Editor's note: Each day at the U.S. Open, ESPN.com tracks the game's brightest stars, lending an inside look at their matches, practices and routines.
Friday, Sept. 5
The slump is over for the Bryan twins.
Cheered by a bigger than usual crowd for a doubles final at Arthur Ashe stadium Friday afternoon, Bob and Mike Bryan won their first Grand Slam title since last year's Australian Open, downing the Indo-Czech pair of Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy in a gripping 7-6 (5), 7-6 (10) contest.
It capped a whirlwind month that included a bronze medal at the Olympics and comes before the U.S.'s tough Davis Cup semifinal at Spain -- on clay, of course -- later this month. The brothers reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the doubles standings from Canadian Daniel Nestor and Serb Nenad Zimonjic, the hottest team on the circuit but who suffered an upset loss in the third round.
"It feels really good to win, especially in the U.S. after a long, long summer going over to Beijing," said Mike, the older of the 30-year-old Bryan siblings by two minutes. "This ranks as one of our top achievements, especially playing against those guys. The level of tennis and the crowd was spectacular. It felt like a Davis Cup crowd out there."
Playing the best-of-three sets instead of best of five, like at Wimbledon, helped, Mike added. For a while now on the ATP Tour, the third set of doubles matches is settled simply by a tiebreaker to 10.
"I think this was perfect for a TV spot with a big crowd," Bob said. "They can only take so much doubles," he added, drawing laughter.
The Bryans, who won their sixth Grand Slam title together, didn't drop a set throughout. They came close in the quarterfinals against German duo Christopher Kas and Philipp Petzschner, claiming the opening-set tiebreaker 16-14.
The second tiebreaker today brought more drama. Flashy Paes, a mixed doubles winner with Cara Black on Friday, double faulted into the net on set point at 8-7. He redeemed himself with a stunning backhand return that gave his team a 10-9 lead, but Mike Bryan crushed a Dlouhy second serve that stayed up for 10-10. Paes and Dlouhy couldn't regain the momentum.
Few expect the defending champions to progress against world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, expected to take part, and whomever else Spanish captain Emilio Sanchez picks, even if their squad continues to be disgruntled about playing in Madrid, where high altitude speeds up conditions and slightly hinders the home team's advantage.
"We look forward to that match as much as we look forward to this match, a Grand Slam final," Mike Bryan said. "That's just as much fun, hanging out with the guys all week, just practicing really hard for one spurt, one sprint. If we could give our team a point on that Saturday, we'll be happy guys."
Mardy Fish has tasted success before. He reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open last year, and upset a stellar field, including Roger Federer, en route to the Pacific Life Open final in March.
His latest cause for celebration was a quarterfinal showing this week at the U.S. Open. His victims along the way included good buddy James Blake and Frenchman Gael Monfils. His big serve clicking, Fish even took a set off top-ranked Rafael Nadal.
The question, though, remains whether Fish can sustain it.
"I think it's great for him to have a big event after some success because that keeps him up," said former coach Todd Martin, a U.S. Open finalist in 1999. "I think the more someone backs something up, the more confidence there is that it will continue to be backed up, just like a Grand Slam champion. It's probably easier for them to win a second one than for another guy to win their first."
Besides Federer, Fish, a native Minnesotan and now a Florida resident, knocked off Igor Andreev -- who gained a few fans in New York this fortnight given his display against Federer -- Nikolay Davydenko, Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian in the California desert. The last three have all spent time in the top five.
Following that spell, Fish exited in the first round of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami to veteran Frenchman Arnaud Clement, and then Fish fell outside the top 70. He also lost five straight from June to August.
He managed to turn it around, attaining the semifinals in Los Angeles, and gearing up for the Open by making the final at another warm-up in New Haven, Conn., for the second straight year.
"These last couple of weeks, from what I saw in New Haven -- and I watched a good bit, and I watched here -- he made a real commitment to playing a style of play that makes everyone else uncomfortable," Martin said. "Very aggressive."
Fish is due to wed TV model Stacey Gardner on Sept. 28, joining a minority of players who are married. Martin, who had to decline his invitation due to a previous commitment, was confident it wouldn't hinder his tennis.
"The way I see it is that there's no reason why doing what makes you happy in your life should get in the way of doing this well," he said. "I'm confident Mardy and Stacey can make it work for Mardy's tennis. At the same time, if you're happy in your life you're going to play better tennis."
Thursday, Sept. 4
It was like old times at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday evening when Todd Martin faced Michael Chang, two of the posse of American men who ruled tennis in the 1990s.
Martin prevailed, though the score wasn't important. Highlights included Chang hitting Martin ("drilling" would be overstating things) in the leg with a ball, and Martin unleashing an underhand serve, something Chang knows plenty about.
As a 17-year-old at the French Open in 1989, Chang, suffering from cramps, issued an underhand serve to the then-King of Clay, Ivan Lendl, in a fourth-round match, and ended up winning.
It was one of the most memorable moments in tennis history. Chang went on to claim the title.
"I've probably done it every single time we've done an exhibition," Martin, at 38 two years older than Chang, said when asked if the stroke was prearranged. "He's so straitlaced that I don't think he'd do it. It's such a vivid memory for me from my childhood, watching a kid that was two years younger than me doing that and then winning the French Open. It's an indelible print in my memory bank."
Martin, arguably one of the best players never to have won a Grand Slam -- he was in two finals -- only recently returned to full fitness after dealing with -- you guessed it -- a back injury that required a cortisone shot. He hurt the back in the spring but decided to honor a commitment on the senior Outback Tour, and the problem got worse. His back was a constant source of concern during a pro career that lasted about 15 years.
Back then, the injury stopped him from competing. Now it's even more of a pain for Martin -- and his sons, aged 5 and 2.
"There were days and weeks I couldn't wrestle with my boys," Martin said. "They'd come and jump on me. That's the last thing they need to be worried about, hurting [Dad]."
To tennis fans, Carl Munnerlyn's name won't breed familiarity. It's a different story for players at the U.S. Open.
Within five minutes, about half a dozen passersby, including four-time Grand Slam champion Jim Courier, stopped to shake Munnerlyn's hand or give him a pat on the back as he stood in a corridor not far from Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"How you doing?" Courier asks, before strolling away.
Munnerlyn, 44, is the guy who looks after the men's locker room. He gets whatever the pros need, making sure shower accessories are plentiful, clothing lands in the right hands -- and chocolate is never too far away.
"Basically just keep the locker room clean," Munnerlyn said.
He's been at the tournament for 26 years, since he was 18, and has mingled with virtually all of the big guns. Last year, he was thrilled when current world No. 1 Rafael Nadal gave him a pair of shoes. (No skin off Rafa's back, surely, but it's the thought that counts, right?)
Here's Munnerlyn's take on a few stars, past and present (no major secrets revealed, sadly):
• Roger Federer: "Very loose, energetic, animated, likes to joke around. He jokes around with me, he jokes around with everybody."
When asked about the last joke Federer told him, Munnerlyn let out a big smile. "I can't tell you that one."
• Nadal: "He's a ball of fire. He likes to run around in the locker room, kind of stretch. The locker room is so big. It's almost like a track field. Totally focused."
• Andy Roddick: "He's very nice. Sits down, relaxes and watches a bit of TV. Normal stuff."
• Pete Sampras: "Real quiet guy, real nice, easygoing. Likes to be in an area that's really quiet. Just professional about his job."
• Andre Agassi: "He'd like to walk around, get his body loose, get his mind ready for his match. [Sampras and Agassi] were very professional about how they would go about their business before a match."
Munnerlyn knows what he'll be looking forward to come tournament's end, despite his fondness for the job. His day starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m.
"Rest," he said with a laugh.
Isn't the man supposed to carry the woman in mixed doubles? If so, Cara Black wasn't paying much attention.
Black, long one of the most accomplished doubles players in the women's game, made a stunning reaction volley in the first set of the mixed doubles final against Jamie Murray and Liezel Huber on Thursday afternoon, and it ended up being the turning point in a 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory with Leander Paes.
No one needed to point that out to the experienced Paes, her partner at a major for the first time. Paes completed his Grand Slam collection in the mixed.
"Today, really, I think she won the match for us," Paes said. "To play with her is a treat. I think that being our first week, we figured each other's games out. She knows she's got to do everything. I just have to sit and watch."
At 6-4 for Murray and Huber in the opening-set tiebreaker, a fierce volley was directed straight at Black, who managed to not only get her racket on it but steer it into the corner for a winner. On the next point, she scooped up a low volley, with Murray later sending an easy put away into the net.
Black, from Zimbabwe, and Paes, from India, eventually claimed the 'breaker 8-6. In the second, Murray, the older brother of singles star Andy Murray, was the only one of the foursome to drop serve.
Not much of a surprise that Paes, long associated with fellow Indian Mahesh Bhupathi, and Black intend to continue their partnership in 2009.
"The real joy for me to find a partner like her is to find someone who's positive, who's professional and, no matter what the score is, is giving her best effort," Paes said.
