(2) Rafael Nadal vs. Ryan Harrison
Head-to-head: Nadal leads 1-0
Harrison exchanged high fives with First Lady Michelle Obama at Arthur Ashe Kids' Day on Saturday and has already traded shots with the King of Clay this year. Nadal defeated Harrison, 7-6, 6-2, in Indian Wells in March, and the 97th-ranked American is well aware he will face a barrage of lefty topspin forehands to his weaker backhand wing. Rafa is 15-0 on hard courts this year and tuned up for his return to the Open by winning successive Masters titles in Montreal and Cincinnati. When Nadal establishes his curling cross-court forehand to the Harrison backhand it will be very tough for the underdog to neutralize that pattern, so he must be assertive on serve, try to take charge of points with his forehand, and, most importantly, serve boldly—as the 2010 champion is playing the best hard-court tennis of his career and has a clear advantage in running rallies.
(7) Roger Federer vs. Grega Zemlja
Head-to-head: Federer leads 2-0
Considering that Federer has not permitted more than five games in either of their two prior hard-court meetings and Zemlja did not win a main-draw match during the North American summer hard-court season, you might write this off as a routine first-rounder. However, little has come easy for Federer this season. Still, the five-time U.S. Open champion possesses more power, is the more versatile player, and he’s quicker around the court. The last time Federer fell to a man ranked outside the Top 30 at the U.S. Open was way back in 2002 when he lost in the round of 16 to his former doubles partner, Max Mirnyi. Coincidentally, that was also the last time the Swiss was seeded outside of the Top 3 in New York. In his pre-U.S. Open press conference, Federer said his sometime troublesome back is feeling fine; if he’s firing with accuracy, he shouldn’t encounter much trouble here. As an added bonus: One of Federer's favorite musicians, Lenny Kravitz, is scheduled to perform "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" as the opening-night headliner, which may well put Roger in a rocking mood.
(27) Fernando Verdasco vs. Ivan Dodig
Head-to-head: Verdasco leads 1-0
They’re separated by one year in age, eight spots in the rankings, and both are coming off career-best Wimbledon results: Verdasco held a two-set lead over Andy Murray before falling in five in the quarterfinals, while Dodig reached the fourth round for the first time. The big-serving Croatian is an aggressive player and a flatter hitter who will take his cracks, so Verdasco must maintain depth. If he’s landing his shots, Dodig can be dangerous: He upset another Spanish lefty, Rafael Nadal, at the 2011 Montreal Masters, and partnered Marcelo Melo to reach the Wimbledon doubles final last month. The 30th-ranked Verdasco plays with more spin and greater margin for error and the two-time U.S. Open quarterfinalist is the more accomplished player. However, Dodig has three times as many hard-court wins this season: He’s 12-10 on hard courts, while Verdasco is 4-6. The 38th-ranked Croatian cannot be discounted if he has a strong serving day.
(19) Tommy Robredo vs. Marinko Matosevic
Head-to-head: Matosevic leads 1-0
Matosevic relied on aggressive court positioning, a sound second serve, and his two-handed backhand struck down the line to sweep the Spaniard in Indian Wells in March. Robredo’s inside-out forehand is his signature shot and also feeds directly into Matosevic’s two-handed backhand, which is the Aussie’s sturdiest stroke. Though Robredo has managed just four wins in six hard-court tournaments this year, the longer this match goes, the more it favors the world No. 22: He owns a 13-4 lifetime record in five-set matches, including a 3-0 mark this year. Matosevic is winless in two career five-setters. The 56th-ranked Matosevic is also 2-20 when losing the first set this season, so a fast start is critical as Robredo is a tenacious competitor. At Roland Garros, Robredo turned the art of the comeback into a monumental trek in becoming just the second man in history to come back from two sets down to win in three consecutive Grand Slam matches, joining Henri Cochet, who did it at Wimbledon in 1927.