Sunday, August 24, 2008

US Open 2008 Preview

Whew, three posts in two days and 5 in the past three, guess I had a lot to say!
Tomorrow begins my single favorite sporting event of the year; the 2008 US Open tennis tournament! Two weeks packed to the rafters with drama, noise, brilliant shotmaking, and unreal tension. All the big names are playing, all the celebs are traveling; the final Grand Slam of the year is ready to go!
This is our national tennis tournament, and it is bigger, louder, more intense, and more dramatic than anything else in the tennis world. The players' personalities always come out as they have a chance to wear their emotions on their sleeves, so each match becomes incredibly engaging. The grounds are absolutely swarmed with fans and the matches go all hours, so the setting is loud and beer-soaked. For the American tennis fan, the hard court playing surface is the same that we play on, so this is a fantastic study of tennis tactics and shotmaking on a platform that we're very familiar with.
Even with all this, here is the best part (after trying to watch the Olympics on the other side of the world) No tape delays in the hours and hours of daily coverage!
Quickly before we start the preview, I'm going to extend the deadline for the Andy Murray Nickname Contest until Wednesday 8/27, so get your votes in if you haven't already.
There is tremendous uncertainty on both the women's and men's draws on the eve of the tourney, with no clear favorite going into the Open, so that said, let the preview begin.
You may have thought after reading the above comment about uncertainty in the men's draw that I'm flat out nuts; that Rafael Nadal is the favorite, he's number one in the world, Federer is slipping, and no one else is close. These are valid points, but not so fast. The bane of Rafa's tennis existence remains hard courts, especially at Flushing Meadow where his best result is the quarterfinals. Not only that, but the courts take a tremendous toll over two weeks, and for a player with Nadal's physicality, that is nothing to sneeze at. he's also number one in the world now, and for some people wearing a target that size is quite an albatross. Finally, there is the Olympic question. No one can predict what effect the Olympics will have had on these players, but I would bet that for Rafa, his gold medal run in Beijing will detract from his preparation for the Open. Consider the travel, the emotional high, the daily matches, and the travel again.
Roger Federer is clearly not the Federer of old, and I agree with most pundits out there that he looks burned out, needs a break and a fresh perspective. He's also an unbelievable competitor, with a versatile game perfectly suited for the Open, as his previous results attest. Hard to believe I'm saying this, but he's the very definition of a wild card in this event. Will he have the form and confidence to push deep into the tournament, or will he wash out early.
Aside from these two there are some familiar names in the mix. Of course Andy Roddick is supercharged for this one, and Andy Murray played brilliantly over the summer, Olympics notwithstanding. Novak Djokovic is a sexy pick for the title and always plays well on hard surfaces. There is also a fascinating groundswell of young talent in the men's game, and you can be sure they understand that New York is a great place to make your name.
Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro ripped apart the summer season in the US with the top players in Beijing, winning 4 consecutive tournaments and 19 straight matches. France's Gilles Simon and Switzerland's Stanislaus Wawrinka are also on the rise, but keep this name foremost in your mind: Ernests Gulbis of Latvia. He is young, confident, and has an unbelievable game. He is poised for a breakthrough, and this may well be the year.
Here are my predictions:
Semifinals: Federer vs Djokovic, Nadal vs Murray
Finals: Djokovic vs Nadal
Winner: Rafael Nadal
After looking at the women's side, I honestly want to throw up my hands, as this draw is in a state of anarchy. What a bizarre year this has been, with retirements, nerves, questionable commitment, and injuries shattering the upper echelons of the game. Now we are left with a host of women playing well, but not a single person showing they are ready to rise to the top. I'm not saying there isn't quality there, because that's not the case. Ladies like Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic are playing outstanding tennis, and just like the men, there is a whole new crop of players banging on the door of the top ten. It's just that no one stands above the rest in any meaningful way.
Which is just awesome! I mean, how much fun is this going to be? Look for upsets galore, new names and personalities plowing into the second week, and a first time Grand Slam winner.
Semifinals: Dinara Safina vs Agnieszka Radwanska, Anna Chakvetadze vs Jelena Jankovic
Finals: Safina vs Chakvetadze
Winner: Safina
There is a massive quantity of daily coverage and here is a link to the schedule. Keep your eyes peeled for the final US Open appearance of tennis' last magician, Fabrice Santoro. He will battle Andy Roddick in a first round match on Tuesday, sure to be at night. There are also two wonderful blogs to keep you updated, aside from The Tipsy Historian, of course. Rafa Nadal will be blogging again and the NY Times maintains an excellent tournament blog, so definitely keep up with both.
This is going to be a ton of fun, so stay tuned and up to date!

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