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For the first time since I’ve been doing fantasy tennis picks, Rafael Nadal’s name is at the top of the draw and Roger Federer’s is at the bottom. Yes, Rafael Nadal has finally taken over the number one spot. Now it’s time to see if Nadal can add the US Open title and turn the table on Federer by winning his third slam this year.

Pay close attention this week because it’s the last slam of the year and you can make up a lot of ground – or lose a lot of ground – with your picks. We need eight players for our fantasy team so let’s pick the quarterfinalists.

US Open draw (hard court, first prize: $1.5 million)

There is very little between Nadal and the quarterfinals. Tomas Berdych beat Nadal the first three times they met on hard court but Nadal beat him easily in Miami this year and on grass last year. Ivo Karlovic has lost here in the first round for the past two years and Philipp Kohlschreiber is 0-4 against Nadal. Nadal is our obvious first pick.

James Blake is having a solid but unspectacular year. He doesn’t have a title yet but he did reach the quarterfinals at three of the four hard court Masters Series events and the Australian Open, and he just reached the semifinals at the Olympics with a win over Federer. He has a pretty easy quarter too. David Nalbandian is in this quarter but Nalbandian hasn’t gone past the third round since 2005 and Gael Monfils, his possible fourth round opponent, just beat him at the Olympics. James Blake it is.

There are four people to watch in David Ferrer’s section. Ferrer reached the semifinals last year but he didn’t make it past the third round in Toronto or Cincinnati and he lost to Janko Tipsarevic in the first round at the Olympics. Juan Martin Del Potro is on a tear. He’s on a four tournament winning streak, two on clay and two on hard court, and he’s the first player in the Open Era to win his first four tournaments consecutively. Juan Monaco reached the fourth round here last year but he lost in the first round at the Olympics and New Haven. It doesn’t look like he’s recovered from the injury that kept him out for seven weeks. Gilles Simon won the title in Indianapolis, reached the semifinals in Toronto where he beat Federer, then lost to James Blake in Cincinnati and at the Olympics. I’m picking between Del Potro and Simon. Simon has performed best against higher ranked competition – Del Potro’s titles were in smaller tournaments – so I’m going with Simon.

Andy Murray reached the semifinals in Toronto and beat Novak Djokovic to take the title in Cincinnati. I’m still not convinced he can perform consistently in big events – he lost his first round match at the Olympics, but he has a 3-0 record over Stanislas Wawrinka on hard court this year alone and he’s 2-0 lifetime over Feliciano Lopez. Mikhail Youzhny is probably his biggest hurdle but Youzhny hasn’t gone past the third round this summer in a hard court event. Murray it is.

I’m not feeling very positive about Andy Roddick’s chances here. He’s had a lot of injuries lately, he lost his second match at both Wimbledon and Toronto, and he lost to Viktor Troicki – ranked number 71 – in the quarterfinals in Washington. And his second round opponent could be Ernests Gulbis who reached the fourth round here last year. Meanwhile, Nicolas Kiefer is 3-0 over Fernando Gonzalez lifetime. Gonzalez did get to the semifinals at the Olympics, but he failed to get past the second round at Toronto or Cincinnati and he hasn’t been past the third round here since 2002. Gulbis is too inconsistent, he gets to the quarterfinals one week then loses in the first round the next, so I’m picking Kiefer.

It’s would be very hard to pick anyone but Novak Djokovic in his section. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is back after a three month injury break – he lost in the first round at the Olympics. Marin Cilic is dangerous but he’s also like Gulbis: young and inconsistent. Tommy Robredo and Marat Safin are both 4-8 on hard court this year. Djokovic it is.

Nikolay Davydenko’s section is hard to call. Davydenko is in a funk. He hasn’t won more than two matches in a tournament since the end of the clay court season. Dmitry Tursunov has never been past the third round here. Richard Gasquet gets Tommy Haas in the first round and Haas has reached the quarterfinals for the past two years. Gasquet reached the fourth round two straight years before withdrawing after his second round match last year. He skipped the Olympics to prepare for the US Open so I’m going to say that this is the year he reaches the quarterfinals.

Here’s the toughest part of the process today: figuring out who might beat Federer. There are three candidates in his section: Fernando Verdasco who reached a career high number 11 in July, Igor Andreev is also at a career high ranking of 23, and Radek Stepanek who beat Federer on clay this year. The problem is that none of them has done well here. Stepanek reached the third round once, in 2003, Verdasco reached the fourth round in 2005, Andreev has never been past the second round. Say what you will about the state of Federer’s game, but he’s reached the final at the last two slams so he’s my pick in this section.

Picks

Here are my picks: Nadal, Blake, Simon, Murray, Kiefer, Djokovic, Gasquet, Federer.

Happy fantasies!

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