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 Djokovic Region.
Top Five Seeds
No. 2 Novak Djokovic
No. 7 Juan Martin Del Potro
No. 10 Juan Monaco
No. 14 Alexandr Dolgopolov
No. 18 Stanislas Wawrinka
Top Four First-Round Matches
No. 7 Juan Martin Del Potro vs. David Nalbandian. It's Argentina vs. Argentina in this one. The 30-year-old Nalbandian has won three of four career matches versus the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist (and 2009 U.S. Open champion), but the two haven't played since 2008. This is also a form-check match of sorts; Del Potro has been battling left wrist problems for a little while now.
No. 14 Alexandr Dolgopolov vs. Jesse Levine. Dolgopolov has shown in hard-court season that he has the game to make a strong U.S. Open run, but his inconsistency still trips him up. He beat Sam Querrey and Tommy Haas in taking home the Citi Open title in Washington D.C. in early-August, but he follows that up with first-round losses in both Montreal and Cincinnati. Levine, meanwhile, is climbing the rankings (from 164th in January to 76th today), but the 24-year-old lefty from Boca Raton probably doesn't have the game to beat Dolgopolov without some help. But hey, Dolgopolov gives help sometimes.
No. 26 Andreas Seppi vs. Tommy Robredo. Tennis is both a cruel and giving sport. It is incredibly difficult to maintain a high ranking and elite level of play, and the travel and long tournament schedule can absolutely devastate you physically. But you can also keep earning decent money long into the twilight of your career. Robredo was ranked fifth in the world in August 2006, has made five slam quarterfinals (four at the French Open), and has advanced to the fourth round of the U.S. Open seven times. He is barely clinging to a Top 200 ranking, but he could be a dangerous opponent for Seppi, a 28-year-old Italian whose game has peaked later in his career. The two have split four all-time meetings.
Dennis Novikov vs. Jerzy Janowicz. Tennis is also both cruel and giving in that so many players are so closely skilled. The 21-year-old Janowicz looked excellent at Wimbledon, not only qualifying, but taking out Ernests Gulbis in the second round and falling in five dramatic sets to No. 29 Florian Meyer in the third round. He won two small clay-court tournaments in July, then returned to the ATP Tour high in confidence … and got crushed, 6-0, 6-2, by No. 64 Marinko Matosevic in Cincinnati. Janowicz is equally close to playing at a top 30 level and never breaking the top 75. His opponent, Dennis Novikov, is an 18-year-old American junior star, so this match is interesting for quite a few reasons.
Top Three Story Lines
Whatchu Got, Andy? Andy Roddick has alternated between strong (tournament wins at both Eastbourne in June and Atlanta in July) and iffy (losses to Jeremy Chardy and Steve Darcis in August) this summer, but the 2003 U.S. Open champion could always make one more run in Queens. He does not have the easiest of draws, however. Hot-and-cold Bernard Tomic could await in the second round, as could Del Potro in the fourth. At this point, no result from Roddick could really surprise me. Okay, a U.S. Open title would.
Any Time Now, Ryan Harrison. Ryan Harrison is basically the male version of Sloane Stephens, a young, interesting American who is one of the young members of the top 100. The difference, however, is that Stephens has made at least the third round in three of the last four slams. Harrison, meanwhile, has gotten tough draw after tough draw. He fell to Andy Murray in four sets in the first round of the Australian Open, to No. 11 Gilles Simon in the first round of the French, and to Novak Djokovic in the second round at Wimbledon. This time around, he could face Del Potro in the second. But while the draws could be a little luckier, Harrison will eventually have to beat top-caliber players. Now is as good a time as any, right?
How's The Wrist, DelPo? Del Potro's left wrist has been bothering him for a while now, and while it is not incapacitating (he is a righty, after all), it could have been the cause of a couple of mediocre recent results. At the Olympics, it appeared that tennis' Big Four (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Murray) could quickly become a Big Five if Del Potro could maintain his incredibly high level of play. He hasn't since then, but nobody will care if he puts together another long run in New York.
Top Two Potential Later-Round Matches
Second Round: Andy Roddick vs. Bernard Tomic
Third Round: Novak Djokovic vs. Julien Benneteau
Top Player (i.e. the one making the semifinals)
Novak Djokovic. The defending champion has almost been forgotten, thanks to the show that Roger Federer and Andy Murray put on this summer (Federer took out Murray in four sets to win his seventh Wimbledon title, then Murray destroyed Federer in the Olympic finals), but the World No. 2 is still the World No. 2, he is still the defending champion, and he is still the best player in this draw. Players like Del Potro, Dolgopolov, Juan Monaco, Benneteau and Andy Roddick could all give him a run at some point, but he is still the class of the Djokovic Region.