With eight days in the books and just seven left, the U.S. Open men’s singles draw has been whittled down to 12 competitors from an initial 128. Major upsets have been few and far between, meaning we should expect a collection of intriguing matchups among the world’s top-ranked tennis players in the closing rounds. The big guns—No. 2 Roger Federer, No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and No. 8 Andy Murray (Nadal sat out the tournament with a wrist injury)—have yet to be phased out. However, Murray did run into a surprising level of adversity in Round 1 against Dutchman Robin Haase, in which Murray lost a set and needed a tiebreak to win another. He’s settled down and cruised into the quarterfinals in his three matches since, looking especially strong in his straight-set win over the aggressive Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 9) on Monday. Federer took his first two matches in straight sets before looking a little vulnerable at the start of his third-round match with Marcel Granollers, but he came back from dropping the first set to win the next three emphatically, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1. Djokovic has been on another level of dominance, though, not needing a single tiebreak to get through his first four matches in straight sets.
As for the other formidable challengers still alive, Stan Wawrinka appears to have the best chance to topple the established champs and grab his second Grand Slam title. Despite being a couple of years older than both Murray and Djokovic, Wawrinka has aged like a fine wine, winning the Australian Open earlier this year (the only other Slam on a hard surface) and looking impressive in his four-set Round of 16 victory over Spaniard Tommy Robredo (No. 16). In tomorrow’s quarterfinal, he’s set to play Kei Nishikori (No. 10), whose brilliant finesse and skillful returns were able to upend the high-speed, booming serves of Canadian Milos Raonic (No. 5) in a five-set classic late last night, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4. The winner moves on to semis against whoever prevails in the highly anticipated Djokovic-Murray showdown. Djokovic has won 12 out of the 20 matches he’s had against Murray over the years, and Novak’s consistent supremacy over the past year tips the balance squarely in his favor, but don’t forget Murray’s triumph over Djokovic in last year’s Wimbledon Final. If you can catch one quarterfinal, tune in to that one tomorrow.
The other side of the draw looks like a strangely easy road to the Final for Federer, where everyone expects him to meet Djokovic for a rematch of July’s Wimbledon Final, or perhaps Murray or Wawrinka. Still, it’s best not to jump to conclusions. Fed needs to win three more matches (his side of the draw is playing through the Round of 16 today), first against Roberto Bautista Agut (No. 17) and then against the winner of Gael Monfils (No. 20) and Grigor Dimitrov (No. 7), both of whom would pose large obstacles. Monfils has played unusually well thus far. He didn’t concede a single set over the first three rounds, and the 23-year-old Dimitrov has youth on his side, and a 2014 season that’s already been a breakthrough for him. He won three titles, made it to the Australian Open quarters, and defeated Murray to reach the semis at Wimbledon (then gave Djokovic fits in that match). No. 4 David Ferrer was ousted by Frenchman Gilles Simon (No. 26) in Round 3, but the potential semifinalist set to meet Federer (or whoever can upset him) is still strong. It would most likely be Czech Tomas Berdych (No. 6), who needed five sets to get through the second round but has otherwise looked great.
So, all signs continue to point to another Federer-Djokovic Final, something all tennis fans can look forward to. But don’t be surprised (or disappointed) if someone spoils the party; perhaps Murray or Wawrinka can take down Novak, while Dimitrov and Berdych pose the biggest issues for Fed. The next week represents the most exciting, intense tennis you’ll see until next year, so don’t miss out.
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