Aug/10

23

The Outsiders

On a sunny Monday last September, Juan Martin del Potro cast an inspirational light across the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium in becoming the first man to beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in succession at a Grand Slam tournament to win the US Open. A wrist injury has sidelined del Potro since the Australian Open casting doubt on his ability to defend his title in New York this month and raising an interesting question: can a dark horse win the US Open title?

Granted, the then 20-year-old del Potro was hardly a long-shot last year given the fact he nearly knocked Federer off in the Roland Garros semifinals three months earlier and that he had beaten Nadal in Masters Series events in Miami and Montreal before turning the muscular Mallorcan into his own personal punching bag in a stirring straight-sets sweep in the US Open semifinals.

Still, the No. 6 seed from Tandil, Argentina was the lowest-seeded man to reign in New York City since 17th-seeded Pete Sampras captured his fifth Flushing Meadows crown in 2002.

Historically, winning the US Open as a man seeded outside the top 4 is about as easy as wresting control of the world that sits on Atlas’ shoulders outside of Rockefeller Center.

Since 1995, only four men seeded outside the top four have won the US Open: 13th-seeded Patrick Rafter in 1997, sixth-seeded Marat Safin in 2000, Sampras in 2002 and del Potro last year.

Can it happen this year?

Can an outsider conquer two of the most esteemed champions in history, the schizophrenic conditions that can very from scorching to as blustery, a demanding schedule that makes the Open the only major that plays its men’s semifinals on Saturday and the final on Sunday, the prospect of playing draining day matches beneath a searing sun and cooler night matches amid the wind, and crowd that can range from reverential to rowdy depending on the time of day and type of liquid refreshments they’ve consumed?

A group of experts who make their living answering such questions — the bookies — say no.

British bookmaker Ladbrokes casts five-time champion Roger Federer as a 9/4 favorite to claim his sixth US Open title. The top-ranked Nadal as an 11/4 shot to win his first US Open, complete the career Grand Slam and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open crowns simultaneously.

Andy Murray, who swept Nadal and Federer in succession to successfully defend his Rogers Cup title in Toronto, is a 3/1 shot to win the Open. Third-ranked Novak Djokovic is a 12/1 shot and after 2007 finalist Djokovic the rest of the pack are long shots, according to the bookies.

Tomas Berdych, who was runner-up to Nadal at Wimbledon, but who has yet to win a title this season, and fifth-ranked Robin Soderling, a two-time French Open finalist who has failed to surpass the third round in six of his seven US Open appearances, and Andy Roddick are 16/1 shots. David Nalbandian is a 20/1 shot.

Former US Open champion John McEnroe tabs the top three favorites as his picks — “Nadal’s best chance is this year then Roger (is second favorite) then Andy (Murray),” says McEnroe — but believes if the US Open blue court, which is the fastest of all four Grand Slam surfaces, is playing pretty quick then both Berdych and Soderling have a shot, albeit a long shot.

“Some of this depends on the court (speed),” McEnroe told us. “I haven’t seen the court yet and how fast it’s playing. (If it was playing fast) some of the players outside the top four, if any of these guys could go all the way, yeah it would be possible for a Berdych or a Soderling to go all the way because they experienced.”

U.S. Davis Cup captain and ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe disagrees pointing to the sometime wildly whipping wind (remember the year Andre Agassi played Roger Federer in a gusty gale that brought back memories of what Dorothy Gale witnessed back in Kansas all those years ago), which can bounce a tennis ball around the air like a whiffle ball in a wind tunnel as a primary reason why a dark horse hope will be blown away.

“I would be very surprised (if a dark horse won the Open),” Patrick McEnroe said. “I think the one x-factor is the wind and I think the wind actualily would really hurt a guy like a Berdych and a Soderling, who both like the ball in the slot. Even when it doesn’t appear to be very windy in Arthur Ashe Stadium, it’s pretty breezy down on the court. ”

John McEnroe, who outdueled Jimmy Connors in a classic 1984 semifinal that ended near the midnight hour on a Saturday night then came back to beat Ivan Lendl, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1, less than 16 hours later, believes the back-to-back schedule could create an opportunity for an outsider to pull off an Open upset.

