the second round! Johnson is the 2011 NCAA Tennis champion, and at 22, he could rise pretty far in the rankings eventually. Ram, on the other hand, is already 28, but he has seen his ranking rise from 122nd in June to 98th today on the heels of some nice upsets -- he knocked off current world No. 18 Kei Nishikori in Newport in July, then took out comeback king Brian Baker in Los Angeles in July. Johnson may have the brighter future, but Ram is playing better in the present.
Top Three Story Lines
It's Time, John. John Isner has never had a better chance to make a long slam run than this. Not only is he playing lovely tennis right now, but he drew a spot in David Ferrer's region. Ferrer is great, but he isn't Rafael Nadal. Of the two players seeded above him in this region, Isner is 1-1 all-time versus Janko Tipsarevic (Isner won in straight sets at the Olympics), and he is 1-3 versus Ferrer, having won their only match since 2009. The draw gets no friendlier than this. Let's see if he is able to take advantage of it.
Cheers, Tommy Haas. Thanks mostly to injuries, Haas' rankings history is incredible. He climbed to 10th in September 1999, then fell to 49th in September 2000, surged to second for six weeks in 2002, fell completely out of the rankings in early-2004, climbed to 14th in February 2005, fell to 46th in late-2005, moved back to ninth in January 2007, fell to 82nd in late-2008, spent most of 2009-10 in the top 10, fell out of the rankings again in 2011, and now stands at 22nd. His resilience is incredible, and his game is still strong. And wow, does he have an interesting first-round match.
Who Steps Up? Ferrer has made three slam semifinals, including one at the U.S. Open in 2007. He is clearly the favorite in this part of the draw, but again, players like Isner, Tipsarevic, and Richard Gasquet have never had a better opportunity to make a run. And really, the same goes for unseeded players like Brian Baker (who fell into a slump after his fourth-round run at Wimbledon), Gulbis, or, hell, even 31-year-old Lleyton Hewitt. Who seizes the opportunity?
Top Two Potential Later-Round Matches
Second Round: Janko Tipsarevic vs. Brian Baker
Third Round: John Isner vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Top Player (i.e. the one making the semifinals)
John Isner. Why not? Isner has played very, very well of late, and if he's going to do it, he's probably going to do it now.