Women’s Draw Is Sorely Unbalanced

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The New York Sun

As United States Tennis Association officials huddled yesterday to correct a minor mistake made during the random selection of the men’s draw, Katrina Adams, a Tennis Channel commentator who co-hosted the selection ceremony with former world no. 1 Jim Courier, asked, “Could we redo the seeds for the women, too?”

No doubt that USTA officials, CBS television executives, and most fans would like to grant Adams her wish. Of the five women who have the best chance to win this tournament — Venus and Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Dinara Safina, and Jelena Jankovic — four were placed in the same half of the draw. Worse still, the Williams sisters, who haven’t won the U.S. Open since Serena took the title in 2002, could meet in the quarterfinals.

Ivanovic and Safina will join the sisters in the top half of the draw. Ivanovic has had treatment on her injured thumb since withdrawing from the Olympics, but her health remains in question. At the very least, she’ll begin the tournament with less confidence than usual as a result of so few matches, and so little practice, in the last month. She might need to beat former world no. 1 Amelie Mauresmo and Nadia Petrova before reaching a quarterfinal contest against Safina.

Safina has had the best summer of any woman on the tour, though her confidence might be a bit shaken after losing the gold medal match in Beijing (she double faulted 17 times). Daniela Hantuchova and Alize Cornet stand in her way in the early rounds. If Safina wins the U.S. Open, she’ll receive $2.5 million by virtue of her place atop the U.S. Open Series, which awards points for victories in the summer hard-court season.

Of the Williams sisters, Venus has the more difficult road to the quarterfinals, if only because the dogged and fleet-footed Agnieszka Radwanska, who reached the fourth round last year (and defeated Maria Sharapova along the way) awaits in the fourth round. The highest seeds in Serena’s quarter are Agnes Szavay (no. 13) and Nicole Vaidisova (no. 20), two talented players who are having forgettable seasons.

The bottom half of the women’s draw is much weaker. Jankovic is the highest seed (no. 2), followed by Svetlana Kuznetsova (the 2004 champion), Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva, and the erratic Vera Zvonareva (who won the bronze medal in Beijing). Any of those women could reach the final, but keep your eye on Victoria Azarenka, a 19-year-old from Belarus who could face Jankovic in the quarterfinals. Azarenka has a powerful serve and forehand, and she’s put together a nice year so far.

In the men’s draw, the most important question was, where would Novak Djokovic land, in the same half as Rafael Nadal, the no. 1 seed, or as Roger Federer, the four-time defending champion? The luck was with Nadal, who would much rather see David Ferrer, the no. 4 seed, in the semifinals, even though Ferrer beat Nadal here last year. Djokovic, the no. 3 seed and the defending finalist, is far more dangerous, and Federer now faces the prospect of beating both Djokovic and Nadal to win his fifth consecutive US. Open title.

Nadal, however, has a more difficult draw, overall, than Federer. He could meet hard-hitting Philipp Kohlschreiber early in the tournament, and then the 6-foot-5-inch slugger Tomas Berdych or the 6-foot-10-inch ace machine Ivo Karlovic. In the quarterfinals, Nadal could meet James Blake, David Nalbandian, or one of the most talented, and unpredictable, men in the sport, Gael Monfils. The semifinals might bring Andy Murray, who was playing his best tennis of the year before he suffered a surprise loss at the Olympics.

Unless he has one of his increasingly common lapses, Federer should reach the semifinals without much trouble. Nikolay Davydenko, who admits that his motivation is not what it used to be, is the highest seed in Federer’s quarter. Of the other seeded players in that section — including Richard Gasquet, Fernando Verdasco, Igor Andreev, and Radek Stepanek — there are threats, but minor ones. Federer hopes to salvage his year with a title here and move a step closer to Pete Sampras’s all-time record of 14 major titles (he has 12). He couldn’t ask for a better draw to do just that.

Like the Williams sisters, the top-ranked American, Andy Roddick, did not receive the best news yesterday. The no. 8 seed will face the tricky Fabrice Santoro in the first round and, most likely, the talented teenager Ernests Gulbis in the second round. If Roddick passes that test, he has a good chance of reaching the quarterfinals, where he likely would play Djokovic.


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