Could be wide-open U.S. Open

SCOTT RILEY, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 1:59 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- The 2010 U.S. Open will get underway in less than a week, and this year's fields appear to be a bit more wide open than usual.

We already know we'll have a new men's champion next month, as 2009 winner Juan Martin del Potro announced his withdrawal from the year's final Grand Slam event last week. And on the women's side, world No. 1 superstar Serena Williams will skip America's major while she continues to recover from foot surgery. Serena needed the procedure after she cut her right foot on a broken glass at a restaurant last month.

Serena was the talk of the Open a year ago (in a bad way), after she lost to eventual champion Kim Clijsters in a most unusual fashion. The three-time Open champ was called for a foot fault during her semifinal against Clijsters, which brought the popular Belgian to match point. And Clijsters then advanced to the final when Serena was slapped with a penalty point after directing a threatening tirade at the line judge who made the ill-timed foot-fault call.

So with Delpo and Serena out of the equation, let's take a look at the true contenders in the Big Apple.

As usual, you have to look no further than Roger Federer on the men's side. The Fed, of course, is the men's all-time record-holder with his 16 major titles, including an Aussie Open one this year, and five U.S. Open championships. He was seeking a sixth straight title there last year before del Potro came from behind to stun the Swiss great in five sets in the final, halting Federer's amazing 41-match winning streak in New York in the process.

And the former world No. 1 Federer is fresh off capturing his Open Era-record- tying fourth Cincinnati Masters title last week, as he held off rapidly-rising American Mardy Fish in the final.

Speaking of Fish. you'd have to think he has a pretty good chance in the Big Apple. The Minnesota native has been one of the hottest players on the planet over the last month, having won 16-of-18 matches, including a pair of titles during that span. The four-time 2010 ATP finalist missed last year's Open because of a knee injury, but enjoyed his best-ever showing in Flushing in his last appearance there in 2008, when he landed in the quarterfinals.

Fish, who has dropped 30 pounds since last season, started the year at No. 55 and is now all the way up to No. 21.

Back over on the women's side, Clijsters will return in an attempt to capture a third U.S. Open crown. The former top-ranked star got past Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki in last year's women's final, which put an exclamation point on her celebrated return to tennis. Clijsters came out of retirement last year and secured her Open title in only her third tournament back. In the process, she became the first mother in 29 years (Evonne Goolagong) to capture a major championship.

Note: Clijsters currently sits atop the women's standings in the U.S. Open Series.

Back over to the men, Federer and Fish won't be the only contenders in New York, as Rafael Nadal will be on hand as the reigning world No. 1 and reigning Wimbledon and French Open champ. Unfortunately for Nadal, the super Spaniard has not played his best Grand Slam tennis in Flushing, where he's yet to reach a final. He has, however, been knocking on the door in the last couple of years, having reached back-to-back semifinals there.

Will 2010 be the year he breaks through to the title tilt? Rafa still needs a U.S. Open championship to complete the career Golden Slam, which is all four majors and Olympic gold. Only six men have won all four Grand Slam events during their careers, with Federer being the last to turn the trick when he won the French Open last season.

Nadal and Federer should face some stiff opposition from some other top-10 stars, like former Aussie Open champ and former U.S. Open runner-up (to Federer) Novak Djokovic, reigning Aussie Open runner-up (to Federer) and former U.S. Open runner-up (to Federer) Andy Murray, two-time French Open runner-up (to Federer and Nadal, respectively) Robin Soderling and Wimbledon runner-up (to Nadal) Tomas Berdych. Is it me, or have Federer and Nadal been hogging up all the major titles?

I don't like Djokovic's chances of winning his first U.S. Open, just because he hasn't been able to close out that many big matches over the last couple of years. As it is for most players, things haven't boded all that well for the Djoker when he runs into Federer or Nadal at a major.

Murray's chances are better than Djokovic's, especially against Federer. I know, Murray's never beaten the Fed at a Slam, but I think he's getting very close and he does own a winning record (7-5) against the Swiss legend overall. Federer beat Murray in the 2008 U.S. Open final and this year's Oz Open finale.

I think he's (Murray) got a real shot in Flushing next month.

Note: Murray and Federer are tied atop the leaderboard (170 points apiece) in the U.S. Open Series, which is a series of North American hardcourt events that lead up to the U.S. Open, with the winner set to double his/her money in Flushing. Murray holds a tiebreaker advantage over Federer in the those particular standings.

Soderling has appeared in the last two French Open finals, but he's never done all that much in New York. The Swedish thumper did have his best-ever stay in Flushing last year, reaching the quarters for the first time.

Berdych has been one of the better major participants this summer, reaching his first-ever French Open semifinal, and then following up that performance with his first-ever trip into a Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, where he lost to Nadal.

Is a second straight trip into a major final in the offing for the big Czech? I don't think so.

