Commentary

Roddick must overcoming recent shortcomings and injuries

While Andy Roddick and James Blake must ratchet up their games to pass the U.S. crucible, the Williams sisters have an opportunity to shine.

Updated: August 28, 2008, 11:26 AM ET
By Joel Drucker | Special to ESPN.com

James BlakeAP Photo/Gregory BullJames Blake has always flourished in the New York spotlight, including a memorable match versus Andre Agassi in 2005.
With the U.S. Open beginning Monday, the American contingent hopes to give the hometown fans a reason to celebrate. For many, especially recently, it's been a topsy-turvy year.

Andy Roddick has been hampered by various maladies, somewhat negating a decision to skip the Olympics and prepare for the final Slam of the season. The Williams sisters, too, have played uninspired tennis since a memorable Wimbledon final.

Here's how the top U.S. players are shaping up:

Men

Andy Roddick
This could well be the most beguiling year of Roddick's career. There have been wins over Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. There have been a couple of tournament titles, and as usual, first-rate efforts in Davis Cup. But Roddick fizzled early in Australia and Wimbledon, missed the French due to injury and while his decision to skip the Olympics was intended to sharpen him up for the U.S. Open, the results this summer were passable at best: one final in three events. Roddick will turn 26 the middle Saturday of the U.S. Open. Hardworking and candid about his desires and shortcomings, perhaps the best way for Roddick to fare well at the U.S. Open is to play bold, attacking tennis. While he'll never have the transition game of a Patrick Rafter, he knows his upside is offense and that passivity will not help gain that increasingly elusive second Grand Slam title. Again, eschewing Beijing might well prove a wise decision. Now the key question is that elusive factor known as confidence.

James Blake
His U.S. Open highlight reel is filled with memorable moments -- long matches, big shots, sparkling wins and painful losses. Such is the tennis life of a man who into his 20s thought he'd be more likely to watch pro tennis than play it. Following their incredible 2005 five-setter, Andre Agassi compared Blake to an F-14 -- a plane that burns up a lot of fuel. The soaring Blake is a sight to behold. But fighting through seven matches also requires weathering moments of turbulence, and while Blake will always fight, it's frustrating to watch him struggle to find a mix between his A-game and what he perceives as unacceptable defense. Winning Slams requires muddling through rough patches. A good draw and some easy early matches could well put Blake in good shape for a fine run.

Mardy Fish
Fish has plenty of tools, particularly off the serve and backhand. When he's making himself move, he can be dangerous at the net. His forehand is constantly working to improve, but if it's not working, the bad vibes can spread through him like a virus. Like Blake, though, a couple of easy wins early could bode well.

Robby Ginepri
Paradox: an erratic grinder. The dialed-in Ginepri is a Jim Courier in the making -- a man who won three five-setters on his way to the 2005 U.S. Open semis. But that forceful baseliner hasn't posted strongly enough in recent years.

John Isner
Isner's massive serve makes waves, but he's still figuring out the fine points of shot selection, court positioning and net game.

Donald Young
Young has a pleasing, all-court game, but it's uncertain if he's got the heft for a big-time pro game yet. He's also still learning to harness his emotions.

Sam Querrey
Gentle giant speaks softly but carries big stick. Has been devoting more time to fitness, so let's see if it can pay off and make his huge serve and forehand even more potent.

Jessie Levine
Diminutive lefty has strong work ethic and reasonable all-court tools.

Vince Spadea
Spadea's goofy manner belies such strengths as a superb backhand and willingness to grub.

Women

[+] EnlargeVenus Williams
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaVenus Williams had a nice run at the U.S. Open last year before running into eventual champion Justine Henin in the semifinals.
Venus and Serena Williams
For many years it's been wise to treat these two as separate entities. But coming into this year's U.S. Open they've had much in common: wavering engagement, dangerous games, and as shown at Wimbledon, the ability to rise to the big occasion. Never mind injuries, beguiling training, tournament schedules or any distractions caused by father Richard -- with Maria Sharapova gone from this year's tournament, no player knows more what it takes to win big than the Williams sisters.

Lindsay Davenport
The sweetest ball-striker in the game has fought hard to come back this year, but has also been repeatedly stymied by injuries. Based on such factors as oppressive heat, night play and all that makes New York an exceptional grind, it's hard to see Davenport winning this title. But a fine run to the last eight is a viable scenario.

Bethanie Mattek, Jill Craybas, Ashley Harkleroad, Vania King
These are the remaining American women ranked in the top 100. In relative terms, the 45th-ranked Mattek's the one with variety -- her success in doubles (where she's currently ranked 22nd) shows off her all-court prowess. Earlier this summer, Mattek posted a career-best Slam, reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon.

The other three are hard workers, but play the fairly vanilla, contemporary brand of tennis that's quite prevalent in America. Craybas (ranked 75th), enduring at the age of 34, is testimony to a strong work ethic.

Harkleroad (83rd) nearly quit a couple of years ago but is fighting on at age 23. And the 19-year-old King still has better tennis ahead of her. But you'd have to be one die-hard American tennis lover to imagine any of these players sticking around the U.S. Open for the second week of singles.

Joel Drucker is based in Oakland, Calif., and writes for Tennis Magazine and Tennis Channel.