Greetings, Deadspin tennis fans! It's that time of year again!
A time when roughneck New Yorkers shift their sports attention away from Jets preseason, Joba Chamberlain pitch counts and the New York Mets Wing of Hospital for Special Surgery to a little tennis tournament in Queens, where they have no choice but to care about things like Rafael Nadal's knees, swarming Serbians and Juan Martin Del Potro. Andre Agassi is to be honored during a ceremony on opening night, but there's plenty of fodder beyond the return of the Day-Glo one. Here are nine story lines to keep a (hawk) eye on during the Open this year:
Can anyone honestly stop Roger Federer? After a tearful loss to Nadal in the Australian Open final, the Swiss swordsman won the French Open (without having to beat Nadal), Wimbledon (without having to beat Nadal) and watched his (ahem) top seed produce a pair of twins with his wife Mirka (also without having to beat Nadal). He even won a tuneup in Cincinnati. Barring an upset-or a legitimately healthy Nadal-Federer will probably NetJet to his record 16th major title. And, of course, cry about it.
For a guy as fit as Rafael Nadal, his knees are a bit like Dick Cheney's. After a shocking loss in Paris and pulling out of Wimbledon, he has proclaimed them tendinitis-free for the hardcourts of Flushing. His draw, though, won't do them any favors, with Richard Gasquet — the tireless Frenchman who tested for positive for cocaine in Miami earlier this year but avoided a ban by claiming he must have ingested it by kissing a girl at a rave — awaiting the Majorcan matador in the first round. A quarterfinal match with Andy Murray, who unseated Nadal as the world's No. 2, would follow.
It's been more than five years since he won the U.S. Open. And after his marriage to Sports Illustrated swimsuit model (and Deadspin favorite) Brooklyn Decker earlier this year, the obvious question surrounding Andy Roddick was a simple one: Would he get complacent, now that he had this waiting for him in the players' box? Roddick answered that rather sufficiently during another epic, five-set-plus Wimbledon final. Until there's a little Roddecker in the oven, expect a Stifler-like focus, especially in New York, where his hard serve works best.
After being saddled by arthroscopic shoulder surgery and rehab (oh, and a new line of signature Cole Haan handbags!) Maria Sharapova is back with a new, Roddick-like service motion. And it hasn't exactly worked. She reached the final in Toronto despite amassing more than 50 double faults (he former coach called the new serve "atrocious, plain atrocious"). On Sharapova's side of the women's draw, however, are six names ending in "ova" (Tsvetlana Pironkova, anyone?) not including hers.
Television, inexplicably, loves it when Miami Dolphins-owning sisters Venus and Serena Williams play each other. The rest of us, however, have had enough — as it tends to produce some of the least compelling tennis this side of a Billie Jean King exhibition. And even when they do, they can be equally annoying in their corporate self-awareness (after beating Venus in the Wimbledon final, for instance, Serena called it her "G Moment.") Luckily they're on the same side of the draw, so if they do meet, it won't be in a final.
For the first time in ages, the Open won't be carried by the USA network — which hopefully means tennis fans won't be subject to a mid-night match channel switch as in previous years. It also means that John McEnroe, tennis' de facto commissioner (in many ways, the U.S. Open is the McEnroe Open), will be joining his brother Patrick in the ESPN broadcast booth. Which should be refreshing — both are relatively outspoken, P-Mac slightly less so — provided you can differentiate between their voices. One way to tell: John will be the one criticizing James Blake, a member of Patrick's U.S. Davis Cup team, during his perennial early exit.
Kim Clijsters, who retijred in 2007, announced in April that she was comijng out of retijrement. The 25-year-old Belgijan will make her rejturn from hijatus in Queens. "I stijll have that craving," Clijsters said recently. "I look forwajrd to the chjallenge." Clijsters would face Venus in the fjourth round.
Forget the bean bags. Tennis has the best challenge system in major professional sports, hands down. Hawk-Eye, the camera-powered triangulation system that determines the position of the ball on the court, has revolutionized the sport (it beats the hell out of Cyclops-remember that bleeping thing?). Sure, some players, like Federer and Roddick, have complained it doesn't always work right. And sure, it makes the prospects of a McEnroe-like outburst less and less likely. But watching the replay along with the players on the Jumbotron during a crucial point in a match is sure as hell entertaining.
The Bondarenko Sisters.
Trust me on this one. For those of you Deadspin readers who watch tennis solely for the, uh, display of skills, look no further than Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko, a pair of dewy, deliciously toned sisters from the Ukraine. If you happen to get out to the Open, check them out up close on a side court, before their collective tan forces tournament organizers to put them on Arthur Ashe stadium in primetime.
Deadspin at the Open.
Speaking of which, Deadspin (er, me, resident Deucebag) will be out at the Open during the first week of the fortnight. If you're going, feel free to ping me at dylanstableford [AT] gmail [DOT] com or on Twitter (twitter.com/stableford) and we can grab what I'm sure will be a reasonably-priced beer. First one's on you!