September 07, 2009

To keep you abreast of all the developments at the U.S. Open (Aug. 31-Sept. 13),'s team of tennis writers, reporters and editors will provide reporting, analysis, links, podcasts and videos in our U.S. Open blog. Check back daily for updates. For complete, day-by-day coverage of Week 1, click here. You can also follow's Jon Wertheim on Twitter at @jonstennistweet.


Three things to watch: Men's final edition

Top-seeded Roger Federer is gunning for a sixth consecutive U.S. Open title this afternoon opposite sixth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, one of the hottest players on tour during hardcourt season. Here are three questions surrounding today's final (4 p.m. ET, CBS):

Will Del Potro shrink from the occasion? Monday's title showdown is a familiar scene for Federer -- who's reached the finals in 17 of the past 18 major tournaments -- while Del Potro is the latest in a long line of first-time Grand Slam finalists to meet the Swiss for a U.S. Open championship. Not only has Federer won a mind-boggling 40 straight matches at the U.S. Open -- with just one loss in any match since April -- but he's also prevailed in each of the six all-time meetings with the 20-year-old. Del Potro needs to forget that history from the minute he walks on the court or it could be a very short afternoon. Staying aggressive from the jump -- and not in awe -- is the first key to engineering an upset of this order. To have a chance, the 6-foot-6 Argentine must serve with power and consistency from the very first games.

Can Del Potro flap an unflappable opponent? A player doesn't win 15 major championships with too many weaknesses. Federer often appears invincible on the court. Take Sunday's semifinal, when Novak Djokovic played some of the best tennis of the fortnight and still went down in straight sets. But the one pressure point in Federer's impeccable all-court game -- a vulnerability which Rafael Nadal has been able to exploit in their meetings -- remains the backhand (on balls with heavy top spin in particular). If Del Potro can probe that backhand wing early and often, mixing in lobs and limiting Federer's opportunities for elementary forehand winners, he's got a excellent chance of giving Federer problems.

Can anybody beat Federer here? Del Potro came awfully close in this year's French Open semifinals, pushing Federer to the limit in a five-set thriller. "Every month he was getting better [since then]," Federer said after Sunday's semifinal. "He was hitting his serves better, from the baseline he was getting more confident." Federer's winning streak can't last forever and a nascent superstar like Del Potro seems as likely a candidate as any to end it. Plus it's worth remembering the last player to defeat Federer in Queens was another big-serving Argentine: David Nalbandian in 2003. If Del Potro can remain aggressive and take the first set, it's anybody's match.-- Bryan Armen Graham

Federer gets tricky

The great American author David Foster Wallace, two years before he died, wrote an essay on Roger Federer for The New York Times sports magazine Play.

In the aptly named "Federer as Religious Experience," Wallace wrote at length about what he termed Federer Moments. "These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play," Wallace wrote in the opening, "when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you're O.K."

The most recent of these transcendent sporting experiences happened today at the end of Federer's semifinal match against Novak Djokovic. With Djokovic down two sets and serving at 5-6, 0-30, the players rallied briefly until Federer sprinted toward the net to return a drop shot. When Djokovic countered with a textbook lob, Federer -- running at full speed with his back to the net -- whipped an impossible between-the-legs crosscourt winner from several feet behind the baseline.

The awesome shot set up match point for Federer. From there, it was merely a formality, as the 28-year-old closed out a 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5 victory. (Federer will face Juan Martin del Potro in Monday's final.)

An amazing shot. But the shot of his life?

"I would think so," Federer said. "The way I was able to hit it with pace and accuracy, it's something that happens so, so rarely. You know, it was a semifinal of a Grand Slam after all."

Yet another Federer Moment for the archives.

-- Bryan Armen Graham


Men's semifinal breakdowns

No. 3 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro

Time: Noon ET, ESPN2/

Head-to-head (career): Nadal leads 4-2

Head-to-head (hard court): 2-2

How Nadal got here: d. Richard Gasquet 6-2, 6-2, 6-3; d. Nicolas Kiefer 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; d. No. 32 Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 6-4, 6-4; d. No. 13 Gael Monfils 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3; d. No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez 7-6(4), 7-6(2), 6-0

How del Potro got here: d. Juan Monaco 6-3, 6-3, 6-1; d. Jurgen Melzer 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3; d. Daniel Koellerer 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3; d. No. 24 Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-3, 6-3; d. No. 16 Marin Cilic 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1

Why Nadal will win: Back during the first week, when serious doubts loomed over the Majorcan's fitness, Nadal's first-round victim put the field on notice. "He can win the tournament," Gasquet said. "Day after day, he will improve his level. For sure, he can win." True to the Frenchman's hunch, Nadal only improved since. Despite missing 10 weeks this summer with tendinitis in both knees, he's tied for the tour lead with five titles and ranks third in wins (54). That No. 3 seed makes it easy to forget it was Nadal, and not Roger Federer, who was this season's dominant player before taking leave.

Why del Potro will win: Like in 2008, the slender 20-year-old Argentine entered the Open as one of the hottest players on the tour -- only this year he's appeared capable of letting it ride. The only player to have beaten Nadal twice in '09, del Potro packs the big serve and baseline power necessary to keep Rafa on the defensive. He's also taken the two most recent meetings from Nadal in their all-time series, at this year's Miami and Montreal Masters.

Prediction: Much like he was able to wear down Monfils with body blows in their fourth-round showdown, Nadal should be able to extend -- and expose -- del Potro. Nadal in four sets.

