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Why You Should Be Watching The U.S. Open

Johnie Freatman |
September 7, 2011 | 1:14 p.m. PDT

Associate Sports Editor

At 30, Roddick won't have many more chances to win a Grand Slam tournament. (Keith Allison via Creative Commons)
At 30, Roddick won't have many more chances to win a Grand Slam tournament. (Keith Allison via Creative Commons)
The continued dominance of the newest sports mega-star. 

A champion’s fight to play on despite obvious agony. 

The long-anticipated emergence of a mercurial player once labeled, “can’t-miss.”  

Though the men's portion of the U.S. Open is barely a week old, it has brought tennis fans gripping drama… and only promises to bring more. 

Here are three things to watch for in the second week of the year’s final Grand Slam:

1. The attempt of an American to finally prevail after a long Grand Slam drought.

From 1978-2003, the stars and stripes accounted for 15 of the 26 U.S. Open men’s singles titles. During this stretch, luminaries like John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras practically made Arthur Ashe Stadium their personal cathedral.

However, since Andy Roddick prevailed in 2003, not only has there been no American U.S. Open winner, but American men haven’t won any Grand Slam events.

Any discussion of breaking that dubious streak this year must begin with Roddick. 

He has the most experience of any American still in the draw, has proven he knows how to finish the job, and has a game tailor-made for the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

Furthermore, Roddick has unfinished business. 

Since the triumph in ’03, he has reached the final of a Grand Slam four times. Each time he has been stymied by the brilliance of Roger Federer, including the ’09 Wimbledon event, which featured a 30-game fifth set.

At 30 years old, Roddick is no spring chicken, at least in tennis terms. He is seeing his game decline, and just recently dropped out of the top 20 of the world ranking for the first time since 2001.

This may be Roddick’s last chance for tennis glory.

At the other end of the spectrum is Donald Young, who has long been heralded as the next American star. He is 22 and just realizing his potential after turning pro at 15 and struggling to meet expectations, often showing his age along the way

Considering that he entered the tournament with a 7-11 Singles record on the year, many are surprised he has lasted this long. Whether or not this is his year, he figures to have a bright future at the U.S. Open.

Whereas Young was on the radar of many from a early age, John Isner was not. He only turned pro after playing four years of college tennis, an increasing rarity for tennis’ elite.

At 6-foot-9, Isner has a very powerful serve and likes to serve and volley, a combination that generally works well at the U.S. Open. He reached the fourth round in 2009 and is hoping people come to know him for more than his epic 1st round match at Wimbledon last year.

Isner has had a great year and is ever-improving, but it doesn’t look like the totality of his game has progressed enough yet to defeat perennial Grand Slam contenders.

2. Novak Djokovic’s attempt to obliterate the rest of the field.

Novak Djokovic. (Creative Commons)
Novak Djokovic. (Creative Commons)
Entering 2011, many believed the Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer narrative would continue. Instead, “The Djoker” has stolen the show, drawing lofty praise along the way.

Quite simply, Djokovic has had one of the best years in tennis history.  After winning his first 41 matches of the season, he currently holds a 61-2 record for the season and is on pace to break John McEnroe’s record .965 win percentage in 1984. 

Were it not for a semifinal loss to Federer at the French Open, he could be looking at a sweep of the Grand Slams.

Despite that lone loss to Federer, one of the most impressive aspects of Djokovic’s season has been his dominance of the other two members of the so-called “big three.” He is 8-1 against Federer and Nadal this year, with only one dropped set in those eight wins.

This from a player who, entering 2011, had a losing record in his career against top 10 players.

While Djokovic has cruised, his chances of prevailing in New York are bolstered by the state of his top competitors. 

Federer, though an incredible champion whose legacy is secure, has seen his game begin to decline. Now 30 years old, he has only won one singles title this year.

Nadal still possesses immense talent but his physical health has increasingly come under question, especially after a scary incident with cramps following his third-round win.

Meanwhile, Djokovic has cruised in his first four matches, not dropping a set.

It may only be a matter of time until the suspicions of many are confirmed: there is no “big three” in tennis. However, there is a “big one.”

3. The 9/11 memorial tributes. 

Mere miles from the site of the World Trade Center, the championship match will be staged on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The USTA will honor those who lost their lives with a number of gestures. Queen Latifah will be presiding over a pre-match tribute that will conclude with a military flyover.

The court will have 9-11-01 inscribed on it, and the two players will enter the court through a special honor guard.

No matter the outcome of the match, everyone watching will no doubt be reminded of something that is often forgotten: there are more important things in life than sports.


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