Federer's mastery amazing to watch

It's halfway through the U.S. Open Series, and we've seen a bit of everything. As we expected coming into the series, the two men at the top of the world rankings are also leading the series. Andy Roddick has the lead by virtue of his win in Indianapolis and a finals appearance in Toronto, but Roger Federer is close behind.

I'm not sure people realize each time Federer takes the court we are witnessing greatness. Roddick said it perfectly during the handshake at the end of the Toronto final, when he leaned in and said to Roger, "You're such a great (bleeping) player."

Federer has been playing like a man possessed, and only injury and fatigue can stop him right now. He's won eight tournaments this year including two majors, three Tennis Masters event, three smaller tour events, and his last three consecutive wins have been events on three different surfaces (grass in Wimbledon, clay in Gstaad and hard court in Toronto). And it's only August.

One might expect these kinds of results from Federer, but who would have thought Nicolas Kiefer would be No. 3 in the series and would hold the top spot for a couple weeks? Kiefer is finally repeating the results he showed in 2000 when he finished the year No. 6 in the world. I wouldn't be surprised if Kiefer, with such a dogged personality and no current injuries, stays in the top five in the series.

This week will be the first time Americans will see and find out about Gaston Gaudio. He has never had a lot of success on surfaces other than clay, but now is his chance. In the past I think Gaudio has been content getting points and titles on clay. Any match wins on other surfaces were just a bonus. A feeling of pride takes over when a player wins a major, and he wants to prove he aren't a one-surface player. For that reason alone I won't be surprised if Gaudio has some good results leading into the U.S. Open.

Carlos Moya is a good example of a player who was known as a clay-court specialist early in his career until he broke out and reached the final of the Australian Open. That success made him realize he could be successful on any surface, and he has continued to prove that throughout his career. He won the Cincinnati Masters in 2002 and has a nice draw to get to the semifinals in this tournament.

Tim Henman will also be making his ninth appearance in Cincinnati, including reaching the finals in 2000. He can be dangerous on the hard courts but surprisingly doesn't have consistent results throughout the summer months. The quicker the court plays, the better it will be for him, but Tim always lets me down when I pick him to do well. So I'll just say to watch out for him.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.