Black and South Africa-born Huber, who became an American citizen last year, still have a women's doubles semifinal to contest. They will take on Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual. Paes and Czech partner Lukas Dlouhy face the crowd favorites, American twins Bob and Mike Bryan, in the men's doubles final.
The two, though, will have something in common when they meet on Super Saturday -- it marks their first U.S. Open semifinal. Nadal couldn't hide his delight in reaching the last four following a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win that stopped native Minnesotan Mardy Fish's thrilling run in New York.
The encounter finished at 2:11 a.m. Thursday, unofficially the third-latest ending in the tournament's history.
"Very happy [to] be in the semifinals, for sure," Nadal said. "If I'm not happy and I'm in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, I'm going to be very stupid."
Last year Nadal, hampered by knee pain, was knocked out in the fourth round by fellow Spaniard David Ferrer. Nadal dropping to the ground, legs stretched, after a punishing rally was one of the enduring images of the 2007 event.
Since then, the Mallorcan reached a maiden semifinal at the Australian Open, repeated at the French and wrestled away Roger Federer's crown at Wimbledon.
"That's, well, another important thing in my career, to play the semifinals in all Grand Slams in the same season," he said. "That's very good and very important for me."
Nadal suggested he's not performing as well as he was in Beijing, when he swept the field -- including third-ranked Novak Djokovic -- to claim Olympic gold. The good news for him is that he felt better physically "than the last days."
Judging by the stats, mind you, maybe Nadal was being harsh. Going for it from the baseline -- and not missing early -- Fish broke his opponent in the second game. Nadal didn't face another break point, hit 29 winners and committed just 19 unforced errors.
It was a far cry from his fourth-round clash with another American, California's Sam Querrey. Nadal also needed four sets, though they were more punishing.
Nadal is the lone top-five player Murray hasn't beaten, in five tries. Nadal crushed the Scot in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and edged past him in the Toronto Masters semifinals in July.
Murray isn't having a bad summer himself, earlier attaining his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the All England Club, winning his first Masters title in Cincinnati and downing Djokovic twice.
"I know how good Andy is, and how good he can play," Nadal said. "So I know the only way for a win is [to] play my best tennis, no? My goal is [to] try to find my best feeling and my best performance."
One of the keys for Murray, the Scot said, is to find his return game.
Murray edged Argentinean Juan Martin Del Potro in four sets Thursday; Murray could have wrapped it up in three, while Del Potro, who had his 23-match winning streak snapped, might have triumphed in four, blowing a flurry of leads.
"The first couple of times I played [Nadal], I returned very well," said Murray, closing on the No. 4 ranking. "The last two or three matches I didn't return well. That's the only thing I need to do better."
Wednesday, Sept. 3
A peek at the U.S. Open stats reveals Elena Dementieva is tied for 15th in one particular category.
The Russian won't mind, since that category is double faults.
Dementieva has put her double fault woes (once a constant source of worry) behind her and is a victory away from a second U.S. Open final. Standing in the gritty baseliner's way is elastic Serb Jelena Jankovic, the world No. 2.
In reaching the French Open final four years ago, Dementieva set an unwanted tournament record by unleashing 67 doubles. She's committed 14 in five encounters in the past week and a half.
At the Olympics in Beijing, where Dementieva fulfilled a lifelong goal by claiming gold, countrywoman Dinara Safina was the one stuttering on serve, cracking 17 double faults. (What is it about Russians, Anna Kournikova included, and serving foibles?)
"Her results have been fantastic, so obviously she's been able to figure out her problem," said Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam singles winner. "Off the ground, I think she's the most solid player out there."
In tight moments in the past, Dementieva's ball toss often wandered. There's been little sign of that through the quarterfinals.
Dementieva began working with former American pro Harold Solomon and Andy Brandi at Solomon's academy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami in March. She was recommended by her good friend and fellow pro Vera Dushevina. Dementieva put in a call and got in some time before the Tier I event in Charleston, S.C., in April. She resumed her association with the pair for two weeks prior to August's Olympics.
Although their sessions were not entirely focused on her serve, it was one of the things that got attention.
"It's hard to change something during the year when you're changing every week, so we decided to just improve little bits and maybe to work more in the offseason, when I have time for some more bigger changes," said Dementieva, currently No. 6 but one of a handful of players with a chance of becoming No. 1 by tournament's end. "But we were working on my toss a lot and were very focused on the way I was serving and spent some time on it."
Dementieva, fluent in English and French as well as Russian, laughed after practice when it was suggested that at 26 and with career earnings of about $10 million, she could coast in the top 10 without putting in so much work.
"I realize I need to work a lot," she said, her blue eyes dancing. "There is really a lot of things to improve in my game. It's good to be in the top 10, but I want something bigger than that. That's the only way to improve. You have to work harder."
The is-he-or-isn't-he-injured controversy surrounding Novak Djokovic won't go away.
Djokovic needed treatment in the second set against Robredo for a hip injury, having cream applied and also taking painkillers. Later he turned his right ankle and also suffered from an upset stomach. Djokovic, who rolled his left ankle in the first round against Frenchman Arnaud Clement, eventually prevailed in five sets.
Robredo said he didn't trust Djokovic and claimed the Serb "does what he does a lot of times."
When Roddick, who crushed an out-of-sorts Fernando Gonzalez on Tuesday night, was asked about Djokovic's ailments, at first he joked that Djokovic, in Beijing for the Olympics, had bird flu.
Then he got serious.
"There's just a lot," the Nebraska native said. "You know, either he's quick to call a trainer or he's the most courageous guy of all time. I think it's up for you guys to decide."
Roddick got into the interview room earlier than expected. He needed less than an hour and a half to dispose of Gonzalez, the Olympic silver medalist, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1. Roddick served impeccably, winning 93 percent of his first-serve points and was not broken. He added 30 winners, countered by only seven unforced errors.
Gonzalez imploded, committing 33 unforced errors.
"It wasn't a good day for me," Gonzalez said.
Few would have predicted Roddick, the U.S. Open winner in 2003, to reach the quarterfinals this easily. Faced with a tough draw that included wily Frenchman Fabrice Santoro and Latvian teen Ernests Gulbis, he's lost one set in four rounds. Roddick entered the Open without a full-time coach and lacking match practice, thanks mainly to shoulder and neck injuries.
He's slightly surprised himself.
"I mean, I haven't been playing great," Roddick, seeded eighth, said. "I don't think I pretended that I was playing great. I said there are a lot of variables that will have to go right for me to play better. Fortunately, I have my feet into the tournament a little bit and I've played better."
Tuesday, Sept. 2
Tommy Robredo wasn't mincing his words.
The Spaniard, a loser to an ailing Novak Djokovic on Arthur Ashe Stadium, accused the Serb of faking it during their five-set clash in the fourth round.
Djokovic required treatment for hip and ankle injuries, and was also suffering from an upset stomach. He often grimaced between points in the fifth set.
"Did I trust him?" asked Robredo, the 15th seed. "No. No. I think he took his time because he did it because he was a little bit more tired, and that's part of the game. It helped him a lot."
Djokovic probably gave the ultrafit Spaniard more ammunition when he said in his own news conference "exhaustion" was more the problem, not his hip.
Djokovic revealed he went to bed at 4:30 a.m. Monday morning, after his four-hour encounter against Croat Marin Cilic on Sunday evening took longer than expected.
"I kind of ruined that biorhythm, and this morning I woke up, I didn't feel really great," he said. "I felt soreness in my muscles and mostly in my hip."
Robredo said his feet were "burning," though refused to seek any attention.
"I think that if you're not fit enough, then don't play," Robredo said. "But after every time he was asking for a trainer, he was running like hell, and he was making the shot. But he does what he does a lot of times."
Djokovic drew more criticism this year when he retired from a pair of high-profile matches. One came against Roger Federer in the second set of their Monte Carlo Masters semifinal in April; in February, he led Nikolay Davydenko by two sets to one in the opening round of the Davis Cup before calling it quits. That loss gave Russia the series.
Thirty years ago at the U.S. Open, former Canadian Davis Cupper Rejean Genois joked he thought a plane was about to land on court, such was the heavy -- and low -- air traffic above the grounds.
An avid tennis fan, former New York Mayor David Dinkins changed that in time for the 1990 tournament, getting the Federal Aviation Administration to alter flight paths over Queens, where the event is held. He also helped engineer a deal that kept the season's fourth Grand Slam in New York.
Dinkins, 81, was honored by the city on Tuesday evening when an area just outside the East Gate entrance was named the David Dinkins Circle.
"I'm truly delighted," said Dinkins, who now teaches at Columbia University in New York. "I'm told the path that they take now when they avoid flying over the center is in fact a more safe route. You just anger a different group of people."
Dignitaries who paid tribute to Dinkins included another former New York mayor, Ed Koch, current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and New York Governor David Paterson. Billie Jean King and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, wife of the late Arthur Ashe, were seated in the first row.
"David clearly is the No. 1 tennis fan among living mayors," Bloomberg said.
Regardless of what happens between Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro, don't expect a hug at the net when it ends. A brawl would be overstating it, but the two, who have known each other since their junior days, don't particularly like each other.
