SI.COM AT THE U.S. OPEN
Assessing talent is most always an imprecise science. But it's a particularly iffy exercise in tennis. How many junior champs have never made the transition to the pros? How many stars were late bloomers? Growth spurts (or lacks thereof), teenage drama, injury, burnout a new love interest -- each can derail the most promising career. On the other hand, everything can magically click and suddenly you're surpassing expectations.
This is laid bare in the excellent tennis documentary
Later today, Young will take the court against Tommy Robredo. Ranked outside the top 100, he had to qualify over the weekend just to get this opportunity and his career has sputtered of late. Meanwhile, as the winner of the U.S. Open Series, Querrey will double his prize money this event and is a good bet to enter the top 20 this fall. Go figure.
Andy Roddick will headline the night session on Day 1 of the U.S. Open. Before the tournament, he answered questions from
Question: Do you believe that you are unfortunate to play tennis in the era of Federer and Rafael Nadal and hence not able to win as many Grand Slams as you deserve?
Roddick: No. You know, I feel fortunate that I get to play tennis at all. There have been great champions in every generation. Maybe not as dominant as Roger has been, but I'm certainly not going to complain about the hand that I've been dealt.
Question: Why don't you like chair umpires?
Roddick: Because they're the ones who have a lot of the control at our matches, and if it doesn't go my way, I'm a little annoyed. I talk to them, and they're like, "You're fine away from the court, and we actually like you. But you are evil when you're on the court." They say I'm getting a little better.
U.S. Open media day kicked off Saturday when
Over the past four months, the 23-year-old Russian has devoted as much time to defending her No. 1 ranking off the court as she's spent on it. Safina, still on the hunt for her first major championship, holds the top ranking ahead of Williams, an 11-time Grand Slam winner who holds three of the four major trophies.
Since Williams famously proclaimed herself "the real No. 1" in May, Safina has become a computer-rankings whipping girl, a symbol of misguided contempt for a system many dismiss as recklessly counterintuitive.
"It was the dream of my life to become No. 1 in the world," said Safina, whose frustration became apparent when pressed about Serena's public objections. "I'm not doing the rankings system. What can I do? If you look at the rankings, I'm No. 1 in the world."
Williams seemed just as perturbed by the rankings questions during her interview session, despite her principal role in kick-starting the controversy.
"I don't talk about that anymore, I'm sorry," Williams said, forcing a smile. "I've talked about it a lot and if you want to read some answers that I've said, you can. But I think we should talk about something else more exciting, more new."
"I'm excited to have won Wimbledon, Australia and this tournament last year, so I have no regrets," Williams said.
Safina has been prone to spectacular implosions in her most visible matches, including three lopsided straight-set losses in three Grand Slam finals. But her results over the past four Slams -- two appearances in finals and four in the semis -- aren't exactly lamentable. And while she's anxious to break through for that first major title here at Flushing Meadows, she's not going to let the questions affect her focus.
"I don't care," Safina said matter-of-factly. "Really."
More from the U.S. Open ...
Some day-after impressions and observations now that we've had a chance to sleep on the men's and women's draws:
1. I considered tabbing No. 1 Dinara Safina for biggest flameout in SI.com's picks (see below), but a quick glance at her first-week cakewalk slammed the lid on that idea. Safina's first true challenge likely won't come until the quarters and a possible meeting with Jelena Jankovic or Ana Ivanovic.
2. Ivanovic's brief spell atop the rankings came to an ignominious end at last year's Open, when she became the first No. 1 seed in the history of the event to lose to a qualifier. It's been a long way down for the 21-year-old Serb over the past year, as she's struggled with injury, hired and fired a coach and dropped from the top 10. I'm optimistic Ivanovic can regain form and challenge for Grand Slams again; I just don't expect it to happen here.
3. Elena Dementieva, for my money the most accomplished player in tennis never to win a major, is my pick to edge Serena Williams in the final. (Make your predictions
4. Caroline Wozniacki has already won 50 matches and cracked the top 10 in her breakout '09 season. But the 19-year-old seems to be running on fumes near the homestretch. I don't expect much.
