Late in the game

Friday September 7th, 2007

NEW YORK -- We caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer S.L. Price, who is covering the U.S. Open, to get his thoughts on the late-stage action.

Who has been the most impressive player so far?

Roger Federer aside, the player of the tournament is Novak Djokovic. He's broken out as a star. First of all, he's played the most exciting, longest and fun matches here. Then, tag to it what he did on Thursday night. I've been coming here since 1990 and that was the best piece of television entertainment I've ever seen here. His imitations of Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal were spot-on and hilarious. For a 20-year-old kid to barrel into his first semifinal at the U.S. Open, and then turn around and do that with great humor -- and absolutely nail them -- that's astonishing. People say Americans only care about Americans here. If Djokovic keeps putting results on the board, I predict he'll be a fan favorite like Boris Becker, a foreigner whom fans can't get enough of.

But can Djokovic beat Federer, should he make the final?

Yes, he can. We all expect Federer to win, but at the same time, Djokovic showed a few weeks ago that he could beat him in Montreal. He also beat the No. 2 and 3-ranked players, too, so he's not scared of the moment. After speaking to him, I can tell you that he truly believes he can beat Federer. It's not like he feels like he caught lightning. Djokovic has the attitude and the game to beat Federer one time. It all depends on how he holds up through these long matches.

On the other side of the draw, Nikolay Davydenko is in the semis despite being in the middle of a gambling scandal.

Right. The fact that he's in the semis with this betting scandal hanging over his head, it's a real humiliating and embarrassing moment for tennis. This is not good. How the ATP, and tennis as a whole, reacts to this going forward, will say a lot about the future of the sport and its image.

Was Venus Williams vs. Justine Henin in the semis the de facto women's final?

Yeah, no question. This was the Wimbledon winner vs. the French Open winner -- it was basically for the unofficial title of player of the year. Obviously one had to go on to win the title, but this was by far the most interesting women's match we can expect from the weekend. Both have been playing well, they're in shape -- unlike Serena, there are no questions about Venus' physical or mental well-being.

What's the most overlooked storyline of the Open?

I might be slightly alone in this, but the thing that struck me about young American phenom John Isner is that this is a guy who came out of nowhere. He was on nobody's radar screen before the spring. Now, I'm talking to Martina Navratilova and Jim Courier and they're telling me this guy's upside is far greater than Donald Young's. The players he's played against are saying he's got one of best serves in the men's game. And nobody whose job it is to go out and find the next great American had any idea.

This guy is playing in a tennis hotbed -- the Atlanta area -- and he's almost 6-foot-10; he's literally hiding in plain sight. All of a sudden, he's had some results, and we're looking at the next great American hope. He's still going to have to put it together, but the fact that we hadn't heard of this guy is astonishing.

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