Former USA Today Tennis Writer Doug Smith Handicaps 2007 US Open

Sportswriter Doug Smith Handicaps both the Men & Women contenders of this year’s 2007 US Open. Can you beat his picks?

Men

Roger Federer — Head and shoulders, no, make that head, shoulders, heart and hips above the rest of the field. Except on clay, of course. The 26-year-old gifted Swiss aims to capture his 12th Grand Slam singles title and fourth consecutive U.S. Open. Indeed, another U.S. Open title this year would give the game’s top pro three of four Grand Slam crowns in three of the last four years. Not bad. 2:1

Novak Djokovic — Catch him in a playful mood and the 20-year-old Serb might entertain you with his dead-on imitation of the Andy Roddick serve, twitches and all. Clearly, Djokovic, has studied the top guys, including Federer, whom he defeated in Montreal two weeks ago. He’s got game, but does he have Grand Slam-caliber game? We’ll know in a fortnight. 4:1

Rafael Nadal — Nagging injuries with no clay to play on isn’t the best combination for the lefty Spaniard, but his second consecutive run to the Wimbledon final last month showed that he’s not a single surface wonder. In his third consecutive year at No. 2 in the world, Nadal knows that in order to rise to No. 1, he must knock off Federer in a big match on a surface other than clay. That’s not likely to happen on a hard court, which tends to make Roger feel like Brer Rabbit in a briar patch. 8:1

Andy Roddick — Roddick won his lone Grand Slam title here four years ago. If he keeps his lethal weapon of a serve on target, and borrows Jimmy Connors’ a return of serve frame-of-mind, he might surprise the sports world and put a sparkle in coach Connors’ eyes by claiming Grand Slam title No. 2. Bad loss at Wimbledon shook his confidence, but only for awhile. 15:1

Marat Safin — Though he failed to make the final in 16 tournaments played this year, the unpredictable Russian is too good to be ignored. Safin won his first Grand Slam title, the 2000 U.S. Open, slamming Pete Sampras in the final, and outlasted Federer in the 2005 Australian Open semifinals. Favorable draw leads him to Nadal in quarterfinals. 20:1

James Blake — Obviously talented enough to be in top 10, but might not be tough and determined enough to reach the top shelf. Spends too much time praising the Great ones, Agassi, Federer, et al, instead of focusing on what he has to do to beat them. Still, a favorite son playing before a boisterous home crowd might find a way, despite the long odds. 25:1

Women

Serena Williams — Serena hasn’t played since losing to Justine Henin in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Not match tough, you say? Too long to be away from the game, you think? Well think again, mainly back to the Australian Open when young sis survived a shaky start to overwhelm Maria Sharapova in the final. Strong ground strokes and a stronger will gives Serena the edge. 2:1

Venus Williams – Big sis comes to town buoyed by a big victory at Wimbledon, but her playing schedule since then was as sparse as Serena’s. Venus showed that she, too, can run off with a Grand Slam title with little match play. Little sis might meet big sis in the semifinals, if Serena gets to glide by Henin in the quarterfinals and Venus slides past Jelena Jankovic in another possible quarterfinal match-up. 4:1

Justine Henin — The gritty 5’-5’’Belgian has won four of last five French Open titles, so she’s shown she can outlast any of the big hitters on clay. Her results, however, haven’t been quite as impressive on the other surfaces, though strong enough to keep her at No. 1. With the best one-handed backhand in women’s tennis, Henin might have to beat both sisters on the way to her second U.S. Open title. 5:1

Maria Sharapova — The blonde bombshell seemed a bit shellshocked after successive lobsided losses to Serena (Australian Open and Sony Ericsson Open) earlier this year. A favorable draw keeps her from facing Henin, Serena or Venus before the final and improves considerably her chances of winning a second consecutive U.S. Open title. 7:1

Jelena Jankovic — A U.S. Open semifinalist last year, the 22-year-old Serb seems poised to make a breakthrough. Jankovic won two titles (Auckland and Rome) this year and was a finalist in five other events, including Sydney and Toronto. She might battle Sharapova to gain berth in her first Grand Slam final. 16:1

Martina Hingis — Though she took a three-year injury layoff, Hingis continues to be the tour’s leader in career prize money with more than $20 million. She amassed most of her fortune and Grand Slam titles in late 90s when she won five Grand Slam titles, including three consecutive Australian Opens (1997-99). She climbed back into the top 10 last year and is capable of snatching the big one. 22:1.
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