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August 26, 2010 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
 
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U.S. Open Indicators
by Ray Bowers

Ray Bowers Photo
Ray Bowers

Expectations for the forthcoming U.S. Open are even cloudier than usual. The range of plausible champions in both men's and women's singles reaches into the second or even the third octave. Defending male champion del Potro, with injured wrist, will be sidelined, along with Tsonga and female favorites Serena Williams and Justine Henin. Meanwhile the remaining top stars bear injuries and tiredness from the brutal summer season on hard courts, further distorting the probabilities. Opportunity for glory beckons for many.
 
There are several convenient yardsticks for comparing the chances of the many male contenders. We here sketch four primary indicators, add two more, and then discuss the top candidates who emerge.
 
THE INDICATORS -- ROLLING-12-MONTH RANKINGS
 
With Slam triumphs at Wimbledon and Garros to go with a sweep of the other leading clay-court events, Rafael Nadal is well ahead in the official ATP 12-month rankings, shown here as of 23 August. Roger Federer's win over Djokovic in the semis at Toronto and his triumph at Cincinnati lifted Roger back into second place after a short tenure in third.

  1. Rafael Nadal, 10,745 ranking pts.
  2. Roger Federer, 7,215
  3. Novak Djokovic, 6,665
  4. Andy Murray, 5,125
-- YEAR 2010 RACE
 
Nadal's lead over second-place Federer in the 2010 year-to-date race is even more pronounced than in our first category. Already it is almost certain that Rafa will become the year's champion in December. After Roger, the next five contenders are fairly closely bunched, where Berdych, Djokovic, and Roddick follow those listed below. (The data were unofficially tallied here.)
  1. Rafael Nadal, 8,815 ranking pts.
  2. Roger Federer, 5,385
  3. Andy Murray, 3,955
  4. Robin Soderling, 3,635
-- U.S. OPEN SERIES
 
The summer North American swing saw plenty of fascinating men's tennis action amid the expected sizzling temperatures. Nalbandian defeated Baghdatis in the Washington final, launching what would be a fine August for both. The high seeds -- Federer, Nadal, Murray, and Djokovic -- all reached the semis in Toronto, Murray prevailing in that final weekend. All four would then reach the quarters in Cincinnati but only Federer would go farther, helped by withdrawals by two opponents in the middle rounds. Roger would defeat Mardy Fish in three close sets in the Sunday-afternoon final.
 
Andy Murray's success in Toronto, along with Roger's at Cincinnati, largely explain the present order in this volatile indicator, officially compiled as of 23 August.
1. Andy Murray, Roger Federer, each 170 pts. (tied)
3. Mardy Fish, 140
4. David Nalbandian, 110
-- PAST U.S. OPEN ACHIEVEMENT
 
Federer's run of five consecutive U.S. Open triumphs came to an end when Roger lost to del Potro in last year's final. Roger's six- year achievement places him far ahead of all others in this indicator. No other player's score here exceeds one-third of Roger's.
  1. Roger Federer
-- "CALCULATION 1"
 
This is our only indicator specifically designed as a predictor for the Open. Recent player performances are weighted depending on how well historically each particular event has predicted outcomes at succeeding U.S. Opens. Nadal's score here only slightly exceeds those of his close rivals, as the clay events where Rafa achieved much of his success are much less heavily weighted here than are the main fast-court tournaments. This indicator coincides with our "Calculation 1" -- later to be directly applied in our final prediction.
  1. Rafael Nadal, Sk score 18.468
  2. Roger Federer, 17.489
  3. Novak Djokovic,16.027
  4. Andy Murray, 15.643
-- PLAYER AGE
 
Several of the above indicators, especially the fourth, show a bias favoring older, experienced players over younger ones whose careers to date have been shorter. We correct by adding another indicator, one based on youthfulness -- i.e., player age. Here are the players among our top forty who gain most by this correction:
  1. . Marin Cilic, age 21.9 yrs.
  2. Ernests Gulbis, 22.0
  3. Thomaz Bellucci, 22.7
  4. Sam Querrey, 22.8
RANK ORDER AND ODDS
 
We integrate the above six indicators to reach an initial rank order and for help in estimating the odds. Nadal leads Federer in four of the indicators including his nearly five-year advantage in youth. But first place in the integrated standings and thus in his chances at the Open goes to Roger, his score most lifted by his six-year record at the Open along with his place atop the current U.S. Open Series.
 
