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Posted August 29, 2011 | comments Leave a comment

Keeler: Favorites not a lock to capture U.S. Open

Two weeks ago it seemed obvious who was going to win this year's U.S. Open. Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams were the clear and heavy favorites.

Don't get me wrong, if you look at any predictions from so-called experts on the Internet, very few people are picking against them. However, after last week I think there's at least a little more hope that someone other than Djokovic and Williams can be holding the trophy at the end of the U.S. Open.

Last week's tournament in Cincinnati was a very bizarre tournament. It was the last big warm-up tourney before the Open. In the quarterfinals, I watched something I never thought I'd see. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, arguably two of the greatest players of all time, lost in the quarterfinals.

It wasn't that they lost that was surprising, it was how they lost. In both Montreal and Cincinnati, the pair looked like shells of their former selves. Federer lost to Joe Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, respectable players but not players who should be having their way with them as they pretty much did in the matches. Federer is getting older and there's no question that it's showing.

Nadal has had some injuries, but still he lost to Ivan Dodig (who?) and Mardy Fish. While Fish has had a solid couple of years, he's known for not being able to win the big matches when it counts.

Watching Nadal and Federer it was clear they lacked the usual confidence and swagger they have on the court. Suddenly, they're not sure they can beat anybody, while the other players are starting to realize they are beatable.

The biggest reason for the sudden lack of confidence for both Nadal and Federer is Djokovic. Nadal and Federer have dominated the sport for years now. As I watched them lose in Cincy, it was obvious that Nadal and Federer were so -- 2010.

This year is the year of Djokovic. Or at least that was what I thought until I saw him lose for only the second time this year. He lost to No. 4 Andy Murray in the final in Cincinnati. He retired from the match with a shoulder injury. On the surface it seems like no big deal, kind of like when Djokovic won the Australian Open earlier this year. Who would've thought he would go on to win 45 of his next 47 matches and dominate the men's tour.

Nothing stays the same forever, especially in sports. Djokovic is having an incredible year, but eventually he will start losing more and more. And that's why we love sports. No one stays on top forever. Could this be the beginning of a decline for the Serbian?
With Djokovic's injury, Nadal and Federer are suddenly feeling a little more confident. As is Murray, who is still looking for his first grand slam title. Even players such as Fish, Gael Monfils and Tsonga are feeling better about their chances.

Djokovic is still the favorite, but suddenly there's a little more hope for the other players. Is this the beginning of another shift at the top of the game? I guess we will know more in two weeks.

Things are much different on the women's side. While the top four on the men's side are considered a cut above the rest, the top two in the women's game aren't even considered the real top two.

Nobody truly believes that No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki is the best player in the world. She's only been in one slam final in her career. And until she won this week's tournament in New Haven, she was having a dismal summer. She seems to be more focused on her romance with golfer Rory McIlroy than on her tennis game.

The No. 2 player in the world, Vera Zvonareva, isn't much better. The Russian has at least been in two slam finals, including last year's Open, but lost very badly in both. The No. 3 player, Kim Clijsters, is injured and is out for the rest of the year.

That leaves us with who everyone considers the current two best players in the world in Williams and Maria Sharapova. Williams missed the first part of the year with an injury, but found her game during the summer, winning 12 consecutive matches. The U.S. Open committee wouldn't seed her any higher than her ranking, and so she's the most dangerous 28 seed in U.S. Open history. Sharapova is ranked No. 4 and made it to the Wimbeldon final in June. She is also leading the rankings race, which means she's had the best results since the start of the year.

Williams and Sharapova met in the quarterfinals in Stanford, with Williams winning easily, just another reason she's the heavy favorite.

Williams appeared on her way to adding to her summer win streak in Cincinnati, but pulled out with a toe injury. It appears that it's not a serious injury and some feel that she simply wanted to attend Kim Kardashian's wedding.

However, much like with Djokovic, the injury at least gives a little hope to others. Sharapova took advantage of Williams' injury and won the title in Cincy, making her the clear second favorite in New York.

It's been a crazy year on the women's side with Li Na and Petra Kvitova each winning their first major. Who knows, maybe it can happen again.

It seems all the so-called experts on the Internet and TV are picking Djokovic and Williams. I haven't seen or read of anyone picking against Williams. So, I'll be different and pick Murray and Sharapova.

Two weeks ago I truly believed that it would be Djokovic and Williams. However, after last week I was reminded that anything can happen in sports and that's what makes us watch again and again.


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