Reasons to stay tuned

10/3/2006 - Tennis

These are the dog days for American tennis fans, a chance to exhale after the summer hard-court season on our shores and what turned out to be one of the more exhilarating and interesting U.S. Open fortnights of recent years.

Action on both the men's and women's tours shifted to Asia this week. The balance of both campaigns will take place in Europe leading up to the year-end championships, which also will be contested in time zones far, far away -- Shanghai for the ATP, Madrid for the WTA.

The U.S. Davis Cup team, ousted by Russia in last weekend's semifinals, will have to wait until next February to start scaling the wall again.

But there are a few dramas left to play out, which is why we're offering some Reasons to Stay Tuned.

Blake's crusade: He's maintained a top-10 ranking since March, and we've become so accustomed to talking about James Blake and Andy Roddick as the new elite American tag team that it's easy to forget Blake is spending his first season at that altitude. Now he's gunning to make his debut at the ATP's year-end championships. Eight guys qualify, and Blake is currently sitting at No. 9, bumped by Marcos Baghdatis last week. Blake won his first European tournament in Stockholm last October, so he has recent precedent for a late-season surge. Booking passage to Shanghai would cap a fine year for him.

Speaking of comebacks: OK, most of us thought a newly healthy, mature and motivated Martina Hingis would hold her own on the WTA tour this season, but did anyone predict she would rise through the rankings without backsliding once? Charting her was like tracking a tech stock in the '90s. Hingis returned from a three-year hiatus to climb from No. 349 (January) to No. 50 (February) to No. 32 (March) to No. 26 (April) to No. 21 (May) to No. 15 (June) to No. 13 (August) to her current ranking of No. 8. She just won her second tournament of the year, spoiling homegirl Sania Mirza's gala in their semifinal match in Kolkata, India, and she's in sixth place in the qualification race for Madrid. Hingis has reached a point where there's not much more maneuvering space, and she's a combined 4-10 this season against the women above her in the rankings. Now would be an excellent time to take that next step.

Fruit no longer forbidden? The WTA announced last weekend that it will conduct further experiments with in-match coaching at three European tournaments this fall. Consultations will be permitted between sets and during medical timeouts and bathroom breaks. (The latter could give a whole new meaning to the phrase "potty training.") We plan to fully report the story as it unfolds, but for now, can we just say that this seems like odd timing? Several top players have been under fire this season for taking seemingly strategically unspontaneous breaks. Matches certainly don't need any more distracting or potentially delaying tactics, and Banana-Gate took some luster away from Maria Sharapova's U.S. Open win.

Federer's crazy 80s: At 72-5, the artful Roger is closing in on back-to-back 80-win seasons. He'd be the first player to accomplish that since Ivan Lendl in 1981 (96-14) and 1982 (106-9). Federer is entered in Tokyo, Madrid, Basel and Paris before the year-ender in Shanghai. His five losses, though, mean the world No. 1 probably doesn't have a realistic chance of topping his superlative .953 winning percentage (81-4) of 2005. One more stat to add to the stack: Federer is 227-15 since the beginning of 2004.

Leading question: Justine Henin-Hardenne is atop the standings in the WTA's race for the year-end championships, and the field obviously wouldn't be complete without the Belgian slasher who reached all four Grand Slam finals this year. But the knee injury that prompted her to quit in the third set of the decisive doubles match in the Fed Cup final against Italy earlier this month will sideline her until at least mid-October. She "hopes" to play in Madrid, according to her Web site. If she doesn't, her season may go down as more maddening than magnificent. Whether it's fair or not, taking the exit ramp in two high-profile finals this year (the Aussie was the other) will only encourage skeptics to question her heart in the future.

Roddick's rebound: He's back on track and ahead of the expectations he set with coach Jimmy Connors in their midsummer meeting of the minds. Now we'll see if Roddick, fresh off a valiant, draining effort in the Davis Cup semis, can put together a consistent stretch run.

Shy but not retiring? Lindsay Davenport said she'd know by mid-November whether she'll call it quits or devote herself to preparing for the Australian Open. She's had decent results since her return in August, but Davenport made it clear at the U.S. Open that it won't be so much about W's and L's as how she feels when she goes out to practice every day. Expect a low-key announcement either way.

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.