5. Kim Clijsters was a wild-card entrant, meaning she could have drawn anybody from Safina to Serena in the first round. Instead, she'll face Viktoriya Kutuzova in her first U.S. Open match since winning the '05 final. Her likely second-round opponent would be No. 14 Marion Bartoli, one of four top 20 opponents she's beaten during her two-event comeback. Here's hoping she makes it through to the fourth round and a clash with ...
6. ... Venus Williams, whom many have tabbed for an early exit. The elder Williams sister may not have won the U.S. Open since 2001, but that's mostly due to her running into the wrong opponents at the wrong times. In 10 career appearances at the event, Williams has twice won the whole thing and six times lost to the eventual champion (including Clijsters in '05).
7. If you're looking for a first-round upset, Kateryna Bondarenko has the goods to make Ivanovic's Open a short one. Also, keep an eye on teenage wild-card Alexa Glatch, a confident player who should give no quarter to defending champion Serena Williams in their all-American clash.
8. If you think the tournament officials gifted Safina with an easy draw, they may as well have sent Roger Federer a box of Manhattan's famous Magnolia cupcakes. Lleyton Hewitt, a likely third-round opponent, is just 7-15 all time against Federer (and 0-6 in majors). Eighth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, a potential quarterfinal hurdle, is 0-12 against the Swiss master.
9. Another beneficiary on the men's side is No. 5 Andy Roddick, who managed to avoid Federer, Murray and Rafael Nadal until the semis.
10. Jeremy Chardy, the unseeded 22-year-old who earned his first career title at Stuttgart in July, is another potential bracket-buster. Inconsistency has dogged his first-round opponent, fellow Frenchman Gael Monfils.
11. It's not going to be easy for No. 2 Andy Murray. The 22-year-old Scot has a bevy of big hitters in his half starting with an opener against Ernests Gulbis, an underachiever whose results haven't come close to matching his ability. Not quite an upset watch given Murray's maturation, but something to think about.
12. Nadal, seeking to become the fourth player in the Open era (since 1968) to complete a career Slam, faces Richard Gasquet in a first-round match between players with something to prove. Both players enter the Open on the comeback trail, Nadal from tendinitis in both knees and Gasquet from a drug ban.
13. Look for Sam Querrey to advance to the second week. He's been in excellent form throughout the summer -- right up through Thursday's victory against Nikolay Davydenko in New Haven, Conn. -- and stands to double his prize money as winner of the U.S. Open Series.
14. The men's draw features two must-see swan songs. The Magician, Fabrice Santoro, a 20-year veteran with a record 68 Grand Slam appearances, is set to pack up his arsenal of trick shows and bid
The SI.com writers and reporters who will be covering the Open have weighed in with their picks. Make sure to
Andy Roddick warmed up for the Open with new hitting partner David Letterman. For more from Roddick,
More from the U.S. Open ...
1. Dinara Safina: If only to see her spared more criticism, how do you not pull for Safina to win her first major and -- all together now -- validate that top ranking? Alas, there are few indications she'll do so. Her play on the hard courts was patchy and she seems genuinely unhinged by the rankings controversy.
2. Serena Williams: She's done virtually nothing since Wimbledon, but so what? She's like the kid who annoys the other students by skipping all the classes, bombing the quizzes and then acing the final. She's the best, provided she wants to be (and there's a day to rest between matches).
3. Venus Williams: Always dangerous, but at some point when we weren't looking, Venus ceased becoming an A-list hard-court player. Very modest summer results and, unlike her sister, she hasn't won in New York since 2001.
4. Elena Dementieva: The hot pick coming in, based both on her fine play at the Rogers Cup and her fine match against Serena at Wimbledon. The problem isn't the serve so much as it's the confidence. Has she truly convinced herself she win finally win a major? If so ...
5. Jelena Jankovic: A finalist last year, Jankovic struggled through much of 2009. She's showed signs of life lately, but then backslid in Canada. She's too slight; she's too buff. She's too rusty; she's overplayed. At least you don't get cheated on the drama.