The bad blood began in the first round of the Rome Masters in May, when Del Potro rifled a shot near Murray's head as he was a lame duck at the net. Murray wanted an apology. He didn't get one, and the two trash talked during a changeover in the second set.
Del Potro was forced to retire with a back injury in the third, sobbing hard in his chair. Murray came over and patted him -- lightly -- before fleeing the court.
Murray claims Del Potro insulted his mother, without revealing what was said. Tuesday, Del Potro insisted that wasn't true.
"We spoke of things of the match," Del Potro said. "But I didn't say anything about his mother. He doesn't understand me, believe me."
Murray, who received a warning for uttering an audible obscenity in Rome, revealed the two haven't spoken to each other since. When asked following his win over Stanislav Wawrinka if he was surprised Del Potro hasn't tried to clear the air, Murray said no.
"I've known him since we were really young," Murray said. "Doesn't really bother me. I wasn't great friends with him before. I don't need to be friends with him now."
Apart from reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal, a victory over Murray would catapult Del Potro into the top 10. He admitted to feeling pressure today, and was also a tad nervous.
"Tomorrow is very complicated for me," Del Potro said. "It will be tough. But if I serve well, and do well with my forehand, I'll have a chance. If I'm not focused, I won't have a chance."
It's not that Dmitry Tursunov has writer's block. He's just focusing on other things, uh, like his tennis.
Having gained a cult following for his humorous, insightful and often self-deprecating blogs, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Russian -- based in California since he was 12 -- has been out of commission for about a year and a half.
"I kind of wanted to concentrate more on my career, and unfortunately the blog doesn't really pay the bills in the sense that if you're out of the top 100, nobody really cares what you have to say anyway," Tursunov said, seated in the players' lounge after finishing practice. "My life isn't that exciting."
Many would beg to differ.
Tursunov became the ATP's resident blogger last year after his wildly successful initial entry at a small clay-court tournament in Portugal in May 2006.
There he wrote of the perils of getting from his hotel to the tournament site -- speedy drivers being the main problem -- women's pros chasing hunky compatriot Marat Safin, and his disdain for clay, saying it should be exported to Mars.
Few subjects were off limits, including the Web habits of colorful Frenchman Gael Monfils.
"Gael Monfils is nuts over MSN," Tursunov penned. "A couple of days ago he was sitting in the lobby, and I'm not kidding, talking on six MSN windows at the same time. He has no idea what he is writing anymore or who he is writing to. He just puts 'lol' and moves on to the next window. The girl is probably telling him that her kittens died, and he just says 'lol.'"
Tursunov is still compiling material, and vows his blogging days aren't over.
And, by the way, he's far from being outside the top 100.
He's ranked 27th -- earning about $700,000 so far in 2008 -- which some contend is too low given his huge 1-2 punch of the serve and forehand. Even though he's captured four titles in his career, the 25-year-old, who's had to overcome serious leg and back injuries, has yet to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal.
He lost in the third round at the Open this year to Davis Cup teammate Nikolay Davydenko.
"I definitely haven't lost to clowns," Tursunov said. "Hopefully, I can go up. I have no reason to be negative about my tennis."
2:05 p.m.: Andy Murray's progression continues.
In July, the combative Scot reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, rallying from two sets down against lightweight Richard Gasquet to enthrall his legion of fans at Wimbledon. A few weeks later, he topped a good friend, third-ranked Novak Djokovic, for the first time at the Toronto Masters, and claimed his inaugural Masters title in Cincinnati, downing the baffled Serb again.
Monday night, Murray dismantled another good pal, 10th seed Stanislas Wawrinka, to make the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open for the first time.
Murray, prone to mental lapses in long matches, was focused throughout against Wawrinka, needing less than two hours to prevail 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 on his debut at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I've beaten better players than Stan, but that level of performance throughout the whole match was probably my best one of all the Grand Slams I played," said Murray, his ranking of sixth sure to rise in the coming weeks. "I didn't lose my concentration at all, which is tough in five-set matches."
This one was supposed to be close.
In their six previous tussles, and three times alone in 2008, the match went the distance. Wawrinka couldn't use his five-set marathon on Saturday against Italian journeyman Flavio Cipolla as an excuse. Murray also had to go five against Austrian lefty Jurgen Melzer, spending three and a half hours on court, only about half an hour less than Wawrinka.
Murray, who can do just about anything on the court, including lose his temper -- though he's trying to quell that -- produced 38 winners, tempered by just 15 unforced errors. He wasn't broken.
His only hiccup came at 3-3 in the second. Down 15-40 on serve, he uncorked an ace. On the next point, he came in behind a second serve aimed at Wawrinka's pretty one-handed backhand, the return not clearing the net.
"When you play against someone as good as Stan, they're always going to raise their level a bit," Murray said. "There's going to be situations where you have to, sort of fight your way through. When I was a couple of break points down in the second set, those sort of moments you have to try and come through. I did that really well."
Murray, a former U.S. Open junior champ who's expressed his fondness for the tournament in the past, must beat the surging Juan Martin Del Potro to advance to a first Grand Slam semifinal.
Del Potro, two years younger than Murray at 19, has won four straight tournaments and 23 consecutive matches. He advanced to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal by cruising past Japan's Kei Nishikori in straight sets, welcome relief following a five-set victory over Frenchman Gilles Simon.
"I feel better," Del Potro said. "[Tuesday] I have my day off to recover for Wednesday."
Murray won their lone meeting, an ill-tempered affair at the Rome Masters in May, when Del Potro retired with a back injury in the third set. The winner probably meets world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
Monday, Sept. 1
5:20 p.m.: It's not the end of the road for Anya Morris. Rather, the beginning.
Anya's famous dad, Boyz II Men crooner Wanya Morris, brought his 8-year-old daughter to Flushing Meadows on Monday to take in a day of action at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It was his first time back since the group, the most successful male R&B band in history, sang the national anthem at the closing ceremony two years ago.
Anya Morris just started taking up tennis, a sport her father can't help endorsing. Maybe he should work for the ATP.
"It's a sport that you can keep with you forever," Wanya Morris said, Anya by his side, a huge tennis ball waiting for signatures. "No matter how old you get, you can always play it, and besides, I'm pretty sure she's apt to learn. Hopefully, we can get a little Anya-Williams sisters thing going on."
Their favorite players include the usual suspects: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, James Blake, Andy Roddick and the aforementioned Williams siblings, Venus and Serena. Dinara Safina also was in the mix.
Like more than a few fans, Wanya Morris hopes for a battle between the big two in next week's men's final.
"I would like to see a Nadal-Federer final," he said. "It'd be pretty good."
4:45 p.m.: Snezana Jankovic, a friendly and familiar face on the women's tour, is having a hard time sitting in her daughter's box at the U.S. Open. A string of tough matches isn't so much the concern.
"You know what my problem is?" Jankovic asked after talking to fans and signing a few autographs while Jelena Jankovic practiced nearby. "My problem is not her, because we're more than mother and daughter, we're friends. My problem is that I can't stay so long in the sun. I need shade."
She hasn't been getting much of it.
Jelena Jankovic, chasing the No. 1 ranking and, more importantly by her own admission, a first Grand Slam title, has gone the distance in two of her first four matches at Flushing Meadows. In a third, she struggled to a straight-sets win, needing 11 deuces in the final game to advance.
"It's not drama," Snezana Jankovic said. "This is something that is normal for me. Everybody who comes here, they came here not to be tourists. They came here to win and to do something in tennis. A Grand Slam is the place to show it."
Jelena Jankovic's expressions of laughter on court win her fans, and doing the splits is an eye grabber, too. She can, though, frustrate opponents. Arvidsson was ticked because Jankovic served when she wasn't ready, and Jankovic also spent 30 seconds lying face down on court after unsuccessfully chasing a drop shot.
Her next foe is 28-year-old Austrian lefty Sybille Bammer, one of two moms on tour at the elite level. The ultra-fit Bammer, a counterpuncher, is appearing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Snezana Jankovic wasn't about to make predictions, she was simply happy Jelena is healthy. Jelena's struggled with injuries throughout the year, including a knee problem at Wimbledon and a calf strain at the Olympics. Mom didn't go to China, needing to recharge and see her two sons -- as well as her husband.
"Now she feels better and better, and I only pray to God for her health," she said. "She has the game and everything, and even with all the injuries this year, she's one of the most consistent players. I'm so proud of what she's doing."
You get the feeling Snezana Jankovic won't mind a little more sun if Jelena keeps winning.
12:35 p.m.: En route to the 2007 final in New York, Novak Djokovic needed to overcome dogged and awkward Czech Radek Stepanek in a second-round, five-set thriller that lasted nearly five hours. He received an early-round test again Sunday night from Marin Cilic, another imposing Croat who impressed with his serve, return game -- and resilience.
Djokovic -- whose parents at times were unable to hide their frustration as they watched from his box at Arthur Ashe Stadium -- prevailed in the third round 6-7 (7), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (0) in nearly four hours, stepping it up after blowing two match points, on his own serve, deep in the fourth set.
