By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

NEW YORK -- There is a mural outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium. A live mural.

It changes by the win. By the 90 minutes to be exact.

Artist David Arrigo stands on a stepladder with airbrush in hand. The image of Maria Sharapova's earring his focus. Tennis guru Nick Bollettieri walks by and stops.

After looking at the 12 foot by 8 foot mural in a way that Earl used to look at Tiger, Bollettieri said, "I guess I made my mark."

On the canvas along with the Pretty One (kissing her 2006 trophy), Andy Roddick, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Amelie Mauresmo, Mikhail Youzhny, James Blake, Jelena Jankovic, Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi.

Boll admires not only the work, but his work. To which Arrigo says to the Yoda of tennis, "You are supposed to be on this, you know."

To which Nick gracefully says, "It's wonderful as it is."

The story of this U.S. Open can be told through this mural. From the quarterfinals to the semis to the end -- the passion, the shots, the expressions, the surprises, the accomplishments, the dominance.

The only thing missing in the mural is the history that was on the line. A sense of it. A three-peat in the two most prestigious tournaments in tennis were on Roger Federer's nCode Wilson -- Wimbledon and here. He was a one-man Chicago Bulls, Jordan and Pippen. Eldrick knew it too, which is why he came. Supremacy loves company.

Still, two weeks ago I was on the verge of putting Sharapova in the same company of Roddick as the most overrated player in the game. She had only one slam final despite the potential of being the female version of Pete Sampras. But with her run through Queens, especially over the weekend, she forced a brotha to shift his belief like Nissan shifts adjectives.

Before her match against Henin-Hardenne someone in the press interview room asked Roddick who he thought would win. "Umm," he struggled to pick one, trying not to feed into our desire to get into the US/People/Star non-confirmed extracurricular life he shares with Russia the Beautiful. "It all depends on how Maria plays."

Damned if he doesn't know his girl.

6-4, 6-4. Seventy-two percent first serve verses 53 percent for JHH. Easy math. She is pretty … good at tennis.

And while Andy prepped for the inevitable, making Jimmy Connors a prophet at the same time, the next Mikhail Youzhny was quietly creating a buzz in the junior boys tournament equal to what the new Russian phenom did in getting to the semis and quarters of the singles and the doubles.

Peter Polansky was his name. Remember it. You read it here second. He's Canadian. He came to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center unknown and unseeded, on a special exemption after a sleepwalking accident left him with 400 stitches and out of tennis for three months. He proceeded to take out the No. 1 seed (Martin Klizan), the No. 12 seed (Roman Jebavy), the No. 4 seed (Donald Young) on the way to the finals.

Where he wound up losing to the No. 10 seed, Dusan Lojda, 7-6, 6-3. Yet, like Youzhny, another star was born in NY.

It got USTA senior public relations manager Tim Curry reminiscing of how Roger Fed came into New York, dominating the junior circuit.

"Back then you could see his court sense that transcended his peers," Curry said. "You could see how other players missed steps as they got better, but (Roger) didn't. It's hard to have predicted that he'd have the success that he's had and what he will have, but you knew, even when he was a junior, because he dominated the junior circuit, that when he came to that crossroads that all players come to, you knew that he had more than most players have to begin with."

And that more showed itself Sunday.

Crystalized by a backhand at 30-15, up 1-0 in the third set. Just when Roddick began to believe that he could do this, pull off the upset. The most beautiful shot in the game. Left his racket and dropped once it crossed the net like a ball after it passes the plate once it leaves Pedro's fingers. From there it was just a matter of time, as it always is with Federer, a matter of time before he breaks you, then breaks you down.

As the announcer said outside of Ashe Stadium to those who were watching on one of the Olympus screens, "He makes you try to hit shots too good."

Which means he makes other players try to hit shots like him. And find out in the hardest way … they can't.

"There wasn't too much between us," Roddick said afterwards, after the 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 loss. "I feel like I gave myself a chance. I had some break point opportunities out there and played some decent points on them. I competed hard, you know."

Aces: 17/7, Roger. Winners: 69/33, Roger. Winning percentage on first serves: 84 percent/65 percent, Roger. Total points won: 126/99, Roger. Easier math. Title IX, Roger.

But the thing that bookended this entire tournament was the division of dominance from Federer and the importance of seeing Agassi one final time. How both play probably the most significant roles in sports. How it's never very often we get to see the strong side of both simultaneously.

What was Agassi's tourn to begin was Federer's to fin. In the span of two weeks the two most important players for two different reasons summed up the game of tennis in the Open Era. No other sport has had this happen. Not like this.

As Bollettieri walked away from the mural, telling a friend of his on the cell phone how beautiful Arrigo's work of art is, he Yoda'd the 2006 Open in two truths.

"This has been a great Open, hasn't it?" he asked me, putting his arm on my shoulder.

I ask him if he saw Federer coming. If he knew, like Yoda knew of Luke. I asked him about his Jedi senses.

"Yes," he said. "I saw it a few years ago. I knew by watching him, with everything he can do on the court, that he will go down in history as the greatest player to play the game. But Andre," he tails off in his own genius, gravely-voiced way, "he will go down as the player who had the greatest impact on the game."

And an even greater impact on this Open.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.




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