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August 20, 2003 Article Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
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U.S. Open Preview 2003

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Ray Bowers

Can anyone stop the run of the two superstar women from Belgium?

It seems not. With Serena Williams out because of recent knee surgery and Venus long sidelined with an abdominal strain, one or the other of the Belgian stars have been triumphant every week since Wimbledon. First, Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne swept Slovak Republic in Fed Cup play. Then the two took turns in capturing Stanford, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Toronto--all good predictors of the Open. Except that Clijsters lost to Henin in the San Diego final and to Krasnoroutskaya in Canada, the pair have been undefeated in singles play during this period.

Both are hard-hitting, all-court players, capable of strong, aggressive play primarily from back court. Kim Clijsters, age 20, has above-average size at 5-6 and 150 pounds. Probably her signature strength is her wonderful footwork and mobility. It is dazzling to watch her feet as they move in reaction to opponent's power thereby gaining Kim early position for strong reply. Her forehand and two-handed backhand are extremely accurate especially in passing opponents at net. Henin-Hardenne, at 5-6 and 126 pounds, is just 12 months older than Clijsters. Her slender physique belies a powerful body, and her full-stroked one-handed backhand is as magnificent to watch as any in tennis. It is remindful of Corretja's backhand, and is relatively more powerful in the women's game than is Alex's in the men's. Justine and Kim played each other six times so far this year, each player winning three. Henin won their most notable meeting--the straight-set final at Roland Garros.

Who are the prospective spoilers to a likely Open championship for one of these two? There are only two other plausible possibilities. Venus Williams, with a 3-0 record against the Belgians earlier this year, could probably summon the game to prevail if she is again healthy and close to her best form. Her play in the early rounds at Wimbledon, prior to the injury, was very dominating. In the past she has returned from periods of absence with immediate success. Powerful Lindsay Davenport also remains a threat, though she has lost four times to Clijsters this year and once to Henin without defeating either. In the recent final in Los Angeles, Davenport played well to reach a third set against Clijsters, but Lindsay then faded after apparently hurting an ankle.

The odds fast lengthen thereafter. Jennifer Capriati shows three losses against the Belgians this year without a win, was sidelined at San Diego with a pectoral strain, and was scheduled to return in New Haven this week. Mauresmo and Chanda Rubin likewise have been recently held back by injuries. Mauresmo is 0-2 against the Belgians this year, Chanda is 1-3, showing a win over Henin at Key Biscayne. Meanwhile the next level of players--Sugiyama, the young Russians including Krasnoroutskaya, and perhaps a half-dozen or so others--remain capable of knocking off a headliner but are extremely unlikely to capture three or more late-round matches at the high level required to win the Open.

Here, then, are the odds to win the Open, as I see them.

Henin-Hardenne, 2.5-1
Clijsters, 3-1
Venus Williams, 5-1
Davenport, 15-1
Capriati, 20-1
Rubin, Mauresmo, Hantuchova, Dementieva, each 50-1
all others, 100-1 or longer

So which superstar shall we choose to win the tournament, Justine or Kim? Let us look to the fortunes of the final draw, just announced.


Readers are again invited to join in choosing the winners of the eight sections of the draw. The rule is that only four players seeded in the top eight may be picked. In each section the four seeds are listed first, in order. My guesses follow.

--Clijsters, Zvonareva, Shaughnessy, Kuznetsova, Pennetta. Clijsters.
--Mauresmo, Hantuchova, Schnyder, Krasnoroutskaya. Krasnoroutskaya.
--Davenport, Coetzer, Petrova, Raymond, Schett. Davenport.
--Rubin, C. Martinez, Suarez, Daniilidou, Molik, Likhovsteva. Martinez.
--Capriati, Dementieva, Dechy, Stevenson, Frazier. Dementieva.
--Venus Williams, Sugiyama, Farina Elia, Schiavone, Pisnik. Venus.
--Myskina, Maleeva, Dokic, Serna, Nagyova, Pierce, Srebotnik. Maleeva.
--Henin-Hardenne, Bovina, Pistolesi, Mikaelian, Safina, Weingartner. Henin.

