At the outset it seemed to me that there were four prime candidates to win
the Open. Roger Federer and Andy Roddick were the acknowledged leaders in men's
tennis, and in my opinion Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt had made clear in
recent performances that they were ready to join the highest group. My own
choice to win was Hewitt, who had won the Legg Mason here in Washington two weeks
FIRST FOUR ROUNDS
All four primes successfully advanced through the first four rounds at the
Open, losing just two sets while winning 48 and encountering only a few serious
hurdles along the way. Federer lost a set to teen-ager Marcos Baghdatis before
closing out the talented Cypriot. Agassi was taken to four sets by German
player Florian Mayer. Mayer, a 20-year-old German right-hander who is 6-5 tall,
hurt or re-hurt his hip midway while lunging for a volley and later retired.
Andre's other three wins were routine.
Meanwhile Lleyton Hewitt showed his court speed, shot-making skills,
patience, and determination to register four straight-set wins. As has been the case
all summer, Lleyton's serving ability provided a critical asset, especially
against larger and stronger foes. In an interesting contest against Hicham Arazi,
a critical bad call against Arazi late in their extended first-set tiebreaker
marked the high point of Arazi's competiveness that day.
Likewise Andy Roddick seemed in firm control throughout, though lefty Rafael
Nadal, 18, made many points interesting after losing the first set 6-0.
Roddick's power serves and forehand seldom seemed more effective. Only twice in 12
sets did an opponent win four games. An opponent might answer with equal weight
for a shot or two, but almost always the opponent's replies soon weakened.
In trying to recall a past player whose sustained weight of shot matched
Andy's, my mind turned to big-hitter Ellsworth Vines of the 1930's. But Elly lacked
Andy's power physique and used little topspin, and some days lapsed into
inconsistency. It seemed unlikely that even Federer could withstand Andy's weight
of fire over five sets. But in these musings, I mistakenly gave no thought to
Andy's next opponent.
Two of our four protagonists met on Wednesday evening in the first of the
men's quarter-finals. Roger Federer won the first set routinely, playing well
within himself and accepting the many errors of Andre Agassi, who was not yet
tuned to Roger's hitting style and pace. But upon the start of set two and
lasting until almost the end of set three, Andre produced what was surely his
highest level of play. With both men ordinarily in back court, and with both of them
driving to the sidelines and corners at full pace, it was Andre who became
the more aggressive hitter, whose artillery was the firmer, cleaner, better
directed, and more consistent. Especially his serve-returning firmed. Roger's
strokes were the familiar classic one-handers with ample backswing, while Andre's
were his more-compact, more-punishing muscular deliveries. Neither man went to
net often, but when Andre came forward he almost always was successful while
for Roger things at net usually went uncharacteristically sour. Andre won the
second set convincingly, and during most of set three defended his serving
games comfortably while pressing Roger's. But at five-games-all, 30-all, Andre
briefly faltered. Roger served out the set, and a few minutes later rainfall
stopped play for the night with Roger ahead two sets to one.
Upon the resumption Thursday, high winds seriously bothered the players. It
seemed that Andre's compact stroking should be less handicapped than Roger's
more-fluid deliveries, and indeed this seemed to be the case, as Andre won the
fourth set, equalizing. There were no service breaks in set five until game
eight, when Andre served with the swirling wind mostly behind him. Though both
players seemed now to be concentrating on keeping the ball in the court, at
score thirty-all Andre twice lifted balls that were caught by the wind and
carried long. Roger then comfortably served out the set and match.
In another quarter-final finished on Thursday, Tim Henman completed a
four-set victory over Hrbaty. I did not watch this match, but Henman's success was
not surprising given his usual more-dimensional game and the high winds which
surely bothered Hrbaty's very high toss. Meanwhile in the third quarter-final,
Lleyton Hewitt faced Tommy Haas. Lleyton's footwork served him well amid the
gale, and his low, overspin shots seemed relatively unaffected. Both players
were known to be volatile in temperament, but Hewitt's strong powers of
concentration helped him manage, indeed seemingly to ignore, the difficult playing
conditions. Hewitt won in straight sets.
Joachim Johannson, at 22 is the same age as Andy Roddick but at 6-6 is four
inches taller. Joachim, who has been rising in the ATP rankings since 2002, won
the indoor tournament at Memphis this year, defeating Kiefer and Fish, and he
won three matches at Wimbledon before a close loss to Florian Mayer. His
strengths, like Andy's, are his big serve and big forehand. A strong showing
against Roddick seemed likely, but the outcome nevertheless came as a shock.
Many American readers probably watched at least part of their Thursday
evening showdown. Joachim's serving matched Andy's--both served in the 130's often
and occasionally higher. Joachim was credited with 30 aces, Andy with 34.