"The match against Stepanek was extremely difficult, one of the toughest in my career," Djokovic, ranked third, said. "I reached the finals, so it could be the same this year, hopefully. It's always good to have in the early stages long matches, a little hustle, struggle on the tennis court."
Cilic has a strong pedigree.
Croatia, with a population of about 4.5 million, has produced the likes of Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, former top-five regular Ivan Ljubicic, ex-Wimbledon semifinalist Mario Ancic, and Ivo Karlovic, arguably armed with the best serve the game has ever seen. The 19-year-old is coached by Bob Brett, who used to guide Ivanisevic and Boris Becker.
Described as an intellectual on court by Brett, Cilic had Djokovic, 21, thinking when he claimed the first set thanks to a stunning backhand down the line.
Djokovic, splashed across gossip columns last week due to his relationship with a Paraguayan javelin thrower who doubles as a model -- he insists they're nothing more than friends -- regained the initiative in the second. He did, however, get broken when trying to serve out the set for the first time.
In the fourth, Djokovic held two match points at 5-4, 40-15. Cilic produced an impeccable return game to break, pumping his fist and letting out a yelp to further excite an already appreciative crowd.
Djokovic altered his approach somewhat in the ensuing tiebreak, rushing the net to finish off points rather than rallying from the baseline against Cilic, blessed with a large wingspan at 6-foot-5.
"Even in the juniors, I was managing to play the best tennis when I needed to play," said Djokovic, the first Grand Slam champion from Croatia's neighbor and rival, Serbia, population 10 million. "This is a very, very good thing and very encouraging for me for the future. Bottom line is that everybody's playing great tennis, physically they're very fit, but if you're mentally able to play the best tennis in the most important moments, then you're different than the others."
Djokovic is on course to meet Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals in what surely would be a night match.
That could be another long one.
Muller broke in the final game to rally from two sets down for the second straight match, overcoming Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-7 (3), 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6), 7-5 in more than four hours. The lefty was only broken once himself and fired 38 aces. He's the first man from Luxembourg to reach the fourth round in a major.
Not bad for someone who almost didn't show up in qualifying, narrowly won his first qualifying match and contemplated retirement, only a few years after upsetting Roddick at the U.S. Open.
Similar to Severine Bremond, he'd only won one top-level tour match this season before the Open, against Floridian Jesse Levine. He even dabbled in the third tier.
"There were moments where I thought 'Should I still keep playing?' because pretty much every week you're losing money because you have more expenses than you are earning," said Muller, ranked 130th and a former junior No. 1. "It was a rough time, but I'm glad I didn't stop."
Muller need not worry about cash for a while. In reaching the fourth round, where he'll face fifth seed Nikolay Davydenko, he'll pocket $80,000, more than his entire 2008 earnings.
The 25-year-old almost missed the tournament completely, flying in late from a challenger in Turkey. Once in the first round of qualifying, he lost the first set to Algerian Lamine Ouahab and pulled out the second in a tiebreak, 8-6.
Muller beat French wild-card Laurent Recouderc in the opening round of the main draw, needing four sets, and began his comeback heroics against German Tommy Haas. He dropped the first two sets 6-2, taking the next three 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-3.
"I played terrible the first two sets," he said. "I said, 'Come on, man, you have nothing to lose. Why are you playing so tight?' Then I started to play better. Now I know I can turn around matches."
In an effort to keep his focus, he's not replying to every text message of congratulations he's receiving. He did that following his win over Roddick three years ago, then lost in the next round to Robby Ginepri.
Muller likes his chances against Davydenko, who he hasn't taken a set off in two tries -- and beyond.
"I'm thinking about those guys like Marcos Baghdatis in Australia," he said. "Nobody knew the guy before, and he went to the final [in 2006.] Same thing this year with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He went to the final right away. Why shouldn't that happen to me?"
Davydenko, complaining of a loss of motivation at the Olympics in Beijing, hasn't conceded a set through three rounds. His latest victim was fellow Russian Dmitry Tursunov.
"I'm really happy winning three rounds in three sets," Davydenko said.
Still, the 29-year-old, another in a steady stream of respectable French pros, isn't overawed ahead of their fourth-round match, the night session opener Monday on Arthur Ashe stadium.
Bremond is trying to become the second woman from France to cause a huge upset. Julie Coin's three-set victory over reigning world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in the second round was one of the biggest in tennis history.
"I'm sure I can create a new surprise," Bremond said, sitting in a comfortable blue sofa in the player's garden. "I don't expect anything. I just want to go and enjoy the crowd, the court, and playing against Serena, who is a great champion."
Bremond is the second-lowest-ranked player remaining in the women's draw, at No. 121, and the French No. 15 -- one spot ahead of Coin. She's no stranger to a big occasion, mind you.
Two years ago Bremond put together a magical run at Wimbledon, as a qualifier, downing seeds Patty Schnyder, Gisela Dulko and Ai Sugiyama en route to the quarterfinals. There was no shame in her quarterfinal loss, either, a single break in each set the difference against Justine Henin. Her ranking immediately rose from 129th to 73rd, then to a career high of 34th in February 2007.
Various ailments followed. A groin injury sidelined Bremond for two events in 2007, while illness kept her out of three others.
Prior to the U.S. Open, Bremond lost her last five main-draw matches. She hadn't won a top-tier match in 2008 altogether.
"I'm pretty surprised and happy," she said. "I want to keep enjoying it and having a lot of fun. I kept believing I could come back, and now it's done. I'm back. It's going to be a new start for me."
No matter what transpires against Williams, Bremond should find herself back in the top 100.
James Blake's match with Mardy Fish on Saturday night was supposed to be a love-in. The two are the closest of friends, with Blake due to be a groomsman at Fish's wedding to lawyer-turned-"Deal or No Deal" model Stacey Gardner next month. The two Americans did the almost-unheard-of in the pro ranks when they hung out together before the encounter in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Blake's cheering section, the J-Block, ignored the script.
They cheered the mistakes of Fish, chanted, "Blake, Blake," as he readied to serve, and even drew a warning from the chair umpire for being too vocal. Some suggested that the J-Block, which raises money for charity, should disband.
In the end, Fish didn't let it affect him in his 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory. Blake, from the New York City suburb of Yonkers, made his earliest exit at the U.S. Open since losing at the same stage in 2003, when the J-Block wasn't around.
"The J-Block, in my opinion, has brought enthusiasm to an already very enthusiastic nighttime crowd," Blake said. "They're, in my opinion, very respectful fans that are, yes, boisterous and raucous, but cheering fairly for American players. These are true tennis fans. So I don't understand the reasoning why it would end when it's doing something positive."
Made up of friends who helped Blake recover after he broke his neck and suffered a case of shingles in 2004, the J-Block made its debut at the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven, Conn., a year later -- and was a big hit. He expected to meet a few of them in the wake of Saturday's loss.
Blake, seeded ninth, suggested that as he's gotten better, the posse has become less popular.
"I don't know -- it seems like when I was the underdog, everyone was very positive about them," said Blake, who also was involved in controversy at the Olympics when he questioned the sportsmanship of Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in a semifinal loss. "Now when I'm a favorite, it seems like people are sometimes down on them. They were there at tough times. I'm so proud they enjoy my good times."
When asked if they'd crossed the line, Fish said, "I don't really want to waste my breath." According to Blake, many were in New Haven rooting for Fish last week as he reached the Pilot Pen final.
Blake, who needed five sets to dispatch Donald Young in the first round and split sets in the second with Steve Darcis before the Belgian retired, vowed to root for Fish and the rest of the Americans remaining in New York. Fish next faces Frenchman Gael Monfils, who's seemingly blossoming under new coach Roger Rasheed.
"Usually if I lose in a Grand Slam, it's not the first thing I want to turn on, tennis," Blake said. "I got reasons to tune back in. It'll hopefully be a pleasant surprise to see one of them holding the trophy next week."
Saturday, Aug. 30
Novak Djokovic wasn't about to underestimate his next opponent, the up-and-coming Marin Cilic.
Cilic is another tall, big-serving Croat described by his much respected coach, Bob Brett (who's not in New York), as being a thinker on court. The 19-year-old reached the Toronto Masters quarterfinals, won his first title at an Open warm-up in New Haven, Conn., last week and is ranked a career-best 24th.
"He's very talented and on a winning streak," said Djokovic, last year's finalist. "He's one of the youngsters we can expect to do well in the future."
Djokovic hasn't lost a set through two rounds, yet he hasn't been completely convincing. Against U.S. qualifier Robert Kendrick on Friday, the third seed needed to save two set points in the first.
"I hope I can play better than in the first two matches," he said.
Cilic, according to his older brother, Vinko, is a "little bit tired." He needed attention to a knee in Friday's tight four-set win over American Robby Ginepri.
"I think it got stiff a little bit," Vinko Cilic said. "Yesterday we were stuck in traffic for an hour."
If Djokovic advances, as expected, he could meet Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round, a repeat of the Australian Open final. Tsonga, showing off his exciting game in a second-round win over Carlos Moya, meets another Spaniard, Tommy Robredo.
