A show of strength
Can anyone challenge the big four at the US Open? Mark Petchey and Peter Fleming discuss the options.
Last Updated: 29/08/10 1:54pm
A true tennis spectacular, the US Open offers riches beyond compare.
The winner's of this year's men's and women's singles titles will earn $1.7m each - and could pick up another $1m in bonuses each.
The tournament doesn't just bring the Grand Slam season to a stunning close though - as first-time champions Juan Martin del Potro and Kim Clijsters proved in 2009 it can also kick-start major careers.
As part of the build-up, skysports.com asked Mark Petchey and Peter Fleming for some of their US Open memories and their thoughts on whether another player can chalk up their maiden Slam victory at Flushing Meadows....
It's here at last! The US Open is one of the most eagerly-awaited tournaments on the whole tennis calendar. What makes it so special?
Mark: The tournament itself is a reflection of the city as a whole - it's busy, it's loud and energetic; of all the Slams its atmosphere is the closest to the mood you'd associate with a football stadium, particularly the matches played under lights.
Peter: I agree, it is special, and certainly not the zoo that some people like to make it out to be.
For me, Flushing Meadows is unlike any other Grand Slam in as much as the people and the place are so vibrant. The fans get into the matches so much that they create a level of intensity that we rarely see elsewhere.
Mark: Yes - the crowd really does make a big difference in how the players view the event. The atmosphere at Wimbledon is great but, obviously, more reserved whereas this one jumps out at you.
Peter: I think that would be the case whether the US Open was the first, second, third or last major of the year. It's such a unique event that it doesn't matter where it sits in the calendar.
Mark: Of the four, though, this one is probably the most showbiz of them all. The celebs do tend to turn out in force for this one!
There have been countless great matches at the US Open over the years, but is it possible to pick out one that particularly sticks in your memory?
Mark: I'd find it hard to believe that we could see a match as tense and gripping as the 2001 quarter-final between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
Quite frankly, it was an awesome match that featured no less than four tie-breakers before Sampras emerged as the 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 winner.
The fact it was a night match only added to the sense of excitement and anticipation of seeing two Americans - both legends of the game - push each other to the limit.
When the crowd stood to give both players a standing ovation after the match it was one of those goose-bump moments; everyone realised they had witnessed something truly incredible.
Peter: John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg have had their fair share of classic matches against each other here over the years, most of which were pretty intense, but I'm only going to pick a match that was far more recent.
Last year's final between Roger Federer and Del Potro was quite simply one of the best I've ever seen - it featured some unbelievable tennis.
At certain times during the match it appeared as though Del Potro was tired and on the brink of running out of gas but somehow he just kept going and going and put in an exceptional display.
In the fifth set he played just about as good tennis as I can remember anyone playing and fully deserved his 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-7(4), 2-6 victory.
You may have answered the next question already, Peter, but let's press on regardless! The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center staged a memorable fortnight last year but what match or moment sticks in your mind the most?
Peter: As good as that men's singles final was, the highlight of the whole two weeks for me was the remarkable story of Kim Clijsters.
She was a real breath of fresh air for the women's game - a mother who came to the tournament with a completely different perspective from all of the other players. She came across as a really fun, likeable and ultimately successful person.
Kim is seeded No 2 behind Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki this year but it's hard to say how she will go this year for the simple reason that I don't think any of the girls are playing particularly well.
The destiny of the women's title looks pretty much like a lottery as far as I can see!
Mark: Unfortunately, the 2009 tournament is probably going to be remembered for Serena Williams' outburst at a line judge. One or two officials may well be relieved she's not participating this year!
What happened on that day was so sudden that it caught everyone by surprise - including me. I was commentating at the time and remember the semi-final was at a pretty tense stage when Serena just snapped.
The image of Serena berating the lineswoman was so shocking that unsurprisingly it reverberated around the world.
The fact that it happened when she was playing Kim, who went on to win the tournament, added another sub-plot to what was an incredible story for the Belgian.
It's widely acknowledged that this year's men's singles competition is as open as we've seen for some time. If one of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray isn't going to win it, who is most likely to take advantage?
Mark: Of all the would-be challengers, I'd say David Nalbandian is mounting the strongest case. Mardy Fish, the runner-up in Cincinnati, could have a good run here but Nalbandian's credentials are stronger.
It's true that a lot will depend on his health and his ability to play five sets because it's not that long since he underwent hip surgery but that's the only question mark against him, in my view.
This month's Washington winner is certainly hitting the ball well enough to make a big run here and mentally I think he's got what it takes.
Aside from Andy Murray winning, it would be a fantastic story and finally he'd be rid of the tag of being the best player not to have won a major in the last few years. This could be his moment.
Peter: Nalbandian is a good shout but I'm going to put in a word for Robin Soderling, even though he's drawn in a tough quarter with Federer and Lleyton Hewitt.
The Swede is certainly playing well and this surface should suit him. Federer won't look forward to playing him because Soderling's powerful game is a real test on a quick court and it can be a real struggle to break him because his serve is so huge.
His game is very similar to the manner in which Del Potro played last year; he doesn't move quite as well as Del Potro but if he's on he's incredibly tough to beat. I'm convinced he's one of the guys that nobody will want to play.
Catch day one of the US Open at 4pm on Monday on Sky Sports HD2. For full coverage details click here.