#1. ROGER FEDERER, odds 3-1. Roger at 29 has learned that he must attack early against the physically strong stars of the younger tennis generation. His weaponry is still potent, whether in exchanging rockets with anyone or delivering unlimited variety in his tactics. Back troubles have been bothersome, but by limiting his playing schedule he has maintained his fitness. In his greatest years Roger sometimes showed stretches of seemingly lackadaisical play along with an unfailing ability to rise at the critical late moments of matches, often by unleashing his superb serving ability. These aspects are now seen less frequently.
 
#2. RAFAEL NADAL, odds 4-1. Rafa, now at prime age of 24, emerged from the summer events slightly worn, his game only moderately well tuned. On smooth paved courts Rafa's severely overspinning ground strokes lose the height of bounce that is troubling to opponents on clay. But he remains a strong hard-court competitor, possessing a fine attacking game off his powerful forehand, including excellent net skills, even as his magnificent defensive and counter-attacking strengths remain. Rafa has never won U.S. Open, but he won the Australian in 2009 on similar surface, beating Roger in a five-set final. Nadal's loss to Baghdatis in the Cincinnati quarters hinted at a slight debilitation in Rafa from the summer season.
 
#3. ANDY MURRAY, odds 5-1. Andy at 23 seems to have raised himself ahead of Novak Djokovic -- Andy's contemporary in age, his almost-identical image in physique at 6-3 and 185 pounds, and his approximate equal in ability. Against almost any opponent, Andy shows superior excellence in court movement and in serving/stroking power -- fundamental requirements for a champion today. His top ability in serve-returning and a propensity for defensive play provide further foundation for his tactics, which seem more attack-oriented than in the recent past, wisely so.
 
#4. NOVAK DJOKOVIC, odds 6-1. Novak, apparently injured, faded badly in his three-set loss to Federer in Toronto. Problems of injury or stamina also seemed evident in losing to Andy Roddick in Cincinnati. Previous sometime breathing difficulties add concern, given the heat and humidity likely in New York. Still, his movement and power are superior, and his ability to deliver heavy firepower with relentless effect will weaken the tactics of any opponent. Novak is a former Australian champion (2008) and U.S. Open runner-up (2007).
 
#5. ROBIN SODERLING, odds 15-1. Soderling is the player who broke Nadal's long run at Garros in 2009. Since then he has become an established top-tenner, currently standing at #4 in the year-to-date race, as listed above. A severe hitter especially off the forehand, Robin goes for the sides and corners fearlessly and often, so that when at his best he can dominate, and defeat, anyone. A quarter-finalist at the Open last year, he lost to Federer by tiebreak in the fourth set. This year he reached the final at Garros and quarters at Wimbledon, losing to Nadal in both cases.
 
#6. TOMAS BERDYCH, odds 20-1. At 6-5 and age 24, Tomas brings a crushing serve and ground strokes. Showing great early promise and breaking into the world top ten in 2007, he slipped backward in the rankings thereafter until recovering amid some fine performances this year, including a runner-up finish at Wimbledon. He currently is #5 in the year-to-date standings.
 
#7. MARDY FISH, odds 30-1. Mardy at 28 made severe changes in training regimen this year, losing substantial weight. He is now a tall and slender, flexible, and powerful athlete, still blessed with a potent serve and excellent backhand two-hander, having added in recent years a more-reliable, more-forcing forehand. As his list of higher-ranked victims began to grow, this summer he won the tournaments at Newport and at Atlanta. Then at Cincinnati he defeated Verdasco, Gasquet, Murray, and Roddick, enroute to a close final-round loss to Federer.
 
#8. ANDY RODDICK, odds 40-1. To his always devastating serving, Andy in recent years has developed a forceful but patient style of baseline play that often wears down opponents. He recently overcame a lingering form of mononucleosis and a long run of disappointing results, and at Cincinnati he looked strong in defeating Soderling and Djokovic before fading in a split-set loss to Fish.
 
