Rafael Nadal and 10 Players Who Could Clean Up on the Hard Courts

Monica FritschCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2011

Rafael Nadal and 10 Players Who Could Clean Up on the Hard Courts

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    The Olympus U.S. Open Series is in its third week and the summer hard-court season is heating up.

    Top players such as Caroline Wozniacki, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer won't make an appearance until the Rogers Masters and Rogers Cup tournaments in Montreal and Toronto. However, the unexpected players are making their mark on the professional tennis scene already this summer.

    Mardy Fish won the first event in the Olympus U.S. Open Series, defending his singles title in Atlanta. Last week, he was a finalist at the Farmer's Classic in Los Angeles.

    Serena Williams made her return to professional tennis this summer at Wimbledon. She didn't take the title there, but she did take the title at the Bank of the West Classic on Sunday. 

    The player entry list for the wheelchair divisions came out yesterday, with the usual suspects leading the pack. Will defending champions Shingo Kunieda and Esther Vergeer be able to claim the title again?

    With only a few weeks to go until the year's final major, the players of the ATP World Tour and WTA Tour will be fighting positions among the game's elite. 

Novak Djokovic

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    The 2011 season has by far been the best Novak Djokovic has had in his career. The only match he's lost was at the French Open to Roger Federer.

    With that record, along with being ranked No. 1 on the ATP World Tour and a long rest between tournaments, it would be hard to bet against him once he gets to Montreal, Cincinnati and New York later this month.

    Djokovic is no stranger to success on the hard courts. He's a two-time U.S. Open finalist and has won 17 singles titles on the surface, according to his ATP World Tour profile.

Kim Clijsters

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    Kim Clijsters is the two-time defending U.S. Open women's singles champion. She also won the title in 2005.

    Clijsters is currently ranked No. 2 on the WTA Tour. She is not like any other player on a hard court, as she slides around as if she's on clay. After coming back from retirement in 2009, she is more mentally tough and plays to win.

    Clijsters hasn't played a Grand Slam match since she lost in the second round of the French Open. She then sustained an ankle injury that kept her out of Wimbledon.

    She will be hoping to regain her Grand Slam success from earlier in the season, when she claimed the women's singles title at the Australian Open.  

Bob and Mike Bryan

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    There will be a lot on the line for Bob and Mike Bryan at this year's U.S. Open. They are one major win away from breaking the Grand Slam record held by Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde. As usual, they will be the favorites to win the men's doubles title in New York.

    The twins from Camarillo are currently playing their first Olympus U.S. Open Series tournament in Washington D.C.

    The Bryans are the defending champions at the Rogers Cup, Western and Southern Open and the U.S. Open. They know how to win on the hard courts of North America.

Maria Sharapova

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    Maria Sharapova's most recent attempt at another hard-court title ended in the quarterfinals. The comprehensive loss came at the hands of the 2011 "comeback kid," Serena Williams. Both Sharapova and Williams have an intense will to win, so it could've gone either way.

    According to her WTA Tour profile, Sharapova last won the U.S. Open women's singles title in 2006. She has had hard-court success since then, though. Most recently, she was the runner-up at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. It was her first trip to the Queen City.

Serena Williams

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    Serena Williams won the title at the Bank of the West Classic on Sunday. Williams made a return to tennis at Wimbledon, after being gone for nearly a year due to a foot injury and a pulmonary embolism.

    Williams wasn't expected to make a deep run in a tournament so soon into her comeback, let alone win one.

    With that in mind, she always will be one of the best competitors on the WTA Tour. She will always be a contender for major titles. The last time Williams played at the U.S. Open, she won the doubles title with her sister, Venus. However, her singles bid ended in the 2009 semifinals against Kim Clijsters. She was defaulted for threatening a lineswoman.

    Williams will look to regain the form she had at the 2009 U.S. Open, minus the arguments.

Shingo Kunieda

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    Shingo Kunieda of Japan is the No. 1 in the world in men's singles wheelchair tennis. He will be the top seed at the 2011 U.S. Open, taking September 8-11.

    This year, he has a record of 25-1.

    Kunieda will be the clear favorite heading into Flushing Meadows, where he is the three-time defending champion. The tournament wasn't held in 2008 due to the Paralympic Games. 

Esther Vergeer

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    What is there to say about a woman that has won 420 consecutive matches? To call Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands the favorite to dominate the hard courts this summer is a major understatement.

    She's ranked No. 1 in women's singles and No. 3 in doubles. She's coached by a name recognizable to able-bodied tennis, Sven Groeneveld.

    Vergeer is the defending champion at the U.S. Open in singles and doubles. Don't expect that to change anytime soon.

Roger Federer

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    Roger Federer isn't as dominant as he used to be. However, he's still a major threat to win Grand Slam titles.

    He plays particularly well during the summer hard-court season. In 2010, he was a finalist at the Rogers Masters and winner at the Western and Southern Open. At the U.S. Open, he fell to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.

    He's won 45 singles titles on hard courts, so even though he's ranked No. 3 and not talked about as much in 2011, look for him to be a contender at the U.S. Open.

Mardy Fish

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    Mardy Fish is currently in first place on the men's side of the Olympus U.S. Open Series. He defended his title in Atlanta and was a finalist on Sunday, in Los Angeles.

    Fish is currently the top-ranked American man in singles on the ATP World Tour, at No. 8.

    Hard courts are Fish's best surface. In 2010, he was a finalist at the Western and Southern Open, a feat he also accomplished in 2003. In 2008, he was a finalist at the Masters 1000 tournament in Indian Wells. Fish has six career singles titles and eight doubles titles, according to his ATP World Tour profile.