By the Blouin News Sports staff

Who picks up number two at U.S. Open?

by in Tennis.

Rafael Nadal seems to be the favorite at the U.S. Open.  Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal seems to be the favorite at the U.S. Open, but don’t sleep on Andy Murray. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray are the three top ranked tennis players in the world, and have proved it in 2013 by each winning one grand slam thus far. With the U.S. Open — the fourth and final grand slam of the year — nearing its conclusion, each player is still alive and one will (most likely) walk away with trophies to half of the sports biggest events in 2013.

Sure, Djokovic still has to get through number-21-ranked Mikhail Youzhny and Murray has number-nine-ranked Stanislas Wawrinka in his way, but the two lesser opponents don’t seem like real threats to the game’s best. Should Murray and Djokovic advance, they will face off for a chance to face the winner of the Nadal/Richard Gasquet match in the finals.

Djokovic began the year with a win at the Australian Open — beating Murray in the finals after handing in impressive victories over David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Wawrinka to reach the finals. In May, Djokovic reached the finals again at the French Open, losing to Rafael Nadal in five competitive sets. Djokovic had beaten Nadal earlier in the season at the ATP Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in April, an event with much less fanfare than a grand slam. A month later, another loss for Djokovic in a grand slam final — this time to Murray at Wimbledon. Djokovic has a chance to reach the finals in every grand slam this year, but will likely have to get through two players he’s already lost to this year to win his second title. With Murray in the semifinals and Nadal in the finals, it will be a tough road for Djokovic and a loss could give Nadal the #1 title.

Nadal — other than losing his first event back after knee surgery in February, the loss to Djokovic in April and a shocking first-round exit at Wimbledon — has been nearly perfect this year. It’s been an impressive year for the Spaniard after many questioned whether his knees would hold up or not. The answer is an astounding yes. He looks unbeatable at the U.S. Open and has proved this year that, when healthy, he is the best the game has to offer. He has beaten Djokovic twice this season, at the French Open and earlier last month in Canada. He has beaten compatriot David Ferrer and Switzerland’s Roger Federer three times each this year. But he has yet to face his next opponent, or Murray — a potential opponent in the finals. In the first five rounds of the U.S. Open, Nadal has dropped just one set — it could very well be his only dropped set all the way through to his second major title of the season, that’s how well he is playing right now. Another victory will give him the undisputed title of most successful men’s tennis player of 2013.

Murray won at Wimbledon, becoming┬áthe first British man to do so in 77 years. He impressively beat Djokovic in straight sets to do so, but had an easy path getting to the finals. The same cannot be said for the U.S. Open. Murray will face Wawrinka, an opponent he has played once this season, losing badly to the Swiss pro in April. Murray is playing better than ever and is likely to get through Wawrinka, but would then be matched up against either Djokovic or Youzhny. He has beaten both this year. And his ride through the first four rounds at the U.S. Open has been anything but a breeze, so nothing is set in stone for a return to the finals for Murray. But it seems fitting that if the bragging rights of best player in 2013 should be settled at the U.S. Open, that Murray and Nadal would have to square off for the claim — they have yet to play this year.

Nadal looks like he is on pace to cruise through the U.S. Open, but there are just too many great players left to hand him the hardware just yet. A Nadal vs. Murray final would be a perfect ending to a great season for the sport.