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Heading into their major home tournament there are a lot of expectations surrounding US tennis.
Serena Williams is in phenomenal form after her comeback from a career-threatening injury while Mardy Fish’s rise to No.7 in the world along with his recent victory over Rafael Nadal will have lifted hopes they could do well in the men’s draw too.
However the lingering question over the future still remains. Serena and her sister Venus have three maybe two more US Opens left at the top of the game and Fish is unlikely to match his declining compatriot Andy Roddick in winning it during his career swan song.
This is therefore the moment for the next generation to make a claim. They’ll be under the microscope more than they have been all season during what they’ll be hoping is a two-week stint in New York.
For the men it’s all on Ryan Harrison, a 19-year-old who’s broken into the top 100 this year and continues to rise to career high levels with every stride he makes.
The stats say an American man last won a Grand Slam in 2003 (Roddick at the US Open) but if it weren’t for the greatest player of all time Roger Federer, there would have been many more triumphs.
Effectively Federer stopped Roddick becoming a legend of the sport which is a fate also inflicted on Lleyton Hewitt whose own nation is stressing over the future as well.
At 21, Andy Roddick was the hottest player in the game, having won four of his previous six tournaments. No one in the world was performing with more confidence, intensity and unbridled.
But the number 4 seed Roddick had a serious problem in his semifinal against David Nalbandian. Roddick was down match point at 5-6 in a third set tiebreak. Roddick possessed the biggest serve in the game and he released a crackling 138mph serve winner to Nalbandian’s backhand and carved-out a five sets comeback victory 6-7 3-6 7-6 6-1 6-3, for a place in his first Grand Slam final.
American fans had eagerly anticipated a Agassi-Roddick showdown in final, but the top-seeded Agassi faced reigning French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero and couldn’t disrupt his adversary’s unerring ground game, bowing in four sets. That set the stage for Roddick to methodically serve his way past the Spaniard to capture his first major.
Since then, he has never passed the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows.
The Williams sisters drag women’s tennis into prime time, September 8 2001
Excerpts of The 100 greatest days in New York sports by Stuart Miller
“You gotta admit, Richard Williams was right. For all his loudmouth trash talk, his daughters were indeed the best in women’s tennis and the best thing for women’s tennis too.
They might not have made a lot of friends, but they were good and compelling. Everybody wanted to see what they’d wear, what they’d do and how they’d win.
Serena won the US Open at 17 in 1999, Venus won it at 20 in 2000. In 2001 they met in finals – the first time two sisters had met in a major final since the Watson gals (Maud and Lilian) at Wimbledon in 1884; and thanks to their riveting personalities and powerful playing, the first time women’s tennis was deemed to have players ready for prime time. After years squeezed between the men’s tennis, the women’s final got its own show under the stars.
The Harlem Gospel Choir performed, a Marine Guard unfurled a court-sized flag. Grucci provided fireworks, and Diana Ross sang ‘God Bless America’.
Then came the tennis, which, though historic, was mostly boring. The five prior intra-Williams matches had been pretty awful too. This match was better, but both sisters still played nervously, not because of the pomp and circumstance, which they both relished, but because facing each other meant one sister would go home ad the loser.
Venus was, if not more serene, less erratic, making 19 unforced errors to her younger sister’s 36 in a humdrum 6-2 6-4 win.
Before Hollywood, fashion, and injuries began distracting them, the Williams sisters staged an encore in 2002. That time Serena won. But both nights the big winner was women’s tennis.”
Pete Sampras ran out of steam against the 20 year Australian. In a match that recalled the 2000 final, he was thoroughly outclassed by Hewitt 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1.
From Sampras‘ autobiography ” A champion’s mind”:
“It had been a draining second week for me. After beating Rafter and winning that epic four-setter over Andre, I handled Marat Safin with relative ease.
I had to play Hewitt in the final barely twenty- four hours after finishing my semi, and by that point my brain was already slightly fried and my legs were feeling a little heavy. For a veteran, that twenty-four-hour turnaround at the Open is one of the toughest assignments in tennis, mentally as well as physically.”
“Hewitt was just twenty, and he still had peach fuzz on his face. With his long hair and clear blue eyes, he looked like a teenage surfing or skateboarding champ, and he played with a healthy disdain for etiquette, forever punctuating his better shots with gut-wrenching screams of “Come awwwwwwwn”. A year earlier, I had barely managed to containHewitt in the US Open semis, winning two of my three sets in tie-breakers.”
He was now a year older, a year wiser, a year hungrier – and a year stronger.