By Eric Williams
I know the world’s number one ranked player, Roger Federer, has reduced men’s professional tennis to a series of nearly perennial poundings when it comes to Grand Slam events, but I am still excited about the upcoming US Open later this month.
The USTA today announced this past week that two-time defending US Open champion Federer (who else) will lead the men’s singles field for the 2006 US Open Tennis Championships, which will be played from August 28 – September 10 at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.
The Open, which will also feature former US Open champions Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin, and is being presented by main sponsor, luxury automobile maker, Lexus, will award both, the men’s and women’s, US Open singles champions $1.2 million – with the ability to earn an additional $1 million in bonus prize money (for a total $2.2 million potential payout) – based on their performances in the ongoing US Open Series. In addition, both US Open singles champions will receive a new Lexus GS 450h automobile.
This year’s Open will feature 30 countries that are being represented on the entry list, which includes all top 100 ranked players. Leading the entry list is Federer of Switzerland, the two-time defending US Open champion and reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion, who will seek to join Ivan Lendl (1985-87) and John McEnroe (1979-81) as the only men to win three consecutive US Open men’s singles titles in the Open Era.
Following Federer on the entry list are No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain, the reigning French Open champion; No. 3 David Nalbandian of Argentina; No. 4 Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia; No. 5 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia; and No. 6 James Blake of Fairfield, Conn., the highest ranked American on the entry list.
No. 20 Andre Agassi ,the 1994 and 1999 US Open champion, announced earlier in the year that he will retire after this year’s US Open, where he will make his 21st consecutive appearance, passing Jimmy Connors’ Open-Era record.
Other American men who received direct entry into this year’s tournament include No. 11 Andy Roddick of Austin, Texas, the 2003 US Open champion; No. 17 Robby Ginepri of Marietta, Ga., who reached the semifinals at the 2005 US Open; No. 66 Mardy Fish, No. 75 Paul Goldstein, No. 85 Justin Gimelstob, No. 90 Kevin Kim and No. 94 Vince Spadea.
In all, there are ten entrants who have won Grand Slam singles titles in their careers, including 2004 French Open champion Gaston Gaudio of Argentina, 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson of Australia and 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya of Spain.
Fernando Vicente of Spain, ranked No. 101, was the 104th and last player accepted directly into the men’s field of 128.
Sixteen more players will gain entry through the US Open Qualifying Tournament, which will be held from August 22-25, while the remaining eight spots are wild cards awarded by the USTA.
The July 17 edition of the ATP Rankings was used to determine the US Open main draw entry list. Seedings for the tournament will be based on the August 21 rankings and the draw will take place Wednesday, August 23.
The 2006 US Open will mark the culmination of the US Open Series, the six-week summer tennis season linking all major ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tournaments in North America to the US Open.
Incredibly, the US Open is the highest annually-attended sporting event in the world. More than 87 million viewers watched the 2005 US Open on CBS Sports and USA Network, and international broadcasts reached 184 countries.
In 2005, Roger Federer defeated Andre Agassi to win his second consecutive US Open in a men’s final that saw domestic television ratings double from the previous year. In the women’s singles final, US Open Series winner Kim Clijsters defeated Mary Pierce and – along with her US Open Series bonus – collected $2.2 million in prize money, the highest-payout in the history of women’s sports.
Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the final players in this tournament are most likely going to be “name” players who are easily recognizable.
Depending on the seedings and the draw, I’m going to go with a final four of Federer, Nadal, Agassi and Roddick.
As much as I would like to see Aggassi win his final Grand Slam tournament, I think that may be asking a bit much of one of the great U.S. players of all-time. More likely than not, I believe the final will consist of Federer going up against either the spirited, Nadal or the underachieving, Roddick, who recently hired Hall of Fame tennis player, Jimmy Connors to become his advisor/coach in an effort to boost his disappointing career.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Federer will meet Ã¢Â?Â¦Ã¢Â?Â¦ Roddick in the final. Maybe it’s the sentimentality in me, but I genuinely believe that Connors can help Roddick overcome some of the mental hurdles he’s been stuck behind for the majority of his career and help him play to the level of his immense talent.
Now, I’m not crazy. I still like Federer to win the whole enchilada, but just seeing someone put up a fight against the most methodical player this side of Ivan Lendl would be well worth the price of admission.