Tennis Style Wars

New York City’s best sporting event, the U. S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, Queens, begins tomorrow (here are the draws; here’s the daily order of play). This is the year’s final Grand Slam, on the fairest surface (clay is slowest, grass is fastest), so it determines who’s on top to a greater degree than Wimbledon. People complain contradictorily about the state of the game today, some claiming it’s all serving, others saying not enough net play, others that there aren’t enough Americans(!). Don’t believe the hype: the top men’s players show a wonderful variety of styles, strategies, and personalities, and none depend on power alone. Most of the press (what little there has been due to the RNC and the Olympics) has concerned the smooth-operating artist-genius and world number one, Roger Federer; the defending champion and tennis’s most powerful player, Andy Roddick; and the most beloved player in history, the incomparable Andre Agassi (I would love to see him win; to do so he’ll probably have to defeat Federer in the quarterfinal). Still, a couple of other names bear mentioning: Lleyton Hewitt, whose saw-toothed passion compensates for his slight build, is playing as well as he ever has – he’ll likely meet Roddick in the semifinal. Nicholas Kiefer, long ago Boris Becker’s protege, has lately begun playing a similarly tenacious style to excellent effect. And the overzealous, ball-crushing Chilean Fernando Gonzalez arrives at the site of his best previous results carrying an Olympic bronze medal. Injuries and the waning interest of Serena Williams have taken some of the luster from women’s side, especially compared to the late nineties when it was more entertaining than the men’s. Lindsay Davenport is on a heavy roll, but Justine Henin-Hardenne (of the superb backhand and fierce mien) is back from a long layoff and either Williams is talented enough to win. I don’t think any of the Russian brigade can hack New York just yet; my sleeper for the women is France’s unintimidated Tatiana Golovin. If you want to attend, get a grounds pass during the first week and you’ll see amazing stuff all day from courtside.