By Matt Cronin, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
The business end of the Emirates Airline US Open Series will begin next week, when the first of two ATP Masters Series tournaments kick off in Toronto. A week later, another Masters Series will be played in Cincinnati, followed up by an ATP 250-level tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C. Then all the world’s best will head to the US Open.
The following capsules look at the U.S.'s top-ranked men and what to expect from them in the weeks to come.
JOHN ISNER: After a tough clay-court stretch and disappointing Wimbledon, the big man has begun to turn things around again, winning Newport, reaching the semis of Atlanta and playing Roger Federer tough at the Olympics. Isner is currently ranked No. 11 and would love to go into the US Open seeded in the top eight, as it means he can avoid meeting one of tennis’ so called "Big 4" until the quarters. He has few points to defend in Toronto and Cincinnati, and with Federer and Rafael Nadal out of Canada, he has a terrific chance to make a big push. Isner is good enough to make a strong run during the next five weeks. It's a matter of self-belief.
MARDY FISH: The veteran has had a tough year health-wise, having to undergo minor heart surgery in May and then twisting his ankle in his first-round match in Atlanta and being forced to retire just two weeks after he had a fine Wimbledon. But even though he’s hobbled, he’s reached the semis of Washington, and he’s been terrific during the Emirates Airline US Open Series the past two years, winning Atlanta twice and reaching the finals of Cincinnati and Canada. He’s currently ranked No. 15 and does not want to fall out of the top 16 by the US Open, so if he can get his serve-and-volley game clicking again and his ankle sound, he should be a threat to win his first Masters Series crown and possibly reach his first semifinal in New York.
ANDY RODDICK: The 2003 US Open champion showed serious signs of life in winning Eastbourne on grass and Atlanta on hard courts. But his right shoulder is aching, and after going down to Novak Djokovic at the Olympics, he pulled out of Toronto. He didn't play Canada last year, either, due to injury and fell in the first round of Cincinnati, so points-wise, he does not have much to defend outside of a final at Winston-Salem. For the 29-year-old Roddick, getting back to at least the final-four stage at the US Open has to be his main goal, as he reached a semifinal since he banged his way to the 2006 final and lost to Roger Federer. Without question, he will make sure to be as healthy as possible for New York, but he plays better when he has matches under his belt, so if his shoulder is feeling anywhere close to OK, expect him to contest Cincinnati or Winston-Salem.
SAM QUERREY: Perhaps no player has made the most of his chances so far during the Emirates Airline US Open Series while the Olympics have been taking place. Querrey appears to have the form back that brought him to a world No. 17 ranking in 2011, and through Friday, he leads the Emirates Airline US Open Series Bonus Challenge Standings with 95 points. He won the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles and, as of Friday, had reached the semifinals of Washington. He’s pushed his ranking back up to No. 38, and with some more positive results on his beloved hard courts, the California native could earn himself a seeding at the US Open, which would be a nice reward for all the hard work he’s put in since returning from elbow surgery last fall. A bonus check by winning the Emirates Airline US Open Series points race would be nice, too.
DONALD YOUNG: To put it simply, Young has to find a way to stop the bleeding. He hasn't won a match since February and has a 2-17 record on the year. He is way too good of a player to be dumping set after set, but admittedly his confidence is shot. He needs to calm down, trust his shots and begin to make progress in Toronto. He has to defend a fine fourth-round showing in New York last year, so he’s hoping to find his game quickly. But he’ll have to take baby steps before he can leap forward.
RYAN HARRISON: The 20-year-old is the United States' most established prospect, but his 2012 has been full of close losses to very good players, such as Isner, Gilles Simon, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. He is still improving both technically and mentally, and sometime soon he will make a big push at the top 20. He won’t play Toronto but will contest Cincinnati. He is not the type of person who wants to be hovering outside of the top 50 for much longer, so at the very least, expect him to be in every match he plays.
BRIAN BAKER: The amazing comeback story of May and June has struggled on the Emirates Airline US Open Series hard courts, but once he catches his breath, the 27-year-old should at least put up a few notable results, as he seems to perform well on the big stages, and Cincinnati and the US Open will provide him that opportunity. He has not played in New York since 2005, so he should receive quite a reception. Whether he can repeat the round-of-16 run he put together at Wimbledon is questionable, but no one who has watched the super hard worker closely would be surprised if he did.