This is the first time in many years that at least 5 men should enter a Grand Slam tournament feeling as though they have at least a 10% chance of winning. For Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Robin Soderling, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, this US Open has to be seen as a realistic opportunity to provide a breakthrough in some way.
For Federer, winning this title would not only ‘stop the bleeding’ but it would dim the calls that he’s on the path of clear decline. Last year, his loss to Martin Del Potro was seen as shocking, but this year, his aura of invincibility has all but vanished. Winning in New York would push him back to being the clear #2 in the world (the silly ATP rankings system be damned) and would give him another year of multiple Grand Slam victories. Not only would that pad his lead, it would also keep Nadal from gaining ground in that all important category.
For Nadal, this tournament could push him into rarified air. Winning the lifetime Grand Slam is significant and would allow him another feather in his history cap. 3 Grand Slams in a year would also propel him radically out of the pack and into a unique position at the top of his sport. Nadal stands to prove that his game truly does work on hard courts and US Open success could mean that Nadal would also be primed to win in Australia next January with a chance to win the “Spanish Slam”.
Soderling needs this win. He needs to get past the competitor stage and move into the champion stage. He has the game for it and the personality to take it. Instead of being one of the guys, Soderling could become The Next Big Thing in tennis, instantly surpassing Djokovic and Murray in that conversation. (Del Po could have been that guy but his wrist injury has made that impossible.)
Djokovic risks becoming a tennis afterthought. Even though he’s #3 in the world, and has been as high as #2, no one feels that he’s likely to become the best player in tennis. (To most fans, even Djokovic’s arrival at #2 was less about his climb as much as it was about Fed’s descent.) Winning in Australia in 2008 should have catapulted him into tennis’ royal box but it didn’t happen and now he’s in jeopardy of being a one hit wonder. He still has a chance to become Jim Courier instead of Michael Stich but has to take advantage of this kind of opportunity.
Roddick may need this championship more than any of the other top contenders because his window seems nearest closing. His only Grand Slam victory came here in 2003 and, although he’s had excellent results since then, he’s likely to be viewed as an underachiever when his career ends. Although winning again in New York would be the least beneficial major for him to win, he desperately needs another Grand Slam title under his belt.
Andy Murray is best suited to win on hard courts but in his two Grand Slam finals, Federer beat him thoroughly. If Murray truly believes he can eventually win Wimbledon, he would be well served to have notched a major championship elsewhere first. The openness of this year’s field may yield the best opportunity he will have to achieve his ultimate goal.
With the rough equality of so many top contenders, I believe the US Open may prove a tremendous fortnight for tennis fans across the globe. Especially since the clear #1 woman, Serena Williams, is out of this year’s tournament, the excitement of the men’s tournament is likely to provide the key to a successful end to the 2010 major season. I am looking forward to the many great matches I expect over the next two weeks.