The U.S. Open gets underway Monday with expectations high as usual in off-the-court glitter – as in side-show entertainment and good food at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY – but low in on-the-court gold performances – as in mesmerizing  or classic clashes.  And there are few Americans among the 256 players competing for the men’s and women’s singles titles.

 A continuing decline in U.S. pros ranked among the top 100 on the men and women tours, combined with the withdrawal of several top stars from the game’s final Grand Slam event has diminished interest, especially among television viewers, who are drawn to watch the game’s superstars, not because they love the game.

No. 9 Andy Roddick is the highest ranked of 13 U.S. pros in the 128-player men’s draw. Four others, including No. 20 John Isner and No. 21 Mardy Fish, qualified automatically based on their ATP ranking.  No. 111 James Blake, who reached a career high No. 4 four years ago, was among five granted wild cards and Robert  Kendrick, earned a berth by winning three matches in the U.S. Open Qualifying tournament.

Of only 10 U.S. women competing this year, three – No. 3 Venus Williams, No. 42 Melanie Oudin and No. 97 Jill Craybas – earned automatic berths. Six others received wild cards and Irina Falconi was among the qualifiers.

Defending U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro (wrist),  two-time champion Justine Henin (elbow) and top-ranked Serena Williams (foot) are among several pros who withdrew from this year’s event.  Serena, 28,  and her sister, Venus, 30, also a two-time U.S. Open champion, were the main reasons tennis earned a primetime slot for the the U.S. Open women’s final nine years ago. CBS ratings for that time period jumped considerably when either or both of the Williams sisters reached the final but dove dramatically when they were not competing in the Monday night final.  Venus, idle since Wimbledon due to a nagging knee injury, faces Italy’s Roberta Vinci Monday night in the first round. Big sister’s performance during the fortnight should determine if she’ll continue to be considered a serious contender for major titles.

Except for the possible final matchup of top seed Rafael Nadal vs. No. 2 Roger Federer, Â it’s doubtful that this year’s final major event will have many epic battles or memorable matches.

Which leads me to lean toward underdogs in my U.S. Open predictions. On the men’s side, I see Roddick rumbling to his second U.S. Open title, and No. 10 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, snatching her first major title.