No. 1 Roger Federer vs. No. 4 Novak Djokovic

Time: 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS/

Head-to-head (career): Federer leads 8-4

Head-to-head (hard court): Federer leads 6-3

How Federer got here: d. Devin Britton 6-1, 6-3, 7-5; d. Simon Greul 6-3, 7-5, 7-5; d. No. 31 Lleyton Hewitt 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4; d. No. 14 Tommy Robredo 7-5, 6-2, 6-2; d. No. 12 Robin Soderling 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6)

How Djokovic got here: d. Ivan Ljubicic 6-3, 6-1, 6-3; d. Carsten Ball 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; d. Jesse Witten 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-4; d. No. 15 Radek Stepanek 6-1, 6-3, 6-3; d. No. 10 Fernando Verdasco 7-6(2), 1-6, 7-5, 6-2

Why Federer will win: Why won't he? The five-time defending champion is 39-0 at the Open dating to 2004. And he's made it look easy, getting extended to five sets just twice during that span and dropping a mere 15 sets -- an average of three per championship. He's lost just one match since April and doesn't seem liable to lose another, not in a best-of-five-set match at one of his favorite venues.

Why Djokovic will win: Federer hasn't played since Wednesday night -- and Serena Williams' Saturday ouster just showed the hazards of an extended layoff. Nobody's given Federer a legitimate scare at this year's tournament, but the top-seeded Swiss has appeared vulnerable during stretches. He committed 59 unforced errors in a sloppy third-round win over Hewitt, was pushed by Robredo and didn't exactly slam the door against Soderling in the quarters. Plus, there's the law of averages: Federer's extraordinary winning streak can't last forever and if anybody has the tools and the confidence to end it, it's Djokovic. Remember: Just once in the last 17 Grand Slams has Federer fallen short of the finals, and that's when Djokovic tamed him in straight sets at the 2008 Australian Open.

Prediction: These guys are meeting on the second weekend here for the third time in three years, after Federer's victories over Djokovic in the '07 final and '08 semis. "There are no secrets," the 22-year-old Serb following Wednesday's quarters. "It's a matter of a good day. I hope I can have a good day and concentrate." Good might be enough to make it interesting, but perfect is likely mandatory against a champion of Federer's caliber. Look for Federer to book an eighth showdown with Nadal in a Grand Slam final, a record for major-championship meetings between two rivals. Federer in four sets.-- Bryan Armen Graham

More from the U.S. Open ...

Stunning end to Serena's loss

Oracene Williams shook her head at the television screen. It was 10 minutes after all hell had broken loose at the U.S. Open and the mother of Serena Williams found herself nodding in agreement with Kim Clijsters. "I'm like her," Oracene said, pointing at the Belgian who had just defeated her daughter in the women's semifinals. "I really don't know what happened."

What happened at 10:52 p.m on Saturday night was one of the most bizarre conclusions to a match in U.S. Open history, a women's semifinal that ended on a point penalty.

After Serena had been called for a foot fault on her second serve to go match point down, the No. 2 seed cursed at the lineswoman who had made the call. The lineswoman then walked over to the chair umpire and reported Serena for verbal abuse. Because she had already received an earlier warning in the match for smashing a racket, Serena was handed an automatic point penalty for a second violation. That gave Clijsters a 6-4, 7-5 victory. The unseeded Belgian will play No. 9 seed Caroline Wozniacki on Sunday night for the U.S. Open championship.

To read the rest of Richard Deitsch's column, click here.


USTA weighing benefits of retractable roof

With inclement weather hijacking championship weekend of the U.S. Open for the second straight year, U.S. Open officials say they've "gone past the consideration stage" of building a retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium to guarantee uninterrupted play at future tournaments.

"In the last six months, the consideration of a roof has accelerated," USTA executive director Gordon Smith told media members shortly after passing showers halted play Saturday afternoon. "[USTA president] Lucy Garvin has appointed a master planning group to consider the infrastructure future of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the long term. A roof is very much a part of that."

Smith said the USTA has employed 360 Architecture, a design firm based in Kansas City, to develop preliminary roof plans and determine the cost and feasibility of the project. The company, which confirmed its involvement in a news release Friday, has worked on dozens of pro and college stadiums over the past decade, with current projects including the Oakland A's new ballpark and new Meadowlands stadium for the New York Jets and New York Giants.

"[It's] essentially putting a roof over something about as big as a modern-day major league baseball park," Smith said. "From start to finish, we'd be looking at two years, approximately, but we have not mapped that out with any specificity at this point."

Both Wimbledon and the Australian Open offer covered courts for adverse weather, with the French Open planning one for 2013 or '14. Within five years, the U.S. Open could be the lone Grand Slam tournament exposed to the elements -- and the ire of network officials.

"Would I love to have a roof? Absolutely," U.S. Open tournament director Jim Curley said. "But it is certainly one of those situations where you have to really look at the practical aspects."

It's just the first time in four decades that rainouts have moved the men's singles final to Monday in back-to-back years, Curley noted. There were no rainouts in 2007 and just one in '08 -- albeit a high-profile one near the end of the tournament. It's difficult for the USTA -- a non-profit organization -- to justify a nine-figure investment when its mission is the promotion and development of tennis.

"The question is, are you going to spend $100 million or more -- we don't know exactly -- on a roof that you might use once a year?" Smith said. "The money we make here goes out into grassroots [efforts] all around the country, including building this tennis center, which for 11 months of the year is the nicest public tennis center in New York for New York citizens to use, without having spent a penny of taxpayer money."

