The draw for the US Open has been released in the traditional fashion, which is to write the names of every eligible player on little slips of paper, place them all in an antique cannon in the middle of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and fire them straight up. From there the strong prevailing winds take over, and a player’s placement within the draw is determined by where in the Tri-state area his name flutters to rest. It is for this reason, one presumes, that the year’s final Major is always contested during hurricane season. Sadly, the USTA has announced that from 2017 there will be roofs over the main stadiums at the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center. The US Open will have to find a new way of conducting the ceremony (since it is unthinkable that something as momentous as populating a tournament draw could be accomplished without due pomp). It’s always a shame when old traditions disappear.
Of subsidiary interest, the placement of the top two seeds is decided by where their names fall in relation to David Ferrer’s. As it happened, Rafael Nadal was the luckier one. We can safely ignore scurrilous rumours that the slips of paper bearing the two Spaniard’s names had been glued together. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic’s name turned up in Stamford, Connecticut. It could have been worse, I suppose.
Once again we’re invited to marvel at the vagaries of the ATP rankings, especially the situation whereby Andy Murray, reigning US Open (and Wimbledon) champion and eternal saviour of British tennis, is ranked number three in the world. This is one place lower than Nadal, who holds only a single Major (Roland Garros), lost in the first round at Wimbledon, and didn’t even play at the others. It is two places lower than Novak Djokovic, who holds only the Australian Open. As a result the Scot is seeded lower than both those men at the upcoming US Open. As far as the population of the small island positioned off the extreme western coast of the Eurasian landmass is concerned, this is nothing short of a cosmic injustice.
Although Sky Sports have never attained the febrile derangement of their compatriots at the Daily Mail, they have nonetheless elevated cheerleading on Murray’s behalf into something of an art form, and will reliably ascend to heights of outrage when they feel he’s been hard-done-by. While raucous advocacy presumably doesn’t reflect management’s official position, it certainly isn’t discouraged, and any failure to address Britain’s top player in sufficiently rapturous terms presumably results in disciplinary action. (This policy, incidentally, isn’t limited to Sky: word is that John McEnroe received a stern talking-to from ESPN after he repeatedly excoriated American players on air during last year’s US Open. He and his brother really did go to town on Donald Young one evening. Here in Australia, failure to sing the praises of either Lleyton Hewitt or Bernard Tomic will earn the offender a baleful visit from John Newcombe.) Anyway, Peter Fleming pronounced the latest rankings to be ‘crazy’. Marcus Buckland suggested it ‘seemed unfair’. Others were less circumspect, in each case betraying a deliberate ignorance of how the rankings actually work. It is understandable that the average punter’s knowledge of the sport ends with the Majors – we shouldn’t necessarily be thrilled at this, and American coverage in particular can be pathetically grateful at any public interest at all – but for those paid good money to follow professional tennis from week to week, the Majors should merely be the start. There is no mystery why Nadal is ranked higher than Murray. There’s more to tennis than Grand Slam events.
Anyway, the reason why the second and third seedings matter so much at this US Open is that David Ferrer is seeded fourth. There are probably kinder ways to say it, but the reality is that even when Ferrer was in decent form he represented a more benign semifinal opponent than whomever the alternative happened to be. Right now, however, he is in execrable form, and still troubled by a lingering injury. Not only that, but these are the potential quarterfinal match-ups based on seedings:
- Djokovic – del Potro
- Murray – Berdych
- Nadal – Federer
- Ferrer – Gasquet
Which of these is not like the others? Any one of Berdych, del Potro or Federer could have fallen in Ferrer’s quarter, and in each case would have been favoured to reach the last weekend. Alas, it wasn’t to be. So it goes. Let’s just call Ferrer’s quarter a grand opportunity for someone. There are nine qualifiers in this quarter, and four of them are facing each other. I’m going to venture out on an especially shaky limb, and suggest that Dimitry Tursonov’s time has arrived. Seeded thirty-two, the Russian won’t encounter anyone ranked higher until the third round at the earliest. By wisely choosing to be drawn in Ferrer’s quarter, he has ensured that he won’t face anyone truly terrifying until the semifinals. So pencil him in for that. Gasquet is in there, too, of course, seeded eighth. I could pencil him in for a quarterfinal, but history suggests that would be a waste of graphite. On the small chance that Tursonov doesn’t push all the way through to Super Saturday, I suspect either Milos Raonic or Jerzy Janowicz will. Or Ernests Gulbis, who is now seeded and can thus stop thinking of himself as the world’s most dangerous floater, since it was frankly getting him nowhere. But really it’s anyone’s guess.
Ryan Harrison’s appalling luck at Grand Slam level continues. He has once again drawn a lofty seed early on, in this case Nadal in the opening round. Last year in New York he faced Juan Martin del Potro in the second round. The upshot is that even last year’s modest points will almost certainly go undefended. It’s rotten luck, undoubtedly, though one shouldn’t pretend there aren’t other reasons why Harrison isn’t ranked high enough to elude this kind of misfortune. It’s bound to be a featured night match, and thus a test of McEnroe’s generosity. It’s hard to imagine either Nadal or Federer will suffer upsets before they meet in the quarterfinals, unlike at Wimbledon, where I totally foresaw those early losses to Steve Darcis and Sergiy Stakhovsky, but didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
Only one first round match really stands out – setting to one side the possibility that those qualifiers will entertainingly pulverise each other in fifth set tiebreaks – which is the one between Lleyton Hewitt and Brian Baker. Joints creaking and metal pins clanking, they’ll contest the chance to play del Potro. Whoever comes out of all that, it’ll be a triumph for medical science.