Already good friends, Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray will be seeing more of each other. Both rallied from two sets down, an unlikely scenario in the first place, to set up a fifth meeting in 2008 and their first in a Grand Slam.
Murray's 6-7 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1, 6-3 third-round win over go-for-broke Austrian Jurgen Melzer enthralled fans on the Grandstand. But Wawrinka's 5-7, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-0, 6-4 victory over plucky Italian qualifier Flavio Cipolla on the cozier Court 11 might have been more intriguing.
Cipolla frustrated Wawrinka with his backhand, almost always slicing it; meanwhile, the Italian was not too impressed as Wawrinka cheered his double faults. When it ended after 4 hours and 14 minutes, Cipolla jawed at Wawrinka, who is known as being mild-mannered -- he is Swiss, after all -- and refused to shake his hand.
"I think he was a little bit frustrated because he lost in five sets," Wawrinka said, calm as can be in his postmatch press conference.
Wawrinka claimed he uttered only one "come on" following a double fault by his opponent, although he had what looked like a wry smile on his face. He also was accused of staring Cipolla down and impersonating Cipolla's limping on the court.
Wawrinka suggested that Cipolla, ranked 142nd, wasn't as injured as he claimed. He received attention for a left leg injury.
"After each point he lost, he was acting like he was dead," said Wawrinka, seeded 10th. "What I was able to see was that he was running well," he said earlier in French.
Murray came back from two sets down for the second straight Grand Slam. He did it in the fourth round at Wimbledon against Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
"I was in danger in both matches, but I felt like today Melzer was playing so well that it was going to be really tough for me to get back into the match," Murray said. "Against Gasquet, I still felt like I had a shot of getting back in there. I'd known in the past that he struggled to close out big matches and struggled a bit over five sets. That made it a little bit easier than today maybe."
Melzer, who got in front partly by letting rip on Murray's second serves, seemingly struggled with the onset of cramps in the fifth set after being two points away from advancing in the third. Murray used to be the guy faltering physically in long matches.
His first serve is always a hot topic of conversation. Saturday, he was broken twice, despite serving at only 54 percent, and went 5-for-19 on break points.
There should be more drama in the fourth round: Murray and Wawrinka have split their six head-to-heads, four going the distance. Don't expect any bad blood.
"We can say, 'Come on' in [each other's] face, and it's not a problem," Wawrinka said.
Novak Djokovic is finding out that being famous isn't always fun.
Djokovic's relationship with Paraguayan javelin thrower Leryn Franco, who doubles as a model, has been splashed over the sports pages and more than a few gossip columns this week. On Friday, he was forced to deny he was having a romance with Franco, whom he met at the Olympics in Beijing, saying she was simply a friend. He's supposed to have a steady girlfriend already, in one Jelena Ristic.
Not the kind of attention one wants while chasing a second Grand Slam title. Nenad Zimonjic, his good friend and Serbian doubles partner at the Olympics, backed the 21-year-old amid the distraction.
"I think he's handling it very good and is going in a good direction," Zimonjic said. "The priority for him is to become better as a player and try to keep his private life private as much as possible. He wants to improve and work hard, and these are just secondary things."
Probably secondary for Zimonjic, too. He's busy, along with Canadian partner Daniel Nestor, trying to end the season first in the doubles standings ahead of popular U.S. twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who ended the past three seasons ranked No. 1. Zimonjic and Nestor lead the brothers by 47 points after going 28-3 in their past 31 matches, winning Wimbledon in the process.
Against the Bryans in 2008, Nestor and Zimonjic have won two of three matches; all three were third-set tiebreakers. Zimonjic would relish a fourth meeting in the U.S. Open final.
"My best result here was the quarterfinals so I hope I can make this better, and it would be ideal to play them in the finals," Zimonjic said. "And it's going to be a very interesting end of the year. Every tournament counts. It would be amazing to finish as the No. 1 team."
Bereft of drama the first four days, the men's tournament came to life Friday night. Little surprise that Andy Roddick was involved.
A New York kind of guy who was actually born in Nebraska and resides in Texas, Roddick took part in the fifth-latest finish (unofficially) at the Open, his entertaining four-set encounter against Latvia's baby-faced assassin, Ernests Gulbis, finishing at 1:34 a.m. A brief rain delay helped lengthen the evening, with Roddick prevailing 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 7-5.
Patrick McEnroe, temporarily coaching Roddick on top of his numerous other duties, stayed the course. He's used to such nights, anyway: His five-set loss to Jimmy Connors in 1991 ended one minute later, at 1:35 a.m.
Boosting the atmosphere were women, in their lofty suites, dancing on tables during changeovers and couples getting close. Maybe they knew Roddick was celebrating his 26th birthday and Gulbis his 20th.
"I was like, 'This is great,"' said Roddick, whose summer has been adversely affected by shoulder and neck injuries. "Might as well get a win while we're out here. It felt like a party in the stadium on switch-overs."
Roddick wasn't in the mood to celebrate early, losing the first set 6-3 and trailing by a break at 5-4 in the second. At one point, he smashed his racket in frustration, unable to cope with Gulbis' huge serve, lethal groundstrokes and deft drop shots.
He managed to hang in there, and Gulbis, still maturing on court, began making more unforced errors. Roddick cruised in the third set, and Gulbis cracked in the final game of the fourth, allowing his opponent to continue his push for a second U.S. Open title.
Roddick finished with an impressive tally of 42 winners and 21 unforced errors. The numbers for Gulbis, who dictated the proceedings, were 79 and 60, respectively.
"I guess one thing that no one will dispute is that I pretty much leave it out there every time, and if I lose, it's not for lack of effort," Roddick said. "You know, nights like tonight sometimes it's beneficial."
Despite the loss, Gulbis, a laid-back sort not afraid of smiling on court, enjoyed the experience.
"I'm a night person," he said. "I was really pumped for playing the night session, because center court, it was pretty full at the beginning, and it's a pretty amazing feeling to go in such a crowd in New York. I hope people enjoyed it. I think they did."
Up next for Roddick is the less flashy but much steadier Italian Andreas Seppi, seeded 31st.
Friday, Aug. 29
Gil Reyes, an imposing figure with a penchant for dressing in black, can't stop crying when he's at the U.S. Open.
Two years ago, Reyes, who began his time with Andre Agassi as a fitness coach and turned into a confidant, was in tears when Agassi bid his emotional farewell at Flushing Meadows after a loss to unheralded German Benjamin Becker.
On Wednesday, more tissues were needed as Reyes, in his first visit to the Open since Agassi's departure, watched one of his charges, Romanian Sorana Cirstea, lose to 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
No, Reyes wasn't devastated by the defeat. He was proud Cirstea was playing in the world's largest regularly used tennis stadium.
"I can't help it," Reyes said.
Reyes is back as a roving fitness consultant for adidas, giving advice to any adidas-contracted players who approach him; experienced Dutchman Sven Groeneveld has a similar role with the sportswear giant, though in coaching, and can be seen most often with now struggling world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Reyes was busy exchanging hugs with Spaniard Fernando Verdasco after his practice session Wednesday.
Though at the Open with Agassi for about 20 years, Reyes, 57, found himself in new territory this week -- at the outer practice courts where the rumble of passing trains is never too far away. Those courts usually are reserved for the young juniors Reyes sometimes works with and the not-so-elite pros. Reyes chuckled when an ATP official suggested he was "only familiar with Andre's practice court and Ashe."
Reyes began his relationship with adidas in earnest in Indian Wells, Calif., this spring. So far, the plan is for Reyes to show up at Indian Wells, the French Open and the U.S. Open. He also provides help to those who saunter down to his, and Agassi's, neck of the woods in Nevada. Verdasco, Cirstea and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, the junior No. 4, have all visited.
Reyes can't embark on the Open grounds without flashing back to his time with Agassi. Asked how it felt to return, Reyes remembered "special, meaningful" moments. He recalled Agassi's five-set thriller with James Blake in 2005, his courageous performance as a 35-year-old against a then-dominant Roger Federer in the 2005 final and a five-set victory over fellow showman Marcos Baghdatis in 2006.
In that last one, Agassi was competing with a bad back and was in such bad shape afterward that he was lying on the sidewalk, hurting too much to stand up, as he waited for a ride back to his accommodation.
Agassi contested every U.S. Open from 1986 to 2006.
"This became such a different world, a different universe for me, of, I guess, competition and emotion," Reyes said. "Everything that flashed before my mind and eyes connected to my heart, which is time, memories, people, voices and, of course, many moments, big moments."
A familiar face was roaming the players' lounge, which always is awash with activity the first week of a major, Friday afternoon. But unlike a few years ago, there was no one around dapper Swede Joachim Johansson.
Johansson, one of the tour's can't-miss prospects and a U.S. Open semifinalist four years ago, retired in February due to recurring shoulder problems. He's back in New York coaching a Finnish junior.
Now 26, Johansson, who was armed with a serve that rivaled that of Andy Roddick, wasn't thinking about a comeback. When asked for an update on his right shoulder, he said it's "OK for a few weeks."
"I'm not thinking about coming back," Johansson said.
