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Posted: Tuesday September 1, 2009 6:29PM; Updated: Thursday September 3, 2009 6:20PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
INSIDE TENNIS

Positive signs for U.S. tennis

Story Highlights

Melanie Oudin is among the Americans off to good start at the U.S. Open

Dinara Safina looks unlikely to make the Open her first major title

Andre Agassi always impresses when he does some tennis analysis on TV

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American teenager Melanie Oudin rolled in her first-round match.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Jon Wertheim's Mailbag
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2009 U.S. Open
Day 15
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NEW YORK -- Observations and your questions on Day 2 ...

1. Melanie Oudin woodshedded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the top-ranked junior barely a year ago. Also Tuesday, Jesse Witten beat Igor Andreev, the 29th seed, in straight sets. Cursed by the draw gods, teenagers Devin Britton and Alexa Glatch showed some valor Monday in losing to Roger Federer and Serena Williams, respectively. Sam Querrey, your U.S. Open Series champ, took the court Tuesday afternoon ranked a career-high No. 22. (Consider, too, that at Wimbledon, the previous major, three of the four finalists were American.) Accepting that the Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras-Jim Courier era was an aberration and not a benchmark, American tennis is showing some real signs of life.

2. Whew. Dinara Safina, the top seed, finally woke up and won her match against 167-ranked Olivia Rogowska in three sets. Everyone likes an upset. But watching the No. 1 player -- already frazzled by the controversy her ranking has generated -- go down in Round 1 to an unknown wild card is akin to rubbernecking the wreck on the interstate. Safina is unlikely to win this event, an odd sentiment to have about a top seed. But with any luck she'll lose gently.

3. What recession? At this time last year, the Dow was around 13,000. On Tuesday, it closed at 9,310. But you'd never know it at the U.S. Open. ESPN is in the first year of a television deal. The sponsorships placards are everywhere. (It's Olympus U.S. Open Series Night!) Lines for the $7.50 Ben and Jerry's treats snake around corners. An annual tennis event isn't representative of much. But nice to see at least one corner of the world seemingly unaffected by the economy.

Mailbag

I'm so mesmerized listening to Andre Agassi discuss the Andy Roddick match, tennis technique, players and more. I wish he needed the money and would be in the booth.
-- Anand Ramaswamy, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Maybe a network could agree to sponsor a school in exchange for Agassi's services. I agree with Anand. Agassi sees tennis differently and more acutely than anyone on the planet. And he has the capacity to convey it intelligently. He was terrific a few years ago dissecting Federer-Roddick and I gather he was dazzling Monday night as well. And when it becomes available be sure to read his interview here.

Will they ever change the order of the night doubleheaders for even one evening, letting the men go first and the women have "prime time"? How many times does the men's match have to start past 10 p.m. on the East Coast? As someone who is employed and has to get up early, it's frustrating.
-- John, Greenville, S.C.

I'm hearing it will happen soon. This risk, of course, is that a five-set men's match means the women might not play until midnight. But so be it. I know Mary Carillo expressed her displeasure with late matches. And I know Roddick was asked pointedly whether any other sporting events routinely went past midnight. But I see the late tennis as an asset, not a liability. It makes the U.S. Open unique and further splinters the tennis-as-country-club-diversion stereotype. And if half the crowd goes home, it leaves 10,000 fans.

Why when there is a winner and loser does one have to make a comment on the other? This is not just a sport; its their job. If they were fighting over a deal, they wouldn't have to comment on the other company's attempt to win the bid.
-- J. Portlanc, Connecticut

Totally disagree. Part of what makes tennis -- and sports, in general -- so compelling is the competition, the battle, the gladiatorial nature. To me, knowing what players think of their adversaries is exceedingly relevant.

You wrote, "It would be a sizable surprise if someone other than Murray or Fed won, no?" Really? Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roddick, Juan Martin del Potro. You would be surprised if they win the Open?
-- Arvind, Sunnyvale, Calif.

