As both a former player and coach, ESPN2 analyst Brad Gilbert has a rare perspective on the state of tennis entering the 2012 U.S. Open. On the men's side, his contenders include the usual suspects in Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, plus an inspired Andy Murray. The women's draw, however, is much less certain.
I spoke to Gilbert via ESPN conference call last Wednesday just before he headed to New York, and he talked about both the men's and women's side of the tournament.
Is Federer the man to beat at the U.S. Open?
Gilbert: "First of all, I like Fed's chances here in New York. He's the youngest 31-year-old ever, and I think he can take a lot of stock in what Andre [Agassi] did about six or seven years ago, seeing somebody that he can remember that played great until he was 35. He takes amazing, good care of his body, and he never seems to get injured. His team does a great job of keeping him ready, and he paces himself unbelievably on the schedule, doesn't overplay and seems to know when to take breaks.
We can't forget that Djokovic is the defending U.S. Open Champion. He loves playing at the Open, and the fans like him as well, so he will be a force. Then you have Murray, who has a new found confidence and comes to New York with the momentum of an Olympic win over Fed to get the gold medal.. So before you look at anyone else, these three are the class of the field, with Fed at the top of that short list."
How about the women's side?
Will Serena Williams win the U.S. Open?
Gilbert: "I think that my partner on ESPN, Chris Evert, said it best, and I agree that on the women's side it is wide open.The favorite has to be Serena Williams, who loves playing at the U.S. Open and comes to New York with a Wimbledon title and Olympic Gold Medal in her bag. So clearly she has the hot hand. I think Maria Sharapova is a close second but they are far from locks.
The question is can Serena keep a high level of tennis up over a two week period? The danger is she can at times be her own worst opponent. She's going to have to work hard the next two weeks because there are a lot of eager players out there ready to beat her. The list is impressive with Sharapova, Li Na, and we haven't mentioned the defending champion Samantha Stosur. You have to toss into the mix Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and how about the world number one Victoria Azarenka. That is a very deep pool of women all capable of winning.
You also can't rule out Kim Clijsters, playing her last Open. She's going to have some momentum going in. So to sum it up, Serena can be the most dominant woman in tennis, and she loves New York. But a win here won't come easy."
All quotes used in this story were obtained first hand via a phone interview done last week through ESPN.