Friday, December 6First-round matches to watch
By Howie SchwabSpecial to ESPN.com
When the U.S. Open draw came out, two first-round matches immediately stood out. Both involved American men -- top-seed Andre Agassi against Alex Corretja and fourth-seed Andy Roddick against Tim Henman.
Upon further review, these two matches may not be as thrilling. Corretja has not played well this year, and Henman may move out of this spot in the draw if another seed withdraws.
But assuming the draw remains as is, here are some matches to keep an eye on when the tournament begins Monday.
Andre Agassi (1), United States, vs. Alex Corretja, Spain
Oh, if we could turn back the clock for the Spaniard. How can anyone forget the epic showdown against Pete Sampras at the Open? Corretja has actually made the third round at this event each of the past three years, so maybe he will be tough on Agassi. Problem is, Corretja's best result this year is a quarterfinal appearance in Scottsdale. Corretja has lost his past three matches and hasn't beaten anyone in the top 30 all season.
Andy Roddick (4), United States, vs. Tim Henman, Great Britain
Roddick and coach Brad Gilbert must have been thrilled to see this draw! Roddick is 20-1 this summer, with the lone loss coming in the semifinals down in Washington D.C., against Henman. Roddick has been on fire, winning a pair of Tennis Masters Series events, but he would have preferred an easier first-round match. Then again, he has made the quarters at the U. S. Open each of the past two years; this could be his big breakthrough if he gets past this challenge. The British star is 7-1 lifetime in first round matches at the U. S. Open; he made the third round each of the past three years.
Rainer Schuettler (8), Germany, vs. Wayne Arthurs, South Africa
It has been quite a year for Schuettler. He made the finals of the Australian, beating James Blake, David Nalbandian and Roddick before losing to Agassi. He made the round of 16 at the French (losing to surprising Martin Verkerk) and Wimbledon (losing to Sjeng Schalken). Now he faces the hard-serving Arthurs, whom he beat in straight sets at Indian Wells in March and on clay in Switzerland earlier this year. So why is this interesting? Arthurs seems to draw seeded players often in Grand Slams, playing them tough. He took Sebastien Grosjean to four sets at Wimbledon. He gave Juan Carlos Ferrero a battle at last year's U. S. Open, dropping a four-set showdown. Then look back at his past here, upsetting Gustavo Kuerten in 2000 and Corretja in 1999 when both were seeded. In a match in Rotterdam this year, on hard court, her took Ferrero to two tiebreakers.
Fernando Gonzalez, Chile, vs. Michael Chang, United States
Farewell, Michael. You deserve one last big ovation for your efforts over the years.
Mariano Zabaleta (27), Argentina, vs. James Blake, United States
Blake has been playing well lately, upsetting Tommy Robredo at the Long Island tuneup prior to the U. S. Open. He also gave Roddick a tough time in Cincinnati recently (he outplayed Roddick in the first set, losing a tiebreaker). Zabaleta beat Blake on hard court in Scottsdale earlier this year. Zabaleta lost a fifth-set tiebreaker to Robredo in the first round of last year's U.S. Open. Don't be surprised if this one goes five sets this time around.
Gaston Gaudio (30), Argentina, vs. Nicolas Massu, Chile
Massu has won just once in five prior meetings, but that came earlier this year in Miami on hard court. The Chilean has been tough at the U.S. Open; he lost in the third round to Kuerten last year, and gave Agassi a four-set battle in 2001. Gaudio is 2-4 lifetime at this event and was creamed by Jan Michael-Gambill in the third round last year. Look for a long match here.
Arnaud Clement (31), France, vs. Brian Vahaly, United States
Can the young, up-and-coming American use the crowd support to pull off an upset? Clement is tough at the U.S. Open, making the round of 16 or better four consecutive years.
Anastasia Myskina (7), Russia, vs. Henrieta Nagyova, Slovakia
The women's first round isn't nearly as thrilling. Myskina was upset early at the Pilot Pen event prior to the U.S. Open. Nagyova is 7-0 lifetime in first round matches at this event.
Alexandra Stevenson (31), United States, vs. Emilie Loit, France
This is a rematch of a Wimbledon first-round pairing, in which Loit scored an upset win (she made the third round there). The Frenchwomen has wins over Chandra Rubin and Elena Dementieva this year. Stevenson is 0-5 lifetime in singles at the U.S. Open.
Maria Sharapova, Russia, vs. Virginia Ruano Pascual, Spain
Sharapova made the round of 16 at Wimbledon, beating seeds Jelena Dokic and Elena Bovina along the way. Ruano Pascual, the defending U.S. Open doubles champion, lost in the first round to Amy Frazier here last year.
Elena Likhovtseva, Russia, vs. Iva Majoli, Croatia
A battle of two "old-timers." The 27-year old Russian has made the round of 16 at the U. S. Open three times. The 26-year old Majoli has made the third round here two straight years.
Tamarine Tanasugarn, Thailand, vs. Rita Grande, Italy
A pretty even match-up. Tanasugarn is ranked 42nd in the world while Grande is 64th. Tanasugarn was seeded 27th last year and lost in the second round.
Howie Schwab is a coordinating producer for ESPN.