STUART FRASER

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TALKING BALLS 029 Ė WEDNESDAY 1ST SEPTEMBER 2010
By Stuart Fraser

The heat is on in NY

The 2010 US Open in New York has arrived and as that famous song by Glenn Frey said, the heat is on.

Itís not been an explosive first couple of days in terms of on court action at Flushing Meadows, but the players are at boiling point with temperatures nearing the 100 degree mark.

Add the heat to the best of five set format and this fortnight will indeed be a real test of the playersí mental strength.

Some reckon that this is one of the most open grand slams in recent years, but personally I canít look past any of the big four lifting the US Open Trophy a week on Sunday.

There may be a dangerman or two that will pop out of the woodwork and reach the latter stages, but for me, it will be Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray who is victorious.

Hardly the most specific of predictions from me so letís break down each playerís case.

Federer comes into the tournament as the bookiesí favourite and certainly showed all the hallmarks of a tournament favourite with a comfortable first round win over Brian Dabul on Monday night.

Despite currently sitting at No.2 in the world rankings, heís rightly favoured over Nadal as he has shown the best form coming into Flushing Meadows this week, winning in Cincinnati and making the final in Toronto.

Add that to his record of making the last six consecutive US Open finals, winning five of them, and itís hard to look past the Swiss.  But quarter-final defeats in the French Open and Wimbledon to Robin Soderling and Tomas Berdych respectively suggest that his aura of invincibility in the majors has gone.

Nadal arrives after another fantastic French Open and Wimbledon double, hoping to complete the career grand slam at Flushing Meadows, but this is clearly his least favourite surface, having never got past the semi-finals.

And itís not just the surface.  The ball used in the US Open appears to cause Nadal problems with the Spaniard saying after his first round win over Teymuraz Gabashvili last night that he believes that it is easier to play flat shots with the ball rather than with topspin as he does.

Itís another interesting dynamic to think about when considering his chances of winning the US Open.

Nadalís form hasnít been outstanding coming into the US Open, reaching the semi-finals in Toronto and quarter-finals in Cincinnati, but he is the world No.1 and it would not be surprising if he peaked just in time for the latter stages next week, should he get there.

However, in his half and potentially standing in the way of Nadal and his first US Open final is the hotly tipped Murray.  The Scot won this yearís US Open Series and impressed many with back-to-back victories over Nadal and Federer on his way to the title in Toronto earlier this month.

All the talk in the UK media is understandably about Murrayís search for that elusive first grand slam title, and with the US Open widely considered to be his best chance of winning one, itís no surprise that the press are a little excited about what could potentially happen this fortnight.

Whilst I donít share the feelings that there was an almighty shift from defence to attack in his game in Toronto, I do think there was a bit more freedom and purpose in his shots and his execution of plays was spot on.

Itís this small change which could make all the difference for Murray when it comes to his next grand slam final.

And what about Djokovic? It was only just over two weeks ago that he was the world No.2, but you have to feel that this was more due to Federerís decline rather than his own improvement.

Considering the temperature forecast in New York and the Serbís well documented issues over coping with the heat, you would have to put him as the least favourite of the big four to win in the Big Apple this year.

However, Djokovic always seems to be there or thereabouts when it comes to the latter stages of tournaments, and considering his record of one final and two semi-finals in the past three years in New York, you certainly canít rule him out.

We must also give a special mention to Juan Martin Del Potro who is unable to defend his US Open title this year due to a wrist injury.  After such a stunning performance in the final against Federer last year, itís unfortunate that he has been plagued with ongoing wrist problems since.

The Argentine hasnít played since Melbourne in January and had wrist surgery in May.  Although the US Open has come too soon for him, he is expected to make his return at the Thailand Open in Bangkok later this month.

Despite the absence of the defending champion in New York, it still promises to be another excellent US Open championship.  A fortnight which I expect will be concluded with Roger Federer claiming his seventeenth grand slam title.  We shall wait and see.

Britwatch in New York

It would be nice to be talking about other Brits potentially challenging for the US Open title apart from Murray, but alas this is the situation British tennis finds itself in, and weíre not going to go over old ground again.

However, although realistically we canít expect Elena Baltacha to be involved in the final stages of the Womenís Singles next week, it was great to see her comfortably beat Petra Martic in straight sets in the first round on Monday.

Depending on other results, this could well clinch her a place in the top 50 at the end of the tournament which would be a career high ranking.  Something which Baltacha and coach Nino Severino thoroughly deserve for their hard work and positivity in the face of adversity.

A win over Petra Kvitova today could clinch her a third round match against defending champion Kim Clijsters.  These are the sort of big matches on the biggest stage that you live for.

