As always, head over to newyorkobservetennis.com for our review of Tuesday’s action before or after you read about the matches to watch on Wednesday. Whereas the women dominated our last preview, the men gain the ascendancy overall this time.
Robson vs. Clijsters: Around each match of the three-time champion swirls even more attention than usual, for each could mark her last appearance in singles. Cutting a swathe through the younger generation, Clijsters drew a strange route that starts very simple before suddenly becoming quite complicated. The mother of Jada showed little mercy to the youngest player in the draw after a slow start in her opener, moving naturally during rallies against Victoria Duval. But the American of Haitian descent could not subject Clijsters to any pressure, the challenge that confronts the British teenager who awaits the Belgian in the second round. A lefty with a fiery temper and a fierce competitive drive, Robson had not won a main-draw match at a major in 2012 and recorded only two main-draw wins overall in the first half of the season. On the clay of Palermo and on home soil at the Olympics, she defeated Vinci and Safarova in victories that suggest a rise in her perpetually unsteady fortunes. Her loftiness and deceptively explosive forehand could catch Clijsters off guard initially before the veteran finds her timing.
Anderson vs. Ferrer: Handed a golden opportunity in the absence of his compatriot Nadal, Ferrer overnight became the technical favorite to reach the semifinals from his section. The fourth seed may need to defuse the serve of Isner before then, however, so a meeting with the similarly towering Kevin Anderson may offer ideal preparation—assuming that the favorite survives it. Never has Ferrer faced the South African before, and his height has left him vulnerable to opponents of this stature who can hold serve easily while targeting his much less imposing serve. (See, for example, his loss to Karlovic on a slow court at Indian Wells last year.) Although he reached the semifinals here five years ago and reached at least the quarterfinals at all three majors in 2012, Ferrer has dwindled perceptibly during the second half. Like a more famous Spaniard, he may suffer from his front-loaded schedule in an exceptionally frenetic season for all contenders.
Becker vs. Harrison: A month removed from his embarrassing meltdown at the Olympics, the future of American men’s tennis seeks to redeem himself on the next occasion when the spotlight glares upon him. Widely criticized for his racket-smashing tantrum, a chastened Harrison appeared on television to apologize and promise a more mature outlook in future. He may find such a promise difficult to keep if adversity strikes at his home major, where he already has recorded one memorable victory (over Ljubicic) and suffered one heartbreaking defeat (to Stakhovsky). Defeating the heralded doubles team of Fyrstenberg and Matkowski in a thriller on Tuesday, Harrison at least should accumulated some positive energy before the match to insulate him against his darker moods. Fortunately for him, Becker poses a relatively straightforward challenge unlikely to frustrate him consistently.
Gulbis vs. Haas: Once considered among the promising players of the post-Federer era, Gulbis enthralled an Arthur Ashe audience during a night session by taking Roddick to the brink of a fifth set with bullet forehands, daring second serves, and artful drop shots. This year, the world #145 will ply his trade in less glamorous surroundings against an opponent who quietly has become one of the most surprising and compelling stories to arise from the ATP recently. Now on the verge of the top 20, Haas began his rise with victories over Tsonga and Baghdatis in Munich before defeating Berdych and Federer in Halle. Extending that momentum beyond Germany, he enjoyed a strong US Open Series that brought him a 500-level final and a Rogers Cup quarterfinal, where he became the only player other than Federer to win a set from Djokovic in the last three North American Masters 1000 tournaments. This 34-year-old thus has traveled in the opposite direction from the 24-year-old across the net. While Gulbis could win on sheer talent alone, Haas has enjoyed his previous visits to New York and should build upon those memories as well as a likely supportive crowd. On the other hand, Germans have suffered through an almost unimaginably horrific Open to date.
Burdette vs. Hradecka: Astonishing many by capturing her first match at the US Open, the Stanford graduate faces another winnable clash with a doubles specialist. Armed with an outstanding serve, Hradecka rode her primary weapon to a semifinal on the blue clay of Madrid, and the surface here should prove equally accommodating if she can find her first serve consistently. Once her percentage dips, she lacks many alternative options to win points and susceptible to opponents who can outmaneuver her along the baseline. To score the upset, Burdette must hope to take time away from her much larger, stronger foe while anticipating smartly on returns and trying to survive the first strike from across the net. A rendezvous with Sharapova on a marquee court would offer a worthy reward for this underdog if she can keep her exhilarating week alive.
Baker vs. Hajek: Rivaling the Haas story for narrative novelty if not for on-court achievement is the odyssey of Brian Baker, who reached the final in the first tournament that he played after years of injuries. This former college star has risen inside the top 75 while compiling a winning record, but his homecoming so far has not flowed as triumphantly as one would have imagined. In four US Open Series tournaments, Baker won just one match and lost to the likes of Igor Kunitsyn and Florent Serra. A very winnable match lies ahead here, so he should bask in the well-deserved admiration of his compatriots if he can find the form that carried him past Kohlschreiber in Cincinnati. That said, the best-of-five format and the New York humidity might test the durability of this Cinderella character in a match that goes anywhere beyond the routine.