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Federer, Clijsters look like Open favorites

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With the 2005 U.S. Open less than a week away, it's probably safe to say that Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters look like the odds-on favorites to title in the Big Apple.

The amazing Federer just secured his ninth title of the year last week by handling Andy Roddick in the blockbuster final at the Cincinnati Masters. And by the way, the former world No. 1 Roddick fell to 1-10 lifetime against the reigning No. 1 Federer, who's been atop the ATP ledger now for 82 weeks and has beaten "A-Rod" in their last six meetings.

Due to inactivity from Federer, Roddick managed to win the 2005 U.S. Open Series, which will allow the American to double his prize money at the Open.

I'm running out of things to say about Federer, who's won his last 22 finals, has won his last 28 matches on hardcourts and is an unbelievable 64-3 overall this year.

Federer will head to Flushing as the defending champ, as he destroyed former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in last year's finale at the sprawling USTA National Tennis Center. The 24-year-old "Fed" has won four of the last seven and five of the last nine Grand Slams.

Roger Federer
The mighty Federer has won his last 28 matches on hardcourts.
Meanwhile, the ultra-popular Clijsters is red-hot among the women, as she'll head to New York on the heels of her back-to-back U.S. Open Series titles in Los Angeles and Toronto.

FYI, Clijsters captured the women's portion of the U.S. Open Series.

The former world No. 1 Clijsters is still seeking that elusive first-ever major title, having finished as the runner-up at four Grand Slam events, including a setback at the hands of her fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne in the 2003 U.S. Open final.

Clijsters titled at last week's Rogers Cup in Toronto by carving up her fellow former No. 1 Henin-Hardenne in straight sets in a marquee final.

Clijsters has won five of her tour-leading six titles on hardcourts this season, which certainly bodes well for the athletic star heading into America's Open.

Who will challenge Federer on the men's side? Well, I've limited the number of other contenders to just five, including the massive-serving Roddick, French Open champion Rafael Nadal and Aussie Open winner Marat Safin. The other two with a chance in New York, in my opinion, are Hewitt and possibly Andre Agassi.

The 19-year-old Nadal is 2-1 lifetime against the Fed, including a huge semifinal victory at this year's French Open. Nadal, like Federer, also owns nine titles this season, but eight have come on his beloved clay (a surface that cannot be found at the National Tennis Center).

Nadal pushed Federer to five sets in the entertaining Miami Masters final earlier this year and beat Federer on that same Miami hardcourt last season.

Federer has won one major and four Masters Series events this year, while Nadal has nailed down one Slam and three Masters Series shields. Needless to say, these two guys are hogging up all the heavy hardware on the circuit in '05, combining for all seven of the Masters Series championships and two of the three majors.

Not too bad.

Nadal plays well on the slower hardcourts, but let's see how he does on the quicker stuff in Flushing.

The 2000 U.S. Open champion Safin, a two-time major champ, beat Federer in the Aussie Open semis way back in January, even after the Fed held a match point, and the big Russian is always a threat to win any tournament he enters.

The question is, as always: Which Safin will show up in New York?

The 2003 U.S. Open titlist Roddick has lost to Federer in the last two Wimbledon finals, and I wouldn't expect the result to change if the two lock horns at any point in NYC over the next few weeks.

The 2001 U.S. Open winner Hewitt was this year's Aussie Open runner-up to Safin and was throttled by Federer in last year's U.S. Open finale, 6-0, 7-6 (7-3), 6-0. Hewitt is hoping he doesn't have to meet Federer at the upcoming Open, as the soaring Swiss has won their last eight matchups, including 15 straight sets.

The speedy Hewitt is a two-time Grand Slam champ, with his other victory coming at Wimbledon 2002.

That leaves us with the 35-year-old Agassi, who owns eight major titles, including the 1994 and 1999 U.S. Opens. Does he have enough in the tank to overcome the young field in the Apple? I say no way, even though he recently titled in Los Angeles and reached a final at the Canadian Masters before losing to the intense Nadal.

Agassi is 71-17 lifetime at the Open, including his two titles and three runner-up finishes against his long-time rival Pete Sampras. If he wants another title in the Apple, however, short matches would seem to be the answer for the iconic racquet man.

Summary. Federer.

If the Fed reaches the final, it's in the books.

Kim Clijsters
Clijsters is a whopping 32-2 on hardcourts this season.
In the ladies' draw, Clijsters can expect challenges from a bevy of stars, including newly-crowed No. 1 Maria Sharapova, Henin-Hardenne, Lindsay Davenport, and the Williams sisters. Reigning U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova and Amelie Mauresmo could also figure into the equation.

Note: Sharapova supplanted Davenport atop the rankings just this week.

The 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova assumed the top-ranking even though she was idle last week and hasn't reached a major final since her Wimby success in the summer of '04. The glamour girl was sent packing in the third round at last year's U.S. Open.

Henin-Hardenne, like Clijsters, is enjoying a comeback season in 2005, as she missed a good portion of 2004 and the early part of '05 while fighting back from illness and injury. JH-H is a four-time Grand Slam titlist, including her impressive run at the French Open in June.

The three-time major titlist Davenport has played very little tennis this summer while recovering from a back injury suffered during her Wimbledon final loss against Venus Williams early last month. The big American is still seeking her first major title since the 2000 Aussie Open, having lost to Serena Williams in this year's Aussie Open finale and Venus at the All England Club.

Davenport captured a U.S. Open title in 1998.

Serena has battled knee and ankle injuries for a majority of 2005 and will head to New York having played very little tennis. She pulled out of Toronto due to a sore ankle last week after reaching the third round at the Rogers Cup.

The former No. 1 Serena is a seven-time major champion, including U.S. Open titles in 1999 and 2002.

The five-time Grand Slam champion Venus stunned the tennis world by running the table at Wimbledon in late June/early July, fighting off a match point to stun Davenport in the all-American final at SW19. It marked the former No. 1's first major title since the 2001 U.S. Open, where she also titled in 2000.

That leaves us with Mauresmo, Kuznetsova and, perhaps, Mary Pierce. Mauresmo is always one of the women that we talk about heading into a major, but she always seems to come up short, with her only ever trip to a major final coming at the 1999 Aussie Open.

Kuznetsova will head to New York as the defending champ, but I don't think she'll leave there with another title next month. The sturdy Russian has not played the same type of ball this season as she played in 2004, and is currently nursing a back injury suffered in Toronto last week.

Kuznetsova bested Elena Dementieva in last year's historic all-Russian final at Ashe Stadium, but I don't see either one of 'em making a return trip in '05. Kuznetsova is ranked fifth in the world, while Dementieva is sixth, but those numbers seem a bit high.

Pierce is in the midst of a resurgent campaign, highlighted by a trip to the Roland Garros finale and a hardcourt title in San Diego earlier this month, but she's been slowed by a quad injury and two weeks of Grand Slam tennis may not be the remedy for the French star.

What the heck, I'll pick Clijsters to get on the board with her first-ever major.

Barring an unusual circumstance, there will be five former men's champions and five former women's winners on hand at the Open.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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