Not Bernie-Madoff-wins-a-humanitarian-award surprised. But surprised nonetheless. Djokovic has taken a step back this year, at least in Slams. Nadal, who has never so much as reached the finals here, is coming off a knee injury. Roddick, the last champ here before Federer, didn't exactly light it up on the summer hard-court circuit and is 3-6 against Murray and 2-19 against Federer. Del Potro has never been beyond a Grand Slam quarterfinal. (**Correction: Del Potro reached the French Open semifinals this year.)

In your defense on the sexist remark accusations, as it stands now with the men playing best-of-five and women best-of-three at the Slams, injury continues to be more of an issue for the WTA than it is for the ATP. So, it is perfectly logical to assume female players wouldn't fare as well under best-of-five conditions as the men.
-- J. Butt, St. John's, NL, Canada

Thanks. And here's an interesting note from Cliff Andrus of Atlanta: "[This is] in response to [reader] Evie's statement, 'No one ever sees Tony Roche knocking it up with Federer or Lleyton Hewitt.' In 2001, I was at the Indianapolis tournament (back when it was a higher-tier event) and was walking around the practice courts and saw Pat Rafter hitting with none other than Roche! Rafter was coming off a Wimbledon final and I believe he was ranked in the top 10 at the time. What really impressed me was that 60-year-old Roche was drilling the balls and keeping up with a top 10 player."

On a related note, from Mike of Champaign, Ill.: "This link is to an article from The Independent (London) on the Martina Hingis-Steffi Graf five-set match at the 1996 Chase Championships in N.Y., which lasted nearly three hours. It could probably be used by both camps to further their respective arguments. Notice both the focus on cramping/injury and the set scores (the latter of which suggests that the then-16 year-old Hingis made a tactical decision to intentionally take the third set off to recover physically, which lead to her winning a close-fought fourth set, but then had nothing left for the fifth, where she was bageled."

For a former player, it seemed rather awkward to watch Pam Shriver trying to coax information out of Venus Williams as to the nature of her knee injury after last night's match. Sure, inquiring minds want to know, but was she really expecting Venus to reveal anything to thousands of fans/viewers, let alone her next opponent?
-- Craig Tanikawa, Sacramento, Calif.

But Venus was limping around, grimacing, and nearly lost to a much lesser player. If Shriver hadn't asked about the injury, it would have been negligence. Respect her right to ask. Respect Venus' right to duck the question.

What are the chances that, a year from now, these five women will make up the top five (in no particular order): Serena and Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters?
-- Jason, Leander, Texas

I think the real question is: A year from now, how many of these women are playing? Only one of them (Henin) is MIA and the rumors persist that she is coming back. Bearing in mind that a place in the top five necessarily entails a lot of match play, I say:

S. Williams -- yes.
V. Williams -- probably.
Henin -- unlikely.
Clijsters -- maybe.
Sharapova -- probably.

You're a man, Jon -- shouldn't your new Monday format be called "Best of Five"? Although I guess if they're paying you the same to just write three ...
-- Kev Darley, Madison, Wisc.

Nice. But why don't we wait until Week 2 for best-of-five? Better rest the body in Week 1.

I saw that Thiago Alves lost his opening-round match to Lleyton Hewitt. Think he's still tired out from losing to Georges St. Pierre?
-- Larry Rollins, East Setauket, N.Y.

Actually he had a hard time cutting weight.

Dude, its not dishonorable to revise your opinion based on new information (i.e. Cincinnati results). It would, however, be obstinate and rather unintelligent of you to ignore new information that contradicts your previously informed opinion. You would be better off if you called the beatdown that Fed put on Murray a fluke rather than ignoring it altogether. Your sticking with the Murray prediction is like us all continuing to assert that Obama transcends race. Bad enough that we were duped once, but to ignore new information would be silly.
-- Thakur Rai, New York, N.Y.

Dude. We're talking about a tennis prediction here. (Feel somewhat validated: hear that Agassi is tipping Murray, too.)

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