Pilot Pen Tennis—New Haven, Connecticut
The final week of the US Open Olympus Series will feature one of only four events on the calender year where both men and women compete at the same event. While the Pilot Pen tournament is usually sparse in star power due to the US Open taking place the very next week, this year's event will feature hometown hero James Blake, and World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki.
With Blake suffering from various injuries throughout the season, and Wozniacki becoming the forerunner favorite at the US Open with the withdrawals of Serena Williams and Justine Henin, the 48-player men's field and the 30-draw women's field will provide a final indicator towards the favorites heading into New York.
There are no Top 10 players taking part in the men's field this year, with Marcos Baghdatis, Thomaz Bellucci, Fernando Gonzalez, and Mardy Fish rounding out the top four seeds. Other notables players to watch out for in New Haven will be No. 5 seed Andrey Golubev, No. 7 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov, Taylor Dent, and No. 11 seed Xavier Malisse.
Fish could be coming in fatigued after his world-beater effort in Cincinnati, and his productivity at the event could be limited. The same could be said for Baghdatis, who defeated Rafael Nadal during his semifinal march in Ohio. Fernando Gonzalez will see his first action since injuring his knee at the French Open, and although he will be eager to put forth a good effort, I wouldn't expect much from the swashbuckling Chilean.
The men's field will likely be dominated by a multitude of upsets, and it would be wise to either choose a few of the lower ranked seeded players, or an aspiring American to make some noise.
Dolgopolov may just be the seeded player to look at this week, while Taylor Dent's menacing serve could provide him with a stellar result. Malisse has also been playing some great ball as of late, and the talented Belgium remains one of the elite ball-strikers on the circuit.
When looking through the top half of the draw, I'd say that a healthy Fish could continue his dominance, but one has to consider that he may pull out and conserve his energy for New York. Baghdatis remain the logic favorite to reach the semifinals, but he hasn't shown the ability to provide solid back-to-back weeks on Tour.
In saying that, I like the chances of Dent and Thiemo de Bakker to advance to the semifinals, with the young Dutch player reaching his first Tour-level final.
The bottom half of the draw would likely carry the upset trend, and that could result in a fortunate week for Dolgopolov and Malisse. Both players can hit any shot in the book, and considering their flat hit strokes, a semifinal showdown is not out of the question. Blake's campaign will be closely monitored, but his form as of late has been quite miserable. Although everyone on the campus of Yale would like to see Blake provide a deep run, I have a feeling that his week could end after his first or second round match.
Viktor Troicki is another powerful hard court player to watch for, and his draw does seem rewarding until a potential third-round contest against Dolgopolov. No. 2 seed Bellucci always gives 100 percent when he's on-court, but his western forehand and deep court positioning will be exposed early on.
Denis Istomin has picked up his level of play this year, and he could be in line for a few upsets. He did suffer an injury in his second round contest against Roger Federer last week, and his movement could still be hindered. I still like Malisse and Dolgopolov to come through in this half of the draw, with the veteran Belgium defeating de Bakker in the final.
Onto the women's field which will be highlighted by four Top 10 players. While Wozniacki put forth a confident performance in Montreal, I see no reason for her to stop in New Haven. The Dane is super fit, and does hold the ability to grind through players like no one else on Tour. Her game is full of junk balls and moon balls, but there's no denying her effectiveness on court. Wozniacki could face Melanie Oudin in her second round match, a contest that would prove to be more important to the young American than the defending champ.
Oudin hasn't fulfilled her potential since setting the tennis world on its head last year at the US Open. On the eve of her return to New York, Oudin would be best served to come up with a compelling performance in New Haven, in order to alleviate the pressures of her upcoming Flushing Meadows campaign. Based on what I've seen from Oudin as of late, I think it's safe to say that she'll have to "believe" and then some in order to recreate her magic of a year ago.
Wozniacki could face No. 4 seed Elena Dementieva or No. 6 seed Marion Bartoli in the semifinals, with either Flavia Pennetta or Alisa Kleybanova in the quarterfinals. Bartoli all but choked her chances away from a third set with Victoria Azarenka in Montreal last week, but I did appreciate her fighting spirit, and that should pay off for her in the coming weeks.
Dementieva has improved her serve a great deal over the past year, but she still remains short on match play, and that could cost her against the top seeded Dane.
All in all, I like what Wozniacki is currently bringing to the court, and a finals appearance in New Haven seems likely.
The bottom half of the draw will feature this year's French Open champion and finalist. While Francesca Schiavone managed to pick up her level of play in Montreal last week, Sam Stosur was forced to pull out of the event with an injury. Stosur has encountered much better success than Schiavone since the Roland Garros final, but her form on hard-courts hasn't matched her proficiency on the clay.
Stosur is seeded No. 2 this week in New Haven, and she could get a test right out of the gate against Jie Zheng. No. 8 seed Nadia Petrova could loom as a potential quarterfinal opponent for Stosur, a matchup that could spell the end of the Australian's week. Petrova hasn't quite been at her best this season, but her intense baseline driven game can upset any woman in the world.
With US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer in this section, Schiavone could be dusted in the quarterfinal round. The trouble for Schiavone remains that former world No. 1 Dinara Safina will be her first-round opponent. The two slugged out a third-round meeting in Canada last week, a match that Schiavone sliced her way to victory. Something tells me though, that Safina won't lose two straight matches against the Italian.
While Maria Kirilenko and Daniela Hantuchova also lurk in this section, I'd say that Wickmayer and Petrova remain the two players due for a big result. However, although I'm taking Petrova to reach the finals, I still like Wozniacki to ride her wave of confidence into the US Open with a victory in Connecticut.