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So far this U.S. Open has been a guy thing

September 01, 2008|Kurt Streeter

NEW YORK -- Not to sound like too much of a caveman, but at the halfway mark of the U.S. Open a grand theme has emerged: Men good, women . . . bad?

Well, to put it more nicely, replace "bad" with "sputtering." From the women, top to bottom, there have been few truly stirring performances. Gone is the No. 1-seeded player, Ana Ivanovic, and the No. 3, Svetlana Kuznetsova. The player seeded second, Jelena Jankovic, has clunked her way through three matches, nearly falling prey to an upset herself.

This is particularly sad to say at a tournament where the ghosts of Navratilova, Graf, Evert and Seles swirl, but this week women need to raise their games if they're to rev up excitement for Saturday's final. OK, enough depressing thoughts, let's move on to something that's going a good bit better.

Over on the testosterone-driven side of the draw, Roger Federer played Sunday, looking like his old self. He easily walked through Radek Stepanek, a tough Czech known to sometimes come up with a stunner, as he did in beating Federer earlier this year.

On Sunday, everything was different; the elegant Swiss won, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, moving smoothly and hitting deeply, a must if he is to win this tournament for the fifth straight time. After a year of darkness, Federer now looks deeply focused.

"What counts is winning the tournament," he said after the match. "All anyone is going to talk about is the finals. That's how I look at things."

The way this tournament has set up, expect Federer to sail into the semifinals, since none of his potential opponents have given him much trouble. One player who has troubled the recently deposed King of Tennis is third-seeded Novak Djokovic.

The Serb beat Croatian teen Marin Cilic in a tense four-set battle Sunday night to advance to the fourth round. It's apparent from seeing Djokovic prowl the court that to beat No. 1 Rafael Nadal, he need not alter his game as much as Federer must.

My naked eye assessment? The ball has been booming off Djokovic's racket a bit heavier, cleaner, faster and lower than it has when struck by Federer. This could spell trouble for Nadal, who is somewhat allergic to heavy, clean, fast and low.

But trouble isn't the same as being ripe for a surprising defeat. In winning every set he's played last week Nadal was his typical snarly, powerful, intense and smart self. Recall that the Spaniard is my pick to walk off with the big prize this week. So far, nothing here dissuades me.

The others? Many have been great, but the player to keep your eye on is Juan Martin del Potro, a lanky, 19-year-old Argentine who comes to this tournament running as fast and smooth as a Maserati on the Autobahn. Hmm, he's 19, tall, carefree, and playing as if he can't miss. Remember Pete Sampras when he came from nowhere to win here in 1990?

Five, six, eight years ago, women's tennis here was as compelling as the men's, maybe more. Those days are over. Thank goodness for the Williams sisters. They've come motivated and focused, which means everyone else is probably toast.

Sadly, the draw this year has them steered toward a collision in the quarterfinals. Watching Serena drive the ball this week, a sight as sweet as a Manny Ramirez line shot, I give her a slight edge in that match, and through Saturday night's final. Question: If one of the sisters is not on court for the final, will anyone watch? OK, that may be a bit harsh.

But backing up my overall assessment is Robert Lansdorp, the South Bay tennis guru who guided Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova. Laid up with a bad back, he spent last week at his Redondo Beach home, watching the Open on TV. We spoke over the phone after Ivanovic suffered one of the biggest upsets in tennis history: No. 1 losing to No. 188. Lansdorp was unsparing, and deeply disappointed.

"I don't know what's wrong with this group," he said, referring to the top women. "One moment they play great. One moment they play awful. You can't count on them. You can't say anyone is playing great. Ivanovic played with a bad thumb, but if she's the best player she should have been able to beat that other girl with nine fingers. . . . Other than maybe the Williams sisters I'm very disappointed."

Lansdorp went on to rave about the men, particularly Nadal, for his constant improvement. The way I see it, the guru got it right. Hopefully, this week this changes. Then, hopefully, we'll see greatness from both sides.


Kurt Streeter can be reached at

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