Smith said the UTSA will move forward once 360 Architecture completes its initial study and determines the cost of retro-fitting Ashe Stadium with a roof. It plans to consider a "wide range of options," including the construction of a brand new stadium.

"Nothing is off the table at this point," Smith said.-- Bryan Armen Graham


U.S. Open reset

Twenty-seven matches on the slate for Friday. Twenty-seven matches postponed by rain.

For the second year in a row, we're staring down the barrel of a Monday men's final. And that's the best-case scenario judging by the gloomy forecast.

Here's where we stand going into Not-So-Super Saturday:

Saturday, day session

• Nadal vs. Gonzalez in men's quarterfinal [Nadal leads 7-6(4), 6-6(3)] (CBS, 12 p.m. ET, Ashe)

• Black/Huber vs. Stosur/Stubbs in women's doubles semifinal (CBS, 12 p.m. ET, Armstrong)

• Dlouhy/Paes vs. Bhupathi/Knowles in men's doubles final (CBS, later in afternoon, Ashe)

• Wozniacki vs. Wickmayer in first women's semifinal (CBS, later in afternoon, Ashe)

• Williams vs. Clijsters (CBS, not before 8 p.m. ET, Ashe)

Sunday, day session

• Federer vs. Djokovic in first men's semifinal (ESPN2/, 12 p.m. ET, Ashe)

• Nadal or Gonzalez vs. del Potro in second men's semifinal (CBS, 4 p.m. ET, Ashe)

Sunday, night session

• Wozniacki or Wickmayer vs. Williams or Clijsters in women's singles final (ESPN2/, 9 p.m. ET, Ashe)

Monday, day session

• Black/Huber or Stosur/Stubbs vs. Williams/Williams in women's doubles final (ESPN/, 1 p.m ET, Ashe)

• Nadal or Gonzalez or del Potro vs. Federer or Djokovic in men's singles final (CBS/, 4 p.m. ET, Ashe)-- Bryan Armen Graham

More from the U.S. Open ...

Oudin discusses Open run on CNN


Three things to watch: Day 12's daily menu of must-see happenings at the U.S. Open (all times Eastern).

No. 1 Esther Vergeer vs. Aniek van Koot (11 a.m., Court 11): Given the singles-dominated frenzy of Super Saturday at the U.S. Open, Friday may be your best chance to check out Vergeer, who is the top seed in the wheelchair women's singles draw. With her victory in Thursday's quarterfinals, the 28-year-old Dutch extended her winning streak to 376 matches -- an outrageous run dating back to 2003.

Kim Clijsters vs. No. 2 Serena Williams (12:30 p.m., Arthur Ashe Stadium): The survivor of this first semifinal should be a comfortable favorite in Saturday's championship match against either Caroline Wozniacki or Yanina Wickmayer, who play later Friday afternoon on Ashe. Clijsters hopes to become just the third player to defeat both Williams sisters in a single Grand Slam event (after Martina Hingis at the '01 Australian Open and Justine Henin at the '07 U.S. Open). But she's facing the stiffest challenge of her comeback in Serena, who is 23-1 in majors this year and who has yet to drop a set here.

No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez vs. No. 3 Rafael Nadal (second match, Arthur Ashe Stadium): The first suspended match of this year's tournament -- and probably not the last judging by the ominous forecast -- picks up with Nadal ahead 7-6 (4), 6-6 and Gonzalez serving at 2-3 in the second-set tiebreak. The winner faces Juan Martin del Potro in Saturday afternoon's semifinals in advance of Sunday's final, meaning Gonzalez or Nadal would need to play on four consecutive days in order to claim the title. Somewhere on the Upper East Side, Darth Federer is smiling.-- Bryan Armen Graham

More from the U.S. Open ...

When will they raise the roof at the Open?

It took 11 days for rain to spoil the perfect run of weather at the U.S. Open, when showers twice interrupted Thursday's quarterfinal between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Gonzalez at Arthur Ashe Stadium before play was suspended around midnight.

It didn't take nearly as long for grumbling fans, press members and tweeters to question when -- if ever -- we'd see a retractable roof at the National Tennis Center.

Within five years, the U.S. Open could be the lone Grand Slam event without a retractable-roof stadium. The two main arenas at the Australian Open have them, mostly for protection from Melbourne's oppressive summer heat. Even the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, considered the sport's last bastion of tradition, caved to modernity and debuted a translucent $165 million roof over Centre Court at this year's Championships.

Tournament officials at the French Open -- perhaps inspired by La Caja Magica at Madrid's clay-court tournament -- have announced plans for a new show court with a retractable roof for 2013 or '14.

But should the U.S. Open follow suit? When rain postponed the Arthur Ashe Kids Day festivities on the Saturday before this year's tournament, several top players gave their take.

Andy Murray was among those who felt New York's mostly accommodating late-summer weather doesn't call for such a dramatic and costly renovation.

"I don't think it's necessary really to have a roof. There's only normally a couple of days during the tournament where there is some bad weather," Murray said. "I'm surprised at the French Open they're doing it, because even if it's raining a little bit you can still play."

Andy Roddick, the 2003 champion, agreed.

"All the Grand Slams have been played a pretty long time without one," Roddick said. "I think it's a rarity that it gets backed up enough to where it becomes a real problem. Plus, then when would we watch Connors and Krickstein again?"

