The last major of the year is upon us, and with the absence of Rafael Nadal, the men's field is seemingly more wide open than normal. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray obviously have not gone anywhere, but now they have to like their chances much more without Nadal. Three different men have won majors so far this year, but all from the Big 3. Will that trend continue or we will have a newcomer to the party? After the jump we'll look at five storylines to watch as the tennis world focuses on New York for the fortnight.
1. Roger Federer's continued excellence
Dominance is not a word we would use to describe Federer anymore, but at age 31, he's the number one player in the world and is coming off the Wimbledon victory and the Cincy title. He loves New York, and only a miracle forehand from Djokovic stopped Federer from reaching the final last year. He's hitting his backhand better than ever, and he has to the be the favorite to win. He's got Murray in his half, which is much tougher for him, but Murray has a very tough road to get there. Winning the US Open would also put more distance between him and Djokovic in the race for number one. He's our pick, and while we think there will be some hiccups along the way, he should come out on top.
2. Djokovic's up and down season
Djokovic, after one of the best all time seasons in 2011, has expectedly come back down to earth. He's come a bit more down to earth than perhaps he wanted to, only winning the Australian Open before falling to Nadal in the French Open final and Federer in the Wimbledon semifinal. He hasn't had a bad year by any stretch, and he is certainly capable of winning New York. He has a very easy draw, with Murray in the other half. There's no reason to think he would lose before the final, and if he did that would be a massive upset. Whether he wins or not depends mostly on his opponent. If a minor miracle were to happen and he didn't face Murray or Federer, then he would be the huge favorite. Against Murray, he would still be the favorite. He's owned Murray in majors, and is much better equipped to handle the pressure. Against Federer he would be the slight underdog, but that is certainly the final most people want. That would be the blockbuster final.
3. Andy Murray's ascendacy
In winning the Olympics, Murray showed he could win the big one. Now he needs to win a major for that to count. He's got a really tough draw, so for him to win the title he would definitely earn it. There are many pitfalls in his draw, but he had the same sort of draw at Wimbledon and it didn't hurt him. If he could win this title, he would finally get over the major hump and could potentially be a force for years to come.
4. Del Potro's Return
We're still waiting for del Potro to return to the form that carried him to the 2009 US Open title. Reruns of that match were shown this week, and it is still striking how well he hit the ball that match. His forehands were bombs, backhands were solid, and his serve impenetrable. The wrist injury slowed him down considerably, and he hasn't come close to winning one since. We keep waiting for it. Will it ever happen?
5. Where are the Americans?
Americans have always had a long history of overperforming at the US Open, from Ginepri's incredible run to the 2005 US Open semifinal to even Sampras's title run in 2002. However, this year, the only player that looks like he could make a run would be John Isner. The biggest advantage for him? 5th set tiebreaker. No marathons are possible, and that has to help his pysche. He also just won the title in Winston Salem, and he has the potential to make a deep run. Fish? Seeded 23rd and a non factor. Roddick? No chance he'll make it past the third round. His body won't let him. Ryan Harrison? Probably first round lost to Benjamin Becker. Brian Baker? Awesome story, but he's starting to feel the pressure and has had very underwhelming results since returning to the States.