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10 Things to Look for at The Open
1�Will the Party Go Late?
ROGER FEDERER could defend his title without losing a game. Serena Williams could rescue her career from the abyss. Anna Kournikova could interrupt the women's final riding a pogo stick and playing Heard 'Em Say on bagpipes. Ultimately, it won't much matter. Ever since Andre Agassi announced that the 2006 U.S. Open will be his last tournament, it's been clear that the year's final major will be a farewell party masquerading as a tennis event.
The Matt Lauer pretournament interview has been booked, the agassi and the ecstasy placards printed. A USA Network producer has no doubt unearthed that Image Is Everything commercial, as well as footage of the infamous Barbra Streisand "Zen master" interview.
The inconvenient question is: How long will Agassi stick around? He's 36 and has finally started acting his age. Beset by chronic back pain, he hasn't made it past the quarterfinals of an ATP event this year and limps into New York with a match record of 8-7. On the other hand, he was a finalist at the U.S. Open last year. Buoyed by all the support, could he have one last magical run left in him?
2 The Best Ever-Except Now?
SO LONG as Roger Federer is in the draw, men's tennis events have tended to recall a line from Dante's Divine Comedy: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter." Since 2004, the Swiss colossus has won a preposterous 93.6% of his matches. But suddenly he no longer stands alone. Unawed by Federer's incandescence, Rafael Nadal has beaten Federer four of the five times they've played this year. While tennis's chattering class has been debating whether Federer is the Best Ever, he has struggled mightily with the No. 2 player. "Now he's the best," Nadal concedes. "In the future? We're gonna see."
The Federer-Nadal-Federal?-juggernaut has won eight of the last nine Grand Slams and has all the required elements for an enduring rivalry. Their styles are a study in contrasts. Federer, a righty, is a delicate pointillist; Nadal, a lefty, an aggressive expressionist. It will take an upset to prevent them from meeting in the Open final, and that match, played on a medium-speed hard court, could tell us plenty about the state of the rivalry.
3 Can Jimbo Find Andy's Mojo?
IT SOUNDS like the premise for a lost episode of The Twilight Zone: Star player is featured in an ad campaign about a mythical slump and then really starts losing and just can't stop. It was at last year's U.S. Open that American Express ads put out an APB for Andy Roddick's mojo. Then Roddick lost in the first round, and since then his ranking has dropped from No. 3 to No. 12.