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Tough road for Djokovic; Nadal, Federer on track to meet in quarters

Novak Djokovic (SRB)[2] reacts after winning the point against Andy Murray (GBR)[3] in the finals of the 2012 US Open
By Erin Bruehl
Thursday, August 22, 2013

Top-seeded Novak Djokovic has reached the US Open final each of the last three years, but he will not have an easy path back in 2013. The US Open singles draws were revealed Thursday, placing Djokovic in defending champion Andy Murray’s half and No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the same quarter as five-time US Open champion and No. 7 seed Roger Federer.

Certainly, Nadal enters the tournament as one of favorites, or perhaps the favorite. After a surprise first-round exit at Wimbledon, he had an outstanding summer hard-court season, winning titles in both Montreal and Cincinnati to claim the Emirates Airline US Open Series men's title. He has gone 15-0 on hard courts this year, also winning in Indian Wells, and defeated Federer in Cincinnati to run his record against his rival to 21-10. The two have never met in Flushing Meadows.

Before Djokovic, the 2011 US Open champion, could potentially meet Murray in the semifinals, he may have to get past No. 25 Grigor Dimitrov in the third round and the resurgent No. 12 Tommy Haas or 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals. If he meets del Potro, it could be a reprise of their classic Wimbledon semifinal.

Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon champion, won his first career Grand Slam title here last year and comes to a Slam as defending champion for the first time. He has no easy path either, however, with a potentially tricky first-round match against world No. 49 Michael Llodra and a possible quarterfinal against No. 5 Tomas Berdych, whom he defeated in the 2012 US Open semis.

“It’s different,” Murray said of entering a Slam with a title to defend. “I’m looking forward to getting back on court. I came here (to the US Open) when I was 15. I won my first Grand Slam title here. I won the juniors here. I love this tournament.”

In the opposite half, No. 4 David Ferrer, a 2013 French Open finalist, was placed in the same quarter with No. 8 Richard Gasquet and the No. 10 seed, big-serving Milos Raonic. No. 13 seed John Isner landed in the same quarter as Nadal and Federer and could potentially meet Nadal in the fourth round.

Click here for a look at the complete men's draw

As the excitement unfolds during the next two weeks in Flushing Meadows, it all starts with the first-round matchups. Here are a few to keep an eye on:

Andy Murray [1] vs. Michael Llodra

Murray, the defending champion, is 3-0 in his career against the 33-year-old Frenchman, but at No. 49 in the world and former world No. 21, Llodra isn’t an easy first-round opponent. The lefty Llodra brings a different look to any right-hander, and as an accomplished doubles player, he is very comfortable coming to net and working the serve and volley when necessary. Ultimately, Murray’s speed, defense and backhand, his strongest weapons, should carry him through, and beyond.

Rafael Nadal [2] vs. Ryan Harrison

This is a particularly tough draw for the 21-year-old American, whose game is built around his power serve and forehand. Nadal’s lefty kick serve is trouble for most right-handers’ backhands, making it difficult to get in a solid return. Nadal then usually pounces on a weak return with his forehand, so solid returning will be crucial for Harrison to have a chance. The two met in Indian Wells for the first time this spring, where Harrison took the world No. 2 to a first-set tiebreak before Nadal prevailed in straight sets.

Lleyton Hewitt vs. Brian Baker

Two resurgent players meet here in a matchup of the oft-injured. The 2001 US Open champion Hewitt, 32, is still going strong despite battling through various ailments the past few seasons, including hip surgery. No one knows more about returning from injury than Baker, who returned to professional tennis in mid-2011 after multiple surgeries and nearly six years away from the game. He surged back into the Top 50 in the world in 2012 but suffered a knee injury during the 2013 Australian Open and did not return until this summer. This will be his first Grand Slam event since his latest comeback and just his fifth match since January. Rust could certainly be a factor for Baker, although Hewitt no longer moves the way he once did. Hewitt clearly has the big match experience, but this one could go either way.