In Juasn Martin del Potro's absence from the year's final major, no one comes in as the defending champion, but this year's Open could be the year where the big 4's authority is restored.
Rafael Nadal comes into the Open as the top seed, but it's no mystery that his best results don't come in New York. He's reached two semifinals here, but his road usually ends there, as he ran out of gas in an embarrassing defeat to JMDP in 2009. The Spaniard, though, is well rested and hopes to complete the career Grand Slam. His quarter, which includes Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez, is relatively soft, with the exception of an Argentine, not Del Potro, who is injury-free and finding his game again just in time to make a big run.
That person is David Nalbandian, who has missed the last 6 Majors with various injuries. His backhand is lethal and he has the experience to return to the late stages in a slam. He won two titles in the US Open Series, which included an 11-match winning streak, and has a manageable road to the quarters, where he would most likely meet Rafa. I imagine Nalbandian to reach the second week, but the world number 1 could be a bit too much for him to handle.
Early-rounder to watch for: Gilles Simon vs. Donald Young
Quarterfinals: Nadal def. Nalbandian
Andy Murray enters this year's Open after a very successful summer, where the Scot triumphed in Montreal, beating Nadal and Federer along the way. The 4th seed could face potential sleepers as early as the third round, as Sam Querrey and Nicolas Almagro pose a threat. On the other side of the quarter, Wimbledon finalist and 7th seed Tomas Berdcyh looms, along with John Isner.
Murray won't have an easy time maneuvering through a quarter of this depth, but, this being his favorite tournament, the 2008 runner-up should reach the semis. Unless Berdych gives Andy another royal beatdown like he did at the French, look for yet another Murray/Rafa battle on Super Saturday.
Early-rounder to watch for: Radek Stepanek vs. Tommy Robredo
Quarterfinals: Murray def. Berdych
Novak Djokovic is no stranger to success at the last major of the year, as he has reached the last 3 semifinals, including a 2007 runner-up finish. He'll be looking to continue his success in the big apple and win his first major since the 2008 Australian Open, but he has some hard-court specialists standing in his way. Andy Roddick is the 9th seed and has always had success at his country's Grand Slam. He is coming off a brief bout with mono that slowed him down over the summer, but should he be healthy, the American's always a danger. 6th seed Nikolay Davydenko is also a seasoned hard-courter, but a shortage of momentum, confidence and a possible 2nd round encounter with Richard Gasquet will probably send the Russian home early.
Mardy Fish, though, is a legitimate threat. He played the tennis of his life over the summer, winning two titles and giving Roger Federer a run for his money in the Cincinnati final. It's been a long time coming for the American, but could he have peaked a week or two early? That remains to be seen, but it's no doubt the 3rd quarter will pack the drama.
Early-rounder to watch for: Gael Monfils vs. Igor Andreev
Quarterfinals: Djokovic def. Roddick
Could Roger Federer regain his title at the US Open and silence his many doubters? That's what the pundits are saying, as the Swiss is the most popular pick to win the title. In 6 years worth of matches in NYC, the world number 2 has lost just 1 match, in last year's final, to DelPo. Without the Argentine here, and after a title last week in Cincy, Fed will be entering the Open with tons of confidence. Before a possible meeting with Robin Soderling, a familar foe, in the quarters, Federer will have to get by Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero, two former number 1's.
Soderling has consistently given Federer troubles in the past year, most notably ending his semifinal streak in Roland Garros. But, should the meet, the Maestro will be playing with a vengeance, and he's awfully hard to beat if you catch him in the second week.
Early-rounder to watch for: Hewitt vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu
Quarterfinals: Federer def. Soderling
Semifinals: Murray def. Nadal, Federer def. Djokovic
Finals: Murray def. Federer
Champion: Andy Murray