Johansson's forehand carried the greater velocity, though his topspin was less
severe than Andy's. Generally Andy was the more conservative hitter, producing
fewer ground-stroke winners but also many fewer unforced errors. But somehow it
was Joachim's rockets that found the lines when it was most important, for in
losing the match Andy won a total of 152 points, while the victor, Joachim,
won only 128. Further indicating that Joachim did best when things matters most,
Andy won only 3 of his 15 break-point opportunities, Joachim won 3 of 5. The
contest was conducted mainly from the baseline, though Joachim won 17 of 28
net approaches. (Andy approached net only 8 times, not at all in the tight fifth
set.) Toward the end, Andy was out of sorts over perceived mistakes by
officials, while Joachim steadily maintained his calm concentration. Both men faced
break points late in the fifth set, and it was the defending champion who
Lleyton Hewitt's superb court mobility, fine shot-making, unmatched resolve
on court, and improved serve added up to yet another victory, this one over the
tall Swede. Lleyton handled Joachim's magnificent serves about as well as
Andy had, probably somewhat better toward the end. But once points were well
under way, Lleyton's footwork and speed took away some of the effectiveness of
Johansson's forehands. When he could, Hewitt mostly kept the ball to Joachim's
backhand, by far the less dangerous side, extending the points meanwhile
keeping down his own errors and occasionally producing attack opportunities.
The formula worked almost to perfection, producing the needed three breaks of
serve, one in each set. Johansson led slightly in winners, but Hewitt had by
far the fewer unforced errors, 14 vs. 37. Upon reaching four games all in the
final set, Lleyton won the last two games at love. It was indeed an impressive
Troubled by a bad back that necessitated a one-day delay in his first-round
match, and having survived three five-setters and two four-setters enroute to
the semis, Tim Henman seemed hardly at his best physically. Thus he never
threatened Roger Federer, who played comfortably within himself to register a
straight-set victory. Roger displayed his variety only occasionally, as his basic
forehand and backhand skills, along with his fine court mobility, were all that
were needed. Toward the end Roger was hitting out with abandon, if anything
perhaps too freely in his soaring confidence.
Thus the Sunday afternoon final would match the Swiss genius Federer against
the dauntless Aussie Hewitt, who had won all six of his matches in straight
THE WOMEN'S EARLY ROUNDS
With both Serena Williams and Justine Henin-Hardenne back from extended
absences, the long awaited showdown between the past Number Ones seemed a
possibility. But my choice to win the tournament, Henin-Hardenne, seemed still weak
from her long bout with a viral illness, losing a set to Israeli player Obziler
in the second round. Two rounds later, Justine was outclassed in straight sets
by an impressive Nadia Petrova. Meanwhile another prime candidate, Amelie
Mauresmo, lost a set to Russian player Vakulenko but otherwise employed a varied
and safe game to reach the quarters comfortably.
Two other pre-tournament favorites powered their way successfully, both
notching four straight-set victories enroute to the quarters. Serena Williams was
the more impressive, showing the superb serving seen in her past Slam triumphs.
Lindsay Davenport had early trouble with the tall Russian player Bovina, who
played evenly with Lindsay to reach a first-set tiebreaker. In the fourth
round a few days later, Davenport defeated Venus Williams, generally allowing safe
margins in her own stroking and pressing Venus to make the errors. Lindsay
won both sets by a single break of serve, though in the very last game Venus
reached break point five times, hitting out courageously. Over the full match
Venus was undone by making twice the number of Lindsay's unforced errors,
especially off the forehand.
The tally of match wins by nations unfolded in a remarkable way. In singles,
the Russian and the American women alike won 11 matches in the first round, 8
matches in the second round, 4 matches in the third round, and 3 matches in
the fourth round. In doubles the Americans scored higher in the first round, but
the Russians caught up later. Thus the late rounds would decide the
The singles quarter-finals began on Tuesday. Seemingly handicapped by her
erratic and softish serve, Russian star Elena Dementieva, 22, neverthess found a
way to defeat Amelie Mauresmo. (Elena produced 14 double-faults and endured
seven service breaks.) In winning, Elena displayed superb court mobility, a
screaming inside-out forehand, and excellent tactical sense in exploiting her fine
ability at net. When Amelie stepped in to blast Elena's service sitters and
follow them to net, again and again Elena would deftly move to intercept and
reply with a rocket that passed Amelie not yet at best net position. Matters
ended in a third-set tiebreak, where Amelie's frustration only worsened against a
limping but determined opponent.
The second quarter-final on Tuesday was emotional though not well played.
