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Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The "other" woman


Asked to name the women's semifinalists going into the U.S. Open, most would have named four out of these six names -- Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Serena Williams and Venus Williams. But thanks to the way the draw played out, we're now guaranteed an "other" -- a semifinalist who's not one of those six names.

Henin, Jankovic, Ivanovic and the Williamses all landed in the top half of the draw, meaning that only two of the five will make it into the semifinals. Sharapova, in the bottom quarter, is expected to end up as a third semifinalist.

But who will emerge from the wayward, headless beast that is the third quarter? It's a real opportunity for a few slumping names to revive their careers:

Martina Hingis: Last year's comeback queen comes in troubled by nagging hip and back injuries and having just seen her engagement to fellow pro Radek Stepanek come to an end. It's been 10 years since she won the title here, and a run to the final four would be a nice trip down memory lane. There are a couple of tough Russians in her quarter, but no one she can't outwit on a good day.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: The Russian, popular among her fellow pros, has had a good but not great year. She has plenty of boosters -- Roger Federer picked her game out as one of his favorites on the women's side, and Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev says the only thing preventing her from being No. 1 is herself.

Now, without any need to fear the opposition in her quarter, she might be able to recapture the free-swinging, athletic performances that saw her grab the U.S. Open title in 2004.

Nadia Petrova: "It's time I won a major," has been a frequent refrain from the forthright Russian over the last few years, but that time has yet to come. Bad luck with injuries and questionable mental strength have seen her chronically underachieve at the majors, but she knows she's capable of a semifinal or more if she can consistently play the kind of powerful tennis she's occasionally produced in the past.

Pair of longshots: Are Michaella Krajicek and Victoria Azarenka really ready to go deep at a major? No, but with this draw and some convenient upsets, they don't necessarily have to be.

Though Sharapova looked sharp in her opening match, she's been hurt of late. One bad day would blow open her quarter too, leaving us assured not just of a surprise semifinalist, but a surprise finalist. Who might present a danger?

Nicole Vaidisova: the long-touted 18-year-old comes in with no matches since Wimbledon because of a bout of mononucleosis, but now has the opportunity to work herself back into shape. Like Sharapova, she trained at Bollettieri's and has a good serve and huge groundstrokes. Unlike Sharapova, she can melt down under pressure, but is capable of pulling of an upset if they meet in the fourth round.

Anna Chakvetadze: One of the hottest players over the summer, her mid-paced but varied game could give Sharapova pause if they meet in the quarterfinals. If she pulls of the win, she would become the favorite to go on and reach the semifinals -- and perhaps even the final.

Sania Mirza: Sharapova is a bad matchup for her, but should the Russian get toppled by someone else, Mirza has a shot against anyone else in her quarter.

A few long shots: Veteran Patty Schnyder and the in-form Virginie Razzano, Shahar Peer and youngsters Agnieszka Radwanska and Tamira Paszek.