Serena Williams also spoke out against a retractable roof, saying the renovations would tarnish the beauty of the 12-year-old arena, the world's largest tennis-only facility.

"It would be kind of hard to add a roof on this wonderful stadium, so I think we're fine," Williams said. "It would be just kind of weird to put a roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium."

One player in favor of a roof is Roger Federer, whose showdown with Murray for the 2008 U.S. Open championship was postponed to Monday because of inclement weather.

"[Rain delays] are just things that are unpredictable, and with a roof you can make it more predictable for fans, sponsors, TV, for players," Federer said. "That's why it's a good thing to have. That's why I'm obviously for it.

"I think especially in America we have so many wonderful stadiums, you figure it's normal they would be taking the lead with something like this."

Dinara Safina, the top-ranked women's player, admitted that rain delays can be inconvenient to fans and players -- but thought she'd end up missing the uneasy trench camaraderie of waiting out the storm.

"It makes [for] something special, you sit in the players' lounge and you wait," Safina said. "It doesn't rain so often here, so I don't think they should change."-- Bryan Armen Graham


Court coverage: What they're writing about the Open

Greg Garber, "Ivan Lendl, navigating the Merritt Parkway through the leafy Connecticut countryside at breakneck speed, laughed loudly into the phone Wednesday morning. He was once the shining standard of consistent excellence in tennis; from the 1985 U.S. Open to the 1988 Australian Open, Lendl reached 10 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. With a victory over Robin Soderling on Wednesday night, Roger Federer ran his total of consecutive semifinal berths in majors to a staggering 22. Lendl's total remains the second best of all time. "If you called me eight years ago and said 'There will be a guy who comes along, and he'll be in 21 straight Grand Slam semifinals,'" Lendl said. "Well, I would be looking for a polite way to end the conversation as quickly as possible because I'd be talking to somebody out of their mind."

Greg Couch, FanHouse: "You probably haven't heard of [Yanina] Wickmayer. Frankly, no one has. But how does she sneak up on the semifinals of the U.S. Open? Two words: Melanie Oudin. Oudin took over this tournament as the Georgia kid out of nowhere, slaying top players. And Serena Williams always gets attention. And anything left has gone to Kim Clijsters, the former No. 1 back from 2½ years of retirement and having a baby. So Wickmayer's story is not only coming out of nowhere, but it's actually not even here yet."

Steve Tignor, "Watching Gael Monfils play tennis is the sharpest of double-edged swords: It's as jaw-dropping as it is exasperating. On Tuesday night the Frenchman inspired more than his usual share of each of these reactions over the course of his four-set loss to Rafael Nadal. At the end of it all, when he'd belted his final futile jumping forehand into the tape, I was left asking which side of the Monfils experience has the upper hand: Are his circus-act exploits must-see tennis, regardless of the outcome? Or is the sight of all that potential being squandered because of a complete lack of goal-driven focus just disheartening in the end?"

Colin Duncan, Scottish Daily Record: "History suggests Andy Murray has only one more crack at winning a Grand Slam and ending Britain's 73-year losing streak in the tennis Majors. The Scot suffered the biggest disappointment of his career on Tuesday when crashing out of the US Open in straight sets to Marin Cilic and passing up another chance to break his duck. And if recent trends are anything to go by it will be a case of now or never for Murray at next year's Australian Open in Melbourne. The Flinders Park jamboree will be the final Major before he turns 23 - the age at which the record books tell us it becomes nigh on impossible to become a first time Grand Slam winner."

Greg Bishop, The New York Times: "When tennis introduced its challenge system three years ago at this tournament, it was such a novelty that it took nearly two days for a single player to issue a challenge. Now, the system is part of the routine, with over 500 challenges already issued at this Open. As with any system in sports, players and coaches have tried to exploit it for strategic gain. No longer are challenges as clear as what they were intended for: determining if a tennis ball landed in, or out."


Tennis has its place on the radio

I still remember the line Mary Carillo delivered when I asked her three years ago about the prospect of calling tennis on the radio: "I can think of 457 other sports that lend themselves to radio better than tennis," Carillo said. "And that includes curling."

With ESPN and Tennis Channel's day-long coverage, and with providing live streaming matches on multiple courts, the notion of listening to a match on the radio seems like something out of the 20th century. Not so, according to Brian Beglane, the coordinating producer for Video and Radio. Beglane said Radio has served up an average of 43,000 streams per day, with the average stream (listener) spending almost 2½ hours with the service. Fans can access the radio broadcasts through by activating a radio-only player or via the IBM Slam Tracker (live scores) console.

I had asked Carillo for her thoughts prior to heading to the booth as an analyst. The advice came rushing back Sunday for the fourth-round match between Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams. Radio's main color analyst is Matt Cronin, one of the top tennis writers in the country and the managing editor of the California-based Inside Tennis magazine. Given that Cronin can't analyze every match, I sat in for him for the Clijsters-Williams tussle.

It was a strange and ugly match. Clijsters won the first set 6-0. Williams won the second set by the same score. It's a skill to offer a salient thought (if you're doing color) while working within the flow of the match. The play-by-play call is another story. It's all about being descriptive, and the time frame is razor-thin. Marc Ernay, who works as a sports anchor for 1010 WINS-AM in New York and also teaches broadcasting at St. John's University, is Radio's main announcer. He said tennis is the hardest sport he's called, even harder than hockey. The service employs two other full-time play-by-play broadcasters, Bill Oakes and Justin Shackil. Both guys have delivered with panache throughout the tournament.