Favored Serena Williams moved ahead of Jennifer Capriati early, but during the
second set errors by Serena began to proliferate. Jennifer's timing and
consistency now improved amid her relatively safe shot selection. Serena continued to
pound away with fury--her combined backswing and follow-through on the forehand
usually exceeded 360 degrees--but she never obtained the equalizing service
break. The third set was similar--Serena lost the opening game when the chair
umpire made an mistaken overrule. But although Serena soon equalized, she again
slipped behind and--as in set two--could not thereafter overcome Jennifer's firm
stroking and defensive play. The final game, where Jennifer held serve to win
the set 6-4, was marred by one or possibly more mistaken line calls against
Serena. Overall, Serena led in winners 25-12, but she also committed 57
unforced errors against Jennifer's 29. But if her hitting was aggressive, her
position play was not. By staying primarily in back court Serena allowed Jennifer to
answer most of Serena's forcing ground shots with neutral replies--shots that,
in my opinion, would have been dispatched by a Serena bolder in her
net-approaching. As it was, Serena won 13 of her 17 points at net. Only Serena knows
how much the umpiring disagreements hurt her concentration.
WOMEN'S SEMIS AND FINAL
Both women's semi-final matches pitted a veteran American against a younger
Russian player. By winning both semis, the Russian women achieved--for the
second consecutive year--the highest number of match wins at the Open.
Lindsay Davenport won the first set over Svetlana Kuznetsova routinely,
Lindsay delivering her dazzling power almost unimpeded. But the 19-year-old Russian
recovered well to capture the second set. Lindsay then left the court to tape
an injury in the upper thigh area, and though the American broke serve early
in the third set, the leg problem appeared to intensify. At the end Lindsay
had trouble obtaining proper hitting position on reachable balls. Kuznetsova had
played well, but it seemed probable that the injury had decided the outcome.
The other women's semi was even higher drama. For the first set, Dementieva
played flawless modern tennis, nailing everything to the sides or corners,
simply blasting Jennifer Capriati off the court. Elena won 25 of the 30 points
played in the set. Elena's forehand and backhand ground strokes were--as was the
case throughout the tournament--superb to watch, as she reached most balls
early, delivered well-controlled shots, her head and shoulders steady on the
backhand. Some of the Dementieva magic went away during the second set as errors
began to creep in, and Jennifer's solid, largely defensive play--as against
Serena--allowed her to equalize. The long third set unfolded slightly in Elena's
favor. Jennifer tried hard but was generally unable to attack Elena's serves
effectively. Once rallies ensued, the princess became the aggressor, while
Jennifer was generally content to return conservatively, leaving large margins to
the lines. One of their power rallies went to 49 shots. With both players
still showing magnificent will to prevail but with both tiring, it was Jennifer
who finally faltered at the finish of the very close tiebreaker.
In the final on Saturday evening, Svetlana Kuznetsova for one set absolutely
dominated Elena Dementieva. The 19-year-old Muscovite had no trouble attacking
Elena's softish serves, belting three serve-return outright winners in the
opening game alone. In exchange after exchange, Elena found herself falling back
deep behind baseline to defend against her opponent's forehand artillery.
Svetlana sometimes missed but more often ended points with a heavy winner to a
corner. Elena did better in the second set, though Svetlana remained the more
aggressive and heavier hitter. Svetlana closed out well at the finish when it
looked as if Elena might manage to equalize.
Early this year, we wondered which of the young Russian women would be the
first to break out upwards. Now, three have them have captured Slams, and there
are perhaps four or five others almost co-equal in ability and promise. Two
Russians (Kuznetsova and Likhovsteva) reached the final of the women's doubles
at the Open, and another (Zvonareva) won the mixed with American Bob Bryan.
Their dominion is impressive but we cannot assume it will persist, as the Belgian
superstars and surely Serena Williams are likely to regain their pre-injury
greatnesses soon. Assuredly, we are amid a golden era in women's pro tennis,
wherein the Russian surge is an important part. The next year or so should be
FEDERER VS. HEWITT
Watchers of the Open had already seen several important matches where one
player dominated for the first set but had trouble thereafter. But Roger
Federer's perfection against Lleyton Hewitt during the first set of their men's final
seemed different. In that set Roger lost only five points behind an endless
stream of forcing shots to the sides, scarcely missing. His domination, which
continued for the first two games of set two, was so complete that there seemed
no chance of a reversal. But after deciding to change racquets Roger abruptly
began to miss, allowing Lleyton to contend and eventually reach a set-ending
tiebreaker. Amid the comeback Roger's hitting had become slightly tentative,
and for a spell his first serve missed regularly. The large crowd sensed that a
turnaround was at hand like those seen earlier in the week. But it was not to
be. Roger stiffened in the tiebreaker, leading from the start and closing out
well. Matters ended soon afterwards, Federer winning the third set at love
behind the kind of workmanlike excellence he had shown throughout the tournament.
All honors go to Federer for his triumph. It was his third Slam victory of
2004, the fourth of his career. At age 23 he is not far behind the Slam-winning
pace of Pete Sampras. Roger's perfection in all aspects of the game suggests
that he will join the select group in tennis history who have won all four
Slams at least once including Garros, an achievement that eluded Pete.