The 2010 U.S. Open starts now! Therefore it's the perfect moment to analyze the players that can win in New York. I think the tournament is more open than the previous years for three main reasons: First, Federer is not as consistent as he used to be although he is back on the right track now after going through a tough year. Second, Nadal has shown a weaker level of play since the start of the hard court season. Third point, some players seem to be on fire at the moment. Let's review the potential winners:
1. Roger Federer: The man from Switzerland has had a very tough year. However losing Roland-Garros and Wimbledon seem to have boosted his motivation.
He returned at the U.S. Open Series with a whole different attitude. Once again he seems very determined. There is fire in his eyes, which is the proof of an extreme concentration. He shows more intentions during the games. His footwork is back, he's taking the ball earlier and he tries to play at the net as much as possible. He is once again fighting.
Roger relaxed when he reclaimed his Cincinnati title. He also reached the Toronto final after beating Berdych and Djokovic in close battles. It's reassuring for his fans. A couple of months ago, he would lose these close encounters. Now he is back to his best in order to win. It is important to note the intentions shown by the champ. In that case, it's impossible not to place him as the big favourite to win.
2. Rafael Nadal: He's had an exceptional year compared to Federer's. He won the best tournaments on clay, and then grabbed titles at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon. After a packed successful period, he took a well-deserved break. However his level is below what he is capable of and it's impossible to win the U.S. Open like that. He is struggling with his serve, which is his less favourable shot, as well as his defensive game. Rafa makes a lot of mistake on the backhand side, which forces him to overplay with his forehand. He needs to play a lot of matches to be back at his best.
He has also been practicing a lot over the last couple of days. The early round should help him play better as the tournament progresses because he'll figure out which techniques will hurt his opponents. He'll play better and bettter as time goes on and his fighting spirit will do the rest. He is still my second favourite to win.
1. Novak Djokovic: The Serb also had a rough year in terms of success. The idea to have Todd Martin coaching him alongside with Martin Vajda did not work well at all. He seems confused. Changing his serve motion was a disaster since it forced him to play without what used to be one of his best weapons.
Of course, Nole doesn't have a serve like Roddick, but his shot would allow him to better control the direction of a point. He seems to have found his game back since the start of the American hard court season. He seems very fit physically, which is one of the best assets of his game.
Two other factors were positive: His serve and his forehand. The first one seems to be back, while the second seems to have found his rhythm, and therefore his efficiency.
Djoko is once again very fast on the court, tough on defense, and able to dictate a point thanks to his forehand. It is also important to mention his one of the best returners of the world. He plays the best tennis of his season on hard courts. I believe Nole is the top outsider.2. Andy Murray: The Scot has had his moments. 2008 was a very promising year which saw him reach is first major final at the U.S. Open. We have been waiting to see him consistent in majors. It only came in 2010 at the Australian Open, but he lost in the finals. Then Andy lost his motivation and was down the zone for six months. Wimbledon boosted him when he reached the semi-finals, and he now seems to be very determined again.
This summer he played the best tennis of his life when he won Toronto beating Federer and Nadal. What was impressive was the way he beat them more than the result in itself: He was very aggressive and inspired. His serve was also solid as well as his movements around the court. For the first time he proved he could maintain the same style of play during an entire match. He now knows when and how to play his shots. He built the direction of his point with the intention of being the aggressor. He also doesn't wait anymore for his opponents to make mistakes. He used to play only with the talent of his arm, which cost him dearly over the last couple of years.
However, we have to wait more about the Scot. Is the recent success due to his separation with Miles Mac Laga or due to his willingness to defend his Canadian title, or more of a new long term direction? We will have some answers at the U.S. Open. Andy is a serious contender for the title. If he can keep the same type of game he had in Toronto, he will be very dangerous.
3. Tomas Berdych: Tomas is improving constantly. He has a solid, composed and powerful game. He managed at last to find more consistency with his results by reaching the French Open semifinals and the Wimbledon final. The Czech can use a very good serve and can hit his groundstroke with power.
His fitness has also improved. He has also learned to move better around the court, which will make his opponents more aware during the rallies. Despite all this, I don't think he is ready to win a major.
There is still one element missing. He will however be very difficult to beat. Off course he will be able to beat any of the top five players in the world if they are not at their best. If that is not the case, he is still one gear under the others.
4. Robin Söderling: Robin is also improving constantly. His collaboration with Magnus Norman is a success since he was able to reach the French Open final for the second consecutive time. He is more consistent with his results. He also improved his fitness a lot. However he is still struggling when playing against the top players due to the relative weakness of his footwork. That's why he is playing well on clay. However he does possess a big groundstroke.
5. Marcos Baghdatis: He's back from heaven. He is back at the level that suits him the best. He is one of the most gifted players on the tour. He already reached a Grand Slam final, which is huge for his experience. He is confident after having played a great American hard court season. He is a player who needs the emotion in order to play well. He will be able to do great things if he can find a positive emotional energy. He was boosted when he changed his coach. He wants to play well and will be very dangerous to play for any of his opponents. I do think however he doesn't have the element which will make him win it.
The old guard is back
1. David Nalbandian: What David did with his game was a shame. He is such a great player. If his motivation were at the same level of his game, he would have had a much different career. Injuries and a lack of motivation forced him to be out of the game for a good part of his career. He recently rejoined the tennis elite and immediately started to make headlines. He worked hard physically and immediately felt his game back at the top.
He is a great counter puncher, and a huge returner. At his best, he is a very difficult player to deal with. We will have to watch out for him but we don't know how he will deal with the rigors of the Grand Slam.
2. Mardy Fish: It's the great summer special! We never expected the American to reach such a level this year. He lost weight and therefore can now have the type of game we saw in him played six or seven years ago. He serves well, has learned how to be aggressive during rallies in order to come to the net more often. He also moves around faster. He also beat Andy Roddick and threatened Federer during the entire match at the Cincinnati final.
Playing the best tennis of your life is one thing. It's another one to win a major. His lack of experience at Grand Slams will hurt him, but what a summer nonetheless.