The top four--Clijsters, Davenport, Venus, and Henin--should safely reach the semis. Then Clijsters should continue her domination over Davenport. In the other half, the choice is Henin over Venus, guessing that the recently injured American might be at less than her best. Then in the all-Belgian final, the hard, fast courts and the earlier draw (with Kim avoiding Venus) seem to favor Clijsters. But my choice is the talented Henin-Hardenne, reflecting her superior performance this summer to date, especially at Toronto.


Probably the best indicators of likely success at the Open among the men are the mid-summer Masters Series tournaments in Canada and in Cincinnati, along with the less wealthy events in Washington, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Long Island. All, like the Open, are played on hard courts in outdoor summer conditions.

Andy Roddick has nearly swept the summer so far, capturing Indianapolis, Montreal, and Cincinnati. Tim Henman won in Washington, Wayne Ferreira in LA. Here are the season's W-L leaders, listed by plurality of wins over losses, as of the start this week at Long Island. Clearly, the momentum is with Roddick.

Roddick, 20-1
Mirnyi, 9-3
Schuettler, Nalbandian, each 8-2
Fish, Srichaphan, each 8-4
Agassi, Henman, 6-2

I have watched Andy closely each summer here in Washington since his debut in 2000 and, of course, regularly on television. He was impressive in his first appearance here, at age 17, when he defeated three well-known pros before losing to Agassi. He won the tournament here in his second year. Since then, he has filled out physically, so that his body power probably approaches Pete Sampras's at the same age. His serve remains his foremost weapon, capable of many aces in matches against most players. Against Federer, both in Montreal this month and earlier this year at Wimbledon, Andy's aces were relatively few, but his first and second serves both yielded neutral returns, thereby setting up Andy's extremely strong approach game. His volleying is improving, and he is plainly using it more frequently. When at net he is surprisingly agile in covering the sidelines, his overhead game is excellent, and he is quite good in close-in cat-and-mouse exchanges. His occasional use of serve-and-volley tactics adds to opponent's difficulties in making consistent serve-returns. His courage was good in winning the final tiebreaks against Federer in Montreal and against Fish in Ohio. His only loss this summer--to Henman in Washington--was probably attributable to fatigue after several weeks of unbroken competition. Andy's chances at the Open should be enhanced by his decision to sit out this final week at Long Island.

If Roddick, who will be 21 on August 30, seems perhaps ready to claim his first Slam, this result is hardly certain given the depth of the entry field. Probably most difficult for Andy are the players who are comfortable at net and willing to move forward aggressively behind serve. Andy has wonderful rocketry off the ground, but he can be rushed in serve-returning, so that lately he has been returning from very deep thus conceding the net-rusher an extra step or two forward. Max Mirnyi and James Blake played stand-off first sets with Andy, Tim Henman won their close match, and Mardy Fish all but prevailed in their meeting in Ohio.

Though his summer W-L record, at 5-2, places him just outside the group listed above, Roger Federer, 22, is essentially a co-favorite with Roddick to win the Open. Federer's superb play in capturing this year's Wimbledon remains in vivid memory. In limited action since, his performance has been only a little short of that level of absolute excellence. The expected fast bounce at the Open will probably cause Roger to attack net frequently against Andy, including behind his own serve. Net-rushing is not his preferred tactic but he is very good at it.

Meanwhile Andre Agassi, at 33 a two-time U.S. Open past champion and last year's runner-up, as usual seems to have prepared himself according to his own pattern, having skipped Cincinnati. French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero has the advantage of a high seed, but his leadership among the clay warriors this summer has been taken by Guillermo Coria. Coria's court speed and counter-punching ability compare very well with Hewitt's. (Coria, it will be remembered, reached the semis at Garros before dominating the midsummer clay circuit in Europe.) Lleyton Hewitt has reached the Open semis in each of the last three years, winning the tournament in 2001, but this year Hewitt shows only a 5-3 record on the summer hard courts, where most of the wins came against a relatively weak field in LA. Various other stars are capable when at their best of winning any match, among them Philippoussis, Rusedski, Blake, and Gonzalez, strong hitters all. To this list must be added Mardy Fish, who showed improved control of his power game, including a forehand to match his backhand, in his fine run at Cincinnati. Marat Safin has not competed since April.

