August 29, 2014

Shaking Things Up

Things sure got intense at the U.S. Open the last few days, didn't they? After a Day One that saw only a couple notable upsets, we've now seen a total of nineteen seeds -- and counting -- sent home, including two top ten women and a handful of Grand Slam champions. And while many of the true favorites are still alive and kicking, there are plenty of others who could sneak through.

Novak Djokovic has spent only two hours on court for his first two matches, and though he came to New York looking a little lethargic, he seems to have shaken off any spiderwebs. But his next opponent, Sam Querrey, could pose his biggest challenge yet. The former top twenty player stunned Nole in the Paris Masters a few years back and, though, well off the highs of his career, is coming off a semifinal showing in Winston-Salem and a win here over twenty-eighth seed Guillermo Garcia Lopez. But he's not the biggest threat in the top half of the men's draw -- upstart Nick Kyrgios, vanquisher of Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, continued his coming out party by notching wins over both Mikhail Youzhny and Andreas Seppi. He could give fourth round opponent Tommy Robredo -- who was pushed to five sets on Thursday -- a run for the money. But the real sleeper here might be Leonardo Mayer, seeded at a Major for the first time in his career. The Argentine benefited from a retirement by Albert Montanes in his opener, but hasn't dropped a set yet -- while Kei Nishikori certainly won't be a pushover in his next round, the twenty-seven year old might just be primed to pull off an upset.

We don't have as much evidence for the bottom half of the bracket -- most of the guys in it have only played one match so far at the Open this year. Five-time champion Roger Federer is still on track for a quarterfinal meeting with Grigor "Baby Fed" Dimitrov, but Gael Monfils, who's scored wins over both in the recent past, might be able to prevent that. The French showman won the first two sets off Andy Murray at Roland Garros and pushed Roger to three in Cincinnati earlier this month -- he's climbed back into the top thirty this year and seems ready to jump even higher. But the bigger opportunities for dark horses lie in the David Ferrer/Tomas Berdych quarter -- Kevin Anderson, who barely squeaked out of his opening round had a relatively easier time Friday against big serving Jerzy Janowicz. He'll face 2009 quarterfinalist Marin Cilic for a spot in the fourth round -- the Croat has long been one of the most underrated players on Tour and, the way the draw's opened up, might have an even better shot than Anderson to make an impact here.

Of course, as should be expected, the ladies' bracket is where things really got screwy. Two-time defending champion Serena Williams seems well on her way to capturing title #6 in New York, dropping just a handful of games through her first two rounds, while Victoria Azarenka, runner-up in both 2012 and 2013, seems like she's turning around a disappointing season. And Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, traditionally an early loser at the Open, has won twelve straight sets the last two weeks, reclaiming the title in New Haven in the process. Still, with 2011 titleist Sam Stosur bowing out to tough-as-nails Kaia Kanepi and recently rising Ana Ivanovic getting shocked by former Juniors champion Karolina Pliskova yesterday, there are a couple openings. Both of these victors have winnable third round matches, and could add some new blood to the later rounds. But we can't count out world #48 Zarina Diyas who endured an emotionally trying match late last night -- with the crowd unanimously behind teen sensation Cici Bellis in their second round, the Kazakh stayed tough after losing seven games in a row to hold on for the win. She'll meet Ekaterina Makarova in her first U.S. Open third round, and though the Russian has had some big wins here in the past, Diyas might just be able to keep adrenaline on her side.

The bottom half of the women's draw also has plenty of room for surprises. Second seed Simona Halep, one of the most consistent players at the Slams this year, is still alive, but looks spotty -- she dropped her opening set to collegiate star Danielle Collins and is being challenged now by veteran Mirjana Lucic. Other players, though, are looking more solid. Shuai Peng, who rolled over world #5 Agnieszka Radwanska on Wednesday, pulled off another one-sided victory today against 2012 quarterfinalist Roberta Vinci. She doesn't have a great record against either of her next two possible opponents, but playing some of the best tennis of her career, she could change that now. But watch out also for former world #1 Jelena Jankovic, who reached her only Grand Slam final here a long six years ago. She's faced three tough opponents already and hasn't dropped serve yet, needing less than an hour to dispatch Johanna Larsson earlier today. She's slated to face a resurgent Angelique Kerber next, but the one-time semifinalist has just lost her first set to teenager Belinda Bencic. Either way, though, JJ's playing the kind of ball that could get her noticed again.

We've gotten to that point at the U.S. Open where it's time for the players who've caused upsets to prove they're no fluke, and for those who've delivered wins so far to capitalize on any opportunity they get. Sure, the top seeds are going to do their best to swat away any threats -- but if these guys and gals keep up their games, things could look very different from what we expect as we get into Week Two.

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