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Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Let’s see some more Murray-Djokovic

By Matt Wilansky

Are you feeling like this stretch of the tennis season is a bit of a snoozer? Don’t fret too much, it’s going to pick up and all the stars will emerge and align again. And considering what happened at Wimbledon, there seems to be more possibilities than we would have envisioned a month ago.

With that in mind, here are the top 10 things I’d like to see as the US Open Series and US Open take shape:

10. I would like to see … Caroline Wozniacki regain her old form.

Caroline Wozniacki
At what point, do we give up on hoping Caroline Wozniacki will regain her old form?
Wishful thinking, eh? Maybe. Maybe not. The good news for Wozniacki, who is perilously close to dropping out of the top 10, is that in a few weeks she will head to New Haven, where she has won four titles in five attempts. That means she generally enters the US Open with some confidence. The bad news, of course: Confidence alone doesn’t compensate for a Grand Slam career of foibles, if not failure. Last year, Wozniacki won all of four games in an opening-round loss to someone named Irina-Camelia Begu. But here’s to hoping for the best -- even if we know the best is a little dicey these days.

9. I would like to see … a Hall of Famer make a comeback.

Good news! We will be able to check this one off our wish list. Just three days after her enshrinement into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Martina Hingis announced she is unretiring to play doubles at the Southern California Open and again in New Haven. If you’re scoring at home, this will be the third comeback for Hingis and her first WTA action since 2007. And if you’re concerned about rust, let me ease your anxiety. I saw Hingis play exhibition doubles in Newport this past week against Todd Martin and Mary Pierce. The Swiss can still bring it -- against old folks anyway.

8. I would like to see … Roger Federer win a Masters title.

The reality is that Federer probably isn’t going to win the US Open. He has only one title this year, and he’s spent some time meddling with his equipment, which only goes to show that he knows he’s not the front-runner anymore. But that doesn’t mean Federer couldn’t snare a Masters 1000 tourney in Montreal or Cincinnati in the next few weeks. He is the defending champ at the latter, and winning one of these events would be no small feat. Federer likely wouldn’t render a Slam-less, Masters-less season a successful one. It’s hard to fathom that he'll go an entire year without one, something that hasn’t happened since 2002.

7. I would like to see … an unheralded American woman continue her Slam success.

It’s kind of amusing (or is it sad?) how giddy we’ve become because an American player without the letters S-E-R-E-N-A in her name wins two or three Grand Slam matches. Sloane Stephens is still the leader of this respectable pack, but others, like Jamie Hampton, Madison Keys, Alison Riske and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, all had their own special moments at the Euro Slams. It’s really tough to say whether any will surge, but for a nation that’s failed to churn out a penthouse-esque player since the Williams sisters, we can only hope someone will continue this trend in Flushing.

6. I would like to see … Jerzy Janowicz hit a 150 mph serve.

The dude can flat-out hit missiles. At Wimbledon, this Polish phenom belted a tournament-high 103 aces, 14 more than second-place Andy Murray (who played one additional match). Of course Murray won the title, so there’s that. But nonetheless, Janowicz has a prodigious all-court game with the most important asset -- a nearly unreturnable serve. He smacked one at 143 mph at the All England Club, the fastest of anyone. And if he can sneak in a paltry 7 more mph, he’d join the exclusive club of radar-gun juggernauts who have registered 150 on the speedometer.

5. I would like to see … one new face to stay in upper echelon.

So back to the Janowicz guy. We’ve belabored the “Who’s Next?” narrative for so long that it’s hard to imagine such a person exists. For years, our prescience has devolved into nothing more than a pile of potatoes as player after player with worlds of potential has faltered. Guys like Raonic, Harrison and Dimitrov (to name just a few) have hung out in tennis purgatory, showing flashes of occasional brilliance but never really mounting any consistent assaults in bigger tournaments. There's Federico Delbonis, the unheralded kid who just beat Federer in Hamburg, but it's way too early to tell whether he will amount to anything. So what about Janowicz? First off, he did make the Wimbledon semis, which is even more impressive when you consider Poland doesn’t have one single grass court. Secondly, he has heart. The dude’s backstory is a tale of overcoming hardship. He slept in cars; he had no sponsorship for quite a while and he couldn’t afford flights to tournaments. You can feel how badly Janowicz wants to win when he’s on the court. Geez, I wonder if he could clock a 150 mph serve?

4. I would like to see … John Isner and Agnieszka Radwanska play mixed doubles.

Perhaps they’re the perfect matchup. One serves aces for a living, the other bears a deft counterpuncher's game that can drive opponents nuts. But who cares about on-court success and the such. Fans would flock to see these two finely sculpted creatures, who bared it all in ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, together in one spot. They could even brand themselves à la a WWE tag team (six-pack attack?). Win or lose, no team would attract more attention than this pair in the bare.

3. I would like to see … Jimmy Connors help Maria Sharapova in crunch time.

Sharapova
Is Jimmy Connors the one to transform Maria Sharapova back into a Grand Slam champ?
Is this what Sharapova needs? A hubristic in-your-throat mentor to help her get through those tense moments. Whether it’s a dream matchup or a clash-of-egos nightmare, Connors, a player who relished the limelight, is now the central figure in Sharapova’s corner. This pairing, odd as it may be, and it is odd, is about one thing: Serena Williams. The last time Sharapova beat Williams was so long ago, Rafael Nadal had a grand total of zero major titles. The problem, of course, is that when things get tough, Sharapova can’t simply tag in Connors; she’s going to be out there by herself. And so is Serena Williams.

2. I would like to see … Serena and Sharapova play in the US Open final.

So let’s say Connors and Sharapova do make it to the final of the Open. And let’s say Serena is on the other end of the court. Then what? Here’s the thing: It really doesn’t matter. The hype leading into this match will be tantamount to, well, pretty much every NFL game every week of the season. Think about all the storylines we can cling to: Sharapova has a new, famous coach; Sharapova has Serena’s old boyfriend; Serena said that beau has a black heart and Sharapova insinuated bad things about Serena’s new boyfriend. Do they need a tennis court, the octagon or a reality show?

1. I would like to see … Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic play anywhere, anytime .

I don’t know about you, but I dig good rivalries. And who better to represent this than the top two players in the world? The tennis community was visibly aghast when Nadal and Federer fell early at Wimbledon. But in retrospect, it was a strong reminder that if any players deserve purple velvet on their changeover chairs, and some robes, crowns and jewels for their postmatch attire, it’s Murray and Djokovic. And the cool thing about the Murray-Djokovic rivalry … is that it is a rivalry, unlike, ahem, the other two players mentioned in this graf. Nonetheless, make sure your DVR has enough storage when they play. It’s riveting stuff every time they clash.