#9. MARIN CILIC, odds 50-1. Marin is a fine mover and stroker, not yet 22, the youngest of our upper group, able to contend well in baseline play. He finished 2009 at #14, and he currently stands at #10 for 2010 to date. He is similar in age, physique, and playing style to del Potro, who defeated Marin in the U.S. Open quarters last year in four sets enroute to the crown.
 
#10. MARCOS BAGHDATIS, odds 75-1. A crowd favorite since his runner-up finish at Australian Open 2006, Marcos, now 25, launched a strong run this summer, reaching the final in Washington and defeating Nadal in a close three-setter in Cincinnati prior to a semi-final loss to Federer. Marcos has a surprisingly potent serve, and he competes with full energy and good aggressiveness.
 
#11. DAVID NALBANDIAN, odds 80-1. Returning from long absence caused by hip problems and surgery, David surged in late summer 2010, showing career-best firmness and consistency in stroking, meanwhile attacking judiciously and well. He scored two singles wins in Davis Cup play against Russia in July, then won the Legg Mason in Washington, and next beat Ferrer, Robredo, and Soderling before losing to Murray in Toronto. Stroking cleanly, he won twice in Cincinnati before losing to Djokovic.
 
#12. SAM QUERREY, odds 100-1. About a year ago, I wrote that Sam, then just 21, was ready to replace Roddick as U.S. #1. That did not happen, but there have been fresh flashes of encouragement, including a strong effort in Davis Cup against Djokovic on European clay. On grass Sam won at Queen's this year but then lost to Murray at Wimbledon. He won the hard-court tournament in Los Angeles, beating Murray, but then lost early at the later summer events. Helped by the age correction in our tally here, Sam at 6-6 is a strong server with forceful ground game and good court movement.
 
ALL OTHERS, odds 100-1 or longer.
 
THE PREDICTIONS
 
Offered next is our final prediction, which employs the method already used here for the first three Slams of 2010. Two calculations are involved. Calculation 1, noted earlier as one of our indicators, weights each player's recent performance according to historical correlations across tournaments. Calculation 2 weights head-to-head outcomes according to margin, recency, and commonality of surface. The two tend to agree in predicting the winner of a matchup. They are calibrated such that in cases where they differ, each calculation should prevail the other in about half the cases, wherever its evidence is the stronger.
 
TOP QUARTER
 
Top-seeded Rafael Nadal will take Kohlschreiber seriously in the third round, while the lower half of this quarter will feature several excellent match-ups. But the narrow survivor in that half, Verdasco, will have only faint chance against a healthy and well-prepared Rafa. Nadal.
 
--Nadal over Kohlschreiber. Rafa has won all seven of their past meetings although Philipp made it close in Canada recently.
 
--Ferrer over Gulbis. The narrow edge goes to the Spanish player in both calculations.
 
--Verdasco over Nalbandian. Recent form argues otherwise, but Verdasco leads in both calculations.
 
--Verdasco over Ferrer. Past meetings of the two have been on clay with the close edge to Verdasco.
 
--Nadal over Verdasco. Rafa has won all ten of their past meetings and is far ahead in Calculation 1.
 
SECOND QUARTER
 
There seems no major obstacle to prevent a Murray-Berdych meeting to decide this quarter. Murray must prevail.
 
--Murray over Querrey. With the clear edge in Calculation 1, Andy also leads in the head-to-head score, having won two of their last three. Querrey won their most-recent meeting, a split-setter in Los Angeles.
 
--Berdych over Youzhny. Clear edge to the younger and more powerful player.
 
--Murray over Berdych. Murray leads in both calculations, showing a victory in their most-recent meeting, at Garros 10.
 
THIRD QUARTER
 
Roddick must surmount Davydenko, and Djokovic must survive Fish and Baghdatis, both of whom have been in top form recently. Still, the magnificent hard-court pairing of Djokovic versus Roddick should emerge to decide the quarter's champion. Our scheme picks Roddick.
 
