Andy Murray - 2011 US Open - Preview

Devvarman vs. Murray:  Across the net from the Scot stands a diluted version of himself, a rising Indian star sometimes compared to Lleyton Hewitt.  Far less formidable than that former champion, Devvarman still should force Murray to unleash his upgraded offense in order to avoid an unnecessarily elongated war of attrition along the baseline.  Unwilling to play first-strike tennis even on fast surfaces, the fourth seed could profit from the opportunity to experiment with a more aggressive mentality here.  Although he clearly can outlast his overmatched opponent in a contest of counterpunchers, Murray should use this match to test tactics for sterner challenges ahead.  Critical in later rounds, his underestimated first serve should enable him to assert control should he maintain a solid percentage. For Devvarman, meanwhile, the experience of playing on the sport’s largest stadium against a top-5 opponent should prove both inspiring and educational.  Only by probing the limitations of his game can he return to this grand stage under more auspicious circumstances.

V. Williams vs. Lisicki:  Like Murray, Venus faces a foe who resembles a younger, less proven version of herself.  But Lisicki has achieved vastly more in her career than has Devvarman, winning two titles this summer in addition to reaching her first Slam semifinal at Wimbledon.  Both players exhibit an equally sharp contrast between her first and second serve, the latter of which projects only moderate power and remains vulnerable to double faults.  At Stanford, Lisicki appeared to crumble under the weight of Serena’s reputation, so one wonders whether she can rise to the occasion against Serena’s sister in Arthur Ashe.  Among the players who most often have troubled Venus before are not heavy hitters but agile movers like Suarez Navarro and Pironkova.  Nevertheless, the smiling German out-served Venus at Charleston two years ago, and she looked the more consistently impressive of the two ball-bruisers in the first round.  Determined to impose their authority from the first stroke, both women will take massive swings on returns and groundstrokes, especially their more explosive but less steady forehand wing.  More comfortable in the forecourt, Venus showcased her skills at both swinging and conventional volleys in her opener, whereas Lisicki frustrates her opponents with drop shots.  Ultimately, though, this extremely even match should turn towards the player who can uncork her first serve when she most needs it.

Maria Sharapova - 2011 US Open - Day 1

Sharapova vs. Yakimova:  In the first Slam match of her comeback, Sharapova rallied from a one-set deficit to overcome her compatriot at Roland Garros 2009.  Two years later, a reinvigorated champion faces Yakimova again after enduring a three-set opener for a second straight US Open.  Not a budding star like Watson, this unheralded Russian should muster less dogged resistance.  The 2006 champion should strive to advance more efficiently this time as an accommodating section of the draw beckons.  A day removed from Serena’s stunning opening statement, Sharapova surely would want to answer her fellow superstar with a commanding victory of her own.  Unlikely to face serious pressure even if she struggles, the WTA’s leading returner should use this undemanding encounter to build rhythm and confidence before the competition stiffens.

Vandeweghe vs. Stosur:  Not a factor at the first three majors of 2011, Stosur still can salvage her season with a second-week charge in New York.  Less suited to her game than the clay of Roland Garros or the slower hard courts of Melbourne, the US Open’s faster surface has hampered her attempts to run around her backhand to hit forehands.  The Australian cloaked that weakness last year en route to a quarterfinal in which she had multiple chances to establish a stranglehold on eventual champion Clijsters.  A year removed from her breakthrough season, Stosur continues to dominate Zvonareva but has scored no other victories over genuine contenders.  On the other hand, she finds herself situated in a quarter without Serena or permanent nemesis Sharapova—and with a likely tense Zvonareva.  Stifled by Lisicki’s booming serve at Stanford, Stosur will confront a similar assault from Vandeweghe’s first delivery.  In contrast to the German, this occasionally dangerous American has struggled to consolidate the momentum from her successes.  Despite her athletic pedigree, she lumbers around the court with ungainly strides and loses the timing on her forehand too often.  With an ardent American crowd behind her, however, Vandeweghe might rattle the notoriously fragile Stosur’s nerves for a set or so.

Baghdatis vs. Isner:  Reprising their three-setter during the US Open Series, the charismatic Cypriot and the bland American embody their divergent playing styles.  An imaginative ball-striker with a flair for the unexpected, Baghdatis strikes groundstrokes that barely skim across the net when at their best.  A more ambitious fitness program during the offseason has produced only a mediocre 20-20 record in 2011, as those groundstrokes have sunk into the net more often than skimming across it lately.  Yet victories over Del Potro, Murray, Lopez, and others have reminded audiences that this dark horse once charged to the Australian Open final.  While few would say that Isner captures the imagination, his functional style and emotional composure have propelled him to an excellent summer bookended by  a final in Atlanta (when he held match points) and a title in the inaugural Winston-Salem tournament.  Observers might expect the flashier Baghdatis to outshine a more muted opponent at this Slam of spotlights and sparkle.  In a fifth-set-tiebreak triumph over Roddick two years ago, though, Isner proved that he could thrive at the major best aligned with his playing style.

Bartoli vs. McHale:  After Ryan Harrison’s Open ended almost before it began, the brightest talent among the home nation’s young women may gain additional attention. Extended to three sets in her opener by Wozniak, McHale displayed courage and maturity in rallying from the disappointment of a second-set tiebreak.  Wins over Wozniacki and Kuznetsova this summer may have heralded the rise of a counterpuncher with just enough power to seize the initiative in rallies when the opportunity presents itself.  Somewhat fallible in the first set of her opener, Bartoli hopes to regain the form of her last two Slams rather than the tepid performances of her losses in Toronto and New Haven.  Among her most potent weapons is her return, which will punish McHale for serves that fail to land deep or near the corners.  An enigmatic player who can oscillate sharply from one match to the next, Bartoli often has produced her finest tennis when least expected—and vice versa.  Can the young American compete as tenaciously as the Frenchwoman, who has emerged triumphant from many an epic battle?  The partisan crowd should not unnerve Bartoli but instead might even motivate her to swat those returns with redoubled vigor.

 

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