Friday, December 26
Tough start for Roddick

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Coming into this year's U.S. Open, it's kind of strange to say the favorite is a player who has never been to the final of a major. The tennis that Andy Roddick has played since Queen's Club, leading into Wimbledon, has been phenomenal. What he has done in the past couple of weeks, winning consecutive Tennis Masters Series, is difficult.

Mal's Picks
MaliVai Washington
Former ATP Tour pro MaliVai Washington is providing with in-depth analysis during Wimbledon. Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.

Although I consider him the favorite going into the Open, the streak that he has going will end at some point. For his sake, you hope that his summer didn't peak at the wrong time.

In the first round, he takes on Tim Henman, who also has done well this summer with a win in Washington. Henman is a tactically smart player. He knows what his limitations are and he produces a game plan around that. If Roddick is not ready, this first-round match potentially could end his streak.

It gets tougher and tougher to keep playing great tennis when you know every single opponent wants to take you down with every ounce of their being. Right now Roddick has a huge target on his chest.

Even so, remember back in the late '90s when Patrick Rafter won in both Canada and Cincinnati and then went on to win the U.S. Open? It's not inconceivable that Roddick could do the same.

Andre Agassi on the other hand, is in a completely different situation.

He started out this year on fire, winning in Australia, and again in San Jose and Miami. Since that time, he hasn't produced the kind of great results you would expect from him -- especially during the summer hard-court season, which is traditionally where he thrives.

I am curious to see how Agassi's going to perform after losing his last match to Rainer Schuettler in Canada and having to pull out in Cincinnati -- a tournament he loves to play -- amid rumors concerning his health.Additionally, he has a tough test in the first round against Alex Corretja, who is unseeded but could very easily be a top-20 seed.

A surprise American to watch is Mardy Fish.

Just this year, he is starting to prove that he belongs in that upper tier of players on tour. Certainly, he belongs among the top Americanss on tour. He's yet to win an ATP title, but he's been in three finals this year. He gained a lot of respect from his peers for reaching the final in Cincinnati last week, including two match points against Roddick.

Don't be surprised if Fish, with his huge serve, gets past Sebastien Grosjean to reach the round of 16.

The last time a Chilean made waves on the tour was Marcelo Rios, but lately it's been Fernando Gonzalez, who's one of the most talented, biggest-hitting players on tour.

Two years ago, 40 percent of his balls went in the court; a year ago, 50 percent went in the court. Now, closer to 80 percent are going in the court. Still, he can be very inconsistent at times. But when he has confidence and his consistency is on, he has the ability to beat anyone -- as he showed beating Andre Agassi in Washington a few weeks ago.

Unfortunately for the retiring Michael Chang, the last match of his career will be a first-round loss at the U.S. Open to Gonzalez.

After Juan Carlos Ferrero won this year's French Open, he made it known that he wanted to be No. 1 at the end of the year. He has a great shot at accomplishing that, but he'll have to put in a great performance at the U.S. Open. It has not traditionally been a friendly tournament for him, with his best showing in 2000 when he reached the fourth round.

It's fun to watch a player with as much talent as Ferrero when there's a lot on the line. You know when he walks onto the court, there's a huge desire to win. When you put that combination together, you're primed for something great to happen.

Ferrero realizes that his best results of the year will not be on the indoor season this fall. So he needs to make a statement at this year's U.S. Open.

Speaking of making a statement, Lleyton Hewitt has not made one all year on the court, though some of his off-court statements that he's made regarding the ATP are well-documented. If Hewitt doesn't win the Open, it'll be the first time since the Open 2000 that he went a season without winning a major.

Hewitt certainly must like his draw, starting out with Victor Hanescu and potentially playing Feliciana Lopez in the round of 16. For a player of Hewitt's caliber, who hasn't shown much on the court this year, this is the kind of draw that he would like going into his last major.

He's done a tremendous job the past two years finishing No. 1, but it's not going to happen this year. At the end of the year, maybe he'll really re-assess his game, his focus and decide that 100 percent of his energies have got to be focused around his game -- and not around his girlfriend's game or his lawsuit with the ATP. There has to be a single-minded focus for him to get back to the No. 1 spot.

It will be interesting to see how Wimbledon affected Mark Philippoussis. He showed that he's back from his knee surgeries and injuries. We'll see if he's truly sincere about working hard and keeping himself committed to the task.

Philippoussis reached the Open finals in 1998, so we know he can play on these courts. Can he put his big game together and follow up with another good major? Don't be surprised if over the next several months, he actually gets on a roll and is on the verge of finishing the year in the top 10 -- maybe the top 5.

My man Roger Federer finally made me look like I knew what I was talking about at this year's Wimbledon when I picked him as one of my favorites. There's no reason why Federer can't win the Open. As good as he is on grass courts, he's every bit as good on hard courts.

Federer could be one of those players like Pete Sampras, winning several Wimbledons and several U.S. Opens. That's something nobody else has done in the last decade or more.

Now that Federer has won his first major, don't be surprised if he gets on a roll and is able to win one or two majors a year for the next three or four years. I imagine the first major a player wins is the toughest, since until that point, the player has no track record to prop up his confidence. It's all unrealized potential. Now that Federer knows what it takes, the desire for more is insatiable.

Depending on how Agassi, Ferrero and Federer do, this could be the fourth consecutive year where we could have four different Grand Slam winners. It goes to show that the domination that we saw throughout the '90s, especially from Pete Sampras, who was consistently winning two majors a year, is over.