U.S. Open Update: Everything taking its course

The third round of the 2009 U.S. Open has nearly finished amidst the surprisingly welcoming weather at New York’s National Tennis Center. So far, there haven’t been many surprises. The top 16-ranked men all advanced rather seamlessly. Serena and Venus have had an easy time as well. Unfortunately, they are in the same draw and will likely meet in the semis. The other top female players are, as always, playing below their rank, as upsets and narrow victories are happening left and right.

This has been a topsy-turvy U.S. Open for the women: No. 8 Victoria Azarenka’s 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 loss to No. 26 Francesca Schiavone on Friday came a day after No. 4 Elena Dementieva and No. 5 Jelena Jankovic were upset. All told, 11 of the 20 highest-seeded women are gone, and the third round is only halfway done.

No. 1 Dinara Safina made it to Saturday’s third round, but barely. She needed more than 4 1/2 hours to get through two three-set victories.

The best men have faced no such problems: No. 3 Rafael Nadal’s 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory Friday night in the last match of Day 5 means the men seeded 1-16 all reached the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in the 41-year Open era.

Once again, the lovely Ana Ivanovic failed to perform well in a Grand Slam, losing to Kateryna Bondarenko in the first round. Maria Sharapova, however, has advanced to third round and is currently in the third set against American Melanie Oudin. It would be great to see the former No. 1-ranked star face Serena or Venus in the finals.

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Australian Open Semifinals Preview

roddickWe’re down to the final four days of the Australian Open. In a few short hours ESPN2 will air its live coverage of both the men’s and women’s semifinals. So far, the tournament has been both intense and heartwarming. Jelena Dokic, after being out of the game for almost a year because of struggles with her domineering father, has made it all the way to the quarterfinals in front of a home crowd. Andy Roddick, whom many had written off last year, knocked out third-seeded Novak Djokovic and advanced to his first Grand Slam semifinal in almost two years. I’ve previewed the four semifinal matches below:

Women’s Semifinals

Vera Zvonareva (7) vs. Dinara Safina (3)
Zvonareva and Safina are just two of the eight million Russians who entered this tournament. However, along with countrywomen Elena Dementieva and injured Maria Sharapova, they happen to be the best. Whereas the talented (and pretty, pretty, pretty) Zvonareva has never advanced past a Grand Slam quarterfinal, Safina has been close to winning one a number of times. She’s coming off a semifinals loss to Serena Williams at the U.S. Open and would like nothing more than to win down under. Safina should take this one in straight sets.

Elena Dementieva (4) vs. Serna Williams (2)
Due to Jelena Jankovic’s poor showing at the Open, either Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva, or Serena Williams will become the #1 ranked women’s player if they win this tournament. Dementieva is another one of those gifted players who has never won a Grand Slam despite getting extremely close over the years. Still, she won the gold medal in Beijing and made it to the semifinals at last year’s U.S. Open. Serena happened to win that tournament and has been playing beastly tennis in Australia. Expect this one to go three sets.

Men’s Semifinals

Andy Roddick (7) vs. Roger Federer (2)
Thank you, Andy Roddick. The fact that there is an American male in a Grand Slam semifinal is reason enough to celebrate. Why, you ask? Well, in the last two years an American has only once advanced to a men’s Grand Slam semifinal. That was Andy Roddick at the Australian Open in 2007. The same Andy Roddick who won the U.S. Open in 2003 and faced Roger Federer on consecutive occasions at Wimbledon, only to lose. Critics predicted Roddick would retire early and settle down with his supermodel fiancé. Thankfully, Roddick dropped 15 lbs. and got into tremendous shape. In the quarterfinals, Roddick bounced around in the 120-degree heat as if he enjoyed it. His opponent, Novak Djokovic, was forced to retire after four sets. Roddick is on his game, ladies and gentlemen. Though Federer is still struggling to find his own, he’s still Roger Federer. This match will be long, extremely competitive, and intense.

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Fernando Verdasco (14)
Just who in the hell is Fernando Verdasco? Honestly, I’m not sure, but in his last two matches he’s beaten fourth-seeded Andy Murray and fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The 24 year-old Spaniard has a good serve and nice placement, but it is his speed that has gotten his this far. The kid doesn’t seem to tire and manages to chase down every ball. Unfortunately for Verdasco, Rafael Nadal is the quickest player on the Tour. He’s also the best in the sport and is at the height of his career. It’ll be tough for Verdasco to take him down but I wouldn’t doubt that he takes a set or two.

Live coverage of the semifinals will begin tonight (Wednesday) at 9:30 PM ET on ESPN2.

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