U.S. Open Day 1 matches to watch
Who's ready for the U.S. Open? "Nobody!" shouted everybody.
The nonstop grind of the tennis calendar rumbles in on the 7 Train to Flushing Meadows on Monday as the final stop on the 2012 Grand Slam tour gets underway. While the two No. 1 seeds are in action -- Roger Federer begins his campaign at night on Arthur Ashe Stadium against Donald Young (tough draw, DY) and Victoria Azarenka opens up against Russia's Alexandra Panova -- the theme of Monday's matches to watch is rust. With so many players either injured, ill or lacking match-play, the opening rounds could see a number of seeds vulnerable for an upset.
Here are the matches and players we'll be keeping an eye on during Day 1:
Samantha Stosur (AUS)  vs. Petra Martic (CRO) (first match, Arthur Ashe Stadium): Let's get one thing out of the way before we begin: Anyone who wins seven matches over the course of two weeks to win a Slam title is not a fluke. No one handed Stosur the U.S. Open title last year nor did she luck into it. She battled and earned every bit of that shiny U.S. Open trophy, which she punctuated with a stunning display of power, guts and focus to beat Serena Williams in the final.
Yet the words "fluke," "lucky," and "one-Slam wonder" are being bandied about as Stosur makes her way back to Manhattan, and nothing short of a deep run into the second week will silence the dismissive chatter. Stosur can be erratic and let nerves get the best of her (which is why her win over Serena last year was so impressive) and she has no idea what will feel like when she takes Ashe to begin the defense of a major title. Martic shouldn't cause her any problems, but you just never know with Stosur.
Andy Murray (GBR) vs. Alex Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) (second match, Arthur Ashe): Right now you can actually get away with saying Murray is a favorite to win a Slam and people wouldn't call you completely crazy. That's a first, but Murray proved his resilience and maturity this summer when he bounced back from losing the Wimbledon final to defeat Novak Djokovic and Federer on his way to Olympic gold. He did so not by playing a defensive, counterattacking game, but by stepping into the court, pounding his shots the minute he saw an opening and serving big. That style, no doubt unlocked by coach Ivan Lendl, has been his ticket to success this year. That's how he played when he came within a few points of beating Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinal, it's how he played when he almost secured a two-set lead over Federer in the Wimbledon final, and that's precisely how he played last month to dominate Federer at the Olympics.
The question is whether he's come down from the high of that win to focus on the two-week task at hand. He looked all out of sorts in his third-round loss to Jeremy Chardy in Cincinnati a week and a half ago but he says he took a few days off and has been practicing well in New York. Bogomolov has struggled this year and shouldn't be a problem for the Brit, but if Murray can get through this match quickly and in a workmanlike manner, it will send a message to the field that he's ready.
Maria Sharapova (RUS) vs. Melinda Czink (HUN) (fourth match, Arthur Ashe): Sharapova hasn't played a match since her embarrassing 6-0, 6-1 loss to Williams in the Olympic final. Part of it was due to a virus she picked up in London (Serena-itis?) and part of it undoubtedly involved the need to take a mental break after a long stretch on the clay and grass. Without any lead-up matches, this is the first glimpse of Sharapova, who is one of only two women who can pry the No. 1 ranking from Azarenka in New York (Agnieszka Radwanska being the other).
Sorana Cirstea (ROM) vs. Sabine Lisicki (GER)  (first match, Court 13): If you're looking for an upset special, look no further. Cirstea's power can knock off anyone when she's hitting it well -- see her first-round upset of Stosur at the Australian Open -- and she's 3-0 against Lisicki, who hasn't won a hard-court match this summer.
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) (third match, Court 13): Aside from the havoc their names will wreak on the scoreboard on Court 13, Hantuchova and Pavlyuchenkova are two gifted ball-strikers who are heavily reliant on timing. When the timing is on, you wonder why they aren't ranked higher. When it's off, you wonder how they can even make a living playing professional tennis. Pavlyuchenkova, who says she had trouble finding her motivation for much of the year, showed signs of life in Cincinnati, beating Caroline Wozniacki and playing well in her loss to Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinal. I like her as a dark horse in her section, but she has to get past Hantuchova first. With a little help from the draw, a semifinal appearance is not out of the question for Pavlyuchenkova. Courtney's Pet Picks: Victoria Duval (USA) vs. Kim Clijsters (BEL); Mardy Fish (USA) vs. Go Soeda (JPN); Romina Oprandi (SUI) vs. Andrea Petkovic (GER); Samantha Crawford (USA) vs. Laura Robson (GBR); Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) vs. Mallory Burdette (USA); Nicole Gibbs (USA) vs. Alize Cornet (FRA); Lukas Lacko (SVK) vs. James Blake (USA); Melanie Oudin (USA)vs. Lucie Safarova (CZE).