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Tennis players could face hard times as U.S. Open starts Monday

With players facing two weeks of physically punishing hard-court tennis after a busy, compressed summer schedule, this U.S. Open is especially hard to predict.

August 26, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Novak Djokovic practices at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in preparation for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday.
Novak Djokovic practices at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center… (Alex Trautwig / Getty Images )

NEW YORK — This might be the year to expect some surprises at the U.S. Open.

Play in the year's final tennis major begins Monday at 8 a.m. PDT, with defending women's champion Samantha Stosur getting the honor of opening on Arthur Ashe Stadium against Petra Martic of Croatia.

And the first men on Ashe court will be third-seeded Andy Murray, the newly crowned Olympic champion, and Alex Bogomolov Jr., who once played as an American and now represents Russia.

This summer has been jam-packed with the insertion of the Olympics into the short space between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. And because the Olympic tournament was played on Wimbledon's grass courts, hard-court preparation time has been compacted even more.

Chris Evert, a six-time U.S. Open champion who will be doing television commentary for ESPN, said this Open is particularly hard to predict.

"Look at the women right now," Evert said. "Maria Sharapova, she pulled out of two tournaments because of a virus. I think the players already have shown signs of fatigue."

Brad Gilbert, another former player and ESPN commentator, agreed with Evert. "I think the hardest transition is going from grass to hard court because hard court, it's the surface that's the toughest on your body.

"Novak Djokovic went right from playing the last Sunday of tennis at the Olympics to playing right away on hard courts in Canada."

Djokovic, the defending men's champion and seeded No. 2 this year, flew straight from London to Toronto after losing the bronze-medal match at the Olympics. He played six matches in Canada and won the tournament, then flew to Cincinnati and lost in the final to Roger Federer. Of the loss, Djokovic said, "Mentally, I wasn't there, I wasn't fresh. It's been a very busy time and maybe that caught up with me at the end."

The top-seeded man, Federer, begins his quest for his sixth Open title and first since 2008 on Monday. He will play American Donald Young in a night match, just after three-time champion Kim Clijsters, who is retiring after this season, plays American Victoria Duval.

Rafael Nadal, the 2010 Open winner and owner of 11 major titles, is out of this Open because of the same knee injury that caused him to skip the Olympics after his second-round loss at Wimbledon.

A beneficiary of Nadal's absence might be American John Isner, who is seeded ninth and is in the quarter of the draw led by fourth-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer.

Isner could get to the semifinals now without facing Nadal, Federer, Djokovic or Murray, who is still searching for his first Grand Slam tournament victory.

Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray, in some combination, have appeared in the men's finals of the last eight majors — Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.

Also what doesn't change is the expectation that fourth-seeded Serena Williams will contend for her fourth Open title and 15th major. She is coming off decisive championship performances at Wimbledon and the Olympics. Williams, who hasn't won here since 2008, said she isn't tired at all.

"I look forward to this," she said. "It's almost like a launching pad for what I want to do for the rest of the hard-court season."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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