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If you thought marriage and impending fatherhood would mellow Hewitt, tennis's fourth-ranked male player and its whiner laureate, you thought wrong. In 2005 alone the combative Australian has provoked one opponent into spitting at him, infuriated countless other colleagues with his fist-pumps and gamesmanship, cut ties with his longtime agent and drawn the ire of gay-rights groups worldwide for calling a chair umpire a "poof." (Sixth-ranked Guillermo Coria of Argentina says of Hewitt, "I'd rather never win a tournament than be like him.") Rest assured, Hewitt will find a way to embroil himself in some controversy in New York. Regardless of his antics, however, take note when he loses. In the last six Grand Slams Hewitt entered, the player who beat him went on to win the tournament.
5 Can Kim Clijsters get nasty?
In striking contrast to her ex-fianc�, Hewitt (told you these tennis plot lines were rich), the 22-year-old Belgian is as charming a pro athlete as you'll ever meet. She has no problem winning friends and fans. What she does have trouble winning are big matches. Clijsters is an exceptional athlete who bludgeons the ball off both flanks and possesses a vicious return game. But unlike other top players (fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne chief among them), she is constitutionally incapable of summoning a mean streak, so she tends to fold when the stakes are highest. Having won five North American hard-court tournaments this year, she is a fair bet to win the first major of her career in New York--if, that is, she can suppress her gracious good nature and get in touch with her inner Hewitt.
6 Is the Russian Revolution ova?
While Russians are still heavily represented in the WTA rankings, they are enduring a collective sophomore slump, Sharapova's success notwithstanding. Anastasia Myskina, the 2004 French Open champion, has fallen out of the Top 10, understandably distracted by her mother's grievous illness. Until Elena Dementieva improves the feeble serve that undermines her otherwise strong game, she will not win a major. Nadia Petrova may be entrenched in the Top 10, but she is in the running to unseat countrywoman Anna Kournikova (remember her?) as the most talented player never to have won a title. And defending U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova hasn't come close to replicating the form she showed last year. After an upset loss in Los Angeles last week she said, "If I keep playing like this, I can go home, because I'm not going to win a match."
7 Will there be a men's doubles mutiny?
In a curious strategy for a de facto players' union, the ATP recently adopted a policy that will eliminate the jobs of dozens of its members. Starting after the U.S. Open, doubles matches at ATP tournaments--which do not include the Grand Slam events--will feature no-ad scoring, sets played to five games and a revamped ranking system. The stated objective is to shorten match times, which will induce the more marketable singles stars to play alongside partners. The real objective is to kill off the "doubles specialist" subphylum, whose members don't sell tickets but earn a cozy living, take complimentary hotel rooms and eat at the gratis buffet in the players' lounge. Not surprisingly the changes have enraged doubles players. "They sold us out big time," says Bob Bryan, who forms, with his twin brother, Mike, the world's top-ranked team. Before bookmarking Monster.com, the beleaguered doubles players are likely to stage a formal protest at the Open.
8 Is Donald Young for real?
Though it always comes with a bodacious Nike deal, the mantle of Great American Tennis Hope is a heavy one. Lately it's fallen on the slight shoulders of Donald Young, 16, a soft-spoken African-American from Chicago who's now based in Atlanta. It's hard to know what to make of Young. A crafty lefty with exceptional foot speed and an expansive vocabulary of shots, he has won scads of junior titles and drawn wide praise. "He reminds me of me," says John McEnroe, who discovered Young when the kid was a ball boy for one of McEnroe's senior match warmups. Young, however, has entered the main draw of six ATP events this year and, looking like a boy among men, has yet to win a set. Suddenly his praises are tempered with terms such as "overhyped" and "too much too soon." By dint of winning the national boys' 18s title two weeks ago in Kalamazoo, Mich., Young received a wild card into the U.S. Open main draw. We'll see if he's ready for prime time.
9 Who will be the new cast members?