Wednesday, August 27, 2008

US 3.5- Frustrated Hopes and Lingering Dreams

On the thirty-third anniversary of the first U.S. Open night match, Night Three provided... well, honestly, very few of the things that make the action under the lights the greatest spectacle in the sport.

But it did shine a light on two American players whose careers will likely end up somewhat side-by-side in the eternally crowded "what if" corner of the Great Hall of Tennis that exists in the mind's eye.

Andy Roddick and Lindsay Davenport's careers could have gone so differently, if not for the era in which their birth fated them to compete.

Roddick, who dispatched veteran Fabrice Santoro deuce-deuce-deuce (6-2/6-2/6-2) tonight, would surely have more than a single (five years old grand slam win to his credit if not for a certain fellow named Roger Federer. Now, just as Federer's fortunes have dipped, Roddick still can't take advantage of the situation with the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic either having already done so or prepared to move into whatever room at the top has been opened up due to Federer's '08 lapses.

Even this summer, Roddick's decision to skip the Olympics in favor of preparing for the Open didn't turn out as he expected. His hard court results have been disappointing, and 1st Round win aside, the likelihood of a real run at this title is slim. Then, once the tournament is over, Roddick will be on the lookout for yet another full-time coach who might finally return him to the top tier of the sport, if that's even possible.

Meanwhile, seventeen years after she made her Open debut, Davenport's 7-5/6-3 win over Alisa Kleybanova maintained the dream of a potential "Goodbye Title Run" in New York ten years after her last championship in Flushing Meadows. That '98 U.S. Open title was her first career slam win, and she'd take two more within the next sixteen months. But even though she's finished as the year-end #1 three times since, Davenport has yet to win a fourth slam title.

When she was a young pro, Davenport was considered a potentially dominant player in waiting, if she could only get into better shape and improve her court movement. Thing is, by the time she DID transform herself physically, it was too late, as Venus and Serena Williams had upped the athletic prerequisites needed to compete for slam titles. Then, when the sisters' careers drifted in and out, Davenport's body began to betray her and she was forced to contend with a string of injuries that cost her more potential slam crowns. In stepped Justine Henin, and the rest was history. Davenport's best shot at that elusive fourth slam came at the '05 Wimbledon, when she failed to convert a championship point in the final against Venus Williams. She hasn't come close to another golden opportunity.

Since then, Davenport has become a mother, retired, un-retired, returned to great mid-level tournament success... then faced the realization once more that her body wasn't going to allow her to compete at a high level on a full-time basis on the tour.

But the dream for that perfect ending continues for Davenport, just as the quest to "reacquire the grail" does for Roddick. And today was a good one for both -- they got wins, saw favored competitors in their sections of the draw either lose (Vera Zvonareva) or have an injury scare (Novak Djokovic).

Thus, they both keep plugging away, and the nighttime New York crowd is always going to appreciate them for it. So, maybe this sort of night, even with its drama largely missing in action (Jelena Jankovic used it all up this afternoon, I guess), IS what the night sessions are all about, in a way. While the Democrats talked about "change" in Denver, the two American almost-greats were all about "hopes" and "dreams" in Queens.

And that's not SO bad.

All for Day 3.5. More tomorrow.


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