US Open Preview: Federer Cakewalk, Roddick Struggle

Posted on August 26, 2005

By Richard Vach, Senior Writer

Betting against Roger Federer to win this year's US Open is about as smart as, say, putting $100 on Guillermo Canas to win.

Or to carry the Argentine flag at the next Olympics. Or to be seen having a friendly beer this week in Flushing Meadows with World Anti-Doping Agency head Dick Pound.

Speculation that Federer would be vulnerable after a six-week layoff following Wimbledon were dispelled last week in Cincinnati when he fought through a few rusty encounters to emerge at his shot-making best against Andy Roddick in the final.

The victory over Roddick was his 22nd consecutive win in a tournament final, a record that when it ends (apparently with the Swiss needing to twist an ankle or get hit by a meteor during a final) could very well hold for the rest of eternity.

Federer, whose confidence has borderer on arrogance over the last year, with his penchant for stating the obvious -- that no one is beating him on a regular basis -- looks on track to become the first man to repeat at the US Open since Patrick Rafter in 1998.

"I'm not over-confident, just very confident," Federer said. "I just know what I have to do. I know my game's in place now. Once I win a certain number of matches, I know what I can do, what I can't do...I play the percentages I think extremely well in finals, and on big points usually I'm, well, I've been unbeatable."

Always the perfectionist, the Swiss even agonizes on his three losses this year in his 64-3 overall record.

"The one against Safin (Australian Open semifinal) sort of hurt, having match point," Federer said. "I think he got a little lucky winning that point. The Nadal match at the French Open (semifinal), I was just disappointed in my performance because I think I had a big chance to beat him and I wasn't playing my best. But I'm happy with the way things went at the French. The Australian Open, I always know that I can win that tournament no matter what year I'm playing in."

Good to know.

You don't hear many other players saying 'Yeah, I lost but I'm not too miffed because I know I can win this event any time I want.'

"That's why I'm No. 1, you know," Federer says. "There's no secret."

If the two players in a slam final are representative of the two hottest at the moment, then last September Federer gave a preview of the gap between himself and "the rest," feeding Lleyton Hewitt two (2) bagels during the best-of-five set US Open final. And Hewitt wasn't playing badly -- it was simply a clinic.

If the Tennis Gods were handing out praise with this year's US Open draw, then they lavished it on the Swiss, who could likely avoid facing a worthy opponent until the final. Roddick, Hewitt, Safin, Agassi ("the rest") to the contrary all have testers lurking in the early rounds, some compounded by injuries.

Injuries have decimated the top ranks of the women's tour this year, and while the top men have done a better job of taking time off and pacing themselves, injuries still lurk.

CNN World Sport writes, "Russian Marat Safin may also press his claims as he eyes a second grand slam of the year, his Australian Open crown coming after beating Federer in an epic semifinal."

In reality the Russian is playing on a knee injury he admits his doctor said needs more time to heal, and that he is potentially risking his career by playing the Open.

For Agassi it could be his last Open, with a sciatic nerve injury causing his back to seize up. The American has been surviving thus far this season with the help of cortisone shots, but grinding out consecutive best-of-five matches on the joint-abusing hardcourts is not a recipe for health.

Federer has been described as the "overwhelming favorite" at this year's Open, but those odds would go way down were he to meet Rafael Nadal in the final. Aside from winning the Masters Series-Canada a couple weeks back, defeating Agassi in the final, the muscle-bound Spaniard led Federer two sets to love in their last hardcourt meeting in best-of-five Miami championship.

Federer looms over the top half of the draw, while Nadal, Roddick, Agassi and Guillermo Coria reside in the bottom section. The temperatures are mild here at the National Tennis Center during qualifying weekend, but are likely to heat up on the courts as players elbow each other to see who can challenge King Rog.

Here is the breakdown of the four quarters of the draw for the 2005 US Open:

Top Quarter
(1) Roger Federer, (6) Nikolay Davydeno, (11) David Nalbandian, (16) Radek Stepanek, (20) Juan Carlos Ferrero, (21) Fernando "Gonzo" Gonzalez, (27) Olivier "Coch" Rochus, (31) Carlos Moya
Floaters: Nicolas Kiefer, Peter "Nuclear" Wessels, Christophe "The Roach" Rochus, Marcos "Bombs Over" Baghdatis, Wayne "The Serving Machine" Arthurs, Paradorn "The Thai Fighter" Srichaphan

Did Roger phone this one in?

'Yeah, put in my section -- um, put any seeds that have struggled this summer, and you can toss in a few floaters as long as I don't have to face them. Thanks, see you at the draw ceremony.'

Club Fed opens against blank Czech Ivo Minar who he has beaten twice this year (though both matches were well-contested), and the crystal ball reveals Santoro in the second round, a Rochus brother in the third, then it could actually get watchable with a fourth-round encounter with either the former No. 1 Ferrero or the resurgent German Kiefer. Fed's opponent in the quarterfinals could also be a walk, with Gonzo or the resilient Davydenko likely emerging.

Coming off a six-week vacation after Wimbledon, the Swiss now gets a Week One vacation in New York.

Second Quarter
(3) Lleyton Hewitt, (5) Marat Safin, (12) Tim Henman, (15) Dominik "The Dominator" Hrbaty, (17) Dave Ferrer, (22) Mario "Baby Goran" Ancic, (26) Taylor Dent, (30) Max "The Beast" Mirnyi
Floaters: Mark "The Dud" Philippoussis, Fernando "Hot Sauce" Verdasco, Gael "Force" Monfils, Hyung-Taik Lee, Alexander "My Serve Has" Popp, Paul-Henri Mathieu

Were it this time in 2004, this would be the toughest section of the draw. Alas 2005 has not been kind injury-wise to Hewitt, Safin, or Henman.