Sadly Anne Keothavong suffered a tough three set first round defeat to Yung-Jan Chan in the first round.  Conditions were tough in the heat and Keothavong struggled with the moonball tactics utilised by her opponent.  It was a clever tactic for Chan which worked.

To be honest, moonballing is a pet-hate of mine but unfortunately it is often seen in the womenís game, and itís just something that you have to learn to beat.

Keothavong was understandably downbeat about her future after the match.  Itís been tough for her since she suffered from injury after reaching the top 50 back in 2009 and she has struggled to reach these heights again. 

Currently Keothavong sits at No.142 in the world rankings.  However, at the age of 26, she is far from finished and hopefully she can rediscover her peak form once again.

Keothavong and Baltacha were the only two British women in the main draw after Laura Robson, Heather Watson, Katie OíBrien and Naomi Cavaday all went out in qualifying.

Robson had a great win over former world no.4 Jelena Dokic in the first round, and despite a narrow exit at the final qualifying stage, the future still looks bright for the 16-year-old.  Itís hard to actually believe she is still only just 16.

Watson made a great start in her first round match, taking the first set against Lourdes Dominguez Lino, but the Spaniard fought back to take the next two sets and knock out the young Brit.  Just like Robson though, Watson is still young at only 18-years-old so we watch her progress with interest.

Cavaday also went out in the first round and OíBrien sadly lost her final qualifying round match against Olga Savchuk.  OíBrien hung around in New York though as she was third on the list of lucky losers, but unfortunately a space in the main draw didnít come up for her.

Jamie Baker and Alex Bogdanovic were our only entrants in the menís qualifying as James Ward and Richard Bloomfield narrowly missed out by just a few places.

Baker did well to win his first match in straight sets against Joao Souza but had a tough draw against the experienced Frenchman Marc Gicquel in his next match and went down in straights.

Bogdanovic unfortunately had to retire at a set up and 2-5 down in his first round match against Blake Strode after suffering from a back spasm.  Bad luck for the Brit who was, judging by all accounts, playing well and looking good for the win.

Canít forget the Brits who take part in the doubles this week.  Sadly Ross Hutchins is already out, losing with partner Scott Lipsky in the first round to Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach.

Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski face Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos, and should be confident of continuing their run of first round wins at all the grand slams so far this year.

Keothavong is the only British representative in the Womenís Doubles, partnering Latvian Anastasjia Sevastova.  Of course, singles is Keothavongís main priority and understandably she will struggle to shake off her disappointment at her performance this week, but a few wins in the doubles could do some good for her confidence.

Dan Evans decides to take a break

Having been involved in three of the past four qualifying events for grand slams, it was notable that Dan Evans was missing from qualifiers for the US Open last week, having decided to take an indefinite break from tennis at the start of last month.

His ranking, around the 370 mark, would not have been enough to get him in to qualifying anyway, but itís still a shame that someone once tipped as a possible future top 100 player was not competing.

It was only just over a year ago that Evans had cracked the top 250 at the age of 19 and appeared to be a clear candidate for the regular British Davis Cup No.2 spot when he played against Poland and Lithuania.

However, four singles defeats in these ties coupled with his frustration at being unable to perform consistently at challenger level both appear to have contributed to this decision by Evans to take some time out from the game.

It could be a good move.  Look at Colin Fleming who took a couple of years out from the tour to finish his degree.  He returned to tennis rejuvenated and determined to succeed, and is now regularly competing at ATP tour events.

Hereís hoping that the same happens to Evans.  He has all the talent and this break might just give him some of the determination also needed to make it to the top.  We wish him all the best.

Atlanta event success

The US Open series began just over six weeks ago with a new ATP 250 event in Atlanta and I was lucky enough to be there on holiday at the time so popped along for a couple of days.

It was an excellent event which was extremely well run for its first time.  The crowds turned out in force and were just as enthusiastic for the action on the outside courts as well as the main stadium court.

And just as enthusiastic were the volunteers who were helping out.  Their welcoming attitude added to the great friendly atmosphere surrounding the grounds of the Atlanta Athletic Club, which will incidentally host next yearís USPGA Championship.

As with all first time events, there were a few issues such as poor floodlighting on court 2 and high food & drink prices.  Another slight disappointment was the unavailability of outside court ground passes.  Even if you only wanted to watch the action on the outside courts, you had to buy a main stadium court ticket to gain access to the grounds.

Iím sure though that tournament organisers will listen to the fans and make some small changes for next year.  Itís a tournament with a great intimate feel which will hopefully go from strength to strength.