Roger Federer, the flavour of the month

After the Wimbledon Championships, the action shifts across the Atlantic to the US Open which will take place end August/ early September. This has been a year in which the favourites have come through in all the majors and I would expect the same in New York.

RAMESH KRISHNAN

After the Wimbledon Championships, the action shifts across the Atlantic to the US Open which will take place end August/ early September. This has been a year in which the favourites have come through in all the majors and I would expect the same in New York.

On the men's side, Andre Agassi, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Roger Federer have won the three Slams so far and they will all be in my list of favourites for this year's US Open. I would also add the names of Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick, each of whom have it in them to ensure that the four Slams this year will be held by different men.

Serena Williams has been very dominating for the last year and a half with this year's French Open being the only abberation. She will once again be the overwhelming favourite, with her sister Venus and the Belgian girls, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne providing the main competition.

I will start with Roger Federer for he is the flavour of the month. His confidence is sky high after his maiden Wimbledon triumph. He went through the draw at Wimbledon with the loss of only one set. But ever since his win over Pete Sampras a couple of years ago, everyone has been expecting great things from Federer. So in that sense, it is not a surprise.

But Federer may find the going tough in New York for many reasons. While his game is ideally suited for grass, the competition will be much tougher on the hard courts at the US Open. Serve and volley style of play will not be the key and a host of baseliners will be in with a chance. I also don't know whether the Swiss is ready to win back to back majors. We all know that he has had a hard time coping with high expectations ever since his Sampras triumph. And the same scenario could be at work again.

Andre Agassi started the year in whirlwind fashion. In fact, he played some of his best tennis in capturing the Australian Open title. But age is certainly a factor. Andre has turned 33 and is moving into uncharted territory. The problem for him is to hold on to that good form for long periods of time. Any small injury can ruin his chances. This is true for all players except that at 33, he is not going to recover as well as someone ten years younger. Which is what all the other favourites are. They are all a good ten years or more younger than Andre which could be a factor at the final stages of the tournament. Especially at the US Open where the weather can be very hot and the semifinal and the final are played on consecutive days. So to come out and play two good matches within a twenty four hour span may be too much for a 33-year-old, even if his name is Andre Agassi. Neverthless, he will be carrying the support of the `geriatics'.

Juan Carlos Ferrero won his maiden Grand Slam title at Paris this year. He has been the pick of the Spaniards for the last few years and should dominate on the clay courts over the next few seasons. The big question is whether he is ready to make the transition to other surfaces. He certainly is fit enough to go the distance and his game is aggressive enough to adapt to other surfaces. He reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, which was a good effort, considering it was so soon after the French.

It is to be seen how well he prepares for the US Open. I know a lot of European players who have not taken the US Open with as much seriousness as they do the French Open and consequently do not give themselves as much of a chance. So in Ferrero's case, it could be a mind game.

Lleyton Hewitt has finished each of the past two years as the No. 1 player in the world. And that is being seriously questioned now. If he doesn't win at New York, he will lose that position. In Lleyton's case, plenty has been happening behind the scene. Within the last twenty four months, he has changed two coaches and the timing of the last change was particularly strange. Just on the eve of Wimbledon, he and his coach, Jason Stoltenberg parted ways and I am sure this had some bearing on his shock first round exit at Wimbledon.

Of late he seems to have lost some of his confidence. He has failed in the last four Grand Slams and in the last two, one has seen more of him cheering Kim Clijsters (his girl friend) from the sidelines than on the court. Hardly the place for a 22-year-old in his prime. The Australian has to pick up the pieces quickly. He is very fit and a determined competitor. So, one can never write him off.

Andy Roddick is the player who rounds up my quintet of favourites. He has made definite progress this year, reaching the semi-finals at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. At the Australian Open, an injury possibly prevented him from going further and at Wimbledon, he found a red-hot Federer too much to handle.

He will find the conditions in New York much to his liking. He has the power and the personality to win a major and that time is fast approaching. America has not had a new champion in a very long time and they are desperately looking for the messiah. So, Roddick will have a lot of local support.

Serena Williams has won five of the last six Grand Slams and amazingly each of the five victories has been against her older sister Venus. So while Serena will be the odds on favourite to win once again, we do not know how ready Venus is going to be. We saw her hurt her stomach muscle during the last two matches at Wimbledon and do not know how much damage has been done. At the time of writing, Venus has withdrawn from some of the post Wimbledon events and I do not know whether she will be fully prepared for the US Open.

In which case, one of the Belgian girls will be more than happy to step in. Justine Henin broke through to win at Paris this year and I am sure that will give her a lot of confidence. But there is still a question mark about Kim Clijsters' ability to win a major title. Kim has beaten all the big guns but in each of the last three Grand Slams, she has lost a match she should have won. She needs to get rid of that baggage and it will not be easy.