Hewitt's early road is an opener against fellow slam winner Al Costa, then gets tricky with either in-form underdogs Jose Acasuso or Luis Horna, then things get magician-level tricky, Penn & Teller-tricky, with Dent in the third round, then the backboard-like Dominik "The Dominator" Hrbaty.

Henman is a "punter alert" with his horrendous form and flagging confidence of late, likely to go out by the third round against either Hot Sauce in his opener, or in the next two rounds against the hot-handed Frenchman Mathieu, or in the fourth round against Gael Force or Baby Mario. That is not a good draw for anyone, not to mention the serve-and-volleying Brit whose strengths this season have not been the serve or the volley -- but rather playing too few tournaments and lacking match-play confidence.

Safin, as mentioned earlier, should consider it a victory if he exits New York with two working knees.

If the German giant Popp doesn't serve Safin off the court in his opener, the underrated Jarkko Nieminen in the second round or The Beast in the third will surly finish the job. Safin's exit will open things up for Monfils, Ancic or The Beast to face Hewitt in the quarterfinals.

Other openers of note in the second quarter are (22) Baby Goran vs. Korean net-rusher Hyung-Taik Lee, and (30) The Beast vs. the entertainingly-flailing Gimelstob.

Third Quarter
(4) Andy Roddick, (8) Guillermo "El Mago" Coria, (10) Mariano Puerta, (13) Richard Gasquet, (18) Ivan Ljubicic, (23) Jiri Novak, (26) Feliciano "F-Lo" Lopez, (29) Tommy Haas
Floaters: "Rappin'" Vince Spadea, Nicolas Massu, Stanislas Wawrinka, Rainer Schuettler, Gilles Muller

When A-Rod (or "Pay-Rod" after he receives his check for winning the US Open Series) saw his third-quarter draw, he must have thought 'Wait a minute, I thought this thing was run by the USTA -- I need to make some calls...'

If Andy has any mojo coming into the Open it was immediately dampered by his draw, which reads like a Super Villain Hall of Fame.

Roddick opens against Luxembourg's Gilles Muller, who reached the L.A. final before falling to Agassi. A second-round meeting looms with countryman Robby Ginepri who Babolatted him out of Indianapolis, and in the third round awaits Tommy Haas, who the American has lost four of his seven meetings with. Fourth round? Croat Ivan Ljubicic who won their last meeting in Davis Cup play, or Richard Gasquet who Roddick has never faced.

Haas says he is fully recovered from his freak accident back at Wimbledon where he stepped on a ball, badly twisting his ankle.

Likely facing Roddick or Gasquet in the quarters will be (8) Coria or, get this, Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka who has a perfect-storm-type opportunity to emerge for a mini-section of hardcourt lightweights including Jiri Novak (slumping), Nicolas Massu (recovering from injury), and Mariano Puerta (just happy to be here).

Andy will be getting a lot of TV time, and rightly so since he will be practically hosting an almost nightly talk show (smack talk, that is) with some of the hottest players in the game in the early goings.

Bottom Quarter
(2) Rafael Nadal, (7) Andre Agassi, (9) Gaston Gaudio, (14) Thomas Johansson, (19) Tommy Robredo, (24) Mikhail Youzhny, (28) "Grinning" Greg Rusedski, (32) Tomas Berdych
Floaters: "Dr." Ivo Karlovic, Florian "Oscar" Mayer, Xavier "X-Man" Malisse, (WC) Brian Baker, Gustavo Kuerten, (WC) James Blake

The bottom half of the draw, safely away from Federer, is nonetheless filled with landmines of talent, especially in the bottom quarter with the hungry Nadal, the ever-threatening Agassi, and a host of big-serving floaters and comeback kids.

Nadal opens against wildcard Bobby Reynolds, then will likely face (if he doesn't choke it against a qualifier at the thought of facing the Spaniard) the emerging ace-dropping American Scoville Jenkins, who could provide some upset-level entertainment with nothing to lose. While Nadal is nails on clay, many agree that he is vulnerable on hardcourts to giant servers who can consistently deliver the unreturnables (see last year's Open pounding at the hands of Roddick).

While Andre opens in relative ease against Romanian Razvan Sabau, his road immediately gets bumpy with Croat "Dr." Ivo Karlovic delivering aces from on high in the second round, then the upset-minded Tomas Berdych in the third. Czech Berdych off as the answer to 'Who beat Roger Federer in the 2004 Olympics?'

The bottom quarter really heats up in the third round with potential match-ups (7) Agassi vs. (32) Berdych, (9) Gaudio vs. (24) Youzhny (OK, that might not have you setting your Tivo), former Aussie Open winner (14) T.Johansson vs. (19) Robredo or sentimental favorite Kuerten, and the must-see (2) Nadal vs. (WC) Blake.

If the back-addled Agassi gets by Berdych, he will have a grinder next with either Gaudio or Youzhny, who had Roddick on the ropes last week in Cincinnati. Nadal likewise surviving Blake would potentially face the backboard Johansson in the fourth round.

Chances are equally good you'll see Nadal vs. Agassi in the quarterfinals as seeing neither of them with their bumpy roads.

'I've beaten all you biz-otches'

Federer meanwhile has been busy this week in his duties as the ATP's promotional dream machine, answering the numerous print and broadcast requests and even on Wednesday morning ringing the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange.

While the slam fields are not as intense as this summer's Masters Series events (Federer's opening-round opponent Minar didn't make any of the Masters Series cuts), the Swiss says he views every match like it is a threat to his 22-finals streak, and says there will be no surprises.

"This is how it will be in every match at the Open. I'm ready for the pressure," Federer said. "It's a good feeling that I have. The players, I know them all, I've beaten them all."