By Mike McIntyre
What a contrast of tournaments this is becoming between the men and the women in New York. On the men's side so far all the top ten men have advanced to the third round with ease. Federer, Djokovic, Roddick and Del Potro are all there in the top half and have done so without even dropping a set.
The women meanwhile are a completely different story. As far as entertainment value goes, tune into the women's draw for unparalleled surprises. Already having lost seeds such as Bartoli, Ivanovic, Mauresmo, Stosur and Radwanska earlier in the week, Thursday action took things to a whole other level with the shocking departures of Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic. The upsets continued today with Victoria Azarenka going out against veteran Italian Francesca Schiavone 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Azarenka has been inconsistent in the second half of the season so her loss wasn't on the same scale of upset as the Russian/Serb duo from Thursday. The Dementieva and Jankovic losses were both surprising, and while they share some similarities they overwhelmingly stem from completely different underlying reasons. Both players came up against opponents who were ready to dictate the play and take their chances. Yaroslava Shvedova and Melanie Oudin took control of their respective matches and rose to the occasion. And while both Dementieva and Jankovic have had great moments this summer, I chalk their losses up to separate factors. I feel like Dementieva simply had a bad day at the office while Jankovic's game is in a state of total crisis.
Dementieva has three titles this year and two Grand Slam semi-final appearances to look back on. While Jankovic has two titles of her own, her Grand Slam results have been atrocious. Her best results at the Slams all year was the fourth round in Australia and at Wimbledon. She seems hassled on the court and unsure of how to get herself out of tough moments like the late stages of her match against Shvedova. Jelena and her fellow serb Ana Ivanovic should think about either taking a bit of a break after the Open or somehow re-discovering their love for the game again because their current strategies and mental outlooks are not working at all.
Looking ahead it is clear that this tournament is now offering several women and excellent opportunity to make a name for themselves. In the top half of the draw, Safina has a clear path to the semis if she can play up to her number-one level. Maria Sharapova also has an excellent chance, but lookout for Caroline Wozniacki who I could also see making it through to the final four with her excellent play as of late. I'm also sticking with my darkhorse pick Kateryna Bondarenko to have her first Slam breakthrough and make an appearance in the quarters and possibly beyond.
The bottom half is much tougher, with a mouth-watering Kim Clijsters/Venus Williams match in the fourth round. Their match would have made a great final don't you think? Be sure to also check out Vera Zvonareva versus Flavia Pennetta which should also provide a great encounter. Serena Williams faces Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova whom she defeated at Wimbledon and will likely put away once again. Serena's matches will get substantially more difficult from here on through.
Back to the men's draw and it might be another couple of rounds before we see any real fireworks. Hopefully the delay simply means that we are going to see some tight matches as the tournament progresses. Just like in Montreal I would not be surprised if the top eight seeds advanced to the quarters in New York.
One quick shout-out has to go to American Taylor Dent who defeated Ivan Navarro in the long-distance match of the men's tournament so far with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(1), 7-5, 7-6(9) on Friday night. It is really nice to see Dent having some solid results since he came back from a career-ending back injury late a year ago. His wins here at Flushing Meadows are his first at a Grand Slam tournament since this same tournament in 2005. His serve and volley game is a treat to watch and he is also a class act through and through. Back inside the top 200, his result here should give him a nice boost and the encouragement to stick with it.
While the men and women are choosing different paths as they progress through the tournament, hopefully we will be talking about both for weeks to come. This is a great time for tennis on both sides and it seems the sport is looking to leave a lasting impression at the last Slam of 2009. Enjoy the tennis everyone.