Beglane said every year Radio invites one fan to sit in as a " Radio Announcer for a Day." Most winners are on the air for two or three hours, but this year Lisa Rappaport of Roswell, Ga., landed on one of the longest days of the Open. "As luck had it, she got to call matches involving Melanie Oudin and John Isner, both with Georgia ties," Beglane said. "She was on the air from 11 a.m. till past 9 p.m. and left the booth only once."

My stint was less than two hours. Once you get the rhythm, it's remarkable how much information a radio tennis broadcast can contain in addition to calling points. During our broadcast, we took e-mails from people around the globe as part of an "Ask the Booth" feature, which allowed listeners to contact us from either the Web site or the iPhone. One women from Prague asked us to name the shortest and tallest Open winners. That prompted an interesting discussion until another e-mailer told us we were talking too much. Eventually, Clijsters emerged with a third-set victory.

Ernay complimented me on my work. I thought the broadcast was very smooth, with one small mistake. Channeling my inner Jerry Jones, I mistakenly called American tennis player Jesse Witten by the name of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. A sure sign of fall.-- Richard Deitsch


Three things to watch: Day 11's daily menu of must-see happenings at the U.S. Open (all times Eastern).

No. 4 Serena Williams/Venus Williams vs. No. 13 Alisa Kleybanova/Ekaterina Makarova (11 a.m., Arthur Ashe Stadium): The Williams sisters, who have already collected doubles titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2009, close in on a third Grand Slam in today's opener on Ashe. So far, so good: They've managed to navigate their way to the semis without dropping a set.

No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro vs. No. 16 Marin Cilic (day session, Arthur Ashe Stadium): The two youngest remaining players in the men's draw -- who also happen to be the youngest members of the top 20 -- meet for just the second time (after a fourth-round clash at this year's Australian Open). It's the first time that a pair of players under 21 have reached the U.S. Open quarters since 2001, when 20-year-old Lleyton Hewitt knocked off 19-year-old Andy Roddick on his way to the title. With a victory, del Potro can ensure a return to the top five.

No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez vs. No. 3 Rafael Nadal (7 p.m., Arthur Ashe Stadium): Nadal can reclaim the No. 2 ranking with a win in this rematch of last year's Olympic final, when he bagged the gold in straight sets. The Spaniard, inching closer to that first U.S. Open title and a career Grand Slam, is 6-3 edge in the series but hasn't lost a set in their previous five meetings.-- Bryan Armen Graham

More from the U.S. Open ...

Assessing Oudin's captivating ride caught up with senior writer S.L. Price following Melanie Oudin's 6-2, 6-2 loss to Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. What did you make of Oudin's run?

Price: The thing that's great about Melanie Oudin is she is big time. She lives for big moments. She likes to take down big-name players. She's not scared by anything. That is an absolute "X quality" that the great tennis players need and especially Americans love in their tennis talent. She took down Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon. She took down Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova here. In fact, I'd argue that Caroline Wozniacki is not quite as talented as some of those names and plays a game that is less big. So what happened to Oudin against Wozniacki?

Price: What happened is she played against an equally good defensive player who was very patient and did not give her as much to work with. Wozniacki did not crack or cause herself to go down in flames. Oudin was given the good fortune in this tournament to play some women who cracked when the matter came down to it. Sharapova had 21 double faults. That was a gift. Petrova cracked at key moments as did Dementieva. The fact is Wozniacki is a very strong player mentally, a defensive player and a counter puncher. Nobody is really surprised at this loss. Oudin was going against a player with a different array of weapons and it will be something she has to figure out going forward.

To read the rest of the Q&A, click here.


Jon Wertheim's Oudin vs. Wozniacki preview

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, the three biggest names in tennis, all currently remain in this, the fourth and final major of the year. But you could be forgiven for not realizing as much. This has been the U.S. Oudin, an event improbably hijacked by a 17-year-old from Georgia who is having an awesome-amazing-incredible time beating up on bigger and higher-ranked players.

She is the youngest U.S. Open quarterfinalist since Serena in '99 and her matches have taken on the dimensions of a tired After School Special. Undersized player loses first set to more highly regarded player. She starts to claw her way into match. Staring at the message scrawled on her shoes -- Believe! -- she pushes the match to a third set. With the crowd firmly behind her, she relies on pluck and determination at odds with an otherwise sweet demeanor. Eventually she escapes -- Oudini-like -- and wins the match.

In tonight's installment (episode five), she faces another teenager, Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, who has played precocious, inspiring tennis herself, most recently beating former U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in a thrilling three-setter Monday night.

To read the rest of Jon Wertheim's column, click here.


Three things to watch: Day 10's daily menu of must-see happenings at the U.S. Open (all times Eastern).

No. 4 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 10 Fernando Verdasco (day session, Arthur Ashe Stadium): Verdasco crashed the Australian Open semis with an upset of Andy Murray and came close to beating Rafael Nadal in one of the most compelling matches of the year, but the Spaniard's results have been largely inconsistent until the past week's run to the quarters. He'll have his hands full against the fourth-ranked Djokovic, back in the hard-earned good graces of the New York crowd following Tuesday's public-relations master stroke opposite John McEnroe.