Being the favorite on paper nowadays scarcely assures winning. To defeat any player ranking in, say, the top fifty, a frontrunner must push his own limits in power and direction of hitting. To become too soft in either tactics or execution can quickly lead to dismissal. Upsets at the Open will probably be frequent, even in early rounds. Often sets will turn on just a few points. But plainly the top two, defined here, have the best chances of winning the required seven match victories.

Here are the odds to win the tournament, as I see them.

Roddick, Federer, each 4-1
Agassi, 20-1
Blake, Fish, Henman, Hewitt, Mirnyi, Philippoussis, each 40-1
all others, 50-1 or longer


The men's draw at the Open could scarcely have turned out worse for the tournament's co-favorites. Roddick must start against Tim Henman, who is the only player having defeated Andy this summer. Next ahead looms hard-serving Ljubicic, followed by the survivors of the likes of Kuerten, Spadea, Malisse, and Calleri. Meanwhile Federer faces probable early meetings with James Blake and either Philippoussis or Nalbandian. Finally, in the event that our two favorites both manage to reach the final four, they will then have to play each other. Meanwhile in the other half, favored Agassi must surmount either Mirnyi or Gonzalez to reach the last eight.

--Agassi, Gonzalez, Mirnyi, Kafelnikov, Dent, Corretja, Chela. Agassi.
--Coria, Grosjean, Fish, Clement, Popp, Rusedski, Bjorkman. Fish.
--Ferrero, Verkerk, Safin, Ferreira, T. Martin, Canas, Ginepri. Ferrero.
--Hewitt, Srichaphan, Robredo, F. Lopez, HT Lee, Santoro. Srichaphan.
--Schuettler, Schalken, Mantilla, Kiefer, Arazi, Burgsmuller, Boutter. Schalken.
--Roddick, Kuerten, Calleri, Spadea, Henman, Mathieu, Ljubicic, Malisse. Roddick.
--Moya, Novak, El Aynaoui, Gaudio, Ancic, Massu, Gambill. El Aynaoui.
--Federer, Nalbandian, Philippoussis, Zabaleta, Blake, Nieminen, Youzhny. Federer.

In my opinion, Agassi, Srichaphan, Roddick, and Federer should then advance to the semis, where Agassi and Federer should prevail. Having found an answer to defeat Andy, I believe that Federer will then win the tournament.


The U.S. and Argentine contingents have dominated the summer's biggest events. At Montreal both nations scored four wins in the first round of singles. The U.S. players pulled ahead thereafter, led by Roddick, who contributed six match wins during the week, and Agassi, who contributed three. The Bryans added two wins in doubles. Nalbandian's quarter-final win over Lopez assured second place for Argentina over Spain.

A week later in Cincinnati, the Argentine challenge was even stronger. Both U.S. and Argentina placed five players in the final 32 in singles, and, amazingly, all ten of these stars advanced to the round of 16. Thus after three days, Argentina led the U.S. narrowly, helped by fine second-round victories by Gaudio (over Ferrero) and Nalbandian (over Federer), and two doubles wins by Etlis-Rodriguez. Then in third-round play, both nations placed three players in the final eight. An interesting showdown came on Friday, when Etlis-Rodriguez faced the Bryans. The Bryans won, and their countrymen followed by producing wins in several singles head-to-heads. Thus the U.S. again led in the final tally of matches won, having claimed both finalist places (Roddick and Fish) and winning the doubles (Bryans). Here are the resulting standings in unofficial National Team Points (NTP) for 2003 to date.

Spain, 11.75
United States, 11.5
Argentina, 9.0
Australia, 7.75
Switzerland, 5.0

The U.S. earned 1 NTP and Argentina 0.5 at both Montreal and Cincinnati., included in the above tabulation. Based on the summer results to date, it seems likely that one of these nations will claim the 3 NTP to be awarded for winning the most matches at U.S. Open. (Second place will earn 1.0, third place 0.5). Note that 4 NTP will go to the Davis Cup semi-finalist winners in mid-September. Spain will be hosting Argentina, and Australia will be hosting Switzerland.

Best wishes to all for a great U.S. Open.

--Ray Bowers

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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.

Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75 singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.

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