And who are the more serious contenders in New York besides Clijsters?

Well, there are a bevy of women who could win the Open, but I'm not so sure who the front-runners are. Clijsters probably heads in as the favorite, with Serena on the sidelines until late next month.

Last year's runner-up to Clijsters, Wozniacki, has played some fine tennis this year, including a trio of titles, and the youngest player in the women's top 10 will head to New York as the top seed. The great Dane's latest championship came in Montreal this week, as she handled Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva in the Rogers Cup finale.

Wozniacki, who is the top seed in Gotham in Serena's absence, is a favorite to be sure.

Jelena Jankovic is a former No. 1 who reached the final there two years ago, only to lose to Serena. She's being playing some decent ball this year, but the Serbian diva hasn't quite been the same since reaching No. 1 in 2008 and losing to top spot early last season.

Two-time champion Venus Williams will be in the draw, but she hasn't reached an Open final since 2002, and hasn't titled there since 2001. Those numbers alone tell me the seven-time Grand Slam champ probably won't enjoy U.S. Open glory again. But you never know.

After Venus, the women's list still has a ton of capable players, but how serious are their chances of winning? The list includes two-time major finalist and 2004 Open runner-up Elena Dementieva, French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, Zvonareva, French Open runner-up Samantha Stosur, talented Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, and former U.S. Open winners Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Schiavone and Stosur have no shot at titling in NYC next month. So let's get that out of the way. I still don't know how Schiavone won the French, but at least that came on clay, her best surface. She'll be in way over her head on the hard stuff in Flushing.

Dementieva always has a chance in New York, but how come she can never seal the deal? Is it because of her weak serve? It has to be, because she can put her punishing groundstrokes up against anybodys.

Zvonareva has been solid this summer and could be ready for her breakthrough in the Apple. She appeared in her first career major final last month at Wimbledon, has played as well as anybody over the last two months, and has already appeared in four finals (1-3) this season.

I mentioned Azarenka, but I still think she lacks the maturity to win seven straight matches at a major. She definitely has the game.

As for the three-time major champion Sharapova and two-time Grand Slam victor Kuznetsova?

Sharapova, who captured the Open in 2006, has battled a series of injuries over the past couple of years, and I just don't think that she's all the way back to the point where she could go undefeated over two weeks. The Russian star has, however, quietly gone 23-5 over her last 28 matches, including trips into three finals (0-3) in her last four events.

Kuznetsova struggled mightily for the better part of this '10 campaign, but she's relocated her game in recent weeks, going 9-2, including a title in San Diego and a semifinal spot in Montreal last week/this week.

Do any Americans, aside from Venus, have shot in New York?

The top American men are 2003 champion and 2006 runner-up Andy Roddick, 6- foot-9 John Isner and Sam Querrey, who's quietly won four titles on the ATP World Tour this season.

The former No. 1 Roddick recently dropped out of the top 10 (but then re- entered it this week), blaming a mild bout of mono for his recent poor results. He captured his only Grand Slam title in New York seven long years ago, and something tells me that's the only one he'll ever win.

Isner became famous for playing in the longest-ever tennis match in the first round at Wimbledon back in June, and he's got the type of game (massive serve and massive forehand) that could land him in the second week in Flushing. Does he have enough game to soar all the way into the final.

Not yet.

Querrey leads all Americans with his four titles on four different surfaces this season, but can he add a U.S. Open one to his resume in the coming weeks? Like everyone else, he'd have to get past Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and/or Murray in order to do so.

With all due respect to Roddick, I think Fish might have the best chance of making the most noise among the Americans in the Big Apple. Maybe I'm underestimating Roddick and Querrey, but Fish has been the hottest of all his compatriots heading in. Has Fish peaked too soon? We'll see.

Note: With his 140 points, only Murray and Federer are ahead of Mr. Fish in the U.S. Open Series standings.

Venus is the only American woman with a chance of titling in New York. Melanie Oudin had that Cinderella run into the quarters a year ago, and she needed a series of come-from-behind victories over a slew of Russian stars in order to do so. The young Oudin has struggled somethin' fierce this season and it would be a shocker to me if she reached the quarters again in New York.

My darkhorse on the men's side would have to be Argentine David Nalbandian. The defensive specialist has always frustrated Federer and has won 15 of his last 18 matches, including a hardcourt title in D.C. just a few weeks ago.

Sorry, but I really don't have a darkhorse on the ladies' side. Maybe Li Na, who along with Zheng Jie became the first Chinese women to reach a Grand Slam semifinal, which they did in Melbourne back in January.

I don't have to make picks to win...but I'm going to anyway.

I actually like Federer to win his sixth Open title in seven years and Clijsters to repeat and nail down her third Open championship. (I really wanted to take Murray here.)

The '10 U.S. Open will start Monday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.


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