Sunday, December 28Expect two players over 30
to reach the quarterfinals
By MaliVai WashingtonSpecial to ESPN.com
This year's final Grand Slam is kind of interesting because you have four guys in their 30s making it to the second week of play -- Andre Agassi, Jonas Bjorkman, Younes El Aynaoui and Todd Martin -- and a lot of young guys who are trying to take over tennis and kick them out of their way.
That's what Taylor Dent is trying to do with Andre Agassi.
Former ATP Tour pro MaliVai Washington is providing ESPN.com with in-depth analysis during the U.S. Open. Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.
Andre Agassi (1), United States, vs. Taylor Dent, United States
Dent is having his best U.S. Open. Unless his serve is on like never before, I don't see how he's going to compete with Agassi from a groundstroke standpoint once the ball is in play. His best chance is to use his serve to finish points very quickly, yet he's going up against arguably history's best return of server.
He needs to start fast to have a chance to maybe squeak through in a tiebreak in the first set. But having seen him play and Agassi play for close to two decades, I suspect Agassi will get through this comfortably in three sets.
Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden, vs. Guillermo Coria (5), Argentina
Quietly, Bjorkman has had a tremendous career. At times, he's had major lulls when he just wasn't winning, but he continued to persevere. At different points in his career he's found himself in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, the quarterfinals of last year's Australian Open, and he had a solid performance at this year's Wimbledon.
What makes Bjorkman so good is he realizes his limitations on the court and plays to his strengths. Against Coria, his strength will be getting to the net at all cost. One thing that will help him out tremendously is Coria doesn't have a big second serve, so Bjorkman will attack that quite a bit. With Coria's speed and his ability to counterpunch, it will be difficult for Bjorkman if he gives Coria anything short to look at. Coria has made his living this year by using his footspeed and hand-eye coordination to his advantage, plus he's a counterpuncher -- one of the shortest guys on tour at 5 feet 9. This match could be the most entertaining in the round of 16.
Pick: Coria in four
Juan Carlos Ferrero (3), Spain, vs. Todd Martin, United States
Ferrero has played some inspired tennis. After having a good showing at Wimbledon, I think he was really looking forward to coming to the Open and playing on what he considers a pretty comfortable surface for him.
He'll need to play even more inspired tennis against Martin. Physically, Martin knows he won't be able to play as long as Ferrero can. Martin's success in any match hinges on him playing smart tennis and knowing his limitations. Martin's success is going to be serving well with a first-serve percentage above 65 percent and keeping the points short.
What makes Ferrero so tough is he's able to handle the power and pace of the shots that are coming at him, unlike a lot of great claycourters, and Ferrero himself hits a very heavy ball with a lot of pace. It's imperative for Martin to get off to a fast start to have any chance.
Pick: Ferrero in four
Paradorn Srichaphan (11), Thailand, vs. Lleyton Hewitt (6), Australia
This is Hewitt's last chance to win a major this year and to perform up to expectations. Players at certain points in their careers will have a down year, but coming off two consecutive years at No. 1, 2003 has been miserable for Hewitt. This still is a great opportunity -- looking at the bottom half of the draw -- for him to reach the semifinals.
His biggest challenge thus far in the tournament will be Srichaphan. He's one of those players who has a lot of flash and power, who can make you look silly between the lines. But sometimes, with Srichaphan's inconsistency, he can make himself look silly as well.
Hewitt wants to win this match and this Grand Slam -- most likely more than any tournament he's won in his career. He wants to prove a lot of his critics wrong.
Unless Srichaphan plays the best match of the tournament, my pick is Hewitt in four sets.
Rainer Schuettler (8), Germany, vs. Sjeng Schalken (12), the Netherlands
Schuettler and Schalken will be a match that will be played on some outer court that might not draw a lot of fans early on, but it could be the most entertaining of the Open to this point. These are two tremendous players who don't have the most talent in the world but utilize their skills as well as any player.
Schalken was a semifinalist last year, while Schuettler was a semifinalist at last year's Australian Open. That success has these two playing inspired ball. Schalken wants to show last year's performance wasn't a fluke. With the tennis Schuettler's been playing since the Aussie, I think he's already proved that his performance was not a fluke. Ninety-five percent of this match will be played from the baseline, so if you want to see some long rallies in men's tennis without a lot of huge serving -- this is the match to watch.
Pick: Schuettler in five
Xavier Malisse, Belgium, vs. Andy Roddick (4), United States
I've been so impressed -- as has everyone -- by how Roddick has been able to transform himself in the past few months. When he takes the court he has this walk about him, this air about him that gets you thinking he won't lose. He'll certainly have that air when he takes the court against Malisse, a player he's never lost to.
In this match, it's going to be a case of Roddick being able to overpower Malisse. As talented as Malisse is and as flashy as he can be, he's not going to have a chance to show that because of what Roddick can do with his own forehand and serve. Malisse looks at this as a huge opportunity to reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open -- a place he's never been. The only way Roddick can lose this is if he's overconfident that Malisse will fold. If he takes the court in the right frame of mind, he'll win this match.
Pick: Roddick in three
Carlos Moya (7), Spain, vs. Younes El Aynaoui (22), Morocco
At 31, El Aynaoui is having the best time of his career. He almost finished in the top 20 last year and now appears to be getting better with age. Plus, there's absolutely nothing boring about his game. Just watching El Aynaoui's facial expressions and his body language is entertaining because he lets you know exactly what he's feeling.
I'm going to go with the surprise pick in El Aynaoui. As big a fan I am of Moya's game, I'm just so impressed with the way El Aynaoui time and time again is able to fight and play under pressure.
These two players have very similar styles. They both have big serves and big forehands. The winner of this match is going to execute one or two things a little bit better than the other: first-serve percentage and break point conversions. The stats in this match will be so close, it's going to come down to literally one or two points per set.
Pick: El Aynaoui in five
David Nalbandian (13), Argentina, vs. Roger Federer (2), Switzerland
With the exception of Agassi and Roddick, Roger Federer might be playing better than anyone in the tournament -- and we haven't seen his best yet. When he had to play great tennis against Blake, he did. But when he didn't have to show his best he held back and played just enough to win the point. That's how he's been throughout the Open.
His match against Nalbandian will be the most difficult so far because Nalbandian has the ability to keep up with Federer off the return of serve and the groundstrokes, which is where Federer typically has the advantage against most players. Federer still has the advantage against Nalbandian with his serve and his ability to transition to the net.
When these two guys played in Australia, Nalbandian took him down in five sets. I think Federer would like to avenge that loss. In Australia, Federer was the heavy favorite and couldn't elevate his game to close out that match, but Federer is a different player than eight months ago. We'll see another match going five sets, but Federer will go on to the quarters.
Pick: Federer in five