Melanie Oudin vs. No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki (7 p.m., Arthur Ashe Stadium): The 17-year-old from Marietta, Ga., has gone from virtual unknown to "It Girl" in the span of a week, tipping higher-ranked Russians in four straight matches to become the youngest American to crash the quarters since Serena in 1999. Next up: Her first night match on Ashe before a packed house -- and what's certain to be the largest domestic TV audience the Open has reached so far. Across the net is the tireless 19-year-old Wozniacki, the first Danish woman to crack the top 10, who leads the tour in matches won (60) and played (77). Can she put a damper on Melanie Mania or does Oudin -- already $175,000 in prize money richer -- have another upset in the tank?

No. 1 Roger Federer vs. No. 12 Robin Soderling (night session, Arthur Ashe Stadium): They've met 11 times over the past half-decade and it's been Federer each and every time, including a showdown for the French Open title in June. But the matches have gotten closer and closer through the years, with Federer needing a pair of close tiebreaks to get past the Swede at Wimbledon this year. "He's always been a dangerous player," Federer said Monday. "He's become mentally and physically stronger and then he knows the game better today than he used to. These are already three amazing improvements. That's what makes him a great player today."-- Bryan Armen Graham

More from the U.S. Open ...

Serena is the name to know

If you didn't know who it was when she walked by you, the black jacket with the name on the back made it clear enough. About 15 minutes before the start of her 6-4,6-3 quarterfinal win over Flavia Pennetta, Serena Williams walked through the bowels of Arthur Ashe Stadium wearing a black jacket with the word "Serena" emblazoned in purple script. For all the Melanie Oudin-ites that have emerged here over the past week, there is only women's player who deserves the one-word treatment.

In front of the monied crowd -- Donald Trump, Russell Simmons and CBS president and CEO Les Moonves were among those who breathed in the night air -- Williams offered a 75-minute clinic in power tennis. She and Pennetta played an even first set until the final two games, when Williams won eight of the last nine points. Williams finally broke Pennetta's will in the sixth game of the second set with the Italian serving at down 3-2. That game included a 20-stroke rally won by Williams and finally a double fault by Pennetta that sealed the Italian's fate. "I was like running and fight until the end," Pennetta said. "It's the only way to win against this kind of player."

Except no one is winning against her. Williams has not dropped a set at the Open and is 23-1 in Grand Slam singles matches this season. She is the sport's clear No. 1 without the designation: The WTA released a note that Williams will remain behind No. 1 Dinara Safina the week after the tournament ends. But Williams can ascend to the top spot the following week with a win here.

Next up for Serena is Kim Clijsters, setting up the first time since 1972 that two defending U.S. Open champions will meet each other. Clijsters won the 2005 U.S. Open and missed the tournament the following year with an injury before her retirement from the sport to have a child. "She seems like she's even faster than what she was before," Williams said. "I was thinking that maybe I should have a baby and then I'll come back faster."

Williams has spoken kindly about Clijsters all week. "I have nothing but good feelings for her," she said. "She's so nice and just a really good-hearted individual. She takes tennis very seriously but takes life more seriously. I think we're pretty similar personality-wise." Serena admitted that it is tougher to play against someone like Clijsters than a player with the personality of a grump. But make no mistake, Williams will be ready for the Belgian. She smells the finish line.

The Oudin-mania that has overcome Flushing Meadows is understandable given she's fresh-faced, and an American at that. But take this to the bank: The winner of the Clijsters-Williams match on Friday will be the winner of the U.S. Open. After disposing of Pennetta, Williams entered the press room wearing a t-shirt that read SERVIN' UP SOME HOT DAMN.

"It means what it means," Serena explained.

It means don't bet against her. -- Richard Deitsch


Nadal runs past Monfils

Gael Monfils' feet meet before each serve. The left sets first, then the right a few inches beneath the baseline. He stiffens his legs, lobs the ball and leans into his striking motion with the racket slapping the ball. His next step is a panther-like pounce.

The Frenchman met his fleet-footed superior in Rafael Nadal Tuesday night. While Monfils slid into backhands and forehands alike, the Spaniard mirrored his movements. Nadal answered Monfils' power (130 mph serves) and deftness (drop shots at the net) with head-down determination. After dropping the first-set tiebreak, Nadal broke back to take the second -- withstanding a 31-stroke rally in the eighth game that ended with Monfils, hands on knees, hunched over and looking lame. He carried on. Nadal's fans screamed, Vamos! Monfils supporters yelled, Allez! But the race could have been called at that time. Nadal needed only two more sets to vanquish his foe, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

Both 23 years old, the two are separated by Nadal's years of Grand Slam experience. Monfils -- a French Open semifinalist last year -- failed to break through as Nadal guaranteed a return to familiar ground in the Open's quarterfinals.

After the match, with Monfils making his way into the tunnel and before Nadal could slip on his canary-yellow warmup jacket, a short-sleeved fan leapt onto the court and caught up to Nadal. The man hugged Nadal and said, "I love you". He had a camera in his left hand, but there would be no still shots taken. Not on the night Nadal raced past Monfils.-- Kevin Armstrong


Jon Wertheim's Day 9 observations

1. So it's not just the women's draw that can yield the unexpected. No. 16 Marin Cilic dominated second-seeded Andy Murray 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in the fourth round Wednesday. Taking nothing away from Cilic -- a future top five member with a gargantuan forehand -- Murray took a step back in playing weirdly timid tennis. Despite the strides he made this year and his titles at Masters Series events, he's underperformed in Slams, none more than this one. Up 5-4 in the first set, Murray lost seven straight games and never recovered.

I'm already getting questions about why Murray doesn't face the same scrutiny for coming up short in majors that Dinara Safina does. Well, Murray hasn't been ranked No. 1, the source of Safina's troubles; and his winning record against Roger Federer helps his credibility.

