Friday, August 25, 2006

Beginning Monday, the U.S. Open!

Justine Henin-Hardenne has been in every
Grand Slam final so far this year

Svetlana Kuznetsova--can she win another U.S. Open?

The last Grand Slam of the year starts Monday in Flushing Meadows, New York. This year's U.S. Open has some special features: a ceremony observing the USTA National Tennis Center's new name, a farewell to Andre Agassi, and a final farewell to Martina Navratilova. Both Navratilova and Don Budge will be inducted into the Court of Champions.

The U.S. Open Series winners are eligible to win bonus money at the U.S. Open, depending on how well they do. This year's WTA winner is Ana Ivanovic.

Sadly, last year's U.S. Open winner, Kim Clijsters, will not be in New York. Clijsters has injured the wrist that she injured in 2004, an injury which kept her out for most of the season and threatened to take her out of tennis altogether. And last year's finalist, Mary Pierce has been out much of this year with an injury, also. She will play at the Open, but she isn't expected to get very far. Venus Williams, also suffering with a wrist injury, has withdrawn from the tournament.

Players to watch:

Martina Hingis
Hingis's comeback has been so successful, she is already back in the top 10 and is therefore seeded at the Open, which is a big advantage. She played terribly against Ivanovic in the Rogers Cup final, however, and her second serve is still unbelievably bad (her coach says both her serves are much better during practice). Hingis needs to improve her first serve, get a second serve that isn't a joke, and use that amazing backhand down the line all the time, like she used to. If she can make these changes at the U.S. Open, she can have a great run. If not, she will not be a real contender. (I should add that Martina, unfortunately, has not consulted me.)

Nicole Vaidisova
The phenom who has cracked the top 10 stands a good chance of doing well on the world's biggest hard court. She has the power and the precision, but there is still some question as to whether she has the mental toughness to endure the final rounds of a Slam.

Ana Ivanovic
Ivanovic has always had the serve and the court sense to be a top player, but she was very sluggish around the court, and therefore incapable of performing defensively. She hit a slump and looked like as though she might end up just an almot-phenom. But with her new coach, that has changed. Ivanovic is moving pretty well, and she has the forehand from hell.

Shahar Peer
Confident, big-hitting Peer knows how to put a game together and how to keep her head together. She is headed for a breakthrough of some kind, and it could very well occur at the Open.

Jelena Jankovic
Like Ivanovic, Jankovic showed great promise, but then slumped. It didn't help that she had a debilitating virus, or that she has chosen to go to college while she plays professional tennis. This summer, however, Jankovic has shown us some entertaining and inventive tennis, and she now looks to be a contender again, though I think she will probably have to choose between tennis and college. Jankovic also has a great court personality and is a lot of fun to watch.

Anna Chakvetadze
Chakvetadze is another player who looked promising, then slumped, and now is back again with some strong tennis. She has had a really good hardcourt season and could cause some trouble at the Open. However, Chakvetadze has some maturing to do. Until she can get better control of her emotions, she cannot compete that well on a big stage.

Serena Williams
Williams isn't seeded for this Open because she was out for so long with injuries. However, she is playing well, and can eliminate some big players in early rounds.

The contenders:

Justine Henin-Hardenne
The remarkably talented Belgian player won the U.S. Open in 2003, but in her other tries, she has not done that well. All the same, her all-court tennis is always a threat. Henin-Hardenne won the French Open this year, and was a finalist in both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. There is every reason to believe she can win her second 2006 Slam in New York.

Amelie Mauresmo
World number one Mauresmo finally broke through this year and won two Grand Slams. Her confidence level, always her biggest weakness, has taken a big turn, and now she comes onto the court as a champion. Hardcourts have never been her strength, but this is a new Mauresmo, and she is definitely a contender.

Maria Sharapova
Tennis Magazine, Tracy Austin and Jon Wertheim have picked Sharapova to win this year's U.S. Open. Though it is tempting to see Sharapova as just a powerful ball-whacker, there really is more to her game than that. She has precision, and she anticipates extremely well. This summer, she has used her outstanding serve to her full advantage, and she is in a good position to take the whole thing.

Lindsay Davenport
I had no idea I would be placing Davenport, who has been out five months with injuries, on this list. But last night, at the Pilot Pen tournament, she beat Mauresmo, and did it with such precision that I now see her as a possible to win the Open. In her match last night, Davenport was superb at the net, an area which has generally been outside of her comfort level. I would love to see Lindsay get her fourth Grand Slam--finally.

Elena Dementieva
Dementieva has come very close, but has never won a Slam. Her poor serve has been the major factor in keeping her from holding a big trophy. But Dementieva's serve has improved, and her defensive play, like that of Kim Clijsters, is almost untouchable. Dementieva is due a Slam, and she is just wonderful on the hardcourts, so this could be her chance.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
The 2004 U.S. Open winner had a bad 2005, but has come back rather well this year. She likes hardcourts, has a big serve, and can really move around on the court. Kuznetsova can be a head case from time to time, but if she can keep the negativity in check, she has a chance to repeat her Slam win in New York.


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