U.S. Open Preview: A Queens Tale
It's late August, so everybody comes to Queens.
You must remember this.
A kiss is still a kiss,
A sigh is just a sigh...
The fundamental things apply,
As time goes by.
Even in Flushing Meadows.
With just one more slam to play in this (mostly) La Petit Taureau-less season, there's very little that ISN'T up for grabs. Four players have been ranked #1 (and six have a shot to end the season there), three women have won grand slam titles (while a fourth won Olympic Gold, and still a fifth won the U.S. Open Series). And now the biggest tennis spectacle of the year arrives on the heels of a North American summer circuit highlighted by surprise champions and absent/injured stars, with the Beijing Games half a world away barely in many players' rear view mirrors. Everything says that some weird things could happen at this year's U.S. Open, which starts on Monday with its last three women's champions (and four of five) either out injured or retired.
It's the same old story,
A fight for love and glory,
a case of do or die...
As usual, this year's draw is decidedly unbalanced. The top half includes #1-ranked Ana Ivanovic, both Williams sisters and Summer Sensation Dinara Safina... all four of which, in many corners, could be viewed as the top four favorites to win the title. What about the bottom half? It has the one-week #1 player of the world Jelena Jankovic, still nursing an ailing body and probably tired from her Asian excursion, title-averse '04 champ Svetlana Kuznetsova and hoping-to-avoid-Olympic-Gold-hangover Elena Dementieva. Yep... there's some potential for shenanigans all over the place here.
But SOMEONE will emerge as the Queen of Queens. So, let's round up the usual suspects by quarter and see if there's anyone who we'd be shocked -- SHOCKED! -- to see walk away with all the hardware in the establishment two Saturdays from now.
IVANOVIC QUARTER: AnaIvo has never made it past the Round of 16 in NY, and her hard court season tune-up schedule was virtually nonexistence because of an injured thumb. There's a real question whether her personality, quite in contrast to fellow wild-and-crazy Serbs Jankovic and Djokovic, is a good fit for the general chaos of the Open. If she's unprepared, she could get upended by '08 slam giant killer Casey Dellacqua in the 2nd Round. For the first time in a while, both Amelie Mauresmo and Nadia Petrova are in good health and form coming into a slam. If Ivanovic falters, the draw could open wide for one of them. Well, at least until they might meet Dinara Safina in the QF. That little voice in the back of my mind is telling me that if Safina couldn't win the Olympics how is she expected to win the U.S. Open, even with her 15-1 record this quarter. Thing is, after so much Jankovician travel this summer, the Russian Cat might be a bit too worn down by the end of this tournament to be at her best.
1. #6 Safina
2. #1 Ivanovic
3, #32 Mauresmo
4. #19 Petrova
WILD CARD CONTENDER: #17 Cornet, though her injured quad is worrisome
WLLIAMS QUARTER: It's a good thing the Williams sisters generally don't need to have a string of successful tournaments to perform well at a grand slam, because neither comes into New York with anything resembling momentum. Serena has been injured since Wimbledon, while SW19 champ Venus has only played at the Olympics (both sisters lost in the QF on the same day). Of course, they DID combine for Doubles Gold to produce some good feelings, and the last time one sister's slam title wasn't followed up by another in the same calendar year was 2003 (they both won titles in '05 and '07, and went slam-less in '04 and '06)... and the last time the only slam winner in the family was Venus was 2001. This is Serena's last chance to match her big sister in '08. Interesting. It's too bad for Agnieszka Radwanska, who upset defending champ Maria Sharapova at last year's Open, only to be "rewarded" this year with the possibility of having to defeat both Venus and Serena in this event -- and still only finding herself in the SF.
1. #4 S.Williams
2. #7 V.Williams
3. #9 A..Radwanska
4. #18 Cibulkova
WILD CARD CONTENDR: #30 Ai Sugiyama, always at her best on hard courts
DEMENTIEVA QUARTER: Here lies Elena Dementieva, brimming with confidence and in a section of the draw that has to make her mouth water. Uh-oh. You know, Punch-Sober doesn't normally respond as well when she's EXPECTED to do something very good. Maybe that'll change this time. Peng seemed to respond well to the pressure-free post-Beijing atmosphere in the old U.S. Open host town of Forest Hills this week, so maybe Olympic 4th place finisher Li Na will use the "more care-free, unpressurized NYC environment" (when's the last time that phrase was used?) to seize upon Zheng's Wimbledon SF run success as inspiration. She'll face Shahar Peer in a doozy of a 1st Round match, with Peer likely to have the same strong NY support she had a year ago. Chakvetadze could emerge here, but she's been all over the map this season and it wouldn't be a surprise to see her follow up her New Haven RU with an early round upset loss this week. The chance for something great is there for Kuznetsova, but the Contessova hardly looks like the same player who won the '04 title, especially in the latter stages of pretty much any event in which she participates. Li defeated her in the 1st Round in Beijing, and they could meet again in a QF... but that's a long way, and quite a few Hordettes, down the line for both.
