Into the Great Wide Open
by Jon Lieber
Friday, August 16, 2002
If you can say one thing about the men's draw in the 2002 US Open, it's that for the first time in a long time, it's exactly that: open. Wiiiide open, in fact. With eight different winners in the last nine Grand Slam events (whereas one family has won seven of the last 12 on the women's side), there is no clear favorite, giving further credo to the oft-used phrase that on the men's tour "anyone can beat anyone on any given day."
There are a lot of question marks regarding the men's game. Will Hewitt be able to repeat? Will Pete and Andre be able to repeat their heroics of 2001? Is Roddick really ready? Will Safin be able to keep his emotions in check? The answers are on the way, but we expect to see a familiar face standing in the winner's circle come Sept. 8.
When it comes to the Open, it doesn't matter how fast your first serve is or how many products you're endorsing -- there's no substitute for experience. The main contenders at the 2002 US Open will be the players who've already been there and done that. The guys who can hear the squealing brakes of Queens-bound 7 trains under the jet blasts of an overhead 747 but remain focused on an opponent's weak second serve. The players who can smell a burger cooking in the food court but only have interest in tasting victory. It takes more than skills to survive the madness that is the US Open, and this year, in a year when anyone can win, we say the King of Queens be someone who's been there before.
Let's take a look at some of the players we think have what it takes to make a great run in Flushing.
Andre Agassi; USA
From rebel to Zen-master to father figure, two-time champ Andre Agassi has reinvented his image more times than Madonna. But his game plan has remained the same: pick apart the opponent with a barrage of baseline blasts. Father time might be gaining ground on Andre, but with four titles in '02, it appears there's enough gas left in the tank for another run at the championship.
Albert Costa; Spain
Sure, Costa won his first Grand Slam at this year's French Open, but like most Spaniards, he's comfiest with red dirt underneath his sneaks. That being said, his ability to outlast opponents and hang around in matches, waiting for the opportunity to strike, makes Costa a threat in a Survivor-like tourney as is the Open.
Roger Federer; Switzerland
After ending Pete Sampras' reign at Wimbledon in 2001, pundits predicted Federer and his polished all-court game would be a fixture at the Grand Slams for years to come. Instead, it's been his inconsistency that's rained on his 2002 parade. For the year to not be a total wash, the Swiss needs to step it up in Flushing Meadows.
Juan Carlos Ferrero; Spain
Of all the Spaniards, Ferrero's got the game that's best suited for hard surfaces: a stinging forehand and a serve that's got plenty of bite. The man known as "Mosquito" may have been squashed in the French Open final, but now that he's got the taste of a Grand Slam final in his blood, expect him to have a thirst for more.
Tommy Haas; Germany
Due to all he's had to endure in his personal life already this year, Tommy could be the perfect sentimental choice at this year's Open. And there's no better surface to help him fulfill these goals. All five of his career titles have come on hard courts, and he's posted semifinal showings at the '02 and '99 Australian Opens. Provided he's over off-court distractions that sidetracked him earlier in the year, he could go deep.
Tim Henman; England
Poor Tim, always a bridesmaid and never the bride. He likely blew his best chance at a Slam last July at Wimbledon, but if he survives the early rounds in New York, chances are he'll be more reluctant to let another big catch get away.
Lleyton Hewitt; Australia
It takes more than the best wheels in the game for a 5'11" baseliner to win Wimbledon. Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 Open champion, is also No. 1 in the intangible categories of fight, scrap, grit and determination. But this time around, the Kangaroo Kid will bear the unfamiliar burden of defending a Grand Slam title. How he responds to the challenge is up to him. Stand tall or run and hide?
Thomas Johansson; Sweden
Thomas who? Don't blame the 2002 Australian Open champ for his anonymity; it's not his fault that he comes from a country that's produced Borg, Wilander and Edberg. In Johansson's last three US Opens, he's made two quarterfinals and a 4th round, and he proved in Melbourne he can go the distance in the heat of summer.
Gustavo Kuerten; Brazil
So what if the three-time French Open champ has won 13 of his 16 career titles on clay? Guga's got the game (vicious groundies off both sides and a huge serve) to win on hard courts. It's the body that's been his problem. The 6'3" 167-pound beanpole underwent hip surgery in the spring and has looked shaky ever since. Love the guy, love his game, but wouldn't bet on this horse for a two-week-long sprint on cement.
Andy Roddick; USA
It's nice when you can call a year with two titles (including a finals victory over Pete Sampras) a sophomore slump. For Andy Roddick, though, it's been just that. After announcing his presence to the world with a quarterfinal Open showing last year, Roddick has struggled in the Slams ever since. A-Rod needs a big showing at Arthur Ashe to prove that his 2001 ride in Flushing was for real.
Marat Safin; Russia
The mercurial Marat Safin has replaced Goran Ivanisevic as tennis' version of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. At times a vision of athletic artistry, the 2000 Open champ can give way to racquet-smashing demonstrations at any minute. If Safin wants to make a serious run at a second US Open title in three years, he must keep his emotions in check for two weeks. He will have to dedicate his energy and emotions solely on his game.
Pete Sampras; USA
While he's made it to the Open final two years in a row, the four-time Open champ has seen better days and will come to the Big Apple with plenty of question marks surrounding his future. But for the first time in his career, Pete has something to prove: that he's not done winning Championships.
Born in the USA
America's best chances in a homegrown Open champ rest in the hands of Agassi, Sampras and maybe even the nascent Andy Roddick, but you can't underestimate the power of the people. Having a boisterous Noo Yawk crowd in your back pocket goes a long way. The following hometown heroes are all born in the USA and will likely give the rowdy Open crowd plenty to cheer about.
The 22-year-old native New Yorker has more than marketing appeal going for him. An all-court game, blistering serves and U.S. Davis Cup team experience helped Blake earn his first tour win in at the Waikoloa Challenger and reach two ATP finals in '02. Surrounded by hordes of family and friends, Blake may be ready to have a memorable US Open.
Taylor Dent has figured something out. Tennis isn't just about serving hard. The 21-year-old Californian won his first ATP event this summer at Newport by setting up points and waiting to go for the kill. With talent and smarts, he's a name no seed wants to draw in an early-round match.
Gentleman Todd is the perfect example that good guys don't finish last. No question Martin, the '99 Open runner-up, will make an excellent CEO someday, but here's hoping he'll thrill us with one more patented "Marathon Man" five setter before he goes.
Not such a fantastic preview, but im too lazy to find a really good one