Luck of the Draw: US Open 2012

It is amidst considerable fanfare and with a sense of ungovernable arousal that I announce the release of the newly updated and proudly unabridged second edition of Bracketology, the Reading of Draws , and Why Men Have to Sleep Around. Bracketology is widely acknowledged to be the definitive text in the thrilling field of draw analysis. Published by The Next Point Enterprises, which has previously brought you such treasures as the Roger Rasheed 2012 Desk Calendar and the Marcos Baghdatis Guide to Racquet Care, Bracketology has been released to coincide with the US Open. It is certain to be treasured by evolutionary psychologists and unrepentant adulterers alike.

This second edition was necessitated by the rankings shift that occurred after Wimbledon. Now that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic occupy the top two spots, the thrill has rather gone out of discovering whether they’ve been drawn to meet in the semifinals – hitherto the primary Stage of any draw perusal – since this configuration is now technically impossible. We find ourselves in strange new territory. Federer and Djokovic have never been seeded one and two at a Major, so if they meet it’ll be in the final (or maybe awkwardly at a nice restaurant, where they’ll nod hello but then have to sit at nearby tables pretending the other one isn’t there, until one of them leaves and so will have to say goodbye so it doesn’t seem too weird). Despite obligatory assurances that they’re looking no further ahead than their next match, I’ve no doubt Federer and Djokovic are still eyeing each other off from across the draw – calculatingly, warily, and then maybe sleepily. It’s just that there are now 126 other guys in the way. Maintaining line of sight is problematic.

Of these other guys, two in particular stand out. The persistent absence of world No.3 Rafael Nadal has seen Andy Murray and David Ferrer percolate up into the third and fourth seedings. Whose half each settled in was of utmost importance. Before the draw was released the real fun to be had was watching pundits endeavour to delicately suggest that Ferrer was a significantly more attractive opponent for either of the top two than Murray, without unduly insulting the Spaniard. The phrase ‘with all due respect’ saw a lot of work. Taylor Dent didn’t even bother with that courtesy at today’s draw ceremony, eliciting his share of disapproval. I guess Ferrer had to find out some time that Murray is a more accomplished hardcourter than him. Anyway, the draw is now out, and Murray is in Federer’s half, while Ferrer is in Djokovic’s. Djokovic’s fans are surely pleased. Federer’s fans surely aren’t. Let’s be honest. With all due respect.

Some fans were noisily convinced that Murray would inevitably block their hero’s path to glory, and were vaguely disappointed when this didn’t happen. They were consequently denied the opportunity to wallow in the mundane a posteriori smugness that compels one to declare ‘Never in doubt!’ when random outcomes are achieved. To do so is apparently regarded as some kind of duty, one that has now fallen to the opposing camp, who’ve given their mordancy full voice. Remember, Stage One of draw analysis is all about righteous indignation. By no means am I suggesting that all fans are this way, or even most of them, but by god some of them are, and they’re invariably the loudest ones. To those Federer fans who are worried about the semifinals, it’s worth remembering that Federer defeated Djokovic and Murray back to back in winning the 2008 US Open. Indeed, he also did it last month at Wimbledon.

It’s also worth remembering that any such meeting is weeks away. Before then come all the matches that every player is avowedly determined not to look further than. Federer certainly wouldn’t dare to gaze beyond Donald Young, whose one-match winning streak was cruelly cut short in Winston-Salem this week, though that one win had the deleterious effect of pushing Vince Spadea’s record losing streak beyond reach. Beyond that, Federer has a slightly tougher path to the semifinals than Djokovic, but marginally easier than Murray. Ferrer has the toughest path of all, which has in turn necessitated the artful intimation that he is unlikely to get that far.

It is Ferrer’s quarter of the draw that holds the more profound interest for unaligned onlookers, and the greatest opportunities for those men trapped within it. Besides Ferrer – who I delicately submit may well reach the semifinals – the names that stand forth are Janko Tipsarevic and John Isner. Tipsarevic was tremendous for a few sets against Djokovic in the quarterfinals here last year, as was Isner against Murray at the same stage.  Tommy Haas is also in here – how grand would a semifinal run be – and he’ll open against Ernests Gulbis, which could be either the greatest or worst first round encounter of all time. Gulbis features heavily in the cautionary chapter of Bracketology entitled ‘Getting One’s Hopes Up’.

However, I’m going to venture out on a very diseased, aging and shaky limb, and declare with absolute certainty that the quarterfinalists in this section will be Mikhail Youzhny and Philipp Kohlschreiber. In the second round Kohlschreiber will face the winner of Grigor Dimitrov and Benoit Paire, which will also be a first-round to tell your children about, if only as a salutary warning. I also note the presence of Tobias Kamke and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in this section. I’m going to go right ahead and call it the German quarter.

Speaking of intriguing first round encounters, other stand-outs include Bernard Tomic and Carlos Berlocq; a potential tennis match heavily indebted to M.C. Escher, and from which no spectator will emerge entirely sane. Expect Nikolay Davydenko’s first round dust-up with Qualifier to be close. I don’t know who the qualifier will be yet, but I have every faith that the Russian will find a way to make it hard for himself. Philipp Petzschner somehow avoided the German quarter and will face Nicolas Mahut. I think that’ll be good. The reasons why I think this are, I suspect, buried very deep indeed.

I also have a strange feeling David Goffin will pose special problems for Tomas Berdych. The Belgian has great hands, nimble feet, very delicate cheekbones and a pretty bad haircut; precisely the combination to trouble the Czech on an off-day, which is the only kind of day he knows lately. It’d be like seeing a woodland elf take down the Terminator, which I believe was the climactic battle in a discarded early draft of The Hobbit. Finally, Juan Martin del Potro and his collection of troubled wrists take on David Nalbandian, which looks tough on paper, until we realise that the piece of paper is spattered with linesman’s blood, and that the elder Argentine hasn’t won a single match since the blood haze descended at Queens. The new edition of Bracketology also has a chapter on Nalbandian. For a certain type of psychologist – all of them – the man is a goldmine.

The full draw can be found here.

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