Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top 5 reasons why I’m psyched about the US Open

I have had a lot on my plate lately, which is why I never got a chance to write proper previews for the Open, however I did manage to catch some of the first round matches of the men’s singles draw which got me psyched about what’s to come in the 2009 US Open.

Things I’m psyched about:

#1 – The possibility of Rafa completing a career slam


It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this season is far from a great one for Rafael Nadal, who despite becoming the first Spaniard ever to win the Australian Open title at the start of this season, has failed to defend his Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles and was sidelined for over 2 months with a recurring knee injury. And just like that, Rafa has found himself in the 3rd quarter of the draw at the US Open with a number 3 lying next to his name, for the first time since July 2005.

So even though he repeatedly announced in his press conference on Tuesday, that he is 100% fit to play, many are skeptic of how well he can do at the US Open these couple of weeks. Which got me thinking that such skepticism from the media and the public could be just the kind of motivation the world number 3 needs to step up and prove everyone wrong. Kinda like what Federer did last year at the same event.

Another incentive with a much higher value to the Spaniard could be the fact that if Rafa wins the US Open, he could complete a career slam, having previously captured the other 3 Grand Slams (4 French Opens, 1 Wimbledon, 1 Aussie Open). A feat that has only been achieved by only 6 other players in the history of tennis, and one that Roger Federer only managed to accomplish last June in Paris.

So despite the ranking drop, the recent injury and the lack of match play, Rafa still has what it takes to win the Open, a heart of an ultimate competitor and the motivation to join the all time greats.

#2 – The competition between the top 4, should they meet in the semis

This past month, we were blessed with some great matchups in the two Masters Series events leading up to the Open. The top 8 seeds featured in the Montreal quarters, while the top 4 seeds faced off in the Cincy semis, and boy did it get ruthless.

The unprecedented changes that took place in the top 4 positions in the rankings this year have spiced up the tour big time and each player has a hell of a lot of incentive to try and grab this final Major of the year.

Roger Federer will be looking to add a 16th Grand Slam title to his name and a 6th straight US Open title. Nadal will be looking to complete a career slam, silence the concerns about his fitness and try to climb to the top of the rankings once again. Murray is looking to capture a first and long overdue Grand Slam title and is hoping to inch closer to Federer in the rankings. As for Novak Djokovic, the world number 4 has been somewhat outside the spotlight this year, and wants to prove to everyone he still belongs in the same league as Federer, Murray and Rafa. The former Australian Open champion will be looking to add a second Grand Slam title to his tally and has had a great preparation for the Open reaching the quarters in Montreal, and the final in Cincy (beat Rafa in the semis).

So if all that doesn’t warrant some incredible competition between those 4 players, I don’t what does. If the top 4 players reach the semis in the US Open next week (Federer to face Djokovic, Rafa to face Murray), we should expect nothing short of a bloodbath. I think the one player who could spoil this prospect is Andy Roddick, who Djokovic must surpass first in order to make the semis.

I do realize I am way ahead of myself since we’re only in the 2nd round but a girl can dream right?!?!

#3 – The possibility of a Murray-Del Potro quarterfinal

The reason I would be looking forward to a matchup like this is because I vividly remember their quarterfinal at the US Open last year, which was one of the best matches I have had the privilege of watching during the whole tournament, and one which Andy Murray ended up winning 7-6(2), 7-6(1), 4-6, 7-5.

Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro have played each other 5 times in less than 18 months. They are known to be far from friends on tour with some silly confrontations happening between them last year, and have already played each other 3 times this year (Murray leads 4-1 all-time, and 2-1 in 2009).

Heading into The Open, Murray denied Del Potro a chance of winning his first Masters Series title when he beat the Argentine in the Montreal final last month. Both players exchanged tie-break sets in that final, before Murray cruised to win the decider 6-1. But despite the defeat, Del Potro travelled to New York with lots of confidence from winning a title in Washington and beating the likes of Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick en route to his final showing in Montreal.

Needless to say Murray should have just as much confidence (if not more) in the US Open this fortnight. With a title in Montreal and a semifinal appearance in Cincy, the new world number 2 will be just as ready as JMDP should they meet in the quarters.

Murray’s part of the draw leading up to the quarters has opened up nicely for the Scotsman as Ivo Karlovic, Feliciano Lopez and Stanislas Wawrinka have all suffered upsets and are no longer possible opponents, while Del Potro should have to overcome the likes of a rejuvenated Juan Carlos Ferrero, or ninth seed Gilles Simon before making the quarters.

#4 – Seeing how far Andy Roddick can go

I think everyone wants to see how Andy Roddick will bounce back from that heartbreaking Wimbledon defeat last July. He hasn’t won a title since, but he has reached the Washington final and the Montreal semis (beat Djokovic in quarters).

What Roddick showed us at Wimbledon this year is that he was barely an inch away from winning another Grand Slam, and losing that one-slam-wonder title that has been haunting him since his 2003 US Open triumph.

He changed his physique, came more to the net, worked on his volleys, improved his movement on court and of course his serve remains as fierce as ever. So does that make the world number 5 a top contender for the 2009 US Open title? He may be a contender but not a top one. The American is just simply unlucky to share the field with the likes of Federer, Murray, Nadal and Djokovic. But still, I’m interested to see if he has got more in his tank that can take him a step further than he has gone at Wimbledon.

#5 – Checking out the up-and-comers and the veterans

Okay I wouldn’t be a true tennis fan if all I cared about were the people at the very top. There are certainly countless reasons why I stay glued to my TV for two weeks watching a tournament that is taking place in a city with a 6 hour time zone difference.

One of my favorite experiences when I went to Wimbledon this summer was watching Juan Carlos Ferrero easing past Gilles Simon in the fourth round. It’s incredible how Ferrero has managed to climb his way back into the world’s top 30 and at 29 years old, is competing with all the youngsters without a care in the world.

Ferrero, who was number 1 in the world in 2003, was forced to play the qualifying rounds in Montreal last month; something that didn’t deter him from reaching the last 16, beating Lleyton Hewitt and Gael Monfils, before falling to Murray.

Besides Ferrero, Hewitt and Tommy Haas have also bounced back this season, recording some amazing results as they all managed to grab seedings in the US Open (Haas 20, Ferrero 24, Hewitt 31). Those three players were all in the world’s top 2 at some point in time and each one slipped down the rankings for different reasons, but they are all back in the top 32 now and are nothing but inspiring to watch.

They have all won their first round matches and it seems that Hewitt is the unluckiest of them all, as he potentially has Federer in the 3rd round.

As for the up-and-comers, I am looking forward to watch US Open Series champion, Sam Querrey and rising Frenchman Josselin Ouanna.

We should expect a good US Open from Querrey, who is playing with lots of confidence and the support from the home crowd. I actually think he can reach the quarters and face Federer, especially that his potential 4th round opponent, Nikolay Davydenko, just lost to the American in New Haven last week.

As for Ouanna, I realize we haven’t seen him since the French Open third round, but I liked what I saw back then and when I saw that he won his first round match against Rajeev Ram yesterday, and that his next opponent is Fernando Gonzalez (who beat Ouanna at Roland Garros this year), I figured I must check out the Frenchman’s skills on hard courts.

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