Four questions heading into the U.S. Open
Caroline Wozniacki is physically healthy, but is she mentally confident? (Photo: Scott Petranek/Reuters)
Sitting down to look at and analyze a draw, I always come out of it with more questions than answers. Wouldn't it be so much easier if everyone were healthy and playing well? Well, yes, obviously. But that's what makes it fun to debate.
Here are the big questions swirling in my head less than 24 hours before the U.S. Open is scheduled to begin.
1. Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes: Precisely how healthy is everyone? Caroline Wozniacki is physically healthy, but a crisis of confidence seems to be playing with her head. She got some of her mojo back this week in New Haven, where she captured her fourth straight title at Yale. As for Caroline's Monaco neighbor, Novak Djokovic's ailing shoulder forced him to retire last week in the final in Cincinnati, and afterward he disclosed that he didn't even know what was wrong with it. That's right, the world No. 1 hadn't had time to get an MRI and was playing with pain for 10 days.
Meanwhile, Nole's good buddy Andrea Petkovic built a lot of momentum through the summer hardcourts, cracking the top 10 for the first time and reaching the semifinals of two Premier tournaments. But she tore the meniscus in her right knee last week, and took the court a day later with more tape on her leg than ... something that has lots of tape on its leg. Slotted in Wozniacki's quarter, a healthy Petko could do some damage and make her third Slam quarterfinal of the year. Here's hoping the bum knee doesn't stop the dancing.
Lastly, what's the full story on Serena Williams' toe? Depending on your level of cynicism, it either forced her out of Cincinnati, or it gave her a convenient excuse not to play. A niggle or a nothing? We'll have to wait and see.
2. Ready for Primetime: Who's ready to take that next step? All eyes will be on Mardy Fish, who spent the summer backing up his career-high No. 7 ranking, taking the title in Atlanta and making impressive runs to the finals in Montreal and Los Angeles and semifinals in Cincinnati. Fish, never entirely comfortable under the spotlight, has been outspoken about his need to prove to himself that he belongs with the top dogs. There will be no truer test than a projected quarterfinal clash with Roger Federer.
Before that, Fish may have to go through Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a player with great talent who can suffer from a lack of belief. The tennis world has been waiting for Tsonga to show the electric talent that got him to the 2008 Australian Open final. And he showed what he could do in coming back from two sets down to beat Federer at Wimbledon this year.
As for the ladies, can Sabine Lisicki back up her semifinal run at Wimbledon? The smiling German with a devastating serve loves playing in front of big crowds, but she froze in the semifinals, unable to get out of her own way to make a proper match of it with Maria Sharapova. Lisicki has reveled in the challenge of fighting her way back into relevance, reacting with surprise and shock with every win. But victories should no longer be a shock for her. She's a contender in any tournament she enters. Can she handle expectation?
3. Dust and Rust: Who still needs to play into form? Rafael Nadal clearly wasn't happy with his pre-Open preparation, which was stalled by two burned fingers on his right hand that prevented him from practicing with full intensity. Li Na and Petra Kvitova, both of whom have the games to roll at the Open, struggled with their fitness and timing during the lead-up, with Kvitova (who suffers from asthma in the heat and humidity) winning only one match and Li making a run to the New Haven semifinals before losing to a qualifier. Rafa, Kvitova and Li need some time and easy early- round matches to find their form. 4. Whether the Weather: What about the aftereffects of Hurricane Irene? As of Sunday afternoon, no word had come from the Mayor's office as to when the mass transit system will re-open, putting Monday's kick-off in doubt. Sure, players can get to the site via private transportation options, but what about fans and tournament staff? The good news is that clear skies are forecast for the first week.