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U.S. Open men's seed report

Federer eyes three-peat; draw gods unkind to Agassi

Posted: Thursday August 24, 2006 10:02AM; Updated: Monday August 28, 2006 12:17AM
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Roger Federer will try to join the 11 men's players with three or more U.S. Open titles.
Roger Federer will try to join the 11 men's players with three or more U.S. Open titles.
Chuck Solomon/SI
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Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim breaks down the men's and women's seeds at the U.S. Open. Read on for the top first-round matchups, dark horses to keep an eye on and his predicted winners.

Top 16 seeds

1. Roger Federer: Rationally, how do you pick against the guy at any Slam outside of Paris? With a best-of-five format, plenty of time to rest between matches and Rafael Nadal struggling on hard courts, the magic eight ball says: All signs point to a three-peat.

2. Rafael Nadal: Still hasn't found traction on the North American hard courts, and the book is out on how to beat him: attack, attack, attack -- starting with his second serve. After Nadal's Wimbledon final, a Fed-Nadal final looked like a good bet. Not so much anymore. At the same time, look through his "clay-courters quarter" and it's hard to find a player he shouldn't beat.

3. Ivan Ljubicic: The Croat has been complaining -- justifiably -- about his lack of status. He has a chance to improve his Q-rating with a run deep into Week 2. He's in the toughest quadrant and has never done particularly well in New York, but if he's serving well, we like his chances of surviving.

4. David Nalbandian: The vectors are all headed in the wrong direction. He hasn't been himself since his French Open semifinal run, and even when he reached the U.S. Open semis in 2003, he never expressed much fondness for New York. To make matters worse, he may well play Marat Safin in Round 2 -- and he's 1-5 against the Russian.

5. James Blake: After cracking the top five earlier this summer, Blake has been awful lately. On paper he's on the short list of players to make some major noise at the Open, but he comes in with virtually no momentum. Also, he has the misfortune of playing in Federer's quadrant.

6. Tommy Robredo: A nice enough player but pretty soft as far as sixth seeds go. Never done much on the American hard courts. Watch him anyway, if only for the retro touches: the '70s game, the short shorts and the Eric Estrada feathered hairstyle.

7. Nikolay Davydenko: If our math is right, the U.S. Open will be his 26th event this year, not including Davis Cup. That's an awful lot of grinding. Hard to see him surviving past the middle weekend.

8. Marcos Baghdatis: The streaky Cypriot (aren't they all?) is capable of a deep run (see: Wimbledon) but also capable of getting up on the wrong side of the bed and losing to, say, the Andre Agassi-Andre Pavel winner.

9. Andy Roddick: The great X factor. We all know about his travails in '06. But has anyone played better tennis on the hard courts? After Roddick's win in Cincy -- and with Coach Jimmy in the box -- this could be a lot of fun for the American fans. Particularly with last year's first-round fiasco as motivation for Andy, we're predicting the hot streak continues, at least through the quarters.

10. Fernando Gonzalez: Quietly had a terrific summer on the hard courts but never seems to sustain his go-for-broke style late into a Slam. We eagerly anticipate a third-rounder against Andy Murray.

11. David Ferrer: A deceptively strong hard-court player, but a blow-out loss in New Haven bodes ill.

12. Tomas Berdych: Pocket Safin is loaded with talent but is as capable of beating seeds (e.g. Nadal in Toronto) as he is of losing to no-names. Likely third-rounder against Dmitry Tursunov is a nice contrast in styles.

13. Jarkko Nieminen: The Flying Finn finally won his first title and was a quarterfinalist in '05, but he comes in without much momentum; his first match against Xavier Malisse could be trouble.

14. Tommy Haas: Never a threat to win but always a dangerous opponent no one wants to face.

15. Lleyton Hewitt: After a surprisingly strong French Open and a decent Wimbledon, Hewitt appeared to be back in the mix. But in part because of an injury, he's done virtually nothing on hard courts. The former champ ('01) is always a tough opponent and could be dangerous in N.Y. if he's well rested.

16. Juan Carlos Ferrero: A former No. 1 and former U.S. Open finalist, he turned in his best result in a long time last week in Cincy. The draw gods smiled on him, too, at least for the first few rounds.