Friday August 26th, 2011

Battling injuries, an aging Andy Roddick has struggled mightily this season. (Photo: Larry W. Smith/EPA)

A good U.S. Open can do wonders to spark a struggling player's season. Here are five players who haven't fared quite so well this year, yet stand a chance to make a deep run in New York.

1. Andy Roddick: For years, Roddick was an immovable object in the top 10, seemingly, by sheer force of will. He finally loosened his grip this year, as his body repeatedly let him down and he saw his good friend Mardy Fish surpass him in the rankings to become the No. 1 American. Fish's surge may have taken some of the spotlight off Roddick's woes, but Roddick is still the face of American tennis. A run to the quarterfinals and a potential clash with struggling Rafael Nadal would do wonders for his season.

2. Caroline Wozniacki: The questions that surround her can be boiled down to this: Is there any substance there? Or is she just ... there? She's spent a year defending herself against questions about her ranking, her need to play more aggressively and her reliance on those on-court coaching timeouts impeding her progress at Slams, where on-court coaching is not allowed. As much as she's tried to deflect and defend (that's her game style, after all), the criticism has worn her down. Want to shut everyone up, Caroline? You have two options: Beat Serena Williams (in a potential semifinal match) or win the title. Do them both and a heck of a lot of people are going to be eating a heck of a lot of crow.

3. Roger Federer: All the talk of Novak Djokovic's dominance has to be getting under Federer's skin. He is, after all, the one who snapped Nole's 43-match win streak in Paris and, at 30 years old, he's still playing at a level that only a teeny-tiny handful of players can match. But the aura of inevitability has faded and players are willing to go toe-to-toe with him in hopes that "The Federer" morphs into "The Fed-error." Today's game is played with such little margin that even the slightest uptick in belief can lead to improbable wins. Federer doesn't like to lose and he most assuredly doesn't like walking around the locker room knowing that guys think they can beat him. Lift the trophy and the world gets put back on its axis, Roger.

4. Samantha Stosur: This was supposed to be the year for Stosur. She proved that she belonged in the upper echelon in 2010, posting impressive wins over the likes of Serena, Justine Henin and Elena Dementieva. But the cheers that began as "Sammy! Sammy! Sammy! Oi! Oi! Oi!" have turned to "Sammy! Sammy! Sammy! Oy. Oy ... Oy." There have been glimpses of hope in her run to the finals in Rome and Toronto, where she lost to Maria Sharapova and Serena, respectively. With a monster serve and forehand combination, she has the quality to advance to the semifinals. The only question is whether Stosur believes in them. 5. Venus Williams: "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!" Or in Venus' case, "Serena! Serena! Serena!" Coming in unseeded with no match play since Wimbledon, Venus is almost an afterthought. There is a noticeable downtick in referring to "The Williams Sisters" as a collective threat. The two have been decoupled, with Serena hailed as the outright favorite, while the mere mention of Venus' name sends commentators and pundits shifting and squeaking in their chairs. She has a tough draw, potentially facing Wimbledon semifinalist Sabine Lisicki in the second round. But I just have this feeling. Nothing fuels a Williams sister like being underestimated. I have no doubt that the mind is willing. We'll just have to see if the body is up to the task.

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