Roddick, Blake hoping home Grand Slam is a quick fix

Updated: August 19, 2008

Four Points

The yes man
New world No. 1 Rafael Nadal has worked nearly as diligently on his English as on his grass- and hard-court games, but he retains the charming habit of ending his sentences with a conversational "No?'' It's certainly not indicative of any negativity. The 22-year-old Spaniard has answered in the affirmative to every single competitive question people had about him this season, and he's done it with grace and verve. We might have predicted Nadal would win an Olympic gold medal simply by the undiluted enthusiasm he radiated while marching in the opening ceremony. It was a muscular embrace of the moment that has been characteristic of the way he's approached the challenge of making up the once-enormous-looking gap between second and first in the rankings. If it hadn't been for one incandescent, flawless match by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open semifinals, Nadal would be contemplating the possibility of a Golden Grand Slam. His accomplishments this season aren't without irony. Nadal was the most vehement of the top players in voicing (albeit politely) his displeasure with this year's compressed schedule. In turn, many observers -- including yours truly -- openly doubted whether his body could withstand the pounding. Yet the steady work seems to have agreed with Nadal. Felicitations are in order. Si?

Blake

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

From his upset of Roger Federer, to a controversial loss versus Fernando Gonzalez, it was an evocative Olympics for James Blake.

No place like home
Top American players are always on the spot at the U.S. Open, but this is shaping up to be a particularly crucial edition for No. 8 Andy Roddick and No. 9 James Blake. Roddick, who turns 26 on Aug. 30, will be marking the fifth anniversary of his Open title. The promise of his early-season championships in Dubai and San Jose, as well as a streak-busting win over Roger Federer in Miami and improving play on clay, faded in the face of a shoulder injury. He skipped the Olympics to smooth his preparation for New York, but his path proved to be bumpy anyway thanks to a lack of match fitness as he lost the Los Angeles final and fell to The Next Serbian, Viktor Troicki, in the Washington, D.C. quarterfinals. Blake didn't reach a summer hard-court final for the first time since his lost year of 2004, and his Olympic journey was a decidedly mixed bag. (Aside: Did anyone else find it bizarre that Blake and Novak Djokovic, who won their bronze-medal match, had never met before?) Blake clearly loved the team aspect of the event, and breaking his own Federer jinx for the first time in nine tries was a milestone, but that momentum stalled after he frittered away three match points in a contentious loss to Fernando Gonzalez. Blake's accusation that Gonzalez unsportingly failed to call a deflection off his own racket could poison the well between those two for the indefinite future. In short, Blake and Roddick haven't been able to build up steam this year, and the unusually up-for-grabs nature of this U.S. Open presents a chance for a quick and very satisfying fix.

A strong bench
There was much ado about the Russian women's sweep in Olympic singles -- and about the fact that none of the medalists was named Maria Sharapova (absent due to injury) or Svetlana Kuznetsova (ousted by China's Li Na in the first round). It was a feat that hadn't been accomplished in 100 years, a somewhat misleading stat given that tennis wasn't included in the Olympics between 1924 and 1988. A victory arguably just as significant for the Russian contingent took place on the other side of the world in Cincinnati, where No. 20 Nadia Petrova won her first title in more than a year. The talented Petrova seemed to sleepwalk through the first half of the season, going winless between late January and early May, and at times sounding and looking deeply ambivalent about her vocation. Granted, Cincy is a Tier III, and Petrova wasn't exactly up against an Olympian field, but the fact that she breezed, dropping only one set, is encouraging. The 26-year-old is a two-time U.S. Open quarterfinalist and capable of going deeper.

This side up
It seemed obvious that the Olympic exodus would clear the way for opportunists to clean up between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, but who knew that Juan Martin Del Potro would be the man to seize not one but several days? The 19-year-old Argentine arrived in New Haven on Monday ranked a career-high No. 17 after putting together a win streak to match his age and becoming the first-ever ATP player to follow his initial title on clay in Stuttgart with three more in Austria, Los Angeles (where he beat Roddick in the final) and Washington, D.C. Until now, Del Potro was a bit of a cipher -- his 6-foot-6 height and vast wingspan made him look powerful, yet his frequent retirements from matches, and inability to rise to the occasion against top players, indicated a certain fragility. Del Potro made a coaching change in March and now works with countryman and ex-Davis Cup captain Franco Davin, himself a former teenage prodigy.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.


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Wild card

Safina

The women's doubles quarterfinal between the Chinese pair of Yan Zi and Zheng Jie and Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina ended at 3:35 a.m. local time, which puts those late-night finishes at the U.S. Open to shame. According to International Tennis Federation officials, it was the latest-ever finish for any Olympic sporting event.

Stat of the week

Ivanovic

14: Number of times the WTA No. 1 ranking changed hands during the record 237 weeks that Roger Federer maintained an iron grip on the ATP's top spot. Seven women -- Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo, Lindsay Davenport, Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic -- traded places on the carousel.

Quote of the week

Blake

"I don't know what my stature is. I'm just a kid that hits a tennis ball. I'm not the president or anything. … I stayed in the hotel the first night. Came over here for the second night. Moved my bags over here the next morning. At the hotel, it seemed like every other tournament.'' -- James Blake, on his decision to stay in the athletes' dorms in the Olympic Village, in an atmosphere he called "thrilling.''

Question of the week

Nadal

Can Rafael Nadal maintain his momentum into the U.S. Open?

Send your thoughts to Bonnie D. Ford.