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Murray's big chance to break his grand slam duck

Jo Carter August 25, 2012

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The US Open drawsheet has a distinctly lop-sided feel to it this year, and the injured Rafael Nadal will be sorely missed by fans at Flushing Meadows, if not the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

With Nadal out, the "big four" is whittled down to three - the first time since 2008 that the quartet have not been the top four seeds at a major.

Normal service has resumed as Federer is once more in possession of a grand slam title and he is bidding to reclaim the title he last won in 2008.

There will be no epic semi-final between Federer and Djokovic - they have faced each other in the last four every year since 2009 - as they are on separate sides of the draw. Djokovic has looked out-of-sorts in recent weeks, but will be dead set on defending his title, but Andy Murray, flying high following his Olympic triumph, will be looking to muscle in on the act.

Men

The defending champion
With Nadal out and David Ferrer bumped up to fourth seed, the Spaniard would be perceived as an easier semi-final opponent than Murray, the newly-crowned Olympic champion. Djokovic lucked out, avoiding the Scot as Federer was drawn in the same half as Murray. That said, the draw was not wholeheartedly kind to Djokovic, with a likely quarter-final clash against 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro, who defeated the Serb in the bronze medal match at Wimbledon. He successfully defended his Rogers Cup title (albeit in the absence of Federer, Nadal and Murray), but has looked jaded in recent weeks - the strain of attempting to defend so many points appears to be taking its toll. He is the bookmakers' favourite, but given recent results - he was bageled by Federer in Cincinnati - odds of 11/8 with bet365 seem a trifle short.

The world No. 1
Having ended a two-and-a-half-year wait for a grand slam title with victory at Wimbledon, Roger Federer is back at the top of the rankings; not bad when you consider he was forced to repeatedly brush off questions over his future just 12 months ago. He may have missed out on Olympic gold at London 2012, but he bounced back in emphatic fashion in Cincinnati last week, winning his first event on his return to the hard courts and doing so without dropping his serve, and to add insult to injury he bageled Djokovic in the final. Arguably the most in-form man in the field, he is tough to bet against at odds of 5/2 with bet365.

Murray's big chance
Andy Murray heads to Flushing Meadows with just three matches on hard courts under his belt, but we have learnt not to read too much into this - he lost his opening match at Queen's before going on to reach the final at Wimbledon. At his home slam it proved to be a blessing in disguise as Murray took advantage of a premature exit to spend time on the practice courts - and he will now have spent the best part of two weeks in New York preparing for the final slam of the year. Having beaten Djokovic and Federer en route to winning Olympic singles gold three weeks ago, Murray will have the confidence that he can beat the best on his day. Given Federer's recent form he would perhaps rather be in Djokovic's half, but the draw will hold no fear for him. If you think Murray could break his grand slam duck in New York, back him at 10/3 with bet365

Delpo double
Much was expected of Juan Martin del Potro after he stunned Federer to win the 2009 US Open at the tender age of 20. A nasty wrist injury put paid to his 2010 season and he struggled for form last year, but has shown greater consistency in 2012. Assuming he can survive an intriguing first-round clash against compatriot David Nalbandian, the Argentine is on a collision course to meet defending champion Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Del Potro beat the Serb to win Olympic bronze earlier this month, and the No. 7 seed has the game to topple the defending champion. One of five former champions in the draw (Federer, Djokovic, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt), Del Potro knows what it takes to win at Flushing Meadows and could spring a surprise or two . Back Del Potro for the win at odds of 10/1 with bet365.

Serena Williams lost her cool with the chair umpire in last year's final defeat to Sam Stosur © Getty Images
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Women

The red-hot favourite
When Serena Williams is fit (an occurrence which has become increasingly infrequent in recent years), the real question is who can stop Serena? Only an inspired Sam Stosur (and an astonishing rant at the chair umpire) denied her victory last year, and having ended a two-year major drought at Wimbledon, the American is red-hot favourite to regain her home slam for the first time since 2008. Williams' staying power has been phenomenal - her 14 major titles stretch an astonishing 13 years - her first slam coming at the 1999 US Open as a 17-year-old. She could face Angelique Kerber - who beat her in Cincinnati last week - in the semi-finals but Serena at a major is a very different beast - and she could well roll her way to a fourth US Open crown. Unfortunately, Williams' expected dominance of the event is reflected in miserly odds of 1/1 with bet365.

Hitting form
After becoming the first Asian to win a grand slam title at last year's French Open, it's fair to say Li Na suffered a bit of a dip in form. She lost in the first round of last year's US Open, but has rediscovered some consistency in 2012 - reaching three finals before finally winning her first title of the year - and her first since Roland Garros last June - in Cincinnati last week. Having reached the final of the Rogers Cup the previous week, it looks like Li is hitting form at just the right time, and her work with new coach Carlos Rodriguez - formerly Justine Henin's trainer - appears to have reaped instant benefits. The Chinese No. 1 is 10/1 to scoop her second grand slam title with bet365.

Fairytale in New York
The US Open will be an emotional farewell for the ever-popular Kim Clijsters, who will hang up her racket after the final major of the year. Clijsters, who made history when she won the US Open as a wildcard on her return to the sport in 2009, has enjoyed a glittering "second career" - winning three grand slams and even enjoyed a brief return to world No. 1. Injury has slowed her down of late, but she achieved the improbable three years ago - can she bow out on a high? Clijsters is 25/1 with bet365.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk