U.S. Open Tennis 2010 Schedule: The 10 Key Storylines For Monday
Week One at Flushing Meadows is done and dusted, but some of the stories it created will resonate throughout the tournament. Indeed some will find their way into those features, years hence, that recall names and events from past U.S. Opens.
First, there were two champions unable to defend their U.S. titles.
Then some pretenders to their crowns felt the sharp dagger of early defeat: Tomas Berdych, Ernests Gulbis, Nikolay Davydenko, Marcos Baghdatis, and Andy Roddick all had expectations of going deep into Week Two.
Jelena Jankovic, Li Na, and Agnieszka Radwanska, all with top 10 rankings, all out before the fourth round.
Federer set Arthur Ashe alight with a repeat of his 2009 between-the-legs winner—but then, to cap it, the sizzling Francesca Schiavone produced an even better hot-dog, and rushed to the net to finish off the point with a volley.
A few players put the wind up the tournament directors who feared some of their big box office names would vanish by first Wednesday. Robin Soderling, Novak Djokovic, David Nalbandian, Fernando Verdasco, Gael Monfils, and Mardy Fish all faced five-set, first-round scares, but hung tough to stroll through to Round Four.
As if the record-breaking temperatures were not enough, Victoria Azarenka collapsed, in second-round drama, not from heat exhaustion but from a concussion sustained during practice.
And by Labor Day weekend, the heat may have dropped from the 100s to the 80s, but the winds whipped up a storm. The Stars and Stripes blew horizontal but the tennis balls flew in bizarre and unpredictable arcs.
Through rain and shine, shock and drama, the 256 men and women have evaporated down to just half their number.
As Week Two gets under way, the top half of the women’s draw and the bottom half of the men’s vie for their places in the quarterfinals.
Each match has its own fascination, but top of the list for the women has to be the battle of the blonds: Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova.
Maria Sharapova (14) vs. Caroline Wozniacki (1)
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Head-to-head—Sharapova leads 2-0
Sharapova: Age 23; 6ft 2in; career titles 22; 2010 titles 2
Wozniacki: Age 20; 5ft 10in; career titles 10; 2010 titles 4
This looked to be one of the stand-out matches of the tournament when the draw was first made.
Maria Sharapova, the towering Russian beauty, has been gradually working her way back from shoulder surgery that brought a premature halt to a flowering career. With three Grand Slams to her credit already, including the U.S. Open four years ago, it’s hard to forget that she is still only 23.
She has already won two titles this year and reached the finals of three more, including Cincinnati last month.
After a tough first-round three-setter, she has simply sailed to the fourth round in New York, looking powerful and with improved footwork, too. She dropped just three games in her last two matches.
But even in this form, she has a mountain to climb in the equally striking Wozniacki, who has lost just three games in all three of her matches—the fewest any player has lost to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam since Mary Pierce at the 1994 French Open.
Wozniacki also leads the WTA Tour with a 29-6 record on hard courts, and is this year’s US Open Series champion.
It will be close, but Wozniacki should have the edge.
Richard Gasquet (ATP 38) vs. Gael Monfils (17)
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Gasquet: Age 24; 6ft 1in; career titles 6; 2010 titles 1
Monfils: Age 24; 6ft 4in; career titles 2; 2010 titles 0
This match has the potential to be the men’s contest of second Monday. Both men bring buckets of natural talent and shot-making flair to their tennis. Both appear, thus far, to be playing some of their best tennis of the year.
They have each won twice against the other, every time on hard courts.
The final component that gives this match such great interest is the unpredictability of both men. Neither has fully reached the heights that many expected. But this year, things may be changing.
Gasquet has reached three finals, and won one title. Meanwhile, Monfils is showing a focus that has often been absent. He looks relaxed but also competitive. He has an athleticism that must be the envy of every man on the tour. He is also, currently, third in the list of ace-strikers in New York: 45 to date.
Monfils has reached the fourth round for the third consecutive year while Gasquet has failed to get beyond the first round over the same period. This time, though, both look keen to get a good deal further.
It’s simply too close to call.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (11) Vs. Dominika Cibulkova (WTA 45)
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Head-to-head—Kuznetsova leads 3-1
Kuznetsova: Age 25; 5ft 8in; career titles 13; 2010 titles 1
Cibulkova: Age 21; 5ft 3in; career titles 0; 2010 titles 0
The petite, pretty Cibulkova will have her work cut out against the experience and the growing confidence of Kuznetsova. The Slovakian has yet to play a seed and has been pushed to two three-setters already—though she sailed past the 148th ranked Lourdes Dominguez Lino, who had already reached further into the draw than in her 14 previous Slams.
Cibulkova’s only win over the Russian came in Sydney this year, but it is a different Kuznetsova who’s taken to the New York courts this year.
She has arrived with her first title of the year at San Diego and reached the semi-finals in Montreal. She has a new coach and a new fitness trainer and looks much more like the Kuznetsova who won the U.S. title in 2004 and was runner up in 2007.
Her ground-strokes look strong and secure, and her serve has improved—she is third in the women’s ace table with 15.
In beating the dangerous Kirilenko in the third round, Kuznetsova won her 100th match at a Grand Slam tournament, largely unheralded, but a reminder of her quality and experience.
Expect her to take her place in the quarterfinals.
Novak Djokovic (3) Vs. Mardy Fish (19)
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Head-to-head—Djokovic leads 4-0
Djokovic: Age 23; 6ft 2in; career titles 17; 2010 titles 1
Fish: Age 28; 6ft 2in; career titles 5; 2010 titles 2
This is a match that, on paper, looks decidedly one-sided. Djokovic has won all their encounters, dating back to this very tournament in 2006, and three of the four have been on hard courts.
But that is to underplay the form that the newly-modelled Fish has brought to his summer season. He finished third in the U.S. Open Series behind Andy Murray and Federer, has reached four finals in his past six tournaments, and climbed from world No. 108 in March to No. 21.
He is playing a style of tennis that suits the speed and heat of the Flushing courts: big serves, lots of volleying, crisp forehands. He currently tops the aces table for the tournament, too: 53.
But Djokovic likes the hard courts, and is working his way smoothly into form following some good warm-ups in Toronto and Cincinnati. He may have stumbled in the first round here, but since then he’s been getting sharper and the wins have been coming easier. He also lies second for serve percentage, 70, in the men’s tournament.
His confidence seems to be growing with his results, and if his schedule keeps to the cooler evenings, he will be one of the most formidable opponents in the draw.
Much may depend on that schedule and on how much energy Fish has after a long and successful summer, and two demanding five-setters already this week.
Despite the backing of the vociferous New York crowd, this one should be the Serb’s.
Kaia Kanepi (31) Vs. Yanina Wickmayer (15)
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Head-to-head—Kanepi leads 2-1
Kanepi: Age 25; 5ft 11in; career titles 1; 2010 titles 1
Wickmayer: Age 20; 6ft; career titles 3; 2010 titles 1
Kanepi is a big and powerful player with heavy, deep ground strokes rather reminiscent of Robin Soderling’s, and both of KK’s wins over the Belgian have been on hard courts. Like Soderling, too, she has matured into her career relatively late.
Kanepi's strong shot-making powered through the windy conditions against Jelena Jankovic in straight sets. Indeed the Estonian has only dropped one set in the tournament thus far. It’s the first time she’s reached the fourth round in New York, too, and her style of play certainly thrives on the fast courts. However, when it comes to Wickmayer, her movement may let her down.
The Belgian was last year’s WTF most improved player but she is unpredictable, and has made just one final this year, back in January.
She has failed to really shine of late, but her gutsy win against Patty Schnyder may boost her confidence. She certainly seemed to be hitting her shots with real power and penetration, and kept her focus in a tight final set tiebreaker.
This will be another close one: Wickmayer should just take it.
Roger Federer (2) Vs. Jurgen Melzer (13)
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Head-to-head—Federer leads 1-0
Federer: Age 29; 6ft 1in; career titles 63; 2010 titles 2
Melzer: Age 29; 6ft; career titles 2; 2010 titles 0
Extraordinary that two players who have been on the tour 11 years should meet for only the first time this year at Wimbledon. It’s not much to go on, but there will be few who don’t expect Federer to win this match comfortably.
The Swiss, despite a dip in form after his Australian title, seems to have prepared perfectly for his assault on his sixth U.S. title. He’s played just two tournaments since his Wimbledon quarterfinal loss: two Masters, two finals, and one title on the North American hard courts. What’s more, he hasn’t yet dropped a set in New York, even in the very tough winds of Saturday’s third round.
Federer also has more Grand Slam experience than almost any other player: This is his 44th consecutive major.
However, the Austrian is enjoying some good form this year, and reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
This is his first U.S. Open third round, but his first two matches went to five sets.
His big forehand will have to be at its very best if he is to make headway against Federer and, even then, he has a mountain to climb against a man in all-out attacking mode.
This may well be another straight-sets win for Federer.
Andrea Petkovic (WTA 38) Vs. Vera Zvonareva (8)
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Petkovic: Age 22; 5ft 11in; career titles 1; 2010 titles 0
Zvonareva: Age 25; 5ft 8in; career titles 10; 2010 titles 1
Zvonareva is on a good run of form and could, at last, fulfil her considerable promise—if only she can keep her cool.
The Russian—one of five to reach the fourth round—was a finalist in Montreal a fortnight ago, and also at Wimbledon. She has also won on clay this year in Charleston. With her win in Thailand in February, this makes her one of only four women to reach four finals this year.
Petkovic, in contrast, came to New York with poor results in Cincinnati, Montreal, and New Haven. She had a good win against the No. 17 seed, Nadia Petrova, in three sets in the first round, but had another three-setter in Round Two. Her cause was helped by a walkover in the third round, but against a Zvonareva, who at last seems to be maturing into her talent, it’s hard to see Petkovic getting any further.
Robin Soderling (5) Vs. Albert Montanes (21)
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Head-to-head—Soderling leads 2-1
Soderling: Age 26; 6ft 4in; career titles 5; 2010 titles 1
Montanes: Age 29; 5ft 8in; career titles 5; 2010 titles 2
On paper at least, this looks as though it should be a good match up. In practice, it has demolition written all over it.
Montanes has won in Stuttgart and Estoril this year: both on clay. In 2009, it was a similar story. In fact, all of Montanes nine finals, dating back to 2001, have come on clay.
This is his first time in the fourth round of a Major, helped by the retirement of his opponent in the third round.
Soderling had a shock in his first round here, pulling out a five-set win over a qualifier, but he had arrived in New York with very little match practice. Now that he has his feet on the fast courts of Flushing, he is warming up nicely.
Soderling has two Slam finals under his belt, he is enjoying his highest ever ranking, and is still on an upward trajectory. Much of that may be down to the calming effect of coach Magnus Norman. Soderling seems a more confident, more focused, player, reached his second Roland Garros final this year, and the Wimbledon quarterfinals. But New York suits his game the best—he gave Roger Federer a good run for his money in last year’s quarterfinal.
He is set to meet Federer in this year’s quarters again. Montanes would seem to have little hope of stopping him.
The Spanish Armada
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Much has been made of the numbers of French in the men’s draw: 14 made the cut for the opening round. Six made the third round. Two will fight it out for a quarterfinal place: Monfils and Gasquet.
But in fact, even more impressive is the number of Spaniards crowding the draw. They started with 13 but—and here’s the story—seven were seeded, and nine made it to the third round.
Already they are guaranteed a man in the semi-finals because the draw has played fast and loose with this fighting battalion. Rafael Nadal, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, and Fernando Verdasco fill the top quarter.
Tommy Robredo is their last hope in the second quarter of the draw.
Not a single one of the 13 fell into the third quarter, and only Montanes remains of the two in the bottom quarter. Soderling will probably ensure that the final does not match Spain against Spain.
However, the final could pitch Gasquet or Monfils against one of those for Spanish seeds. Reminders of a recent meeting in France in the Davis Cup spring to mind. Revenge could be sweet.
Let’s Hear It For The Doubles Stars
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The top men’s doubles seeds are the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike. They have dropped just nine games on their way to challenging for a quarterfinal place. They are aiming for their third U.S. title.
The top mixed doubles seeds are Bob Bryan and Liezel Huber. They are already in the quarterfinals. Bryan has won it three times before and will be helping Huber win her first.
The second seeds in the women’s doubles are Huber and Nadia Petrova. They have lost just 10 games to reach their shot at the quarterfinals. Huber won the title in 2008 and was runner-up last year.
Follow the progress of Huber and Bryan: they could both be double, as well as doubles, U.S. champions.