Keeler: Plenty of storylines for U.S. Open

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

It’s my favorite time of the tennis season. All the children are headed back to school, football is about to kick off and, of course, the U.S. Open is about to begin.

There’s nothing quite like a tennis tournament in New York City. For two weeks all the biggest stars shine bright in the “Big Apple.” The best part of the U.S. Open is always the night matches. The drunken loud mouths who like to yell during the matches are always entertaining.

This year I have a feeling the tournament is going to be as interesting as ever. There are a lot of storylines that have been building over the summer, and a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

There’s no question that Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are the heavy favorites heading into the men’s and women’s tournaments.

Nadal has all the momentum, coming off back-to-back hard court wins in Montreal and Cincinnati. He hasn’t lost a hard court match all year, has won nine titles, and has lost only three matches this season.

Despite all of that, No. 1 Novak Djokovic is always a threat. For the time being, he is the No. 1 player in the world and certainly has a chance of winning his second U.S. Open. He hasn’t been playing his best over the summer, but he can always turn it around.

Andy Murray won Wimbledon, which make him a real threat, right? He did not play well throughout the hard court season, and I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the defending U.S. Open champion lost in the early rounds. Of course, I also wouldn’t be surprised if he wins it again, either. That’s pretty typical for Murray, who tends to be up and down.

Then there’s one of my darkhorse picks to win this year — Juan Martin Del Potro. The 2009 U.S. Open champion played a great match against Djokovic in the Wimbledon semifinals this year, and has played well ever since. He’s starting to look like the Del Potro of 2009 again, and I think he has an outside shot to win it again this year.

Obviously, one name I haven’t mentioned is the greatest player of all time — Roger Federer. He has dropped to No. 7 in the rankings (I can’t believe I just typed that). It has been painful to watch Federer the last few months. The Swiss star lost in the second round on Wimbledon, then played two clay-court tournaments where he also lost very early to players ranked way below him. He also switched to a bigger racquet, and then switched back to his old smaller racquet.

He’s also been bother by some back troubles. With all that being said, Federer is still Federer and I always think he has a chance to do some damage in a grand slam. He also played well in Cincinnati while losing a tight three-setter to Nadal, who he could meet in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

Another interesting player on the men’s side is American John Isner. The 6-foot-10 Isner has had a stellar summer, and has moved to a career-high No. 14 ranking. With the American crowd behind him I think he could sneak into the quarterfinals, but time will tell.

There aren’t as many threats to win the title on the women’s side, but there are still plenty of storylines.

Williams looked like the clear favorite until she lost to Victoria Azarenka last week in the final in Cincinnati. Tennis fans have been waiting for someone to step up and challenge Williams, and I think Azarenka may be ready to become a real rival to Williams. They played in a great three-setter in last year’s final, and I think it will happen again.

Williams is certainly still the favorite, she’s lost only four matches this season and won eight tournaments. However, she has struggled in close matches, and doesn’t seem to handle the pressure as well as she once did.

Azarenka didn’t look like much of a choice until she won the Cincinnati tournament. The world’s No. 2-ranked player has battled injuries throughout the summer, but has lost one hard court match this year.

No. 3 ranked Maria Sharapova withdrew from the U.S. Open with a shoulder injury, the same one in which she had surgery on in 2008. She could be out for the rest of the year.

The Russian has had an interesting summer, to say the least. She missed part of the season with a hip injury. She parted ways with coach Thomas Hogstedt, and then hired Jimmy Connors as her coach. That lasted all of one match. After losing in the first round of Cincinnati, she fired Connors.

To top it all off, Sharapova considered changing her name to Maria Sugarpova (the name of her candy line) for the U.S. Open, but decided against it. I don’t think she was truly going to change her name, I think it was simply a publicity stunt to get more people out to one of her Sugarpova signings in New York, but either way it was very odd.

There are a few other players who could make a run on the women’s side, including Li Na, Agniezska Radwanska and former champion Sam Stosur, but I don’t expect anyone besides Williams or Azarenka to have a real chance. At Wimbledon, the top players all lost early to open the way for Marion Bartloi, who has since retired from the game (yet another strange storyline from the summer), to win her first and only slam. I don’t think lightning will strike twice this season.

No matter who wins or loses, it should be a great an entertaining U.S. Open.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com