Your Best of Five with one week left until the U.S. Open:
1. It's starting to feel a lot like 2008: Remember the late summer of '08? Rafael Nadal pulls out the "summer double," winning the French Open and Wimbledon. He also takes Olympic gold. The critics are administering last rites to Roger Federer, gravely proclaiming "the end of an era." And then, as Nadal wearies from the exertion of his game (and struggles to find rhythm on a fast hard court), Federer reminds us why he's Federer and wins still another major.
Last week, as the Tennis Republic debated whether Federer was fading or the rest of the field had caught his heels, the Swiss master cranked it up again and took the title in Cincinnati. With Nadal looking mortal on fast hard court -- struggling all week and falling to Marcos Baghdatis in the quarters -- Federer played capably, if not his best, and showed guts in the final against Mardy Fish. This marked his first title since Australia. If he adds another three weeks hence, it ought to surprise no one.
2. Swimming upstream: For all the doom and gloom about the state of American tennis, there were two Yanks in the semifinals in Cincy. Andy Roddick won a big match -- a quarterfinal takedown of Novak Djokovic -- for the first time in a while. But the real standout was Fish, the veteran in the throes of his finest year as a pro. At least we think it was Fish. It looked like a 2-D cardboard cutout version of the player who'd possessed ample natural talent but whose progress was sabotaged, yes, by injuries, but also by a love of burgers and excess body weight. Slimmed down and speaking in Eat, Pray, Love aphorisms, Fish hooked a pair of Andys -- Murray and Roddick -- and was reeling in Federer until the line snapped. Bring on the aquatic puns. Fish is a dangerous floater -- a swimmer, even -- at the U.S. Open. And the diet book can't be far behind.
3. Woe, Canada: Far be it from us to believe in curses. But consider the facts: The Rogers Cup tournament director not only denies Ana Ivanovic a wild card, but also trashes her game. In the weeks since, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova pull out, as does Justine Henin, who's through for the year. Oops. Then Kim Clijsters, the lone player the casual fan would recognize, pulls up lame in the quarterfinals. Not good. Then play was wrecked by rain of such biblical proportion that animals were lining up two-by-two on the St. Lawrence. At this writing (late Sunday night after Don Draper put in another strong performance), there are still four players remaining. The doubles final, meanwhile, was played indoors at a racket club on front of a hundred or so people.
The real sadness: Montreal, apart from being one of the truly great cities in North America, does a tremendous job supporting tennis and a delightful and first-rate event. Of all the fans of the circuits, the good folks in Quebec deserve better. Maybe next year. They could start by doing everything to ensure Ivanovic is in the draw.
4. The dead horse is beaten: Which gives it something in common with most tennis players. Yes, we hit this topic (too) frequently. But the injury situation in tennis is the sport's most pressing issue right now. And the lack of serious attention it gets from administrators is as remarkable as it is galling. Last week should have been a banner period for tennis: two top-tier events being held simultaneously in preparation for the U.S. Open, the last final of the year and arguably, the sport's annual climax. But in addition to match results, we got a drumbeat of M*A*S*H reports. Serena pulled out of the U.S. Open. So did Juan Martin del Potro, the defending men's champ. Clijsters, the defending women's champ, was injured in Montreal. John Isner was injured in Cincinnati and is now questionable for New York. Ivanovic pulled out of New Haven. Sharapova pulled out of Montreal. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, injured again, is out of the U.S. Open. Henin has shut it down for the year.
Is this a statistical fluke? Is it the technology few have the guts, will or political capital to confront? Is it the court surfaces? Is it the demands of playing without a day of rest in oven-like conditions? I don't know. What I do know is that if I were running a purported union in which the employees were so frequently injured on the job, I'd be a lot angrier and a lot more proactive in seeking answers and explanations.
5. Best bargain in tennis: The U.S. Open qualifying tournament kicks off this week at the National Tennis Center. You have hundreds of tennis pros, some of whom you'll recognize even if you're a casual fan. You have abundant storylines: veterans coming back from injury, grinders giving it one last chance, arrivistes trying to break through. (And in the case of Blake Strode and Alexandra Mueller, two players who came through an open national qualifying tournament to get into the draw.) You have one of the premier venues in the sport. And admission is free. Go.