--Roddick over Davydenko. Andy is firmly ahead in Calculation 1 given Nikolay's inactivity in early 2010. He also leads in the head-to-head record, 5-1 lifetime. Except that Andy won by walkover in Madrid 09, Nikolay won their last meeting, in Miami 08.
 
--Djokovic over Fish. Fish has never won in four meetings, including at Indian Wells 10. Both calculations to Novak.
 
--Djokovic over Baghdatis. Similar story.
 
--Roddick over Djokovic. Andy's four straight victories over Novak since losing at U.S. Open 08 produce greater weight from our Calculation 2 than Djokovic's edge in Calculation 1, even counting Novak's nearly five-year advantage in youth.
 
FOURTH QUARTER
 
A favorable draw almost assures the five-time champion a place in the final match of this quarter. Meanwhile Soderling and Cilic will decide Roger's opponent. The path to the semis looks likely for Federer.
 
--Soderling over Cilic. Robin won their recent meeting at Garros 10, and also has clear lead in Calculation 1.
 
--Federer over Soderling. Roger has won 12 of 13 meetings with the Swedish hitter, losing only at Garros 10, reinforcing his edge overall.
 
SEMIS AND FINAL
 
Our number work has produced only one deviation from the seedings in establishing the tournament's final four. The pattern continues in predicting Federer to defeat Roddick in the semis, where Roger's four wins over Andy in our primary two-year window for Calculation 2 extend his 19-2 edge lifetime. Our script, however, now veers differently.
 
Our list of the leaders in Calculation 1 presented at the outset here showed that Rafael Nadal is moderately ahead of Andy Murray, who is in fourth place in that Calculation. But the differential in the scores of the two players is by no means extreme. Nor is the verdict large in Calculation 2, where Andy shows wins in four of the seven meetings with Rafa in our two-year window, including two wins in three meetings of 2010. Andy's wins generally carry the greater coefficients for recency and commonality of surface. Andy is younger than Rafa, but it is by less than one year so there is no correction for age. When the final numbers are worked out, Andy's lead in Calculation 2 outweighs Rafa's in Calculation 1. Thus our overall scheme predicts that Murray will be the winner. But if Nadal had won their latest meeting in Canada, the verdict would have been the opposite.
 
The picture is remarkably similar in working out the prediction for Federer and Murray in the final round. Roger, as seen in the list shown early, has a narrow edge over Andy in Calculation 1. Meanwhile the two have played nine times in our window, so that Calculation 2 has considerable potential weight. But the two have divided the nine meetings by 5-4, Murray ahead, including a final-round win in Toronto. The scoring is close, but Murray's five-year edge in youth turn the Calculation 2 tally conclusively in his favor. Indeed, Murray's edge over Federer in combining Calculations 1 and 2 is slightly larger than his edge over Nadal in the semis. We therefore predict that Andy Murray will defeat Roger in the final round to become the new champion.
 
The verdict seems a plausible one, given Andy's superb court skills and his demonstrated pattern of improvement and growth.
 
- WOMEN'S SINGLES
 
The sidelining of Serena Williams by a recent foot injury weakens our several prediction indicators. Winner of Australian Open and, without loss of a set, Wimbledon 2010, Serena would have been the easy choice to win in New York.
 
THE INDICATORS -- ROLLING-12-MONTH RANKINGS
  1. Serena Williams, 7,895 ranking pts.
  2. Caroline Wozniacki, 6,410
  3. Kim Clijsters, 5,325
  4. Venus Williams, 5,176
-- YEAR 2010 RACE
  1. Serena Williams, 5,355 ranking pts.
  2. Caroline Wozniacki, 4,247
  3. Venus Williams, 4,085
  4. Samantha Stosur, 3,947
-- U.S. OPEN SERIES
    The current standings in the Series reflect results from four tournaments starting in late July. Azarenka won in Stanford, Kuznetsova in San Diego, Clijsters in Cincinnati, and Wozniacki in Montreal. Sharapova was runner-up at both Stanford and Cincinnati.
  1. Kim Clijsters, 125 pts.
  2. Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Victoria Azarenka, each 115 pts. (tie)
-- PAST U.S. OPEN ACHIEVEMENT
 
