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Federer Express Won't Slow Down

by Aidan Elder |  Published: Oct 01, 2007

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The U.S. Open provides a perfect antidote to the antiquated ways of the Wimbledon fortnight at the All England Club. Although the tournament can trace its roots back to 1881 and has its fair share of history, the event is the most receptive of all the Grand Slam events to modern requirements.

In 2006, the U.S. Open was the first to use the "hawkeye" technology, which allows players to challenge the calls of the line judges. Although this isn't universally popular, it has become standard in all Grand Slam events and shows an openness to change that is lacking in other sports.

The stereotype about American sport being structured to accommodate the low attention span of the audience may do a disservice to the natives, but commercial pressures of television have shaped the U.S. Open. Tim Henman was involved in an epic 23-game final set against Carlos Moya at Wimbledon, but that's something you won't see at Flushing Meadows. Whilst marathon final-set deciders are commonplace in the other three Grand Slam events, the U.S. Open uses the tiebreaker in the final set. This is related to the influence of the TV stations. It may seem callous, but holding one's nerve at the key moment is a vital attribute for any athlete, and maybe the final-set tiebreaker isn't the worst change to the standard Grand Slam template.

Likewise, floodlights have been installed on all courts. This may seem like a common-sense move, but it was motivated by the demands of television. The lighting ensures that play carries on for as long as possible and all matches are available for broadcast. Likewise, the scheduling of the women's final is planned to coincide with the peak prime-time television audience of Saturday evening.

Surface Tension
The hard-court surface makes the men's event more open than Wimbledon and the French Open. The sport is now fields' experts on these surfaces, but a lot more players think they have a chance on the hard courts. A bit like the phrase "utility player" in soccer, calling someone a "hard-court specialist" carries a certain derogatory connotation. It suggests that a player has a respectable repertoire of tennis skills, but is not skilful enough to be considered a threat on other courts. The hard courts, however, do favour a certain type of player.

The ball rebounds off the surface at real pace, and to maximise this effect, players need to hit the ball as low as possible over the net, thus giving the opponent a minimum of reaction times.

Clay and grass courts dull the pace of the ball to a certain extent, but the hard courts ensure that maximum velocity is maintained. A player's speed is also vital. Clay courts enable players to slide in order to reach the ball, but this isn't possible on hard courts.

The Hard-Court Hard Core
Again, Roger Federer is the man to beat. Rafa Nadal pushed him hard at Wimbledon, but despite never hitting his best form, the Swiss player had enough to triumph. Whilst Federer and Nadal are more comfortable on grass and clay, respectively, Federer's talents transfer to the hard surface better than the Spaniard's. He may be his closest challenger, but he is less effective on the hard courts, and the gap between them is wider than normal. Nadal averages a win rate of about 73 percent on hard courts, compared to a 91 percent win rate on the clay. With this in mind, backing Federer at heavy odds-on looks to be the only option on the outright market.

The performance of the French players at Wimbledon was something to note. Since winning the U.S. Open boys title at the expense of Marcos Baghdatis, Richard Gasquet has been highly thought of. His style of powerful, accurate ground strokes and considerable pace clearly prospered at the junior level. After an impressive run to the semifinals at Wimbledon, he could be about to make the breakthrough that has long since been expected of him. Depending on the draw and where he is in relation to Federer, backing him each way could be the way to go.

Although the sentimentalists would love to see Andy Murray claim the Wimbledon crown, he is more likely to succeed on the hard surface. His fitness is a concern, but his win rate on hard courts for this season is around 86 percent, compared to a win ratio of just over 70 percent on all surfaces. Murray already has beaten Federer on the hard courts, and he clearly has the attributes to succeed on the surface. His successive victories in the San Jose Open on hard courts, added to his junior title in the boys singles here in 2004, suggest it is possible.

There is no one the young Briton should fear until he meets Federer, and even then it is possible that he can upset the world's number-one player. Taking him at prices of about 14-1, particularly when you consider that the inconsistent Andy Roddick - a player Murray has beaten in four of their six meetings - is as short as 9/1 for the event, looks like value.

Ladies Holding Court
The ladies event again provides a riddle, with a number of plausible scenarios possible. Venus Williams' win at Wimbledon should be taken as a sign that the sisters are once again focussed on tennis and not the side projects that have distracted them for the last couple of years. Although she will be delighted for her sibling, nothing will inspire Serena more than the success of her sister. Having won on the hard courts of Melbourne in January, Serena clearly has the talent and motivation to add to her two Flushing Meadows titles.

The story of Marion Bartoli's rise to a Wimbledon final was the stuff of fairytale, but at the same time was unconvincing. Having gone behind in four of her seven matches at the All England Club, she displayed real fighting quality, bar in the final. Her remarkable turnaround against Justine Henin signalled that she is a real talent, but that said, she is worth taking on. She cited the presence of Pierce Brosnan in the crowd as her inspiration for the fight back. Although Bartoli may have been trying to be funny, the more ruthless punters may see it as a lack of competitive focus. Falling behind in the short three-set ladies matches is a dangerous habit to get into, and she has never gotten past the third round of either of the hard-court Grand Slams in 11 attempts, and she is worth laying in the early stages. She will be seeded and should get what are perceived as handy matches in the early stages; accordingly, she will be odds-on. She is well worth laying, as her shocking defeat to Lilia Osterlohm at the Stanford Classic - a player ranked 106th in the world - confirms.

The Smart Money
• Back Roger Federer to win his matches in straight sets. Without being at the top of his game, Federer was streets ahead of the opposition at Wimbledon. The gap between him and Nadal is most pronounced on the hard courts, and he should claim a fourth U.S. Open title.

• Back Richard Gasquet to get to the semifinals. Depending on his seeding and side of the draw, Gasquet could match his Wimbledon form. He is suited to the hard surface and has form at Flushing Meadows.

• Back Serena Williams to win the ladies title. Seeing Venus succeed will be enough to spur her on.

• Lay Marion Bartoli in the early rounds. Her Wimbledon form doesn't look rock solid, and she could come crashing down to earth in New York.