DOUG SMITH HANDICAPS U.S. OPEN

It’s that time of year again.
Big names playing under bright lights way off Broadway – in a place called Flushing Meadows. For two weeks the U.S. Open commands the sports world’s attention.
Here are some of the superstars and why I believe Raphael Nadal and Venus Williams will wear the crowns in a fortnight.
Men

Raphael Nadal — Clearly the man to beat on any surface. With the French Open and Wimbledon already in the bag, the 22-year-old lefty hopes to become only the fourth man in the Open Era to win three consecutive major titles in the same year. He’s got the game and enough fire-in-the-belly to do it. 2:1

Roger Federer — Federer hasn’t won a major since collecting his fourth consecutive U.S. Open last year. In his prime years Pete Sampras used to say just one major title helped brighten his year. If Federer becomes the second man since Bill Tilden (1924) to win five consecutive U.S. Open titles, the 27-year-old Swiss would have much to cheer about. 4:1

Novak Djokovic — This 21-year-old Serb is a lighthearted, comedic soul who strikes a heavy ball. He began the year with a bang, capturing the Australian Open, but fell short at the French Open and Wimbledon. Lost to Federer in straight sets here last year but should still be considered a serious contender. 8:1

Andy Roddick — Since capturing the 2003 U.S. Open, Roddick’s gotten close at Wimbledon (finalist 2004-05) and the 2006 U.S. Open but remains a one Slam wonder. Roddick skipped the Olympics to rest his shoulder and prepare for the one he wants most. “If you’re an American, it’s the one you look forward to every year,” he says. 14:1

Juan Martin Del Potro — The 19-year-old Argentine arrives at the U.S. Open with four consecutive titles and a 19-match win streak. Solid from the baseline and quite nimble at the net, Del Potro might be at least a spoiler, if not the next teenage U.S. Open champion.
18:1
Women

Ana Ivanovic — Not a speedster but quick enough to win a major (French Open) and strong enough to reach No. 1 in the world. Got beyond the Australian Open quarterfinals (lost in the final) for the first time last January but has yet to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals. 7:1

Jelena Jankovic — Slowed by injuries and illness this year but still managed to reach No. 1 for a few weeks. “Not many players have achieved that,” Jankovic said. “I’m really proud I joined this selection of great champions. Has yet to reach a Grand Slam event final. 15:1

Serena Williams — Used to play smash mouth tennis with a touch of arrogance. Lost for only the second time to big sis Venus at major event (Wimbledon). “Maybe I’ll just go study, see what went wrong at Wimbledon,” she said. “Hopefully, I can rectify it.” 5:1

Venus Williams — Used to cater almost completely to lil sis Serena, especially on the tennis court. No more. Venus demonstrated her superiority at Wimbledon and has made it clear to all competitors, including lil sis not to get in her way during this fortnight. “I wish everybody the best of luck but I’m really down with me winning this tournament,” Venus said. 2:1

Lindsay Davenport — Ten years after claiming her first U.S. Open title, Davenport still is capable of snaring another. She pulled out of Wimbledon in the second round because of a nagging knee injury. Won two of three events played after returning to the tour late last year after giving birth to her first child, Jagger, in June 2007. Knee remains a question mark. 18:1.

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