Spearheaded by American #1 Roddick, the fledgling Atlanta event initiates the US Open Series today. Similar to the “Road to Roland Garros,” these eleven tournaments (six ATP, five WTA) attempt to serve the dual purpose of affording players ample preparation for the year’s final major while creating a crescendo of enthusiasm among the sport’s followers. Despite the attendant pomp and circumstance, the USOS often falls a bit short of its lofty designation as “the greatest roadtrip in sports,” especially in comparison with its momentous clay counterpart. Yet these events do play a pivotal role in the calendar as the threshold to the season’s second half, which frequently offers a jarringly divergent set of narratives from the first half. We present five potential plotlines for the 2010 edition.
1a) Can the ATP top two extend their momentum?
After an indifferent beginning to 2010, vultures were circling around the Spaniard and the Serb as commentators queried whether either of them could recapitulate their 2008 peaks. First to awaken was Nadal, whose literally perfect clay season foreshadowed his second career Channel Slam. Still slumbering on much of the terre battue, Djokovic reinvigorated himself with a Wimbledon semifinal run that once again illustrated his stylish, multifaceted all-court style. So will Rafa dominate the hard courts as he did the clay and grass, and will Novak justify his elevated ranking over the summer? Often weary from first-half exertions, Nadal rarely displays his most brilliant tennis in this phase of the season, whereas Djokovic has garnered his most consistent results at the US Open (three consecutive semifinals). Nevertheless, the world #1 will enter both Masters Series events as the distinct favorite, while the Serb will attract far less attention than a typical #2; such a role might benefit the easily diverted Djokovic, though, allowing him to focus upon forehands and backhands. [Some sources suggest that Nadal will play only one event in the US Open Series, but he has not yet withdrawn from either Canada or Cincinnati.]
1b) Can the next two reverse their momentum?
Since a sparkling Melbourne campaign, Federer has suffered a series of prodigious blows on all three surfaces, culminating in an uninspired quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon. To be sure, a similar scenario unfolded two years ago before the Swiss grandmaster rallied to capture three of the next four Slams, so discussions of his demise sound a trifle premature. Yet his mid-season swoon looked much more disquieting this time, for his Slam losses occurred against players whom he had formerly dominated instead of against long-time nemesis Nadal. Inscribed on almost every meaningful page in the sport’s record book, Federer recently has struggled for motivation at Masters Series events and will be vulnerable to any ball-bruising baseliner brimming with confidence. Positively horrific between Melbourne and Wimbledon, meanwhile, Murray must avoid the mental torpor that descended upon him after his previous Slam disappointment. The Scot excelled in Canada and Cincinnati last year but has exited before the semis at all five Masters Series events in 2010.
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