U.S. Open Tennis: Top American Men and Women Aiming for the Title

Thomas SkuzinskiContributor IIIAugust 16, 2011

U.S. Open Tennis: Top American Men and Women Aiming for the Title

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    The final weekend at Flushing Meadows has become less about the U.S. and more about the Open in the last 8 years. It's been one of the toughest stretches in the Open Era for American men and women, with only Andy Roddick (2003) and Serena Williams (2008) breaking up the drought.

    But what about 2011? Will the veterans still be the ones to fly the flag? Can any of the young guns make an impression? Let's look at the top 4 on each side and see how far they can go.

Serena Is Head and Shoulders Above the Rest

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    Serena has won three U.S. Opens, and only once did she win a warm-up North American hard-court tournament heading into New York (that was Los Angeles in 1999). In 2011, she has two titles already and might nab a third in Cincinnati. Serena's serve and movement are near 100 percent, and her mental and tactical prowess almost seem better than before.

    The only x-factor for Serena in 2011 is whether she can win a grand slam when dominating in the lead-up tournaments. While she needed match play to get in fighting form for Flushing Meadows, could she burn out from too much of a good thing? Serena said this week that she's never tried being a really fit player. If she can do it for even for a single season and still peak at the Slams, watch out.

    Likely result: Champion. 

Venus Williams Makes One Last Deep Run

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    Venus Williams has had a non-summer, with a viral infection keeping her out of Toronto and now Cincinnati. Last year, Venus also skipped the lead-up hard-court series but still managed to make the semifinals—losing to Clijsters—because of her excellent year and No. 3 seeding.

    Venus has tended to perform at the U.S. Open to the level of her seeding. She's also tended to do best when she has match play under her belt throughout the season. With a world ranking just outside the top 32, minimal match play the last few months, and the toll of an infection, you'd have to think she'd bow out in the third round. But she must be thinking that this is her last year to make a big impression in New York, especially with the usual contenders (except her sister) looking vulnerable. Retirement can be a big motivator for former champions. 

    Likely result: Quarterfinals.

Mattek-Sands: Can She Get Headlines for Her Tennis?

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    Bethanie Mattek-Sands knows how to work tennis balls into her fashion (see 2011 Wimbledon, if you must), but can she work them into a deep grand slam run? All signs this year pointed to "yes" until a shoulder tear derailed her warm-up hard-court season. She's questionable for the Open, but if she heals by then, she could play her way into a decent showing on her favorite surface.

    Playing doubles might also help, assuming she enters both events given her doubles prowess. She may get just barely seeded, which should prevent an early-round exit.

    Likely result: Fourth round (if she plays). 

The Youth Movement?

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    The WTA has been a veteran's sport the last few years, and the same has been true in the U.S. for a while, too. Christina McHale, Irina Falconi, Coco Vandeweghe, Alison Riske, Madison Brengle, Beatrice Capra—at one time or another each of them has been touted as a potential "next big thing."  Melanie Oudin and Vania King were the "next big thing" from the last few years but seem to be already fading (except for King's doubles work).

    But without consistency, a big weapon, or (ideally) both, none of them has broken through in a big way. McHale, assuming she can stay mentally tough and draw on crowd support, has enough of an all-around game on a good day to scalp several of the top 50. A favorable draw and some luck could see her get through a few rounds.

    Likely result: McHale makes the third round. 

Fish Swims Upstream to the Second Week

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    With a name like Fish, you have to expect corny headlines. But these days, you can also expect going deep or winning a lot of tournaments. Djokovic isn't the only tennis star people can look to for the inspiration to get fit. Fish has turned around a "what if?" career, is solidly in the top 10, and now stands poised to make a deep run at his home tournament. He's fit, has a serve with great hidden variety, and seems less prone to mentally going away (see the run in Montreal last week).

    Some still expect the top 4 to make the semis, but Nadal has looked rattled and a hair slower, Federer can now be hit off the court by some of the big sluggers on their best days, and Murray....well, Murray is Murray. One of them will falter, leaving an opening for Fish to surprise.

    Likely result: Semifinals, bolstered by great crowd support.

Rough Road for Roddick

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    Roddick would probably like to forget 2011, and most of 2010 for that matter. He hasn't reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2010 Australian Open and coming off injury and an early exit in Cincinnati, his game is looking vulnerable. He'll likely be seeded in the 20s, which will help him survive a couple rounds but not much more than that. In his current form his chances of taking down a solid top 20 player, or even a rising top 50 player, are 50/50 at best.

    Roddick tends to have a tough time playing tactically through frustration, but maybe the crowd can give him the boost he needs.

    Likely result: Fourth round.

When Will John Isner Step Up?

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    A casual fan knows Isner for two things: that endless first-round match against Mahut at 2010's Wimbledon, and a very reliable, powerful serve. What would surprise many is that the guy has never made it past the fourth round of a major. His game has not quite gelled, but he has surprisingly good movement for a big guy (see the two-set lead against Nadal at this year's Roland Garros), decent net feel, and mostly reliable groundstrokes.

    The problems? He hasn't yet figured out which tactics go with which situation, especially in big moments, and his endurance isn't enough to carry him through more than four or five matches. Isner needs a breakthrough soon, and the U.S. Open has been his best grand slam by far, but I'm guessing his time for a deep run is in 2012 or 2013.

    Likely result: Fourth round. 

Best of the Rest

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    The rest of the men in the top 100 are a collection of wily veterans (Bogomolov Jr., Blake, Russell), young guns (Harrison, Young), and mid-career guys (Sweeting, Querrey).

    Count Querrey out early given his lack of match play from elbow surgery. Ditto with Russell and Blake, who have had spotty seasons. Young is an enigma, because you simply never know which version will show up to play.

    That leaves Sweeting, Bogomolov Jr., and Harrison. Sweeting doesn't seem ready for prime time yet (and might never be), and should make it to the second round. Bogomolov Jr. has had a great season, though, and is arguably at the peak of his abilities. Put him into the third round. I'm expecting one step further for Harrison. He can be overconfident and overambitious in his shot choices, but that self-belief is exactly what you want from a future top 10 player.

    Likely result: Fourth round for Ryan Harrison.

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