Before manning the TV booth for ESPN (coverage begins Monday), tennis analysts Patrick and John McEnroe tackle our burning questions heading into Flushing Meadows:
Will Roger Federer's Wimbledon/Grand Slam run continue at the Open?
Patrick: It can't do anything but help him. He's had unbelievable success in New York -- not quite as dominant as he's been at Wimbledon -- but the Open has been his second-best major. He's more confident this year than 2014.
John: The wear and tear is tougher on hard courts, which is why it is trickier scheduling-wise to take care of his health. At Federer's age [he's 34], it's harder to bounce back as easily. Also, Federer is so good on grass and can make split-second decisions to mix things up. It's more difficult for him to do that on hard courts. That's why 90 percent of people think his best shot at a win is at Wimbledon.
Patrick: When Federer played to the semifinals last year at the Open, we thought, "OK, [Novak] Djokovic is out, [Andy] Murray is out and [Rafael] Nadal isn't there. This is his great opportunity." But Federer came up flat [against Marin Cilic in the semis] after that long match with Gael Monfils [in the quarters]. The key for Federer is to have as seamless a run as he can have leading up to the semifinals.
Can Murray conquer Federer and Djokovic?
John: You have to understand that, ultimately, Federer and Djokovic are better players. Murray is a great player; but for reasons I don't quite understand, he is not willing to go to net in the key moments like Federer or Djokovic.
In the semifinals against Federer [at Wimbledon], Murray was unwilling to come to net and put pressure on Federer. You need those reps. Even when Roger started working with [coach Stefan] Edberg, I wondered myself, "Could he do this? Could he find the explosion at his age to attack the net?" It's taken a year, year and a half, but it's paying off [for Federer] -- he's volleying unbelievably well. Murray needs to take that approach.
Patrick: Not only does Murray need the reps, but he also needs to let his opponent know that this is what he is going to do -- attack the net and keep the pressure on. It's why Federer served and volleyed early in the Wimbledon semifinals, even if he lost a point here and there.
It was a reminder to Murray that Federer was moving forward, and Murray was going to need to figure out how to deal with it. Murray doesn't have all the skills that Federer has - no one does -- but if he worked on it enough, I think he could be a really good volleyer, better than even Djokovic. And Djokovic has become an excellent volleyer. He practices it, attacks the net in matches and isn't afraid to make that commitment.
John: I'm surprised that, given how much pride Murray puts into preparation, he hasn't figured this out already. He's hired everyone under the sun to coach him and even hired [sports] psychologists. If you don't send the message that you're coming to net, opponents know they can get back into the point pretty easily.
Can Serena Williams keep coming back to win three-set matches?
Patrick: Serena knows how to turn matches around. Everything that has happened in her life, with the trials and tribulations she has gone through, has made her unbelievably tough. She was always a phenomenal athlete, always a great competitor, but now her tennis IQ is as high as it's ever been. So, in the big moments, she has this innate desire, but also has more intelligence. She realizes she's going to keep fighting and battling.
John: I can't think of a better female athlete, ever. She combines her vast physical skills with desire and will. She hangs tough when so many other players would fold. You can't teach that. Her desire to be the best in history has allowed her -- it's actually consumed her -- to keep fighting to win every match. That has been the case all year, and that's what I am expecting to see at the Open.
What about her chances for capturing the calendar slam?
John: The pressure will be ramped up at home. Serena wants the season slam, and if anyone can pull it off, it's her. I expect her to handle it the way she has handled everything else. Serena knows she's a level above everyone, so if she maintains her focus in terms of preparation, she'll be just fine. It sounds like she's watching more tape and studying players. There were times when she could get flat-footed and not be on her toes. She seemed to get bored, but she's not doing that anymore.
Why has Djokovic dominated the hard courts of the Aussie Open, but not the US Open?
John: The US Open is the end of a long year. It's a grind. By time you get there, you've played a lot of tennis and your legs are feeling it.
Patrick: That's part of it, but another part is the conditions are quicker and a little more unpredictable [at Flushing Meadows]. There's a lot more wind.
John: Yeah, that hurts Novak a lot. Wind and heat are the ultimate equalizers, so if you get into a situation where you are affected by both at the same time, you've suddenly got a scenario like Djokovic losing to Kei Nishikori [in last year's US Open semifinals].
Can Rafa rally at the Open?
John: I'm still hopeful he's going to figure it out. Nadal is going to take a good, hard, long look at himself and try to correct whatever is going on. I am not sure if it is something physical. When I watch him, I get the feeling that explosion isn't the same as it once was, and that worries me. Does he not have the confidence to use his lower body the way he needs to get that power and spin?
Patrick: He says he feels as healthy as he has in a couple of years, so you hope that's the case. If that's the case, then the question becomes: Can he find his confidence? His swing is so big on his forehand; it seems as though his timing isn't quite there. And when it's not there -- unlike a Djokovic or a Federer who can calibrate their shots -- Nadal's shots are a bit off and his timing isn't where it should be. Nadal isn't missing shots by an inch or two but by five feet. That seems to be what's happening to him this season, especially in the big moments.
John: He could also do something to tinker with the weight on his rackets, especially toward the head of them. One of the things Roger has done is change rackets, and he's serving bigger than ever. Nadal's racket is extremely light, lighter than any of the other top players. If he manipulated his racket a little, he could get more weight on his shots without going all out on every swing.
Patrick: We certainly shouldn't count out Nadal. He's an all-time great, and you know if he's committed, he will do anything he can to try to get back to his usual form. I wouldn't call him a favorite going into the US Open, but if he can get the confidence going, he could turn around his game pretty quickly.
John: You have to also take into consideration the amount of time he's missed. The first time he came back from injury, he played incredibly well and we were expecting him to do the same again, but that obviously wasn't the case. It's taken a lot longer than we had anticipated this time around, but I can't imagine he doesn't have another run or two left in him.
Will we see underdogs dominating the later rounds like last year?
Patrick: We were shocked by last year's outcome [Nishikori and Cilic in the final]. No one would have predicted that, but I don't expect that to happen again, not with how well the top players are doing this year. We saw [Grigor] Dimitrov and [Milos] Raonic make the semifinals at Wimbledon last year, but this year, the top players have surged in the key moments.
John: And at the Open, you have two sessions, and the top players are going to get a lot of night matches, which takes a lot less out of you than playing in the heat of the day. The other players don't get that luxury on a consistent basis, so by the end of the second week, they're more worn down.
Patrick: Generally, when you look at the history of the Open, it's very unusual to have one underdog in the final, let alone both finalists. I wouldn't expect any dark horses to make a run to the final.