US Open preview
Sky Bet's Tim Clement looks at Andy Murray's chances of ending Rafael Nadal's impressive run and defending his US Open title.
By Tim Clement - Twitter: @SkyTimClement. Last Updated: 27/08/13 6:41am
Rafael Nadal heads into the US Open as favourite after compounding one of the great sporting comebacks with back-to-back hard-court triumphs.
The Spaniard is undoubtedly the man in form heading to Flushing Meadows having racked up his eighth and ninth titles of the year in Montreal and Cincinnati, boasting a 100 per cent record on the surface in question.
He is also up to second in the ATP World Rankings despite not collecting any points from three of the last four Grand Slams - a remarkable feat given that Andy Murray, the man he has leap-frogged, has racked up 4,000 from two of those.
Murray returns to New York in a unique position as the defending champion of a major event, prompting questions as to how he will cope with the situation.
Sky Bet are clearly willing to take him on after disappointing showings since Wimbledon, offering him as their 4/1 Price Boost for the event.
The Scot suffered early exits in both the Rogers Cup and the Southern & Western Open but we should not forget that he did the same last year - and we all know what followed.
World No 1 Novak Djokovic is considered both the second favourite at the US Open and to end the year at the head of the rankings, so certainly has a point to prove.
Djokovic has failed to win a title since dethroning Nadal in Monte Carlo, which feels a lifetime ago given what has unfolded since.
Roger Federer is all but written off at odds of 14/1 with Juan Martin del Potro considered ahead in the betting at 10/1, despite not winning any of the top two tier events since his triumph here is 2009.
There will certainly be a big-priced semi-finalist with the third quarter of the draw headed by the out-of-form David Ferrer, who is a hefty 66/1.
The Decoturf hard court used at Flushing Meadows is rated as medium paced by the ITF, offering a relatively high bounce to assist big servers and aggressive players.
New York has been hit by a string of weather problems during the US Open fortnight over recent years. Last year's final weekend was interrupted a tornado passing nearby, causing the site to be evacuated on the Saturday and a fifth successive Monday final. Rain is currently forecasted for the middle of the first week but tempatures should be heading towards the 30 degrees mark.
Murray overcame Tomas Berdych amid blustery conditions to say the least to give himself a fifth shot at winning that elusive first Grand Slam. His hopes grew as he took the first set against Djokovic in a tie-break before doubling his advantage by taking the second set 7-5. The Serb typically came back fighting, levelling the match by taking the third and fourth sets 6-2 and 6-3. However, the Scot was not to be denied this time as he hit back impressively in the decider, breaking three times before serving out his first major success - ending a 76-year wait for a British singles champion in the process.
Contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Rafael Nadal: The world No 2 has won nine out of 13 tournaments this year
The fact that Nadal heads this list of contenders in a remarkable achievement in itself, a year on from missing the event amid concerns over his future in the game. A seven-month spell on the sidelines has been followed by what must be considered one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time, winning nine out of 13 tournaments this year. More significantly for his US Open chances, the 'King of Clay' has won all three events on hard court, including back-to-back titles in Montreal and Cincinnati. The Spaniard has one title at Flushing Meadows from back in 2010, which he described as the most difficult of his major successes given the speed of the courts. However, he is now producing the sort of aggressive tennis that will instil fear in the rest of the tour.
Novak Djokovic: The Serb has not won an event since April
The Serb may head to Flushing Meadows as world No 1 but it would go somewhat against the form book if he were to win here. The 26-year-old has not won an event since April and only holds just one of the majors, the Australian Open. Having once had Nadal's number, he has now lost five of their last six clashes including the last two, while Murray has won two out of three of their major final meetings over the last 12 months.
Andy Murray: Ready for the defence of his title at Flushing Meadows
The big question is how will the Scot cope with returning to a Grand Slam as reigning champion for the first time? Compared to the burden of ending his maiden major wait it seems a nice problem to be dealing with, while Nadal's rampant form might take the pressure off somewhat. It seems bizarre that the bookies are now willing to take him on given that after Wimbledon the general consensus was that Murray stood at the top of the game. As the holder of Olympic, US Open and Wimbledon crowns, it seems strange that he has drifted out to third favourite. However, his world ranking has also dropped down to three which means he could have to beat both Djokovic and Nadal in order to retain his title, something he has never achieved in a major. Tomas Berdych's placement in his quarter is somewhat of a concern as well given the Czech leads their head-to-head 6-4.
Juan Martin del Potro: Not reached a major final since his 2009 success
As one of the few Grand Slam winners, del Potro is all too often considered a contender before flattering to deceive. The fact that his major win came in New York adds to expectations but his results since his long-term injury do not support such assumptions. 'The Tower of Tandil' has not reached another major final since that 2009 success and only made his first semi-final at Wimbledon, where he endured a painful loss to Djokovic despite playing some of his best tennis. That form translates down into the second-tier events, not winning a single Masters title in his career, pointing to a mental weakness in the company of the top names.
Roger Federer: The 32-year-old is now considered an outsider for the title
The decline of Federer has been a dramatic one, with his form completely unravelling since arriving at Wimbledon. A second-round loss at SW19 was followed by another defeat to a player outside the top 100 on the clay in Hamburg and then to a then 55th ranked Daniel Brands in his homecoming in Gstaad, amid a brief experimentation with a larger racket. After sitting out Montreal with a back problem, Federer improved sufficiently in Cincinnati to push Nadal to three sets before ultimately losing. Whether this points to his general decline or just a blip remains to be seen, but it is fair to say the 32-year-old heads to Flushing Meadows as somewhat of an outsider. Either way, as a six-time champion here he is likely to tempt some at such a big price.
Best of the rest
Tomas Berdych: The danger man from the rest of the draw
Berdych (40/1) is the danger man from the rest of the draw but his ability to trouble the best rarely translates into titles. David Ferrer (66/1) is the fourth seed here but brings poor form to New York, having won just one match in Montreal and Cincinnati. That means the third quarter is open for an outsider to make a real impact, with Richard Gasquet (125/1), Jerzy Janowicz (66/1), Milos Raonic (80/1) and Ernests Gulbis (80/1) looking the most likely beneficiaries. Raonic appears the best placed to take advantage after making the final of the Rogers Cup but going any further than the semi-finals would be a big surprise.
Nadal warrants favouritism given his stunning form but from a betting perspective Murray offers the value at 4/1. Ultimately, the Spaniard has not won a major title away from clay since 2010 while the Scot is the holder of both the US Open and Wimbledon titles. Murray will also be far fresher for any gruelling battles, which typically decide the majors events. The third quarter offers an interesting sub-plot and a back-to-lay approach could be shrewd for somebody like Raonic.
Milos Raonic e/w - 80/1