1. #5 Dementieva
2. #3 Kuznetsova
4. #10 Chakvetadze
WILD CARD CONTENDER: the winner of the #22 Kirilenko/Paszek 1st Round match... for a round or two, at least
JANKOVIC QUARTER: Sadly, Lindsay Davenport is a big threat in name only in this quarter. It's too bad, since she couldn't ask for much better a draw for a dream goodbye run. It's been a decade since Davenport won this title, and if her body isn't prepared to play singles she might not last past the first two rounds in what could be her last U.S. Open. Jelena Jankovic, Queen Chaos herself, might actually be too prone to distraction to ever be a favorite at this event... but there might be something to be said for becoming a cult heroine on tennis' biggest stage, something which she's certainly capable of doing under the right circumstances. She's not likely to win this tournament, as she's hardly in top form after her take-no-break, less-than-brilliant 3Q play thanks to her battered body. Still, she's fortunate enough to be in a position to reach the SF (or, yikes, even the final) without having to play a Serb, Williams, Belgian or member of the Safin family. Actually, the player who might end up being Jankovic's latest dream crusher could be the suddenly Deadly Dane, Caroline Wozniacki, who could show up on the other side of the net in the Round of 16..
1. #2 Jankovic
2. #8 Zvonareva
3. #21 Wozniacki
4. #23 Davenport (for old time's sake)
WILD CARD: Zheng Jie -- could she possibly have a slam encore in her?
The world will always welcome tennis drama lovers.
As time goes by.
TOP PLAYERS: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ & Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE
...by switching her country representation from Russia to Kazakhstan, Shvedova has gone from a relative ranking pauper (#20-ranked Hordette) to a princess (the new national #1, of course).
RISERS: Ioana-Raluca Olaru/ROU & Zhang Shuai/CHN
SURPRISES: Kristie Haerim Ahn/USA & Stefanie Vogele/SUI
VETERANS: Rossana de los Rios/PAR & Hana Sromova/CZE
FRESH FACES Alexa Glatch/USA & Anastasia Pivovarova/RUS
DOWN: Yuan Meng/CHN (#1 Q-seed, out in Q1)
COMEBACKS: Anna-Lena Groenefeld/GER & Shenay Perry/USA
Q3: #15 Olaru d. #22 Larcher de Brito 6-2/6-3
...The Kid will have to wait a year.
Q2: Vinci d. #23 U.Radwanska 6-4/6-4
...no Radwanska Sister Updates this slam, I guess.
Q1: Sromova d. #1 Yuan 6-4/6-2
...she didn't have any pressure in Beijing, since she wasn't on the team. Hence, no relief.
Q2: Coin d. Karatantcheva 6-3/6-7/6-3
...keep grinding, Sesil. Uh, well, you know what I mean.
Q2: Schruff d. Bovina 2-6/6-3/6-1
...but the comeback continues.
Q1: Sloane Stephens d. #7 Czink 6-3/7-5
...the American, #600 in the world, is just 15 years old.
16...Kristie Haerim Ahn, USA
18...Alexa Glatch, USA
18...Anastasia Pivovarova, RUS
18...Stefanie Vogele, SUI
19...Ioana-Raluca Olaru, ROU
19...Zheng Shuai, CHN
20...Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
22...Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
22...Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
23...Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
24...Shenay Perry, USA
25...Julie Coin, FRA
25...Roberta Vinci, ITA
26...Maria Elena Camerin, ITA
30...Hana Sromova, CZE
32...Rossana de los Rios. PAR
19...Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
16...Melanie Oudin, USA
16...Coco Vandeweghe, USA
17...Gail Brodsky, USA
17...Asia Muhammad, USA
18...Jessica Moore, AUS
21...Jamea Jackson, USA
23...Ahsha Rolle, USA
29...Severine Bremond, FRA
*BY RANKING - 8/18*
No Ranking - Shenay Perry (# - only 2 events in 12 months)
#758...Kristie Haerim Ahn
#134...Maria Elena Camerin
#114...Rossana de los Rios
*BY NATION - 2008 SLAMS (54)*
1...(10 nations - BEL, BLR, CRO, JPN, KAZ, PAR, POL, THA, TUN, UKR)
*MULTIPLE SLAM QUALIFIERS in 2008*
2...Maria Elena Camerin, ITA (W/U)
2...Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE (A/U)
2...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP (R/W)
2...Anastasia Pavluchenkova, RUS (R/W)
2...Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK (R/W)
2...Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE (W/U)
*U.S. OPEN CHAMPIONS - 1998-07*
1998 Lindsay Davenport, USA
1999 Serena Williams, USA
2000 Venus Williams, USA
2001 Venus Williams, USA
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2003 Justine Henin, BEL
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
*U.S. OPEN #1 SEEDS - 2000-08*
2000...Martina Hingis, SUI (SF)
2001...Martina Hingis, SUI (SF)
2002...Serena Williams, USA (W)
2003...Kim Clijsters, BEL (RU)
2004...Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL (4th)
2005...Maria Sharapova, RUS (SF)
2006...Amelie Mauresmo, FRA (SF)
2007...Justine Henin, BEL (W)
2008...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
=POTENTIAL FIRST SEEDS OUT?=
#27 A.Bondarenko vs. Jackson
...The Georgia Peach would be the feel-good story of the first week.
