If there's one constant in this ever-changing sport of tennis, it's got to be hard courts.
Clay and grass surfaces the world over are subject to the vagaries of skidding, sliding, bouncing high, bouncing low, speeding up and slowing down. Yet hard courts remain reassuringly familiar.
Which means you can never really call yourself a hard-court specialist. Given the evenness of bounce and the predictability of play, there's nothing to actually specialise in. (Except perhaps a certain robustness of knee.)
So, in theory, all players have an equal shot at glory. Even those lower down the rankings might do some damage at the US Open, for example, which starts on August 25th.
Here are five players who could, given a bit of luck, win through to later rounds in New York City.
Old nags with a final shot at glory
1. Lleyton Hewitt
Hewitt is still one of the hardest-working men on the ATP tour, even at the ripe old age of 33. Just look how he ground through the entire draw in Newport back in July.
Okay, so it was on grass rather than hard courts, but the scalps he took were still impressive for a player who by all rights should have hung his rackets up years ago: Local boys Steve Johnson and Jack Sock, plus Ivo Karlovic in the final. Could he pull anything like this off on hard courts?
2. Svetlana Kuznetsova
And what about a late-career surge from Kuznetsova? The 29-year-old Russian won the US Open exactly 10 years ago, and reached the final in 2007. Her career may have been on the wane in recent years, yet her tournament title in Washington at the start of the month proves there's fight in the old girl yet.
She reached the quarter- finals at the French Open this year. Given a favourable draw, why not the same stage in New York City? Kuznetsova is at 101.00 to win overall.
B-lister with packets of expectation
3. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
When Tsonga won in Toronto last week, spanking Djokovic, Murray, Dimitrov and Federer on his way to the title, suddenly every pundit on the planet was bigging him up for the US Open.
Then what does he promptly do a couple of days later in the first round at Cincinnati? He only goes and rolls over to Mikhail Youzhny.
This is typical of the way Tsonga blows very hot and then very cold. He's like a faulty thermometer. One minute he's going nuclear, battering everyone in his path. The next minute his mercury starts to shrink and he's back down at room temperature.
Just look at the way his ranking yo-yos. In 2008 he was no.8 in the world; in May 2011 he was down to no.22; in November that same year, up to no.6; in June this year, down to no.17; currently just back inside the top 10.
Tsonga's problem is that he is forever cursed by his 2008 appearance in the Australian Open final. That split-second of Grand Slam glory hangs over him now like a rotting corpse - a torturous reminder of how great he might have been. If only things had turned out differently.
Yes, he still might reach another Grand Slam semi-final, but he won't go any further unless he radically alters his psychological attitude. Tsonga is at 28.00 to win the US Open.
Young, dumb and full of that unknown quantity
4. Bernard Tomic
Car troubles, family troubles, coach troubles... 21-year-old Tomic has had them all.
And in Grand Slams this year he's had the unluckiest of draws, losing to Nadal in the first round at the Australian Open, to Gasquet at the same stage of the French Open, and to Berdych second round at Wimbledon.
But then, very occasionally, this errant Aussie seems to get inspired, in spite all his domestic nightmares, turning weakness into power. Just look how he won on hard courts in Bogota in July.
5. Coco Vandeweghe
Now here's a player most definitely on the rise. California's 22-year-old Cocostarted the year ranked well outside the top 100.
Now, thanks to great showings in Miami (fourth round), S-Hertogenbosch (tournament win) and this month in Montreal (quarter-final), she is riding high at 38 in the world and has a serious chance of harnessing the power of the home crowd at the US Open. (She was born in the Big Apple, so New Yorkers are sure to embrace her.)
Earlier in the year she won a round at both the French Open and Wimbledon. Why not more than a few rounds in New York?
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