This indicator looks at late-round success at the last six U.S. Opens, weighted to favor recency. The two U.S. crowns and two runner-up finishes by Venus Williams prior to 2004 are thus excluded.
  1. Serena Williams, score 41 pts.
  2. Kim Clijsters, 30
  3. Justine Henin, 29
  4. Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, each 25 (tie)
-- PLAYER AGE
  1. Melanie Oudin, age 18.9 yrs.
  2. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 19.1
  3. Caroline Wozniacki, 20.1
  4. Yanina Wickmayer, 20.8
RANK ORDER AND ODDS
 
After integrating the several indicators we remove Serena from the final order, making Caroline Wozniacki our close leader in her chances to capture the Open, slightly ahead of Clijsters.
 
#1. CAROLINE WOZNIACKI, odds 4-1. Belying her little-girl appearance as a teenager Caroline has proven herself a tough on-court competitor. Born in Denmark of athletic parents from Poland, she rose dramatically in the rankings annually through age 19, attaining world rank #4 at end of 2009, having reached the final at U.S. Open, losing to Clijsters. This summer Caroline celebrated her emergence from teenaged status by winning her home-nation tournament at Copenhagen. She then claimed the crown in Montreal, defeating Kuznetsova and Zvonareva in a single day following two days of rain, both wins coming in straight sets. She thereby jumped to #2 in the 2010 race -- close enough to pass Serena if Caroline can reach the final at the Open.
 
l Wozniacki's playing style has generally been one of patience and control, happy to engage in extended rallies. Recently she has become more aggressive, mixing in heavier weight of shot and more-frequent aggressiveness in angular hitting. Listed at 5-10 and 128 pounds, it seems likely that as she grows into her new manner of play at age just 20, her results will only improve.
 
#2. KIM CLIJSTERS, odds 9-2, or 4.5-1. A year ago at the Open, having returned from retirement, an unseeded Kim Clijsters defeated both Williams sisters and then Wozniacki to capture the crown. The sports world will ever remember the scene of Kim's joy in victory lifting her small daughter. A foot injury hindered Kim's success in 2010, but she won the tournament in Cincinnati, surviving three adverse match points in the final round against a Sharapova seemingly again at her best. Maria was the heavier hitter and more-aggressive player amid several rain delays, but Kim was clearly superior at the finish after a foot injury to Maria. Then in Montreal, Kim suffered a hip or thigh injury that hampered her stroking in her three-set loss to Zvonareva. Her readiness for the Open is thus unclear.
 
#3. VICTORIA AZARENKA, odds 7-1. Victoria is a year older than Wozniacki, and in recent years as the two moved upward in the rankings, people wondered which of the two risers would emerge to superstardom. Victoria has always been the heavier stroker, the less patient of the two. She finished 2009 as world #7 but encountered hamstring/abductor problems in spring 2010. She then won the summer tournament at Stanford, beating Sharapova, then lost after leading Ivanovic in the first round at Cincinnati, and then withdrew with foot blisters after falling behind Zvonareva in the semi-final at Montreal.
 
#4. JELENA JANKOVIC, odds 12-1. Belgrade-born Jelena Jankovic, 25, was women's champion for 2008, finishing first in the year's points race but without winning a Slam. She slipped to #8 the next year but improved in the first half of 2010, triumphing at Indian Wells and reaching the final at Rome and the semis at Garros. Her current summer on hard courts has been disappointing, showing a sequence of early-round losses. Strong in all areas -- mobility, power, concentration, and consistency -- she is superior among the leading pros in none.
 
#5. AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA, odds 15-1. Agnieszka at age 21 plays a solid but softish game that usually carries her through the early rounds. She reached the final four at Stanford and the final two at San Diego but settled for one victory each at Cincinnati and Montreal.
 
