The U.S. Open takes place on tennis’ biggest stage, under its brightest lights, with a star-studded crowd and in prime time for an American audience.The year’s final major, which begins Monday, might not match Wimbledon’s lush history and tradition, and it might not compare to the French Open’s charm or the Australian Open’s exotic locale. But when it comes to a test of talent and nerves, the U.S. Open is the sport’s supreme showcase.And the world will tune in to see if favorites Roger Federer and Serena Williams can handle the pressure by adding one more Grand Slam title to their legacies. Fans will tune in to see if No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or Maria Sharapova stand to solidify their place among the game’s greats. Fans might also be treated to players such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Milos Raonic or Caroline Wozniacki handling the pressure and finally winning that elusive first Grand Slam title. Or they could see the emergence of next generation players such as Grigor Dimitrov, Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens. Or will someone unexpected surprise the world and walk away a U.S. Open title?For 33-year-old Federer, the U.S. Open may be his last best chance to add an 18th Grand Slam title. Despite not winning a major in more than two years, he finds himself labeled by many as the favorite after winning his sixth Cincinnati title last week.In addition to being in top form, Federer also has an advantageous draw, made all the more favorable by the withdrawal of defending champion and No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, who is sidelined with a wrist injury. Plus, No. 1-ranked Djokovic and past U.S. Open champion Murray have had lackluster tuneups leading up to the Open.Djokovic won Wimbledon in July, but has since gotten married and failed to reach the quarterfinals at Montreal and Cincinnati. Murray hasn’t reached a final this year, and exited in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, Montreal and Cincinnati.A victory in New York would make Federer only the fourth man, and first since Bill Tilden in 1925, to win at least six U.S. Open crowns. And he will be trying to do it in his 60th consecutive major. “It’s obviously remarkable and unbelievable that he’s been able to do this consistently well for this long,” Patrick McEnroe said. “To do that — 60 majors in a row — is heroic in a way. That should not be underestimated or underappreciated by tennis fans.”Brad Gilbert agrees: “His streak, what he’s doing, is just off the charts. Huge props to his team ... He’s obviously done an amazing job of taking care of his body. ... He certainly is the Cal Ripken of tennis.” Dream drawThe highest seeded player in Federer’s quarter of the draw is No. 7-ranked Grigor Dimitrov, a 23-year-old rising star from Bulgaria. Potential semifinals opponents could be No. 4 David Ferrer of Spain or No. 6 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. Federer would not face former U.S. Open champions Djokovic or Murray until the final. Djokovic has played in the past four U.S. Open finals, and won in 2011. He lost to Nadal in 2010 and 2013, and to Murray in 2012. Other players to watch in the top half of the draw are No. 9 seed Tsonga, who won the Montreal title before making an early exit in Cincinnati, and No. 5 seed Raonic, who won the Citi Open in Washington and lost to Federer in the semifinals last week in Cincinnati. Serena favoredThe pressure will also be on Serena Williams. So far this year, the No. 1-ranked Williams hasn’t advanced past the fourth round at a major, but she has won four titles, including last week in Cincinnati. She also reached the finals in Montreal, losing to her sister Venus.“Serena, I think when she’s intense, she’s at her best,” McEnroe said. “Although certainly this year I think she’s put a lot of pressure on herself in the big tournaments, and that’s why she’s come up short. She’s maybe gotten too uptight and nervous. “For her, I think she has to walk that fine line of being aggressive and being intense, but also trying to be relaxed.” Australian Open champion Li Na, French Open champion Sharapova and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova could all make a run at a second major in 2014, but there are many challengers on the women’s side. No. 8-ranked Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion, is playing with newfound confidence. No. 2-ranked Simona Halep of Romania will be looking for her first major, along with No. 8-ranked Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who has struggled since being blown out by Kvitova in the Wimbledon finals but has the talent to compete on the hard courts. Home-court advantageIt’s been 11 years since Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open. That’s the second-longest stretch without an American champion on the men’s side since the 12-year drought of 1956-67.John Isner, the top-ranked American at No. 15, injured his ankle in Cincinnati and is a question mark. With movement never his strong point, the 6-foot-9 former NCAA champion will only go as far as his serve will carry him.Next on the list is an improving 25-year-old Donald Young at No. 46, 24-year-old Steve Johnson at No. 49 and 21-year-old Jack Sock at No. 55. “I’m just hoping we have somebody make the second week,” ESPN analyst Gilbert said. “We have a much better group of under-18. I think like a few years ago, we were really struggling on the ladies’ side, [but] now I think we’re the best nation in the world on the young ladies.”Serena and Venus Williams remain the best the U.S. has to offer, but No. 21-ranked Sloane Stephens, No. 28 Madison Keys and No. 45 Christina McHale are all in their early 20s and lead a strong group of American women who have had success in New York.The Draw Men’s breakdown: The withdrawal of defending champion Rafael Nadal threw a kink into what has been a fairly predictable men’s draw in recent majors. The draw is highlighted by a possible quarterfinal match between past Open champions Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. First quarter: No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 8 Andy Murray ( Notable: No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Americans: No. 13 John Isner, Sam Querrey, Marcos Giron, Bradley Klahn) Second quarter: No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, No. 5 Milos Raonic ( Notable: No. 10 Kei Nishikori. Americans: Jack Sock, Donald Young, Wayne Odesnik) Third quarter: No. 4 David Ferrer, No. 6 Tomas Berdych ( Notable: No. 11 Ernest Gulbis, No. 14 Marin Cilic, No. 18 Kevin Anderson, No. 19 Feliciano Lopez. Americans: Steve Johnson, Noah Rubin) Fourth quarter: No. 2 Roger Federer, No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov (Notable: No. 12 Richard Gasquet, No. 20 Gael Monfils. Americans: Ryan Harrison, Tim Smyczek.) Women’s breakdown: Serena Williams is again the favorite on the women’s side, but with Serena, anything can happen. At Wimbledon and the French Open, she made early and unexpected exits. After Williams, the field is wide open, with nods to No. 5 Maria Sharapova and No. 8 Ana Ivanovic. First quarter: No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 8 Ana Ivanovic ( Notable: No. 24 Sam Stosur. Americans: Taylor Townsend, Vania King, Varvara Lepchenko, Coco Vandeweghe, Shelby Rogers, Nicole Gibbs, Alison Riske) Second quarter: No. 3 Petra Kvitova, No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard ( Notable: No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova, No. 16 Victoria Azarenka. Americans: No. 27 Madison Keys, Christina McHale, Grace Min) Third quarter: No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 6 Angelique Kerber ( Notable: No. 9 Jelena Jankovic. American: No. 21 Sloane Stephens) Fourth quarter: No. 2 Simona Halep, No. 5 Maria Sharapova ( Notable: No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 13 Sara Errani, No. 19 Venus Williams, No. 18 Andrea Petkovic, No. 25 Garbine Muguruza and No. 26 Sabine Lisicki Americans: Madison Brengle, Danielle Rose Collins).TV scheduleESPN, The Tennis Channel and CBS (KTVT/11 locally) will share U.S. Open coverage. The Tennis Channel will kick off its daily weekday coverage Monday at 10 a.m. ESPN will join in at noon. CBS will provide coverage Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day, as well as both men’s and women’s finals.
Rusty Hall, 817-390-7816 Twitter: @RustyHall10s