Johansson won three titles and reached a career-high ninth in the rankings in February 2005. He played his final match in October 2007 after losing a month earlier to Roddick in the Davis Cup semifinals.
A lanky, tricky -- and often humorous -- baseliner, Simon made headlines at the Toronto Masters when he rallied to beat Roger Federer, the highlight of a nine-match winning streak. Simon began his hard-court summer with a title at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships.
The imposing Del Potro, meanwhile, has boosted his ranking to 17th, one spot below Simon, after winning four straight tournaments and 21 consecutive matches. In their lone meeting in 2007, at a U.S. Open warm-up in nearby New Haven, Conn., Simon overcame Del Potro 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 7-5 in three hours.
"I know he's playing good, but he has nothing unbelievable in his game," Simon said. "He's not hitting winners every time, so I have the time to play my game, and even if he's a good player, if the match lasts four or five sets, I think I'm better than him."
Unlike a few of his peers, Simon said fatigue, mental or physical, is not affecting him. He, too, voyaged to the Beijing Olympics, where he lost in the third round to James Blake.
Simon is perhaps France's top men's hope in New York. Richard Gasquet was ousted in the first round by Tommy Haas, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a sensation Down Under, is just back after missing three months with a knee injury.
"I think it's easy to find the motivation when you play a tournament like the U.S. Open," said Simon, who will make his maiden appearance in the Open's third round. "I'm playing really good at the moment. I really want to enjoy every match because I know that I can win all the matches I play. Every week I'm playing for my best ranking, so it's easy for me to find the motivation. I don't feel any extra pressure."
One of the most unassuming players around, David Ferrer wasn't about to drum up any controversy.
The fourth-ranked Spaniard, who made his Grand Slam breakthrough by reaching the U.S. Open semifinals in 2007, was just fine with playing Thursday in the obscurity of Court 7, where he overcame defiant German Andreas Beck in four sets and three hours.
Of the seven show courts on the grounds, Court 7 has the second-fewest seats with 1,484 (only Court 4 is smaller). A grand arena it's not.
"It's normal, because the American players play on the important courts, and me, I'm a Spanish player," Ferrer said matter of factly upon finishing practice. "I don't think it's important."
Ferrer, who once said he was the worst player in the top 100, chose to focus on his faltering game instead. Hampered by a leg injury at the Toronto Masters, he exited in the third round with a loss to Richard Gasquet -- whom Ferrer had not only beaten, but crushed, in their three previous matches.
In addition, Ferrer lost his opener at the Cincinnati Masters to a hard-court specialist, Ecuadorian veteran Nicolas Lapentti. And he was upended by inconsistent Serbian Janko Tipsarevic in the first round of the Olympics.
He's OK physically now.
"Maybe I didn't play so good the last few weeks," Ferrer said. "Maybe I was a little bit tired. But now -- the U.S. Open is a Grand Slam, and I did really well last year, and I want to try to do my best."
Ferrer has a tricky path. Japan's Kei Nishikori, tipped as a future top-five player by Nadal, is his third-round opponent. Should he advance, Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro or Frenchman Gilles Simon (two of the hottest players during the summer) would follow. Andy Murray, on a roll himself, looms in the quarterfinals.
Little things at a Grand Slam can make big differences.
Rafael Nadal, running on fumes following a hectic road trip that began in April, was glad he had the chance to switch off tennis before his second-round match against former University of Illinois standout Ryler De Heart on Thursday evening. The bulky Spaniard, winner of six of his past seven tournaments (including the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics), benefited from an extra day's rest.
Nadal didn't linger with De Heart, dispatching the Hawaii-born world No. 261 (who, nevermind his ranking, has his own Web site) -- 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in packed Arthur Ashe stadium.
"I think the thing is not have two days off," said Nadal, seeking to reach the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time. "I think [it's] to forget a little bit about tennis to recover a little bit."
So what's a guy to do on his days off in New York?
The down-to-earth Nadal hit a golf course close to the site, having drawn an invitation from the club. Nadal, a right-hander in virtually everything except tennis, couldn't finish his round due to darkness.
"But I was doing fine," he said.
Nadal will meet a familiar foe in the third round, Serb Viktor Troicki. Troicki, not the sort to give opponents any rhythm and in possession of a big serve, is at a career-high 71st in the rankings after reaching the semifinals of a challenger in San Marino and the final of the top-tier Legg Mason Classic, losing to surging Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro.
When Troicki met Nadal in the opening round of the Australian Open, he failed to convert a set point in the opener and blew a break lead in the second. At that time, he was ranked outside the top 120.
"I have to improve for next round, and now I have a tough opponent," Nadal said. "Troicki is a good server, and he's playing well. I know I have to play well to beat him."
And vice versa.
Thursday, Aug. 28
The John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg double act hit the swank W Hotel in Manhattan earlier Thursday.
McEnroe quickly jumped in, appeasing the seated journalists waiting for a reply.
"Well, unfortunately, he used the word 'played,'" McEnroe said. "We had both made an agreement that we were going to say it was the best match we'd ever seen, so we left open the possibility, hoping that some of you guys that were around when we played [would say] that it wasn't necessarily the best match ever played. So, so much for that."
McEnroe, of course, was referring to his seesaw battle with Borg in the 1980 final at Wimbledon, when the Swede prevailed 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6 to capture a fifth straight title in London.
Borg and McEnroe were side by side at the launch of the Kings of Tennis, billed as an annual event that makes its debut in the Malaysian resort of Penang from Nov. 14-16, the same week as the season-ending Masters Cup in relatively nearby Shanghai.
The format pits a team from the Americas against one from Europe, with only former or current No. 1s allowed to compete.
McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Chilean Marcelo Rios represent the former in the first edition, captained by Aussie Roy Emerson, while Borg is joined by fellow Swedes Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg under the watchful eye of charismatic Russian Ilie Nastase. Each squad picks a wild card, yet to be named.
Borg and McEnroe, scheduled to be doubles opponents in an exhibition in Macao on Nov. 20 -- Roger Federer is also in -- were the only participants in attendance.
"I'm glad Sampras is on my team," said McEnroe, adding that a team tennis format would be "very interesting" at the Olympics.
The Wimbledon theme was ever-present. A montage of each of the players was shown, featuring the players at the All England Club. (Wilander won three French Opens and never advanced past the quarterfinals at Wimbledon; Rios despised the grass.)
"I believe this could be a very big thing in the future," Borg said. "Getting all the No. 1s at the same place has never happened before."
Singles matches are the best of three sets, a match tiebreaker used in the decider.
Bethanie Mattek blew it, and she knew it.
Mattek, a cult hero in tennis thanks to her eclectic dress sense, sobbed hard as she waited to be interviewed following a 7-6 (5), 6-1 loss to French starlet and 17th seed Alize Cornet in the second round. Cornet is one of the game's brightest prospects but mainly excels on clay; her lone appearance in a hard-court quarterfinal this season came last week in New Haven, Conn. where the field was weakish.
The Minnesota native needed a few minutes to compose herself, aided by a WTA staff member, before proceeding.
"I work all year for the U.S. Open," Mattek said, looking down as she spoke in a snug room, cap still in tow. "To go out like that is not very satisfying."
Mattek, making waves in 2008 thanks to her tennis, too, blew a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. A blister on her racket hand didn't help, although she didn't turn that into an excuse.
Visibly frustrated, letting out a few audible obscenities, Mattek capitulated in the second set.
"She played well, and mentally I wasn't there," Mattek said.
Inside the top 45 after beginning the campaign outside the top 100, Mattek, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, has lost three of her past four matches.
Andy Roddick made a splash at the U.S. Open on Wednesday night. And it had nothing to do with having a new coach.
French magician Fabrice Santoro was close to disappearing late in the 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 thumping on Arthur Ashe stadium when Roddick thumped a 140-mile-per-hour serve that nearly sent the veteran tumbling into the backboard. Santoro managed to scurry away at the last second -- then conceded the next and last point, wanting nothing to do with the ensuing delivery. The postmatch handshake wasn't overly friendly.
The incident snowballed into a controversy when Santoro, one of the tiniest pros on the tour at 5-foot-10, played it up. At 35, it might have been Santoro's final Grand Slam singles tussle.
"He served it to the body," said Santoro, who can drive opponents crazy with his spins, slices and changes of pace. "I managed to avoid it, by some miracle. He served right at me, for sure. It's a good strategy sometimes, but not at that point of the match."
Roddick, with something to prove following a spring and summer cut short by shoulder and neck injuries, insisted the serve wasn't meant to go near Santoro. Instead, he was trying to send it down the middle.
Roddick's on-court antics have been questioned in the past -- he is no stranger to the stare down and has clashed with British hope Andy Murray, rising Japanese star Kei Nishikori and more than a few umpires -- but this serve landed in.
"I wasn't going for him," Roddick said. "I'm not going to go for someone up 6-2, 6-2, 5-2. It was a bad miss that I hit very hard. I can definitely probably understand where he's coming from. If I was in the same situation, I'd probably be momentarily pissed off, too."
