NEW YORK - Howdy, tennis fans. It’s time once again to break out the cape, tall conical hat (the one with the astrological signs and iridescent stars embroidered on it), and my trusty crystal ball. We’ll chant a few incantations and gaze deeply into the milky, mesmerizing orb to make some fearless predictions for the upcoming U.S. Open.
Highest seed to lose in the first round
Men: Kevin Anderson will upset David Ferrer, the No. 4 seed. Anderson is an aggressive, attacking player with a huge serve; he’s utterly at home on hard courts. Ferrer prefers clay, but he's bagged five of his 16 career titles on hard courts. So the big difference here will be the jitters Ferrer will experience playing his first-round match as a heavy favorite against a tough hard-court opponent. Ferrer has been a model of consistency, which is why win by Anderson will come as such a shock.
Women: WTA No. 40 Daniela Hantuchova, a two-time champion in the big combined event in Indian Wells, will waylay rising 21-year-old Russian star and No. 17 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Although Pavlyuchenkova leads their head-to-head, 4-1, they haven’t played for almost two years. Hantuchova catches fire now and then, and this would be a good time for her to get a hot hand once again. At 29, she’s both experienced and crafty enough to take advantage of the youthful confusion that has doomed Pavlyuchenkova to a one-step-forward, two-steps-back developmental regimen.
Last Russian standing
Men: No. 28 seed Mikhail Youzhny is 30 years old, ranked No. 29, and a new dad. That gives him plenty of motivation to make the most of these final years of his career. He's been a semifinalist in New York twice before, and is in the same quarter of the draw that will be up for grabs when Anderson beats Ferrer.
Women: Maria Sharapova, seeded No. 3, will scream and shriek and pause thoughtfully as if frozen in mid-step before she returns to the service line to play a point, and it will all look persuasive and menacing and at times unbeatable — until Serena Williams gets a hold of her in the final and squishes her like a piece of that gummy Sugarpova candy under the sole of her Nike kicks.
Lowest-ranked player in the quarterfinals
Men: That would be No. 14 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov, because he’ll upset No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic in the fourth round.
Women: Sloane Stephens, No. 46 in the WTA rankings, will dismiss No. 22 seed Francesca Schiavone in the first round, as well as No. 8 seed Caroline Wozniacki to earn a quarterfinal date with her BFF Serena, who will then teach her the meaning of the word, “frenemy.”
First player to smash a racket in frustration
Men: Bernard Tomic has always had great if largely unfulfilled potential as a Safin-esque racket smasher extraordinaire. He’s made great strides toward realizing that potential by pretty much stinking out the joint at the three majors this year. And with No. 20 seed — and expert equipment abuser — Andy Roddick penciled in as his second round opponent, this could be the year when the emotional, wildly talented (and equally undisciplined) Aussie makes his big, er, breakthrough.
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Women: Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden, an otherwise lovely young lady of 5-foot-10 who’s been ranked as high as No. 29, will be unable to handle the fact that she’s losing her first-round match to 41-year old, 5-foot-4, 117-pound. Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan. The result will be a terrific tomahawk chop into the Deco-Turf.
Most lopsided score in the quarterfinals or beyond
Men: John Isner will lose just 13 games in his 7-6, 7-6, 6-1 quarterfinal win over Youzhny.
Women: Serena will lose just 13 games in the three matches she plays starting in the quarterfinals en route to the title.
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