Slugfest between the world’s best

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The US Open is the second oldest of the four major tennis events known popularly as the Grand Slam events. It followed Wimbledon by four years, in 1881 and was initially played at the Newport Casino in Newport Rhode Island, where the Tennis Hall of Fame now stands. It moved, in 1915 to the Westside Club in the Queen’s suburb of Forest Hills where it stayed till its move in 1978 to Flushing Meadows, the site of the World’s Fair of the 1930s.
Being the final Grand Slam event of the year, the US Open has seen its share of drama, especially when someone is in the running for the calendar year Grand Slam, the winning of all four Grand Slam events in one year. The first to do so was Don Budge, in 1938. He was followed by Maureen Connolly in 1953. Lew Hoed came to Forest Hills in 1956 having won the first three events but was thwarted by Ken Rosewall in the finals. Rod Laver won the Grand Slam two times in the 1960s followed by Margaret Court in 1970. The last winner was Steffi Graf who completed a Golden Slam by winning the Olympics in the same year.
The 2011 US Open promises to be a slugfest as the world’s top players fight it out for the winner’s 2000 ATP points and the small matter of the $1.6 million first prize. The top seed for the event is Novak Djokovic. He is followed by Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. One does not have to look much further than these four for the Champion.
Novak Djokovic, on current form, will be the overwhelming favourite, having lost just two matches all year. Rafael Nadal will be there in the later rounds and is scheduled to meet Andy Murray in the semis. Roger Federer has displayed patchy form till now, having been overpowered by his nemesis Tomas Berdych in the Cincinnati Masters. Federer is drawn in Djokovic’s half and should meet him in the semis.
Federer has Tsonga and the in-form Mardy Fish in his quarter and will have to be at his very best to get through to the semis. Should he get there, he would have a good chance against Djokovic. Andy Murray is coming off a successful outing at Cincinnati, where he handed Djokovic only his second loss of the year. Murray is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde player and it remains to be seen which Murray show up in New York.
Some of the players with an outside shot could be Del Potro of Argentina, Robin Soderling, Joe Wilfred Tsonga and the American Mardy Fish. Del Potro has a huge game and if his forehand is on song, he can beat anybody. He is a former champion. Soderling is a big server with solid ground strokes, but has had a lean run lately. Mardy Fish is the US number one, having taken over the ranking from his friend and schoolmate, Andy Roddick. Fish is a talent, having the slippery serve and flashy ground strokes which enabled him to beat Rafael Nadal in Cincinnati. Others with a chance to make it deep into the draw would be Berdych, Verdasco and Gael Monfils. This column’s pick for the title would be Novak Djokovic with Federer as second favourite. Djokovic has blended an almost unbeatable mix of defence and opportunistic offence which has left everyone trailing in his wake. The only man with the tools to beat him on a major stage could be Roger Federer, who saves his best performances for the big events. Rafael Nadal will be lucky to get deep into the draw without facing fitness issues. His confidence has been dented by Djokovic’s sustained brilliance this year and the Deco Turf is not Nadal’s favourite surface. Andy Murray is developing a reputation as an also ran who comes short in the major events. One of these days he is going to break this hoodoo and he would be hoping for this particularly after his win in Cincinnati.
Serena, the best amongst women
Serena Williams is the best women’s player in the world, regardless of the rankings which place her at 26. The top seed is Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark, the world number one. Woz has garnered enough points to get the number one ranking but inevitably sinks without a trace in the Grand Slams. She will face the formidable challenge of Li Na, the Australian Open Champion in the quarters, should Li Na get past the talented German Andrea Petkovic. Victoria Azarenka the fourth seed has the unenviable task of facing Serena Williams in the third round and the winner should meet the Italian Francesca Schiavone in the quarters. Look for Serena to cruise through this quarter which also includes former number ones Jancovic and Ivanovic. The talented Petra Kvitova, the reigning Wimbledon champion, heads the third quarter with a Wimbledon Final rematch against Maria Sharapova in the offing. Sharapova will be tested by the German Julia Goerges in the third round. The bottom quarter has the Russian Vera Zvonereva scheduled to meet Marion Bartroli in the quarters. Lurking in this quarter is the redoubtable Venus Williams and Sabine Lisicki, another rising German star in the making.
When Serena Williams is playing well, one does not have to look far from her for the championships. She has the best service action in tennis, men or women, and can place the balls in the corners. Her ground strokes are also perfectly formed and she hits them without fear. The only players capable of beating her could be Kvitova or her sister Venus. By the time Serena is finished with tennis, she will go down as one of the most dominating players ever seen in the women’s game.
Indo-Pak Express out of steam?
This year, the Indo-Pak Express, Aisam Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna have been losing a bit of steam. The teamwork seems to be fraying at the edges and consequently, the results have been mixed at best. They were knocked out in the first round of the Winston Salem Classic this week. It is quite possible that the relationship has run its course and has lost its spontaneity. At Wimbledon, one could see signs of this. Also, the top teams have figured out how to play them, serving to Aisam’s forehand, which is hit or miss. The doubles draws have been getting stronger and no match is easy. It will take a huge effort for the South Asian duo to approach last year’s results. Even in the mixed, where Aisam reached the finals last year with his Czech partner, the signs are not encouraging. They were beaten badly at Wimbledon by the Israeli pairing and looked jaded. It seems the years are catching up with Aisam-Rohan. This column wishes them the best of luck.

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