Since I just wasted two and a half hours of my life watching the MTV Video Music Awards due to my extreme obsession with anything and everything Taylor Swift does (I almost needed resuscitation after MTV cut to her dancing every five seconds during Justin Timberlake's performance), I figured I would go with an awards theme for my preview of the final Grand Slam of the season, the U.S. Open. I will refrain from making actual predictions until later on in the tournament, since by then I figure I'll have a greater chance of getting some of them right this time around.
Best First Round Matchups:
#2 Rafael Nadal vs. Ryan Harrison
Nadal comes into the tournament as the favorite on the men's side, as he has not lost a match on hardcourts this year and he won the two major tune-up events in Montreal and Cincinnati. Harrison looked very impressive losing to then #3 David Ferrer in Cincinnati, and is much more talented than his current ranking of #97 portrays. It's a shame that Harrison seems to draw the top seeds in almost every major event he enters, since he has the skill to make a run at a Grand Slam.
Lleyton Hewitt vs. Brian Baker
This is the hip surgery matchup of the tournament. Hewitt, the 2001 U.S. Open winner, has battled back from hip surgery a couple years ago to get back into the main draw of major tournaments, even making the final at Newport earlier this summer. Baker, who was a top juniors prospect in the early 2000's, has come back from more injuries than any player in recent memory, including hip surgery, Tommy John surgery on his elbow, and recently a torn meniscus (which is no joke trust me I just had that surgery). Both of these players have the capability to knock off a couple of seeded players if they can stay healthy (which is a big if for Baker).
James Blake vs. Ivo Karlovic
This is a matchup of two players who are in the twilight of their careers. Blake was a top 5 player at the end of 2006, while Karlovic got as high as #14 in 2008, but both are hovering around the top 100 currently (Blake is #100 while Karlovic is #79). They both had a huge weapon when they were in their prime, with Blake having a booming forehand and Karlovic having one of the biggest serves in history. Both players have regressed in recent years, but Blake showed signs of regaining his form in Cincinnati, knocking off #15 Jerzy Janowicz in impressive fashion in the first round. Blake was raised in nearby Connecticut, and always has his fan club - otherwise known as the J-Block - rocking the Open.
#1 Serena Williams vs. Francesca Schiavone
Schiavone is the 2010 French Open champion who was ranked as high as #4 in the world in early 2011. She is currently ranked 54th in the world, making her a tougher opponent than normal for the first round of a major with 128 players entered. If this tournament was on clay Schiavone may have a chance at giving Serena a more difficult time, but it is a rare occurrence to see two former Grand Slam champions playing each other in the first round.
#12 Kirsten Flipkens vs. Venus Williams
Flipkens beat Williams in Toronto three weeks ago in the first round in three sets, then a week later in Cincinnati they would have played in the second round if Flipkens had advanced that far. Now they are playing each other again at the U.S. Open. For two players to be in the same section of a draw for three straight tournaments is a rarity. If Venus is healthy she can knock off anyone, and she will be looking to avenge the loss to Flipkens in Toronto.
Players to Watch or Listen To:
Youzhny likes to use his racket in unconventional ways. He was so apologetic to the fans at the French Open in 2012 that he took his racket and wrote "SORRY" in the clay after getting hammered by David Ferrer. He was so angry at the French Open this year that he smashed his racket nine times on the back of his chair during a changeover. But by far the most obscene and obscure use of a racket came in 2008 when he smashed his racket on his head, causing a huge gash on his forehead, streaming blood down his face during a match. Here's the proof... it's either gruesome or funny depending on your sense of humor (I think it's hilarious).
Baghdatis has been known to abuse his rackets as well, as he is the author of my all time favorite racket-smashing sequence ever at the Australian Open. Anyone that breaks a racket (or four) with the plastic on is tremendous in my books (hence the picture next to my name on this site). What actually made me a lifetime fan of his was seeing him play live in New Haven, CT a few years ago. I was lucky enough to be seated a couple rows away from his cheering section, who sounded like the chanting fans at a soccer match. They encouraged my sister and me to join in on their boisterous chants, and Baghdatis seemed to relish it, looking up to our section and smiling after almost every point. Baghdatis is a terrific showman and always a blast to watch.
