As the U.S. Open approaches, here are a few numbers to consider:
53: Andy Murray, who has the best hard-court record of any player over the past year, received a lot of attention for winning a 53-stroke rally in the Cincinnati quarterfinals. For me, the number says more about why Murray has yet to win a major than why he is a favorite to take the title at the U.S. Open. As Roger Federer has noted several times, Murray can too often rely on his defensive skills and movement. Most days, this safe strategy works. But over five sets in a major against more accomplished tacticians like Federer and Rafael Nadal -- or an opponent playing out of his mind, like Fernando Verdasco in Australia or Andy Roddick at Wimbledon -- defense alone doesn't cut it, at least not when your second serve and forehand still fade from time to time. We'll see if Murray adjusts his strategy in Flushing.
0: That's the total number of majors won by Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva, who won the two most important hard-court tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open (Jankovic won the Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open; Dementieva the Rogers Cup). These are two of the most accomplished women in the sport. Jankovic, last year's U.S. Open finalist, has held the No. 1 ranking. Dementieva, one of the most consistent players on the tour in the past nine years, has a gold medal and might be the best player to never win a major (I give her the edge over Dinara Safina, the current world No. 1, because Dementieva has been so good for so long). Can one of them finally go a step further?
6: That's how many consecutive U.S. Opens Roger Federer will win if he hits the ball the way he did in Cincinnati. Against Novak Djokovic in the final, Federer played the best tennis I've seen him play since the 2007 Australian Open, when he won the tournament without losing a set. What's different about this Federer compared to the one who struggled earlier in the season? His feet and his forehand. Federer seemed to move before Djokovic hit the ball and was never out of position. And his forehand rarely missed. There's no stopping him if he performs at this level. If he plays any better, look out.
20-10: That's Serena Williams' win-loss record outside the major tournaments. Great that she's playing more often this year ...
18-1: That's Serena Williams' win-loss record in major tournaments. Would you bet against her defending her title?
2: Venus Williams will arrive at the U.S. Open on a two-match losing streak. Since she lost to her sister in the Wimbledon final, Venus is 5-3, with her most recent loss coming against Kateryna Bondarenko, who is ranked No. 51 and has a 21-17 record this season. Venus hasn't won the U.S. Open since 2001.