But the knives will come out after this one. A favorite going into the Australian Open, Murray fell to Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round, a loss that looks worse in retrospect. A favorite going into Wimbledon, Murray fell to a red-hot Andy Roddick in the semifinals. Disappointing. A favorite and second seed coming into the U.S. Open, he loses, somewhat shockingly, with a lacking effort against a guy outside the top 10. That's not going to cut it.

"I have to make sure I work on my game a lot to make sure that when I go into the Slams next year ... I'm ready to win one," Murray said.

2. The stats say Kim Clijsters was absent for more than two years before returning last month. But you'd never know it watching her cruise through this tournament, playing as well as ever. A wild card (WTA players can't be ranked until their third event), Clijsters rolled into the semis with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against Li Na. Perhaps the best athlete on the WTA Tour, Clijsters goes from offense to defense better than any player in the game. If semifinal opponent Serena Williams isn't on her game, Clijsters has a real shot to win this event for the second time.

3. While Clijsters was continuing her run and Murray was aborting his on the Big Stage, Juan Martin del Potro continued his tear in the boonies, hitting through Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Del Potro has won 12 of 13 sets he's played here, and is imparting the most authoritative tennis in the men's draw. With these benevolent conditions, which won't expose his suspect fitness, he has a real shot at the title. Maybe then we'll see him play on Arthur Ashe Stadium.


Oudin ousted ... from hotel room

Melanie Oudin's U.S. Open experience is just as much of a whirlwind off the court: She was booted Sunday from her Times Square hotel because her reservation was up, according to SportsBusiness Journal.


Novak Djokovic: fan favorite

It's official: Novak Djokovic is back in the good graces of U.S. Open fans. The fourth-seeded Djokovic fell out of favor last year over comments he made following a quarterfinal victory against Andy Roddick. But the master impersonator delighted the crowd last night -- not so much for his routine victory against Radek Stepanek but for what happened afterward.


Oudin causes a stir back home, too

Beneath seven flat-screen TVs and one large pulldown screen, members of the Racquet Club of the South [in Norcross, Ga.] gathered Monday to watch and celebrate one of their own.

Melanie Oudin, 17, of Marietta, Ga., has taken the tennis world by storm at the U.S. Open.

The 70th-ranked female has upset some of the sport's biggest female stars, including Russian aces Elena Dementieva (No. 4 seed) and Maria Sharapova (No. 29 seed, who has been ranked No. 1 worldwide in the past). And on Monday, she beat 13th seed Nadia Petrova in three sets.

Her latest win makes her the youngest American to make the quarterfinals since Serena Williams in 1999.

"It's still so surreal," said Anne Keeton, player liaison at the club, before the match started. "She sort of wins no matter what happens. She's there going for it and not giving up."

At this suburban club, co-owned and co-directed by Oudin's longtime coach, Brian de Villiers, articles about the local tennis phenom dot the walls. In the Grill, on a Bud Light message board above drink specials, are the words "Congratulations Melanie!" And a photo of her mixed in with other young players is posted near a downstairs fitness room.

Blending in with others and not retreating to "a Melanie court" is part of what makes her special, Keeton said. When there was a flood on some indoor courts this year, she was down there squeegeeing with everyone else.

To read the rest of the story, click here.


Three things to watch: Day 9's daily menu of must-see happenings at the U.S. Open (all times Eastern).

No. 18 Li Na vs. Kim Clijsters (12:30 p.m. at the earliest, Arthur Ashe Stadium): Clijsters left the sport in 2007, married, gave birth to a baby girl and returned less than a month ago in time to nab a wild-card invite to the U.S. Open. So how come she's not a clear underdog against the world No. 18 in the quarterfinals? Because Clijsters has already "upset" a half-dozen top 20 players over the past three weeks. She's won nine of 11 matches in all, with the two losses coming against current No. 1 Dinara Safina and former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic. Can she keep her charmed run alive and book a spot in the semis?

No. 10 Flavia Pennetta vs. No. 2 Serena Williams (7 p.m., Arthur Ashe Stadium): Even before the top names in the women's draw started going down like flies, Serena was already the prohibitive favorite to retain her U.S. Open title. Now that she's the lone seed from the top eight still standing, she's the no-brainer pick. But she'll get a stiff challenge from Pennetta, the tour veteran who in August became the first Italian woman to crack the top 10.

No. 13 Gael Monfils vs. No. 3 Rafael Nadal (night session, Arthur Ashe Stadium): Tournament director Jim Curley faces dozens of impossible decisions in the role of scheduling coordinator, but choosing these two crowd-pleasers for a night match on Ashe was not one of them. The New York fans have always gone gaga for Nadal's aggressive and tenacious playing style. And the elastic Monfils, one of the tour's brightest up-and-coming talents, would be a superstar in the U.S. if he came from Bakersfield and not Bobingy.-- Bryan Armen Graham

More from the U.S. Open ...

Jon Wertheim's Day 8 observations

1. The clock hasn't struck midnight on those awful Cinderella references. Nor on Melanie Oudin. The "Marietta Munchkin," as a fan nearby called her, labored on Labor Day and won her fourth match -- all against Russian opponents -- to reach the quarterfinals. The 17-year-old rallied after a 1-6 first set to beat Nadia Petrova, improving to 17-4 this year in three-set matches. (Far be it from us to generalize, but can the Russian Federation spring for a Tony Robbins session?)