Michelle Larcher de Brito
Normally when you are ranked #117 in the world are not very well known, but Larcher de Brito is known around the tennis circuit for something unusual and not endearing at all. She makes the most noise on a tennis court with her obnoxiously loud grunts on every shot. Rumor was at last year's U.S. Open qualifying tournament that you could hear her grunting on every court adjacent to the one she was playing on. You could even hear it during CBS Sports Network's broadcast of other matches. When you grunt so loudly that it travels through one stadium onto another you know you have a problem.
Bethanie doesn't smash rackets or grunt, but she might be the loudest player in tennis right now. She's had green, blue, and pink hair this summer. She's got a bunch of tattoos. She's worn eye black, knee high socks, and a tank top at the same time. She takes her two favorite males with her everywhere she goes, her husband and her dog Ruger. She wore the Google Glass during a week of practice at Wimbledon this year. She wore a dress made out of tennis balls and nets to the Wimbledon ball a couple years ago, designed by the same stylist who does Lady Gaga's outfits. I can't wait to see what she will be wearing this year at the Open. I wish she would win a couple of matches at a major so people could see just what an awesome player and individual she is. Seriously she is probably the person I would like to meet the most because I simply adore her. Except for Taylor Swift of course... but meeting her might get me arrested. Don't ask me how or why I know this.
#6 Juan Martin del Potro
It's hard to consider someone who has won the Open before a darkhorse, but anyone outside of Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray winning a major would be an upset these days. Delpo has looked very impressive this summer, winning the tournament in Washington and making the semis in Cincinnati, facing John Isner in both matches. He has the game and the experience needed to win another U.S. Open, which would definitely add him to the list of favorites for any Grand Slam in the future.
#5 Tomas Berdych
Berdych is ranked fifth in the world and is seeking his first Grand Slam title. He has made one Grand Slam final, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2010. Berdych is a very consistent performer at the Grand Slams and the Masters events, making at least the round of 16 in every major event this year besides the French Open. The disadvantage to being ranked outside the top 4 is that you have to play one of the top players in the quarterfinals, which is where Berdych has faltered in many major events. Case in point, he would face Andy Murray in the quarters, either del Potro or Djokovic in the semis, and possibly Nadal in the finals. That is a brutal final three potential opponents in order for Berdych to make a breakthrough at the Open.
#13 John Isner
There is a lot of pressure on Isner at this event, since he is the only true American contender. The question with Isner is if playing every week of the summer helped or hampered his chances at the U.S. Open. We know it definitely helped his ranking, which is up to #13 leading into the Open. We also know that it helped his confidence, as he is playing his best tennis right now, giving Nadal all he could handle in the finals at Cincinnati. Whether all the matches will fatigue him so much that he won't be able to make the second week is the big question mark. His big serve and improved ground strokes can knock anyone off, including all of the players seeded ahead of him.
#21 Simona Halep
It is really hard to find a darkhorse on the women's side, since realistically there are only two contenders - Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. While I don't think Halep can win the tournament, she could make a deep run and knock off some seeds during the next two weeks. She just won last week in New Haven, giving Caroline Wozniacki her first loss at her favorite tournament in the semis and defeating defending champ Petra Kvitova in the finals. She's up to a career high #19 in the world, and has a stellar 39-14 record this season. She has a pretty good draw, with a struggling Sara Errani and Wozniacki as the highest seeds in her quarter.
I can't guarantee that any of these players will breakthrough and win the U.S. Open, but I can guarantee that the last Grand Slam of the year will be more entertaining and exciting than the MTV Video Music Awards. Plus there won't be anyone reuniting for 30 seconds or using a foam finger in a way it has never been used before and should never be used again. Now excuse me while I find some pictures of Taylor Swift's outfit from the VMA's. I told you I was obsessed. And it was outstanding.