#24 Peer vs. Li
...what a bad draw, for both of them.
#26 Medina-Garrigues vs. Pironkova
...Pironkova is a slam seed upset expert.
#22 Kirilenko vs. Paszek
...a season ago, it'd be more likely. But, still, the Austrian reached the Round of 16 in '07. So...
#20 Vaidisova vs. Cetkovska
...with Vaidisova, version 2008, who knows?.
#32 Mauresmo vs. Dechy
...but Amelie is coming off back-to-back SF runs in Cincinnati and New Haven.
#11 Hantuchova vs. Groenefeld
...ALG's comeback would grow some real teeth with this one.
=LAST QUALIFIER STANDING?=
1. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
2. Roberta Vinci, ITA
3. Ioana-Raluca Olaru, ROU
4. Hana Sromova, CZE or Rosanna de los Rio, PAR (1st Round opponents)
5.Alexa Glatch, USA
[LAST WILD CARD]
Jessica Moore, AUS or Melanie Oudin, USA (1st Round opponents)
[LAST NON-WILLIAMS/DAVENPORT AMERICAN]
Hmmm... maybe Bethanie Mattek?
Petrova or Mauresmo vs. Radwanska
Li vs. Davenport
...talk about great stories.
1st Rd. - Jankovic vs. Vandeweghe
...come on, it's Coco vs. Cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs.
2nd Rd. - Ivanovic vs. Dellacqua
3rd Rd. - Wozniacki vs. Azarenka
...one Z-Girl who's broken through, and one who's still trying to find a way to do it.
=NIGHT MATCHES I'D LIKE TO SEE=
1st Rd. - V.Williams vs. Stosur
...hmmm, could Sammy shock the world right out of the box?
1st Rd. - Davenport vs. Wozniak
...two ships passing in the night?
2nd Rd. - Cornet vs. Mattek
...I wonder if Bethanie would wear something special?
QF - S.Williams vs. V.Williams
...if it takes place, somehow I have a teeny-weeny hunch it'd be a featured night match. Just a "guess."
1st Rd. - Blake vs. Young
...seems like it'd be a natural.
1st/2nd Rd. - Roddick vs. Santoro (1st), Roddick vs. Gulbis (2nd)
...what are the chances that the Player Formerly Known as Andy Roddick makes it past the 2nd Round of this event?
3rd Rd. - Safin vs. Tsonga
...float like a butterfly, sting like a bee (both of which Marat would immediately "eliminate" from the field of play with a flick of the wrist -- something which wouldn't be so easy with Tsonga, if the Oz finalist is finally healthy).
=ROUND OF 16=
#32 Mauresmo def. #19 Petrova
#6 Safina def. #17 Cornet
#4 S.Williams def. #13 Szavay
#7 V.Williams def. #9 A.Radwanska
#5 Dementieva def. #10 Chakvetadze
#3 Kuznetsova def. #15 Schnyder
#8 Zvonareva def. #12 Bartoli
#21 Wozniacki def. #2 Jankovic
...a Backspinner Special Sandwich: two slices of upset bread surrounding six pieces of "chalk" in the middle. There might be a Serbian champion at this tournament, but the thinking is that it won't be either Ivanovic or Jankovic. At least Ana will always have Paris.
#6 Safina def. #32 Mauresmo
#4 S.Williams def. #7 V.Williams
#5 Dementieva def. #3 Kuznetsova
#8 Zvonareva def. #21 Wozniacki
...I'm probably giving too much credit to the Beijing medalists, though that wasn't the thinking here -- the draw just sort of worked out so that all three Hordettes could make it to the SF.
#4 S.Williams def. #6 Safina
#5 Dementieva def. #8 Zvonareva
...always the grand slam bridesmaid, can Punch-Sober finally come through and finally be the bride?
#4 S.Williams def. #5 Dementieva
...play it again, Serena. It's tempting to go with a more "wild" pick, but the inherently stressful nature of the pressure cooker that is the U.S. Open would seem to point to the more experienced hand of a mentally strong player ending up holding the trophy when the curtain comes down. Kuznetsova's '04 title is the only real "surprise" since Hana Mandlikova swept through both Evert and Navratilova all the way back in 1985... well, other than maybe Serena's "early" win in 1999. Serena hasn't won the Open since it was Act III in the Serena Slam back in '02, so she's overdue to reassert the beautiful friendship that first christened her slam-winning career eight years ago as a 17-year old. Plus, Venus is now breathing down Serena's neck after her seventh career slam at Wimbledon (Serena has eight), so little sister needs to hit back.
All for now.
ALSO: ATP U.S. Open Preview: Don't Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes
UPCOMING: "Bare Bones Backspin" for Week 34, The Daily Backspin (starting Monday) and Backspin Time Capsule: 1991 U.S. Open