Oudin is proving what the Williams sisters already know: If you don't fear losing, you have a great weapon in today's WTA Tour.

"It's like now I know that I do belong here," she said Monday after winning the last two sets 7-6 (2), 6-3 against the 13th-seeded Petrova. "This is what I want to do, and I can compete with these girls no matter who I'm playing. I have a chance against anyone."

She gets her next chance Wednesday, against either yet another Russian, 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, or ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki.

2. If you're going to turn a tournament into the theater of the absurd, you may as well so do spectacularly. Two of the top five women's seeds -- Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic -- were out by the second round. Maria Sharapova double-faulted 21 times in her third-round loss to Oudin, and Dinara Safina, the top seed, lost to a foe outside the top 50 (Petra Kvitova). And the hits keep coming. Vera (Crimea River) Zvonareva squandered a half-dozen match points and didn't win a game in the third set. Monday's first match saw Kataryna Bondarenko beat Gisela Dulko, the higher-ranked foe, 6-0, 6-0. Then another three-set win from Oudin, her third in a row. It's seldom pretty, but it's sure fun.

3. Among the women's soap-opera episodes, the Oudin cotillion, the upset of Andy Roddick, a topless Rafael Nadal and the return of Mama Mia Kim Clijsters, there's been scant room on stage for Roger Federer. But he keeps rolling, now three rounds from his sixth straight title after Monday's routine victory against Tommy Robredo. Nothing flashy, nothing dramatic, just winning.

For the rest of the column, click here.


Video: Jon Wertheim's U.S. Open tour


Melanie mania

Melanie Oudin was the Week 1 darling at the U.S. Open. (Check out's gallery of Oudin in action.) Here's a sampling of what the media (and her twin sister) are saying about the 17-year-old sensation from Marietta, Ga., who plays No. 13 Nadia Petrova in the fourth round today. (**UPDATE:Oudin rallied to beat Petrova in three sets.)

Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle: "Here's the really shocking part about Melanie Oudin's inspiring run through the U.S. Open women's draw: It gets easier now, at least on paper. It is entirely possible that Oudin could play Serena Williams in Saturday night's final, bringing American women's tennis into favorable new light."

Peter Bodo, "Oudin reminds me of the young Tracy Austin. She's comparably fiesty, although Austin's manner was more confrontational. Oudin's feet are as quick. Austin was more grooved and steady, but Oudin has more variety (her backhand, both the two-handed drive and the one-handed slice, is a versatile tool). Austin's serve was vulnerable, so is Oudin's; but like Austin, Oudin has the speed and quick reflexes to protect it better than you might expect. Oudin likes to get to the point -- not just on the court, where she prefers to probe and force the action, but in conversation. She may be wide-eyed and breathless in a typically teenaged way, but ask her a question and you get a direct, brief answer."

Oudin's twin sister, Katherine, writing in The New York Times: "Our grandmother used to say, 'the bigger they are, the harder they fall.' Melanie surely believes that now. Before my sister's match on Saturday, I could feel it in my bones that Melanie was going to take Maria Sharapova down. ... My fireball of a sister can do anything; she's unstoppable in my eyes."

Kristie Ackert, New York Daily News: "Melanie Oudin looked small and uncertain as she faced a growing crowd in the middle of Times Square Sunday morning. Less than 24 hours after the biggest win of her tennis career, the 17-year-old from Marietta, Ga., was dealing with a new reality. Tourists and passers-by began to gather on 43rd St. Photographers jostled to get a shot of the new teenaged sensation who had just knocked out a former U.S. Open champion. Tourists and photographers jostled and yelled as everyone seemed to call her name from every direction."


Three things to watch: Day 8's daily menu of must-see happenings at the U.S. Open (all times Eastern).

No. 12 Robin Soderling vs. No. 8 Nikolay Davydenko (3 p.m. at the earliest, Louis Armstrong Stadium): Soderling became a household name in May with that historic upset of then-No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the French Open. So far, it hasn't been a fluke: The 25-year-old Swede has made it past the third round in three straight majors after never once advancing that far before Paris. But Monday's challenge is a head-on collision with one of the hottest players in the field: The eighth-ranked Davydenko is the only player in the top half of the draw to not drop a set.

Melanie Oudin vs. No. 13 Nadia Petrova (day session, Arthur Ashe Stadium); No. 10 Fernando Verdasco vs. John Isner (3 p.m. at the earliest, Louis Armstrong Stadium): Young Americans take center stage on Labor Day starting with Oudin, the effervescent 17-year-old fresh off upsets of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova, who meets a higher-ranked Russian for the fourth time in four matches. Already the youngest American woman to reach the fourth round here since Serena Williams in 1999, Oudin has designs on an unlikely place in the quarters. Isner takes the court for the first time since Saturday's stirring five-set upset of Andy Roddick. His match with Verdasco is a matter of national pride, since a loss would ensure the first U.S. Open quarterfinals of the Open era without an American participant.

No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki vs. No. 6 Svetlana Kuznetsova (7 p.m., Arthur Ashe Stadium): The marquee women's matchup of Day 8 features one of the tour's fastest-rising stars and another trying to keep her name among the elite. The 19-year-old Wozniacki, the youngest member of the top 20, has already won three titles along with a tour-high 56 matches in 2009. Kuznetsova, the reigning French Open champion, is one of just three former U.S. Open champions left in the field (along with Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters). She can make it to her 12th Grand Slam quarterfinal with a victory, while Wozniacki can advance to her first.-- Bryan Armen Graham

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