A month of trends in post-U.S. Open tennis
Serena Williams and Andy Roddick intend to play doubles together in Australia, which could serve as a tuneup to an Olympic pairing. (Matt Cohen/Zumapress)
We're now nearly a month removed from the action in Flushing. Here's a look at some of the trends since the close of the U.S. Open.
Olympic chatter: As 2011 winds down, thoughts turn to 2012 and the London Olympics. Worcester, Mass., has been designated the site for the Americans' Fed Cup tie against Belarus and people are already wondering if Serena Williams will be there. Serena has committed to playing in both 2012 Fed Cup ties, and the USTA has said that it will consider her eligible for the Olympics if she plays for her country twice next year.
Tennis observers are also spending a lot of time speculating about whether Martina Hingis will team with Roger Federer for mixed doubles (for the record, I think this is much ado about nothing), and Serena and Andy Roddick took to Twitter to announce they'll be playing mixed doubles in Australia in January (at which tournament, we're not sure). No word on whether they'll be able to take that partnership to London, but they sure seem to be sowing the seeds.
Future of tennis: For all the talk about the traditional tennis powerhouses -- the nations that host Grand Slams -- going through a prolonged drought, there seems to be some hope on the horizon. The British boys won the Junior Davis Cup last weekend, and the Australian girls won the Junior Fed Cup.
Brits, Americans and Aussies have also captured all four junior singles titles in the last two Slams. Luke Saville (GBR) and Ashleigh Barty (AUS) won Wimbledon, while Oliver Golding (GBR), and Grace Min (USA) won the U.S. Open junior titles. Sure, junior success is no guarantee of senior success, but there's some talent in the hopper.
First-time winners: There may be dominance at the top of the men's game, but this year has shown it's an absolute free-for-all among the rest of the Tour. Last week, Janko Tipsarevic became the 10th first-time titlist this year, joining Florian Mayer, Robin Haase, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Andreas Seppi, Ryan Sweeting, Pablo Andujar, Milos Raonic, Ivan Dodig and Kevin Anderson.
Clothing optional: All of a sudden, tennis players are allergic to fabric. Rafael Nadal and Tipsarevic have stripped down and now Vera Zvonareva joins in the fun, posing for the ESPN Body issue. But this isn't about vanity. As James LaRosa points out, it's about results.
Slam winners: If you are an active Grand Slam champion on the WTA Tour, things, for the most part, aren't exactly coming up roses these days. Let's take a look:
• Serena Williams: She had a great summer that ended badly in the final of the U.S. Open. Now she's faded from view, shutting down the rest of her season. She won't play another tournament until 2012.
• Maria Sharapova: Sharapova seemed to be on track over the summer and she was blessed with a more-than-doable draw in New York. But she froze against Flavia Pennetta at the U.S. Open and then sprained her ankle last week during her attempt to avenge her Wimbledon loss to Petra Kvitova.
• Kim Clijsters: Do people even remember that she still plays tennis? She split from longtime coach Wim Fissette and is probably gearing up for one last hurrah in 2012.
• Venus Williams: The graceful champ was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and has fallen out of the top 100. Healing is, and should be, priority No. 1.
• Ana Ivanovic: The Serb has underachieved for a while, but she finally scored her first top-five win in three years this week in Beijing (against Vera Zvonareva). The partnership with coach Nigel Sears seems to be bearing fruit just in time. Ivanovic has a huge chunk of points to defend over the next three weeks.
• Svetlana Kuznetsova: Asked in Beijing to assess her 2011, Sveta put it succinctly: "Not so good. I'm kind of looking for my game." She's still looking. She lost listlessly to Ivanovic at the China Open.
• Francesca Schiavone: She's come back to earth since her career-making performance at Roland Garros last year. Apart from her run to the finals there again, Schiavone's results haven't been remarkable.
• Li Na, Petra Kvitova, Sam Stosur: We've already spilled a lot of ink for these ladies over the past month. Underwhelming is a polite way to describe their performances since winning their first major titles.
• Depleted fields: The Chinese tournaments have been hit hard by withdrawals. Djokovic's withdrawal from Beijing left Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as the top seed, while Tokyo, which offers the same number of points but significantly less prize money, was able to secure Nadal, Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Mardy Fish, all of whom are ranked higher than Tsonga.
Meanwhile, the big names continue to drop out of Shanghai: Federer, Robin Soderling, Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Juan Martin del Potro are all skipping next week's Masters 1000 event, and organizers are waiting with bated breath for word on Djokovic's back.
• Local talent: OK, so the big names aren't showing up to your tournaments. But at least the hometown players are bringing their A-games and getting the crowds excited, right? Nope.
It's been a disappointing series of tournaments for Asian players, headlined by Li's first-round exit from Beijing. Kei Nishikori, who is on the verge of overtaking Shuzo Matsuoka as the highest-ranked Japanese player in ATP history, did make the semifinals at Kuala Lumpur, but then lost early in Tokyo. Ayumi Morita, Kimiko Date Krumm, Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie all sputtered as well.