“If they got lucky with schedule — you are rolling the dice playing two days in a row and (Juan Carlos) Ferrero played four days in a row the year he got to the final — and often one of the players is spent by the time they played, then the finals is definitely a crap shoot. That opens the door for something like that happening. It is difficult to predict and the likelihood of it happening is not great, but if everything broke their way then someone outside of the top four could conceivably do it.”

Patrick McEnroe asserts history shows us it is the tennis Atlas’ — the players with expansive reach, strength and the acumen and skill to take on the world — are the ones who reign in New York rather than the upstarts in pointing out the US Open is the major boasting the fewest long shot champions.

“You look back over the US Open champions, particularly on the men’s side, and it’s very rarely someone who is not a great glayer and I don’t mean to say those guys (Berdych, Soderling and Nalbandian) aren’t great players but you don’t see too many one-offs winning the Open,” Patrick McEnroe says. “You see guys sneak through to the finals of the Australian and win it and even the French Open over the years and you’ve even seen fliers get through to the Wimbledon final. But it’s very rare that happens at the Open and I think that’s due to the combination of the surface, the timing of it and the end of the year when players may be a little bit tired, but they’re sharp, they’re match tough. And I think it would take a lot of things to have to go right for a Berdych or a Soderling to win the Open.”

11 comments

  • NAME · August 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    “Third-ranked Novak Djokovic is a 12/1 shot ”

    That’s a good bet for those odds.

    “don’t see too many one-offs winning the Open”

    I see two:

    Roddick
    Orantes

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 24, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Fish fits the bill. THis guy is playing phenomenal tennis now, if he can raise it for the US Open and play just a little better then yesterday’s final, he can win. He really can win it. So impressed by his game right now, moving quick, hitting fearless, serving big, mentally tough. He’s so close.

  • Andrew Miller · August 24, 2010 at 1:21 am

    If Fish wins his tiebreaks he has a shot.

  • NAME · August 24, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Maybe you’ll be right but I don’t see it.

    I’ve seen most of Fish’s matches at the USO. I used to joke you had to be their pretty early if you wanted to catch Fish. He did pretty well, I think it was 2008; even took the first set off Nadal until Nadal crushed him. I know. He’s slimmed down. New mental attitude. Playing hot. But this is not Agassi dropping out of the top of the game, then coming back, having a hot summer and winning the USO unseeded (or was he seeded 16 ? I don’t remember). Fish has shown no ability to make a deep run at a Major. He lost to Fed in Cincy. Over five sets his chances are much worse.

  • NAME · August 24, 2010 at 2:39 am

    PS, their = there.

  • NAME · August 24, 2010 at 4:38 am

    So I put my post on Day 1 qualies under the Qualies Article below but I’m sure no one will see it there because of the structure of this site.

    I am curious who you folks think has buzz this year. Last year I’d say Dimitrov had a lot even though he didn’t make it through. Who has it this year ?

  • Dan markowitz · August 24, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Good question, name. I’d say Dustin brown if he’s in the qualis. I’m interested to see chAse Buchanan , as he’s shown promise. Is tonic in it? Can witten make another run? Are there any former glory players in the draw?

  • Dan markowitz · August 24, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Mahut, muller, nishikori, ram, there’s always massu

  • Name · August 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Mahut should have been given a wild card simply
    for being 1/2 of the duo that brought
    more attention to tennis than anything else
    this year.

  • Richard Pagliaro · August 25, 2010 at 1:41 am

    Name:
    That’s a good point, re: Mahut. Agreed.

  • Andrew Miller · August 26, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Just watched some Chase Buchanan on Youtube. It’s hard to look at the clips and say “this guy will be awesome.” He may be like Ginepri, but I dont see much going on. Same thing with Ryan Harrison.

    I would LOVE Vince Spadea’s opinion on the heirs of U.S. tennis. Unfortunately I think it would get him in trouble. I have not been impressed, as a fan, of anything I am seeing. I thought Jesse Levine has a fine game, but no apparent weapons and less firepower than Ginepri.

    Once again, DYoung looks like one of the few with any actual differentiating skills. He’s more than a few degrees better, in terms of talent, than most of the soon to be “new guard” of U.S. tennis (we’re talking two to three years out!)

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