"Well, then, it was the biggest mistake of his life," Santoro countered. "When he goes for the T, it lands on the T."
Roddick planned to get in touch with Santoro, who is playing doubles with countryman Richard Gasquet at Flushing Meadows, in the next few days.
"It's unfortunate, but it happens," said Roddick, temporarily being guided by U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe after brother John Roddick stepped aside. "We've always gotten along pretty well. I'm sure it will be fine."
Santoro should be counting his blessings. Murray actually got hit by a Sergio Roitman second serve in his opener this week. He admitted to misjudging it, mind you, and it was far tamer at about 90 miles per hour.
Wednesday, Aug. 27
Tall, dark and handsome, Fernando Verdasco is a marketer's dream. Just imagine if the Spaniard could live up to his on-court potential.
Verdasco is getting closer, having his best season so far. During a 2-month spell that begin late in the spring, he went 20-6, won his first title in four years and reached a career-high ranking of 11th.
Having never landed in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, Verdasco, 24, is still labeled an underachiever.
"Of course I hear that, and I try to learn about what the people say," said Verdasco, who posed naked in the U.K.'s July version of Cosmopolitan magazine to promote cancer awareness. "This is my best year by far. For me, the important thing is to improve day by day and get better," he added, replicating a phrase often uttered by Nadal.
Verdasco, who didn't leave any autograph seekers stranded after practice Tuesday and Wednesday, next has an easy-looking encounter against Portuguese qualifier Rui Machado. Russian Igor Andreev, a more difficult proposition, is a possible third-round foe.
He'll probably have to beat Federer to make the last eight.
"If I win in the second round, I might have Andreev," Verdasco said. "I think it would be a very difficult match. If I win that match I could have Federer in the quarterfinals, so it will be very tough to be in the quarterfinals. I will try to do my best."
This is David Nalbandian's last shot at glory this year, and his coach knows it -- sort of.
"This tournament is very important for him, and also he has another goal in winning the Davis Cup," said Martin Jaite, a former top-10 player, with Nalbandian a few steps ahead of him after finishing practice on another immaculate day filled with plenty of sun.
Winning for Nalbandian in 2008 has been arduous, period, and few would have predicted it.
Hampered yet again by injuries, Nalbandian exited meekly in the third round of the Australian Open: A straight-sets demolition imposed by fading former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero lasted barely more than an hour and a half.
It paled in comparison to his French Open performance, however. Nalbandian blew a two-set lead in the second round, falling to French journeyman Jeremy Chardy. At Wimbledon a few weeks later, his misery was complete in a first-round exit in 96 minutes to Canadian Frank Dancevic.
Fiercely patriotic, Nalbandian shrugged off another injury to represent Argentina at the Olympics, going a little deeper this time, to Round 3. Argentina, seeking its first title, hosts powerhouse Russia in the Davis Cup semifinals next month, a repeat of the 2006 finale.
Nalbandian, blessed with a crushing backhand, gave tennis fans hope he could routinely challenge the likes of Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic after downing the trio during a burst late in 2007. It's why he's still ranked seventh.
"For us, we thought it was going to be the year for David," Jaite said. "He started the year with some physical problems in Australia, and he played most of the time with problems in his body, so it's difficult to make good results if you're not 100 percent."
Nalbandian, added Jaite, isn't 100 percent now, an injury around his waist the culprit. He brushed aside suggestions that Nalbandian's frequent ailments were caused by being overweight.
"When David is 100 percent, his weight is very good," he said.
James Blake had a big smile on his face until his beloved New York Mets were mentioned. He was reminded the Mets blew a 7-0 lead to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night, the bullpen faltering again, to slip a half-game behind the Phils in the National League East with time running out.
"I was having a good day until you just said that," Blake muttered, a throng of fans chanting, "James, James, James," in the background lifting his spirits.
At least he's still around.
Blake, unlike the pen, held on in his opener against prodigy Donald Young on Monday night, waltzing through the first and third sets, and ultimately needing a fifth to advance. He admitted afterwards he didn't exactly know where he was, all the travel in the last few months taking a toll.
Blake went deep at the Olympics in Beijing, upsetting Federer in the quarterfinals and finishing fourth. His next opponent is unpredictable Belgian Steve Darcis; take away an indoor title in Memphis and a final appearance last month in the Netherlands and Darcis has gone 8-12 since the beginning of February.
"Those are always dangerous players to play against, especially when they've got nothing to lose, because they're liable to be hot," Blake said. "So you kind of have to weather the storm sometimes at first and just not let that get to you and know you can raise your game even if they're hot."
Oh, Blake is sticking to his story regarding the contentious encounter with Fernando Gonzalez in Beijing. Blake accused Gonzalez of unsporting behavior, thinking the Chilean should have fessed up when a backhand passing shot appeared to graze his racket with Blake up 9-8 in the third and final set before the ball sailed long. There was no call, despite Blake's protests, and Gonzalez took a 15-0 lead.
On Monday, Gonzalez's coach, experienced American Larry Stefanki, said Blake went too far.
"If Larry thinks I went over the top, that's his opinion, but I don't remember him ever competing for a medal," Blake spewed. "He's speaking from not being in that situation, not being in that same experience."
Even with his slump, you wouldn't expect many to show sympathy for a guy who has won 12 Grand Slam titles, including four straight in New York, and raked in more than $40 million in prize money.
Yet Roger Federer, lauded as a great ambassador for the game and a humanitarian, is seemingly above the numbers. Federer, relegated to the No. 2 ranking this month behind a surging Rafael Nadal, was feeling the love in one of the grittiest cities in the world, days before the U.S. Open began.
"The change I feel is fans are really supporting me and telling me I'm still No. 1 and still the best -- 'You're going to be there again' and stuff," Federer said following his 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 win over a spirited, at times, Maximo Gonzalez late Tuesday night. "I feel like I've got unbelievable support from the fans watching me and seeing people in the streets and stuff. It's kind of really nice."
Also nice was Federer's reception Monday evening, when he was among a plethora of former champions feted on Arthur Ashe stadium. Federer received a standing ovation and arguably the biggest roar of the night, which made him "almost a little bit uneasy."
The Swiss said he never felt the crowd was "against" him during his pinnacle; his friend and the man whose Grand Slam record he's chasing, Pete Sampras, admitted that wasn't always the case during his own heyday.
"I didn't think people were cheering against me," Federer said. "I think I have great appeal to many fans around the world, and they have always enjoyed watching me play."
Federer gets another virtual unknown in the second round in Brazilian qualifier Thiago Alves, who pulled off a mild upset when he took out fellow South American, Chilean Paul Capdeville, in five sets.
"I mean, I think I know how he looks like," Federer said.
Tuesday, Aug. 26
When Toni Nadal summarized his nephew's draw at Wimbledon in late June, he let out a sigh. Rafael Nadal's path was littered with dangerous floaters, including Ernests Gulbis, Mikhail Youzhny, Nicolas Kiefer and Andy Murray. In the end, it mattered little.
The U.S. Open draw was much gentler, with new world No. 1 Rafael Nadal beginning with qualifier Bjorn Phau on Monday and getting another in the second round in former University of Illinois standout Ryler DeHeart.
"Sometimes the draw is difficult, then not so difficult after some matches," said Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal's coach since he was a child. "We don't know, maybe the next player is very good and we go out."
The biggest threat to Nadal's march to a maiden semifinal in New York could be fatigue. He has, of course, played virtually nonstop since the clay-court season began in April and understandably admitted he was tired after a tedious straight-sets victory over Phau, a diminutive scrapper who just wouldn't quit.
"Rafael is tired, and it's normal because our season is very tough," Toni Nadal said. "Physically he's not too bad, not too good, but mentally he feels tired. I hope in the next match, he can do better. Maybe if he wins that match, it will be a little better."
So how much does Toni Nadal know about DeHeart, a 24-year-old who won his first top-tier encounter on Monday by eliminating another little guy, Olivier Rochus, in five sets?
"I know nothing," Toni Nadal said. "I saw a little of him yesterday, not too much."
Safe to say DeHeart knows a thing or two about his next opponent.
The Bryan twins embark on the premium, shall we say, practice courts, a stone's throw from Arthur Ashe Stadium, and one begins a light hit while the other chats outside the fenced-in enclosure. But which one is which?
The latter turns out to be Mike Bryan, the older sibling by two minutes and the right-hander. The brothers took bronze at the Olympics, deprived of the gold-medal final thanks in part to Roger Federer.
"The Chinese did a wonderful job with all the venues," he said. "Felt safe over there, and the air quality wasn't bad. We were shooting for the gold, but real happy to come back with a medal. I'd rate that as one of our top achievements. It's been like show-and-tell with that thing. Everyone wants to see it."
Suitably refreshed, the next goal is to win the Open, which would be their first major title since the 2007 Australian Open. The twins are a close second behind Canadian Daniel Nestor and Serb Nenad Zimonjic in the official doubles race.
Mike also is keeping a close eye on the singles, and he is picking Federer, a friend of his, to end his 2008 slump and claim a fifth straight U.S. Open title. Federer teamed with Stanislas Wawrinka to win gold at the Olympics, somewhat compensating for a quarterfinal loss in singles to James Blake.
