Ceremonial prelude for Agassi's emotional farewell tournament

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The US Open is arguably the most forward-looking of the Grand Slam events. It was the first to pay women the same as men (as long ago as 1973) and when this year's tournament opens here today it will be the first to use video technology on line calls, with players on the main show courts allowed to make two challenges in each set. However, once the afternoon matches on Arthur Ashe Court are out of the way, it will be time for nostalgia.

John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert will be among those taking centre stage when the evening session begins with a ceremony to rename the venue here at Flushing Meadows as the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Diana Ross will lead the singing of "God Bless America" and, to cap it all, Andre Agassi (pictured) will begin the last tournament of his career against Romania's Andrei Pavel. Martina Navratilova, will also be making her last tournament appearance, playing in both doubles events.

Agassi is playing in his 21st consecutive US Open and, while the home audience will be hoping he can make an extended farewell, the signs are not promising. Agassi's back problems have restricted him to just 16 matches since his remarkable run to last year's final, in which he lost to Roger Federer. Realistically, the best American hopes lie with Andy Roddick and James Blake, but the latter has disappointed of late and the former, now coached by Connors, has yet to convince that he can recapture his best form, despite winning the Cincinnati Masters recently.

Ivan Ljubicic, the No 3 seed, may be the most likely to offer resistance to the world's top two, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who between them have won the last six Grand Slam tournaments and are establishing a great rivalry.

It could be time for a minor changing of the guard among the women. Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams have both withdrawn through injury and there is a major doubt over the fitness of Lindsay Davenport, who has a shoulder problem.

The top two seeds are Amélie Mauresmo, who has won two of the year's three Grand Slam tournaments, and Justine Henin-Hardenne. Both will be refreshed, having played only once since Mauresmo won their Wimbledon final, but they may have lost some sharpness in the process.

Serena Williams has reached two semi-finals on her comeback after a six-month sabbatical following the Australian Open and Martina Hingis has returned to the world's top 10 after her three-year lay-off - but winning a Grand Slam tournament is another matter. Ana Ivanovic, 19, and Nicole Vaidisova, 17, both look capable of doing so before long and Maria Sharapova is overdue her second major title, but this could be the year for another Russian, Elena Dementieva, who reached the final here two years ago and, at 24, is in her prime.

Comments