Thursday, December 12Roddick's tournament to win
By MaliVai WashingtonSpecial to ESPN.com
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.
Finally, after no tennis for days on end, the U.S. Open seems as though it's on track again. With all the rain at the Open, it poses the problem of having to play on consecutive days, which the guys are not used to doing. Granted some of the matches have been split up over multiple days, but there's nothing like having a day off to rest mentally and physically.
It will be interesting how the lack of days off is going to affect the older players such as Andre Agassi and Younes El Aynaoui compared with some of the younger players such as Juan Carlos Ferrero and Andy Roddick.
Andre Agassi (1), United States, vs. Guillermo Coria (5), Argentina
I'm pleasantly surprised with how well Coria has been playing on the hard courts at the U.S. Open, which are traditionally a little faster than some of the other hard court tournaments leading up. When players like Coria do well on faster surfaces, it goes a long way toward letting other players know they're not just clay-court players and can succeed on hard courts.
Agassi is going to be anxious to avenge his French Open loss to Coria. In Paris, Coria flat-out beat Agassi doing what Agassi does best -- staying on the baseline. Coria is the favorite between the two on a clay court, but Agassi is the favorite on a hard court. Agassi will be able to control the pace of play and the pace of points more so than he ever will on a clay court. Coria is one of the best movers on tour right now, so expect him to do a lot of running. But Agassi will have to be on his game to succeed.
Pick: Agassi in four
Juan Carlos Ferrero (3), Spain, vs. Lleyton Hewitt (6), Australia
This matchup is going to be the most compelling of the quarterfinals because you have Hewitt, who wants to salvage his career, and Ferrero hanging on to his desire to be No. 1. Winning this match, and potentially the tournament, would go a long way to solidifying that. Especially with Wimbledon champion Roger Federer losing Thursday in the round of 16. Ferrero has not been shy about telling people he wants to be No. 1.
Hewitt, though, is a champion. In the '80s, it was Jimmy Connors who was the one player who would fight to the death, and that player now is Hewitt. This match is going to go the distance, and it could come down to the last player still able to stand. It will be played from the baseline, and it will come down to every ounce of strength.
Pick: Ferrero in five
Sjeng Schalken (12), Netherlands, vs. Andy Roddick (4), United States
I keep wondering whether this year's Open is Andy Roddick's destiny. He has played very good tennis thus far but hasn't been challenged and pushed by a top seed yet. People will be surprised by how much Schalken will push Roddick. Without question, Roddick is the favorite, but he might have to play his best match of the tournament to win this one. Schalken has been in the semis of the Open before, whereas Roddick has not. Schalken knows his limitations. There's nothing real pretty about his game, but he can handle the pace and moves well. Schalken knows what he can and can't do, and he doesn't try to do too much with his game.
However, it's still Roddick's match and tournament.
Pick: Roddick in four
Younes El Aynaoui (22), Morocco, vs. David Nalbandian (13), Argentina
Who would have thought El Aynaoui and Nalbandian would be playing for a spot in the semifinals when this championship began? But that's the great thing about the majors -- everyone is inspired, and inspired tennis wins. In this match, youth just might win out over age. It has been a great run for El Aynaoui, first the semifinals at the Aussie Open, then another great run at the U.S. Open. After Nalbandian's showing against Federer, I couldn't possibly pick El Aynaoui to win this match. I'm just so impressed with Nalbandian's ability to control his emotions during big situations in matches. He has a game that can hurt anyone, and he has been in this position before. He has been in the finals of a major. I think he'll be in the semifinals of the Open.
Pick: Nalbandian in five