"He usually always rises to the occasion, and we saw that when we played him in Beijing," he said. "He wanted a gold in doubles, and he went and got it. He's a magic man."
After the Open, the twins head for Spain to prepare for the Davis Cup semis in Madrid before attending fellow American Mardy Fish's wedding Sept. 28. A day earlier, Fish, Blake and Andre Agassi will be among those attending a charity event in California for the brothers' foundation.
"So all the guys are going to come to our event, then gear it up for a fun day at Mardy's," Mike said. "I've never actually been to a wedding. It's my first time. I get invited to a lot of them, but haven't gone."
One of the tour's most excitable players, Frenchman Gael Monfils finishes a practice session late in the morning accompanied by his relatively new coach, Roger Rasheed. Monfils disposes of coaches like hotel towels and also recently cut ties with his management company.
No-nonsense Rasheed, it seems, is trying to reduce the fist pumping, heart pounding and acrobatics. Instead, he wants a more even-keeled approach. He's not worried about getting the ax, either.
"He rang me up and asked if I'd look at doing this," said Rasheed, the longtime former coach of fiery Aussie Lleyton Hewitt. "For him, he had to tick off on a lot of nonnegotiables to get on board. It's a bus that I'm driving, and I think that's maybe where it should be. You work together, but I'm the coach."
A former junior No. 1 and huge NBA fan, Monfils, ranked 33rd, almost slam-dunked Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals, when Thierry Champion was still his coach. Skipping Wimbledon with a shoulder injury, Monfils put early exits at the Toronto and Cincinnati Masters -- an upset stomach hampered him at the latter -- behind him to reach the quarterfinals at the Olympics, extending heavy favorite Novak Djokovic to three sets.
"A lot of people said he looked more mature at the Olympics, and that's a process he's taking on board," Rasheed said. "Even in a six-week period, it's a big schooling ground for him. He's actually going to school on the tennis court. It's an educational process which is big and strong and might fatigue him a little bit, because it's a lot to bring into his camp, but I believe that's what's needed for him to shine through and find his true ability."
Monfils could meet James Blake in the fourth round.
The match dragged on longer than it should have, due to the parade of champions earlier at Arthur Ashe Stadium, some inspired play from Young and more than a few lapses from the ninth seed, his high-risk game more erratic than usual.
For those who went to bed early, Blake escaped 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, breaking a spirited Young at 4-4 in the fifth. Not far removed from the Olympics played half a world away, Blake admitted he found it hard to get going.
"It seemed like I hadn't been here in a few years," said Blake, who was born in the New York City suburb of Yonkers. "Maybe because so much has happened over the last year."
Last year on the same court, Blake exorcised his fifth-set demons by ousting French magician Fabrice Santoro in a night match with a tad more excitement. Few would have predicted a fifth set Monday, since the first took a miserly 20 minutes and Blake relinquished just 12 points. Blake also led by a break in the fourth.
"It seemed like the crowd wasn't as into it in the beginning, just because the first set went so quickly, and they wanted a little drama to get into it," Blake said. "I guess fortunately, or unfortunately, I provided that for them, and then it was back to like it was my home crowd again."
Up next for Blake and the J-Block is 62nd-ranked Belgian Steve Darcis, who won an indoor title in Memphis in the winter and reached a clay-court final in the Netherlands last month.
Monday, Aug. 25
Fernando Gonzalez, says his coach, the experienced Larry Stefanki, is feeling his Beijing exertions. He's suffering from a chest cold and not at 100 percent -- Stefanki put him at 80 percent.
Gonzalez is hoping for a Wednesday date for his opener against 75th-ranked Spaniard Ivan Navarro, who's won two challengers and advanced to the semifinals of another in the past two months.
"Mentally, Fernando feels very confident and very relaxed, stress free, actually," Stefanki said. "It was a big accomplishment, what he did in Beijing. But physically, the stress of playing in the Olympics and wanting to do well and all that encompasses -- physically, with the flight back and everything, it's taken [a toll.]"
Gonzalez, still armed with one of the biggest games around, has mostly disappointed since reaching the Australian Open final in 2007, making one Grand Slam quarterfinal, at this year's French Open.
"He's hitting the ball as well as I've seen him hit it in the last year," Stefanki said. "Physically, to play best-of-five sets, hopefully he can get the ball rolling, and the scheduling has something to do with that. That endurance factor is going to be the biggest problem."
Speaking of Andy Roddick, he isn't the beneficiary of a cushy draw. Up first is tricky French veteran Fabrice Santoro, appearing in perhaps his final Grand Slam tournament, potentially followed by dangerous Latvian Ernests Gulbis (who gave Rafael Nadal his second-toughest test at Wimbledon), steady Italian Andreas Seppi and explosive Chilean Fernando Gonzalez (a silver medalist in China).
"Andy can win the tournament, or he can lose," was how Roddick's agent, Ken Meyerson, draped in a dapper dark suit that had him sweating as well, put it. "I know that sounds cliche-ish, but Andy has to just play his game. But to face Santoro, Gulbis, Seppi, Gonzalez, no question, he's got a tough draw."
Once upon a time, in 2003, Roddick actually won this tournament. Mostly healthy throughout his career, a shoulder injury derailed the former world No. 1 this spring, forcing him to skip the French Open and hindering him at Wimbledon. It came not long after Roddick's breakthrough victories over Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Craving matches ahead of the U.S. Open (his main focus of the summer after electing to skip the Olympics), an early exit at the Toronto Masters didn't help. Then a neck injury meant he had to withdraw from the Cincinnati Masters.
Days after reaching the final in Los Angeles, Roddick was upset by inconsistent Serb Viktor Troicki in the quarterfinals of the Legg Mason Classic in Washington, D.C., 0-6, 6-2, 6-4.
"Frustrating," Meyerson said. "When Andy's healthy, he's top three in the world. Coming back from his injury, I think mentally and physically, I didn't see his A-game. I saw a bit of it in D.C. when he was up 6-0 [against Troicki], played one or two sloppy games and kind of lost it a bit. I saw some great tennis and saw some of coming-back-from-injury tennis. So hopefully he'll get through one or two rounds and start getting really confident."
4:12 p.m.: Juan Martin Del Potro is on the rise, too.
The imposing 19-year-old, touted as the future of Argentine tennis, has won 19 straight matches and four consecutive tournaments. He's admittedly confident, yet not over confident -- Del Potro was one of the first to point out he's beaten only one top-10 player, the struggling Andy Roddick in Los Angeles, during the streak.
His opponent in Monday's final match on Louis Armstrong Stadium, countryman Guillermo Canas, has had a difficult season as he works his way back from a wrist injury: The 31-year-old exited in the first round at both the French Open and Wimbledon, and completely out of the Australian Open.
Still, he wasn't overawed by facing Del Potro, who cruised in their lone meeting at last year's Cincinnati Masters. The encounter figures to be one of the most interesting of the first round.
"It's tough for me because he's very confident," Canas said. "But it's good for me to start like this to see where I'm playing, and it's great to play against another Argentine. The last three weeks I was without pain in my wrist and I'm feeling very happy about that."
Here's consistent for you: Canas hasn't lost in the first round of the U.S. Open in five previous visits, yet hasn't advanced past the third round.
3:10 p.m.: Dinara Safina, sweat on her brow following a session on the fenced-in practice courts on Monday, was busy signing autographs for a small, yet vocal crowd assembled nearby who braved the stifling heat. In two weeks, she might be receiving much more attention.
After going 32-4 in her previous 36 matches and winning silver at the Olympics in Beijing, Safina justifiably entered the season's final major as one of the clear favorites. She became the first female player to beat three reigning world No. 1s in a season and wrapped up the U.S. Open Series crown early. Being healthy didn't hurt.
Her coach, Zeljko Krajan, whom she lavished praise on in China, is expecting big things. Safina is in the same quarter as injury-hit world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, and in the same half as the bashing Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, who are both recovering from knee injuries and quarterfinal exits at the Olympics.
Safina begins against U.S. qualifier Kristie Haerim Ahn, probably on Tuesday.
"It would be stupid to say I don't expect anything because she's the hottest player on the tour," said Krajan, a 29-year-old former Croatian pro. "At the Grand Slams it's very hard, two weeks of three sets. But she's been taking it match-by-match, and that's how the results have been coming."
According to Krajan, Safina, unsurprisingly, was "exhausted" post Beijing. She arrived in New York just under a week ago and is "getting it together now."
Krajan saw immense potential when the duo began working together this season, though acknowledged Safina, now escaping big brother Marat Safin's shadow, "was in pretty bad shape mentally and physically." Whatever happens in New York, he insisted Safina, ranked seventh and seeded sixth due to the absence of fellow Russian Maria Sharapova, is here to stay.
"I don't think she can fade or drop lower," Krajan said. "She's playing good and has been having good results, but she still has a lot of room to improve. I can say she's not at 100 percent. She needs more time on her condition and to get stronger on court and more fit. She cannot go down. She's on the way up."
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.