September 5, 2010

Time-Out: U.S. Open Reassessment

So I stink at this game -- really, really stink.

Sure, some of my picks to make the semis are still alive and more than kicking, but a bunch more have already fallen by the wayside -- and some a lot earlier than I would've thought. And, I gotta say, I'm nothing short of shocked that a couple are still standing.

Let's start with the men, who've only just wrapped up their third rounds today. We shouldn't be too surprised that both top-seeded Rafael Nadal and five-time champion Roger Federer have advanced this far, though I am somewhat saddened that my choice for the top quarter, David Nalbandian, succumbed in four sets earlier on Sunday to Fernando Verdasco. That leaves four Spaniards vying for the first semifinal spot, and all have faced challenges before eventually emerging triumphant. At this point, I have to give Rafa the advantage, but it sure would be nice to see him and Verdasco fight it out again.

Roger's still looking stunning in his bid to make up for that devastating loss in the finals last year, but he also seems primed for another quarterfinal rematch with Robin Soderling. Though the #5 seed was nearly eliminated in the first round, he rebounded to take out his next two opponents without dropping a set. And after his amazing win in Paris, he might have a bit more confidence, should the chance to face Fed in a Slam arise again. And while Jurgen Melzer and Albert Montanes might put up their best efforts to stop that eventual clash, I have to believe we're in for the inevitable.

While the top seeds have advanced without much drama, I have to say the run of Novak Djokovic did leave me a little winded. The runner-up here in 2007 faced his biggest challenge against countryman Viktor Troicki in the first round, battling through extreme heat and five sets. But he rolled over Philipp Petzschner in the second and my dear James Blake in the third. He'll next face red-hot Mardy Fish, a man he's beaten in their last four meetings, though I think this time might be different. Fish has gotten through a couple tough matches, and might have what it takes to pull off the upset. If he does, he'll face one of two Frenchman -- Gael Monfils who took out the dude who took out the dude I'd picked for this quarter, or Richard Gasquet, a solid hitter on his own comeback trail. I'm still putting my money on the American, but I might be reducing the size of the wager.

The biggest shock in the men's draw came earlier this evening when Andy Murray, my reluctant favorite for the title, was eliminated by Stanislas Wawrinka in just four sets. That certainly opens the door for Sam Querrey to make his deepest run here, or dark horse Mikhail Youzhny, who withstood big-serving John Isner to make the fourth round. Somehow, my most decisive quarter became the one that's most up in the air, and I'd love to see Querrey make the run for the Americans.

Turning to the ladies, top seeded Caroline Wozniacki has been emphatic in her goal of proving she deserves her ranking. Through three rounds she's only lost three games, though she hasn't yet faced a player in the top seventy. Her next opponent, Maria Sharapova had an ever-so-slightly tougher draw, and though I am rooting for Caro in the long run, I feel the Russian might just have an edge in the fourth round and she's still my favorite for the quarter. But Svetlana Kuznetsova, who's been equally solid in her first three matches could pose a bigger threat than I originally thought. If two former U.S. Open champs are left battling for the first women's semi spot, it could be quite a battle.

Kim Clijsters has advanced with little drama herself, even if she's given up serve a few times when clearly in charge of her matches. The defending champ still look good to continue her run, but with Roland Garros finalist Sam Stosur or tough-as-nails Elena Dementieva looming as quarterfinal opponents, she will surely be tested in the future. The Australian survived a scare in the first round, but has been solid ever since, and the Russian staged an awesome come-from-behind victory against Daniela Hantuchova on Friday, reminding us all why she's known as the best player without a Major. Though Kim has winning records against both, she sure stands to lose her first set of the tournament in the coming round.

In the quarter which originally seemed so wide open, somewhat surprisingly the two top seeds have advanced to the quarters. While poor Victoria Azarenka retired early with a concussion, two-time champ Venus Williams and French Open winner Francesca Schiavone are the ones vying for the third semi, and at this point I have to go with the more-experienced American. Though a knee injury originally made me doubt her prospects in New York, she's clearly better suited for these faster surfaces than the Italian, and might even be able to make a run for the title.

Rounding it out for the women, four solid ladies are all contending for the last spot in the semis. Wimbledon stand-out Kaia Kanepi continued her summer rebirth when she took out fourth-seeded Jelena Jankovic and Yanina Wickmayer survived some tough opponents to make it this far. Then there's new crowd favorite Andrea Petkovic who's danced her way to her best ever Major showing and Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva. Like with the men, this quarter could really go to anyone, but I have to give the slightest of advantages to the Russian who needs to prove her performance at the All England Club wasn't a fluke.

Of course, as we kick off the final week of the U.S. Open, I'm sure there will be plenty more surprises to come. At this point, I'll be happy if even one of my choices makes it through to the final four. But you can't say that we haven't been able to witness some top-notch tennis in the last few days. And the way things are going, we are in for a lot more.

As for predictions for next year, well, I think I'm gong to have to find another theme!

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