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Tommy Keeler: Best time of the year is upon us

By Tommy Keeler Jr. -- tkeeler@nvdaily.com

My favorite two weeks of the year is here.

While many love this time of the year for college and pro football or the baseball season winding down, I love the U.S. Open.

As a tennis fanatic there's no bigger or better tennis tournament in the world. All the grand slams are great, but there's nothing quite like a night match under the lights in front of a New York crowd.

This year I'm more excited about the tournament than ever. There are a lot of contenders on both the men's and women's sides.

On the men's side, Roger Federer is the obvious favorite. Not surprising to anyone who knows me, he is my pick to win it. However, he has become the father of twins over the summer and that could be a distraction for the world's No. 1.

Federer won his record 15th grand slam at Wimbledon, and you have to wonder how much motivation he has now. Time will tell, but he did win a big lead-up tournament to the Open and he is playing well.

Other big contenders include No. 2 Andy Murray, No. 3 Rafael Nadal, No. 4 Novak Djokovic, No. 5 Andy Roddick and No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro. If Federer is off his game any of the other five could come away with the title.

Murray is still searching for his first major, but he did make it to the final last year. He also has played very well this summer. Nadal is coming back from an injury and isn't quite in top form, but you can never count out the former No. 1. The U.S. Open is the only major that Nadal hasn't won, and a win here would cement his place among the game's greats.

Djokovic has been up-and-down this year, but has shown signs of returning to top form in the last few weeks, including a win over Nadal. Roddick lost a heartbreaking five-set final to Federer in the Wimbledon final, but showed he could bounce back and has put together a strong summer run. Del Potro has also had a great summer and may be playing some of his best tennis. He is definitely a dangerous young player, still looking for his first grand slam title.

On the women's side, it's even more wide open. As always it starts with the Williams sisters. Serena Williams is looking for her 12th grand slam title and her third this year. She is ranked No. 2, but a win here would prove that she clearly is the best player in the world. She hasn't been playing well this summer, but Serena always plays her best when it counts the most.

Venus Williams has also been struggling this summer, but like her younger sister she usually rises to the top at the big events. The No. 3 player in the world, Venus, hasn't won a major since last year's Wimbledon.

The No. 1 player in the world, Dinara Safina, gets more attention for what she hasn't done than what she has done. Safina hasn't won a grand slam and whenever she has been in a final she hasn't played well. This year's tournament would be the perfect opportunity for her to make her case for No. 1.

Another big factor could be No. 4 Elena Dementieva. The Russian has been playing really well this summer, including a win over Serena Williams. She is also still searching for her first major, and this could be her best chance to breakthrough.

There are a lot of other great stories for the Open this year. On the men's side there is Sam Querrey, who is playing the best tennis of his young career. He could make some real noise, and you can expect the American crowd to really get behind him. It will also be the last major for Marat Safin. The former U.S. Open champion would love nothing more than to make one last run and go out on top.

On the women's side there is the return of Maria Sharapova. The former No. 1 was out for 10 months after shoulder surgery and is just now starting to play better tennis. With her tenacity you can never count her out and she could make a deep run at a second U.S. Open title.

The feel-good story of the tournament will probably be the comeback of Kim Clijsters. The former U.S. Open champion came out of retirement this summer and has done really well in her first two tournaments back. I think she could be a serious factor and wouldn't be surprised to see her in the semifinals.

One big change this year is the television coverage. USA network is no longer broadcasting the U.S. Open, as ESPN and the Tennis Channel take over. The Tennis Channel will start the coverage at 11 a.m. during the early rounds with ESPN2 coming on at 1 p.m. At that time the Tennis Channel will switch to matches on the outer courts, so for the first time ever two channels will be showing matches live at the same time.

It should be great coverage and like a dream come true for tennis junkies like myself. ESPN and the Tennis Channel have been showing classic matches over the last few weeks. Matches featuring great rivalries such as Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors vs. John McEnroe, Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras and Venus vs. Serena Williams.

The game of tennis is better than ever right now, and I've got a feeling this year's Open will produce even more classic matches for networks to show.

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