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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Will James Blake ever win a Grand Slam?

A recent Deuce Magazine article takes a close look at the career of James Blake. He’s been America’s second-ranked male tennis player for the past seven years. However, he’s yet to win a Grand Slam. In the piece, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal critique Blake’s game, as well as offer insight as to why he hasn’t taken it to the next level.

James BlakeWhat’s always been tricky in that department is Blake’s playing style. Blake’s A-game is a sizzling set of big forehands, aggressive returns, extraordinary movement and enough shotmaking for tons of highlight reels. Few players in the past 20 years have better personified the notion of a dangerous player. Watch Blake versus the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and you’ll see a man extremely capable of going toe-to-toe with giants. As Nadal said earlier this year after earning his first win over Blake in four tries at the ATP Masters Series event in Indian Wells, “He’s a very difficult player for me to play against… very aggressive player all the time.”

Though Blake is pleased with the consistency of his play in 2008 – he’s maintained a Top 10 ranking all year – there have also been some beguiling losses, including a five-setter in the second round of Wimbledon versus Rainer Schuettler and defeats in finals to first-time winners Kei Nishikori and Marcel Granollers. “This year’s been a little strange,” says Blake. “I’ve had some ups and downs.”

It’s astonishing that Blake used to dominate Nadal a few years back. He also beat Federer in Beijing before a heart-breaking loss to Fernando Gonzalez, which would have at least guaranteed him a bronze medal. At 29 years-old, Blake’s years are numbered on the ATP Tour. Hopefully both he and Andy Roddick will be prepared for the Australian Open in January. As another year goes by without a dominant male American player, one begins to wonder if legends such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Pete Sampras were just Europeans with really good Yankee accents.

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