#6. VERA ZVONAREVA, odds 15-1. Vera was the leading overachiever at Wimbledon 2010, where she reached the final round although seeded four rungs lower. Enroute she defeated Jankovic, Clijsters, and, behind clearly superior artillery, the unexpected semifinalist Pironkova. But then, unable to answer the potent serving of Serena Williams, she was beaten convincingly in the Wimby final. It was the first appearance in the final round of a Slam for the Moscow-born 25-year-old.
 
Physically strong, at 5-8 and 130 pounds but sometimes emotionally fragile, with a well-developed backhand two-hander, Vera has been nine years inside the world's top fifty, finishing in the first ten in both 2008 and 2009. She crowned her summer 2010 with a final-round finish in Montreal, beating Azarenka but losing to Wozniacki.
 
#7. MARIA SHARAPOVA, odds 15-1. Maria wacks freely and relentlessly to the lines and corners, with little temporizing but lots of grunting. After winning three Slams including one U.S. Open and attaining the world #1 position for a time in 2005, tall Maria then endured several years of shoulder trouble, including surgery. Her once-potent serve was lost, necessitating major changes in serving technique.
 
Maria returned to full action in 2010, her serving problems largely surmounted, her power stroking, aggressive court style, and relentless will gradually returning, At 6-2 and 130 pounds, now aged just 23, she lost to Serena in two close sets at Wimbledon 2010, then reached the final at Stanford and again at Cincinnati, where she failed to capture three favorable match points amid menacing storm clouds before losing to Clijsters.
 
#8. SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA, odds 30-1. It is hard to believe that Svetlana is only 25. She won U.S. Open at 19, in 2004, and has been a bulwark of Russian women's tennis for nearly a decade. Solidly built, athletic at height 5-5, Lana showed a dismal 2010 to date but as an unseeded entrant won the early-August tournament at San Diego, beating Radwanska. In Montreal, she again beat Agnieszka enroute to a semi-final loss to Wozniacki.
 
#9. SAMANTHA STOSUR, odds 30-1. Sam Stosur had been best known for success in doubles with partner Lisa Raymond. She moved upward in singles this year, reaching the late rounds at Indian Wells and Miami and then winning on clay at Charleston and reaching the final at Garros. At age 26 and height 5-8, Brisbane-born Samantha shows a firm and aggressive style. But she has never passed the second round in six tries at U.S. Open. Arm pain caused her to miss Cincinnati and Montreal.
 
#10. VENUS WILLIAMS, odds 30-1. Venus, now 30, 6-1 in height, has won seven Slams including two U.S. Opens. Her record this year has been reasonably strong, but after playing the Team Tennis season in July, she stayed out of the August tournaments, citing knee pain. Venus's athleticism, power, and mental strengths are probably as strong as ever. But the many contenders having similar weapons in today's game means that danger now lurks for Venus in middle rounds of every event. Venus's errors are slightly more frequent than in earlier times, while her still-heavy artillery produces less damage now than against the weaker fields of former times.
 
#11. ELENA DEMENTIEVA, odds 50-1. A year-end top-tenner for the last ten years, Elena is now age 28. At 5-11 and 140 pounds, her tall and athletic physique enables an all-court game based on power stroking and excellent court movement. A regular in the late rounds of major events over the years, her weaknesses in serving seemed incompatible with her otherwise splendid abilities. With the serving deficiencies now seemingly corrected, is a late-career surge ahead for Elena?
 
#12. FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE, odds 100-1. The unexpected French Open champion in 2010, athletic Francesca at age 30 has played in every Slam since her debut in year 2000, including all 39 Slams of the 21st century and 201st decade A.D. to date. Aside from winning Garros 10, she has reached the quarters in Slams only three other times, once each at Garros, Australia, and U.S.
 
ALL OTHERS, odds 100-1 or longer.
 
THE PREDICTIONS
 
Our predictions for the women's singles are reached by subjective judgment with some heed toward the verdicts of our indicators.
 
TOP QUARTER
 
Maria Sharapova must surmount a second-round meeting with hard-hitting Aravane Rezai. Maria's weapons seem too potent on hard, fast courts for Aravane, whose results have been fading since her strong early-year season.
 
Next will be a wonderful matchup where the winner will instantly become the favorite to win the tournament. Caroline Wozniacki is the tournament's highest seeded player and is the leader by our indicators, above. Her pairing in the fourth round against Sharapova seems an unfortunate product of the draw.
 
