NEW YORK—Howdy, tennis fans. It’s time once again to break out the cape, tall conical hat (the one with the astrological signs and iridescent stars embroidered on it), and my trusty crystal ball. We’ll chant a few incantations and gaze deeply into the milky, mesmerizing orb to make some fearless predictions for the upcoming U.S. Open.
Highest Seed to Lose in the First Round
Men: Kevin Anderson will upset David Ferrer, the No. 4 seed. Anderson is an aggressive, attacking player with a huge serve; he’s utterly at home on hard courts. Ferrer prefers clay, but he's bagged five of his 16 career titles on hard courts. So the big difference here will be the jitters Ferrer will experience playing his first-round match as a heavy favorite against a tough hard-court opponent. Ferrer has been a model of consistency, which is why win by Anderson will come as such a shock.
Women: WTA No. 40 Daniela Hantuchova, a two-time champion in the big combined event in Indian Wells, will waylay rising 21-year-old Russian star and No. 17 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Although Pavlyuchenkova leads their head-to-head, 4-1, they haven’t played for almost two years. Hantuchova catches fire now and then, and this would be a good time for her to get a hot hand once again. At 29, she’s both experienced and crafty enough to take advantage of the youthful confusion that has doomed Pavlyuchenkova to a one-step-forward, two-steps-back developmental regimen.
Last Russian Standing:
Men: No. 28 seed Mikhail Youzhny is 30 years old, ranked No. 29, and a new dad. That gives him plenty of motivation to make the most of these final years of his career. He's been a semifinalist in New York twice in years past, and is in the same quarter of the draw that will be up for grabs when Anderson beats Ferrer!
Women: Maria Sharapova, seeded No. 3, will scream and shriek and pause thoughtfully as if frozen in mid-step before she returns to the service line to play a point, and it will all look persuasive and menacing and at times unbeatable—until Serena Williams gets a hold of her in the final and squishes her like a piece of that gummy Sugarpova candy under the sole of her Nike kicks.
Lowest Ranked Player in the Quarterfinals:
Men: That would be No. 14 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov, because he’ll upset No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic in the fourth round.
Women: Sloane Stephens, No. 46 in the WTA rankings, will dismiss No. 22 seed Francesca Schiavone in the first round, as well as No. 8 seed Caroline Wozniacki to earn a quarterfinal date with her BFF Serena, who will then teach her the meaning of the word, “frenemy.”
First Player to Smash a Racquet in Frustration:
Men: Bernard Tomic has always had great if largely unfulfilled potential as a Safin-esque racquet smasher extraordinaire. He’s made great strides toward realizing that potential by pretty much stinking out the joint at the three majors this year. And with No. 20 seed—and expert equipment abuser—Andy Roddick penciled in as his second round opponent, this could be the year when the emotional, wildly talented (and equally undisciplined) Aussie makes his big, er, breakthrough.
Women: Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden, an otherwise lovely young lady of 5-foot-10 who’s been ranked as high as No. 29, will be unable to handle the fact that she’s losing her first-round match to 41-year old, 5-foot-4, 117-pound. Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan. The result will be a terrific tomahawk chop into the Deco-Turf.
Most Lopsided Score in the Quarterfinals or Beyond:
Men: John Isner will lose just 13 games in his 7-6, 7-6, 6-1 quarterfinal win over Youzhny.
Women: Serena will lose just 13 games in the three matches she plays starting in the quarterfinals en route to the title.
First French Player to Lose:
Men: Benoit Paire’s head will explode like a melon shot by a .30-’06 midway through the second set of his first-round match, while trailing Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 4-1. . .and it will only get worse.
Women: Jelena Jankovic, the No. 30 seed, who just today renounced her Serbian citizenship and asked for asylum in France in order to be eligible for this “honor.”
Most Successful American:
Men: Isner, U.S. Open runner-up of 2012.
Women: Serena, who will win the title and later that night appear on the Home Shopping Network for 36 minutes, during which she’ll move $34 million worth of product and earn an extra $18 million. You think I’m kidding, don’t you? Like Yogi Berra once said, “You can look it up.”
Most Resounding Upset:
Men: The aforementioned Dolgopolov win over Djokovic.
Women: Anyone else who says he or she predicted the upset of No. 5 Petra Kvitova by Michaella Krajicek, the former Wimbledon quarterfinalist, is flat out lying.
Lowest Number of Games Lost By a Top-4 Seed in the First Round:
Men: If it weren’t for the pity factor, Donald Young would not have banked those three games in his 6-0. 6-0, 6-3 first-round loss to Roger Federer.
Women: I don’t know what Alexandra Panova did to get Victoria Azarenka so angry, but the match was just 48 minutes old and the score was 6-0, 5-0 before Panova won her first game. Ya think Azarenka is kind of steamed about being about as invisible a No. 1 as the WTA has ever produced?
Most Unsuccessful Hawkeye Challenges:
Men: Federer will go 0-17 in challenges, mostly because he doesn’t believe the technology is reliable and he just wants to burn through those challenges as early as possible in each set so that he doesn’t even have to think about them.
Women: No. 11 seed Marion Bartoli will go 3-15 simply because, convinced that she’s smarter than everyone else, she’ll challenge on shots that everyone in the stadium sees as well-called.