Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A U.S. Open To Remember Part I

It started out with the first round shockers of former champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Andy Roddick. Right away, the U.S. Open had a special feel to it that this year could be different. Let's take a look back at what made it the best major of 2005.

Blake Comeback Biggest Story

When the tournament's best story Yonkers born James Blake outslugged 19-year-old French Open champion Rafael Nadal in an ultracompetitive third round match, it gave the men's draw some juice. Especially with the Open's poster boy Roddick out so early. Blake was the quintessential comeback story. Someone who experienced a brutal 2004 where he broke his neck accidentally colliding into the net post in an Italian Open warmup with ironically, the other big American surprise to be at Flushing Meadows, Robby Ginepri on the other side. He was Blake's best friend on the ATP Tour.

He lost his Dad Thomas to cancer two months later and then battled shingles which temporarily paralyzed part of his face and gave him dizzy spells. Unable to do much, Blake watched his favorite grand slam tournament on TV last year with friends wondering if he'd ever pick up a tennis racket ever again.

But a year later, a more focused Blake was back on tour. Rededicated, physically and mentally stronger, Blake showed signs in an Open tuneup winning his second career title close to home at New Haven. He took that confidence into a first round match with Greg Rusedski and soon showed that he could be a legit threat in New York.

Ginepri Arrives

While Blake was captivating tennis fans, Ginepri took advantage of Roddick's first round dismissal against Gilles Muller. In a twist of fate, Ginepri easily disposed of doubles partner in a second round meeting. Having played very well entering the tournament, upsetting Roddick enroute to winning at Indianapolis and pushing Roger Federer in Cincinnati, the 22-year-old Georgia native was finally fulfilling some of his potential.

Earlier this year, Ginepri was dumped by Nike and had seen his ranking dip out of the top 50. Once ranked as high as 22 in the world, he finally got more serious this summer and brought a renewed confidence into the Open. Gutting out five set wins over Tommy Haas and French riser Richard Gasquet proved that he was serious about contending for his first ever slam.

Agassi Returns For 20th Open

Meanwhile, everyone's favorite adopted son Andre Agassi made his 20th and possible final appearance in Queens. The fans let him know right away how much they appreciated his dedication. Earlier this summer, Agassi was eliminated in the first round at Roland Garros by Jarkko Nieminen when his sciatic nerve problem acted up, causing him to be helpless on the court. It forced the 35-year-old eight-time slam winner to miss his second consecutive Wimbledon and sit out two months.

He reconvened with longtime pal and trainer Gil Reyes, working on strengthening his legs and back so it wouldn't act up when he returned. In his first tournament back at Los Angeles, Agassi won his 60th career title defeating Muller. In Montreal, he made it all the way to the finals before losing to Nadal in a competitive three set match.

With renewed confidence, Agassi entered Arthur Ashe Stadium feeling he could win his third U.S. Open. Though the draw wasn't kind, a sharp Agassi got through Croatian bomber Ivo Karlovic in three tiebreaks and then beat Czech talent Tomas Berdych in four to make the Round of 16. His next test against Belgian Xavier Malisse would prove that fitness wasn't a concern.

After leading Malisse by two sets, Agassi watched his younger opponent storm back on a barrage of aces and forehand winners to force a fifth set on Labor Day. With supporters concerned that this could be it, Agassi came out and played a crisp fifth set, finishing it with a slice backhand pass to the delight of the crowd.


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