1. Roger Federer: After walking the desert for the first five months of 2009 and coming up only with mouthfuls of sand, Federer is suddenly the player to beat again. He looked like a world beater last week in Cincinnati (his first hard-court title of 2009) and has, of course, won the Open every year since 2004. As if he needed it, his draw is awfully soft as well. The rest of the field prays for colic.
2. Andy Murray: Lost a bit of momentum with a decisive defeat against Federer in Cincinnati. And his draw isn't easy, starting with Ernests Gulbis in the first round. Still, we'll stick with Murray as our pick. He's won two of the last three high-stakes hard-court events. His game and fitness are at "Slam-winning" levels. Above all, he can compete without the pressures he faces at Wimbledon.
3. Rafael Nadal: Odd to see Nadal seeded third -- and playing Richard Gasquet off the bat. The good news: Nadal ought to be fairly fresh for a change, having missed June and July to recover from the knee injury. The bad news: He's still not at full strength, as evidenced by his play in Montreal and Cincy. He may well complete the complete Slam. But not this year.
4. Novak Djokovic: The reports of his demise have been exaggerated. His downer year still has him squarely in the top five. Be interesting to see a) if he can (re)ingratiate himself to the NYC crowd. (Cut him some slack: You hate to see an entertainer repress his personality for fear of getting booed.) And b) how the addition of Todd Martin as consigliere figure affects his play.
5. Andy Roddick: Top American won over Tennis Nation at Wimbledon, and rebounded fairly nicely with solid, not great, results in the hard courts. Roddick unapologetically builds his year toward this event. Let's see what he's got. Look forward to the possible quarterfinal rematch with Djokovic.
How vulnerable is Venus? Can Kim Clijsters make a run? Is this Andy Murray's time? Can Andy Roddick win his second Open? SI.com's Jon Wertheim and Richard Deitsch answer the burning questions.
Serena seemed unruffled about being on the same side of the draw with her sister ("It's a pity," CBS announcer Mary Carillo said of a potential Williams-Williams meeting before the final). She spoke of her veteran status at the Open -- "Ten years," she exclaimed. "It's shocking" -- and hawked her upcoming book,
On the men's side, third-seeded Rafael Nadal was given no favors by drawing the talented Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who returned to the tour last month following a drug suspension. "He's now [dropped to] the No. 3 seed and it's not like he lost a bunch of matches," CBS and ESPN analyst John McEnroe said. "It does seem a bit harsh with the injury he had and with what he's accomplished that he would drop below Andy Murray [the No. 2 seed]."
Federer spoke about how 2009 has been his most rewarding year. He became the father of twin girls five weeks ago, won his first French Open and passed Pete Sampras for most Grand Slam titles. "We had a crisis in the financial world and I also had a crisis -- I dropped to No. 2," Federer said, smiling.
U.S. Open officials also confirmed what had been reported earlier: Some of the night sessions will feature the men playing the first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium (which usually starts at 7 p.m.) followed by the women. That sets up the potential of top-ranked female players slugging it out under the moonlight as the clock speeds past midnight on the East Coast.
Attending the U.S. Open for the first time this year? Herewith, various tips, culled from previous columns with a few new ones thrown in:
• The best value in sports: the U.S. Open qualifying rounds. And not simply because it's free. It's top-tier tennis featuring at least a few players down on their luck whose names will be familiar to casual fans.
• Check out the Tennis Hall of Fame Exhibit. It doesn't compete with a trip to Newport, R.I., but it's close.
• Take either the much-maligned No. 7 train or -- better still -- the Long Island Railroad from Manhattan, which is 15 minutes from Penn Station. At the risk of sounding like a tourist-bureau PR flack, you'll be surprised how civil and efficient the trains are. If you insist on private transportation, take a cab over a car service, which drops you off somewhere near Canarsie.
• Buy a daily program when you walk in.
• Take the grounds pass over reserved seating in Arthur Ashe Stadium, especially during the first week.