In picking the winner, the superb power, experience, and determination of Sharapova are beyond question. But the remarkable evolution of Wozniacki on her path to championship level is impossible to overlook. It will be a greater test than she faced in reaching the final last year. But the belief here is that the younger woman will somehow find a way to neutralize Maria's artillery, to overcome the pressures of being top-seeded and being in the big arena. The winner of this prize matchup, and then to advance by beating Kuznetsova or Li in the quarters, will be Wozniacki.
 
SECOND QUARTER
 
Ranked #4 by our indicators, Jelena Jankovic should be this quarter's favorite. Current form, however, shifts this designation to Vera Zvonareva, recent finalist at Montreal and earlier at Wimbledon. The two are old rivals, having split their twelve previous meetings. Vera won the last three, including at Dubai and Wimbledon 10. Zvonareva should overcome Jelena to become the quarter's representative in the tournament's final four.
 
The quarter also includes Radwanska, #5 in our indicators, and hard-serving Belgian player Wickmayer, age 20. These two are the likely fourth-round victims of Zvonareva and Jankovic, respectively.
 
THIRD QUARTER
 
Francesca Schiavone and Venus Williams are the high-seeded players in this quarter, but the stronger candidate, ranked #3 by our indicators, is Victoria Azarenka. Victoria will be strongly favored to beat Schiavone, while the Italian star Pennetta can be expected to test Venus, though the tall American should prevail. The heat of the court surfaces at the Open will not be kind to Victoria's foot blisters, which led to her retirement in Montreal. But Azarenka should match Venus in power and surpass her in consistency.
 
BOTTOM QUARTER
 
This is the territory of the defending champion, Kim Clijsters, who should be the strong favorite here. But Kim's hip injury in Canada raises concerns, and indeed in her big matches of the summer, Kim had seemed weaker than a year ago.
 
But neither Stosur, coming from injury, nor Dementieva or Bartoli, who squared away closely in New Haven, nor Hantuchova, is a plausible giant-killer here. Even if below her best, the highly likely winner of this quarter is the #2 player of the indicators, Clijsters.
 
SEMIS AND FINAL
 
Rising stars Wozniacki and Azarenka both reached the semis in Montreal, where only Wozniacki advanced to the next round. But young players mature rapidly, and improvements can be expected from month to month.
 
Guesswork on the effects of injuries is required in analyzing the Azarenka-Clijsters semi, where the foot blisters of Victoria seem less likely to be troublesome than the questionable hip of Clijsters in Kim's sixth match of the tournament. The choice is Azarenka. Meanwhile Wozniacki can be expected to repeat her win over Zvonareva in Montreal.
 
A first-time Slam champion will emerge from the final round. The combatants are one year apart in age, Azarenka very slightly the larger in height and weight. The fast courts would seem to favor Victoria. She won their most recent meeting, at year-end 2009, while Caroline won at U.S. Open two years ago. Reasoning that if Caroline can overcome Sharapova earlier in the week, she will likewise succeed against Victoria. Wozniacki should claim a fresh triumph, now the new U.S. champion.
 
Tennis remains the world's foremost women's pro sport, its top players recognized everywhere. Its popularity reaches to the distant corners through television, contributing positively to the self-esteem of women and cultural attitudes toward them. The game's superstars, past and present, contribute in this process, but also important are the demonstrations of commitment, determination, and courage by the everyday pros.
 
--Ray Bowers, Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.
 
FOOTNOTE ON THE CALCULATIONS
 
Here are the heaviest weighted of the 27 events used in our Calculation 1 as predictors of each player's chances to win the men's singles at U.S. Open 10.
U.S. Open 09, 7.70%
Indian Wells 10, 7.20%
Cincinnati 10, 6.50%
Australia Open 10, 6.10%
Miami 10, 5.40%
Wimbledon 09 and 10, each 5.25%
Canada 10, 4.90%

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Between The Lines Archives:
1995 - May 1998 | August 1998 - 2003 | 2004 - 2014


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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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