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Saturday, September 1, 2012
Updated: September 2, 9:19 AM ET
Best of the first week in Flushing

By Howard Bryant
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Tickets in section 318 of Arthur Ashe Stadium, one of the most remote sections of the cavernous stadium, cost $192 apiece, while two cheeseburgers, the hummus trio and three drinks cost $111.05 at the U.S. Open. Neither of which should come as much of a surprise at a tournament that generates roughly $200 million.

The surprises and highlights of the first week of the tournament have been both poignant and odd, prompting a look back as the second week begins:

Kim Clijsters bids adieu: In the time of Serena and Venus Williams, Clijsters was one of the few true rivals whose résumé stood for itself. She won four majors, including consecutive U.S. Open titles in 2009 and 2010. Clijsters was one of the few champions of the past few years who did not wilt under the specter of Serena. And she wasn't in the category of top women's players today who break through but never develop the cold-blooded consistency that surrounds a player with a lasting championship aura. Clijsters had it, and the women's game will miss it.

Andy Roddick makes news (sort of): It was his birthday. It was the place of his one and only major. It was time. For the hard-core tennis fans and historians of the game, the 2012 U.S. Open will be remembered for being the tournament at which both Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick called it a career. Roddick, struggling with injuries and declining relevance, announced he was quitting the game following the U.S. Open, turning this year's tournament into his farewell tour. History will judge Roddick as a classic tweener: He was not in the overall category of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, nor was he quite in the American pantheon of McEnroe, Connors, Sampras and Agassi. But he was far too accomplished to be considered a one-Slam wonder.

For the U.S. men, Roddick's departure underscores the American major drought. When he leaves the court, it will be the first time in modern history that the men's game will not have an active American who has won at least one major.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has so much talent, but he's also a tease.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga oversleeps: There's the big three, and their desire, focus and dominance. And then there is Tsonga, who has been sitting on the tarmac of a major for two years. Tsonga has the shots, the power, the athleticism and the game. He took Djokovic to the brink in Paris, lost to Andy Murray in the semifinals at Wimbledon and then gave a terribly uninspired performance here against world No. 50 Martin Klizan of Slovakia.

There would be nothing better for tennis than to see Tsonga, he of the charisma and show-stopping talent, join the top shelf of the elite players. He teases the public that such ascension is possible -- and then he sleepwalks through a major. As great as Federer is, his greatest attribute is his focus, especially at majors.

Tsonga worked the entire year to erase the criticism that he is more showman than serious tennis player -- an unfair knock on a guy who is ranked sixth in the world. But his performance here (and his postmatch "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains" demeanor) renewed the question as to whether he is driven enough to win a major.

Generation Maybe inches toward Generation Next: Jack Sock is ranked 243rd in the world and Nicolas Almagro 12th, but in the third round, after splitting two tiebreakers, Sock was tied 4-4 in the third set, holding a 0-40 lead and facing a second serve from Almagro. He netted the return, and wound up losing the game and the set in yet another tiebreaker. Sock lost in four sets, but he proved what a tough out he could be. The same could be said of Mallory Burdette and Sloane Stephens, who took out former French Open champ Francesca Schiavone. Then there was Steve Johnson, who beat Ernests Gulbis, and Ryan Harrison, who was game in losing to Juan Martin del Potro. John Isner is in the section of the draw where he could get to the semifinals without facing Djokovic, Federer or Murray.

Without Roddick, American tennis is looking for a challenger to the top players. Perhaps it won't be a single player, but a group of youngsters maturing at the same time. On the women's side, the rise of a young group of talent has given this tournament some excitement.

The Comeback Open: Jesse Levine, the American ranked 76th in the world, was putting a world-class beatdown on the terrific shot-maker and 14th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov, taking the first two sets 6-3, 6-4. In the third, Levine was serving 4-0 and just about ready to send the Ukrainian home for the fall.

Then Dolgopolov won the next six games and the set, 6-4. And then he took the fourth 6-1 and the deciding fifth 6-2. That would be 18 of the final 21 games for a stunning five-set comeback that has become the norm this tournament. Ten times in the first four days of the tourney, a player came back from an 0-2 deficit to win in five sets. That's a U.S. Open record. Nobody knows why. Some people around the grounds call it fatigue from the condensed schedule because of the Olympics. Others just shrug. Some victims, such as Nikolay Davydenko -- who took the first two sets from Mardy Fish and lost -- complained that the men should play three sets like the women. Whatever the reason, the message is clear: Don't rest until the final point is won.

Collision course: The defending champion of this tournament, it should be remembered, is Samantha Stosur, the same Samantha Stosur who put a 6-2, 6-3 beatdown on Serena Williams to win this title last year, and the same Samantha Stosur who hasn't won a tournament since.

Stosur, however, is playing her best tennis right now. She hasn't dropped a set and nearly won a golden set against Petra Martic, winning the first 19 points.

Meanwhile, Serena Williams has continued her tear. Williams hasn't dropped a set this tournament, either, and has beaten Stosur in their past two meetings, the last being a 6-1, 6-1 demolition in the semifinals at Charleston. They are in opposite brackets, meaning they can meet only in the final, which would be fitting and good for the world.