Club Fed, Miami version
Serena faces tough draw
By Matthew Cronin
J. Gregory Swendsen
The world's best will take on the field in Miami.
Since winning the Tennis Masters Cup, No. 1 Roger Federer has now taken down all the elite players who have given him trouble in the past: Tim Henman, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and David Nalbandian. Who's left to push him hard? "That was an unbelievable turning point in my career," Federer said. "I know how to beat all those guys. I don't feel now there are many guys who really have an edge on me. That's important to me for the rest of the season."
That's doesn't mean that Federer will win the NASDAQ-100, but he will have had a good five days to recover from his impressive run at Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells and has to be called the favorite.
If he keeps up his sterling play much longer, the year-end No. 1 spot could be locked up half way through season. After the Swiss brushed aside ninth-seed Tim Henman 6-3, 6-3 to win his first Pacific Life Open final, the Briton showered him with accolades. "He proved he's the best player in the world right now," said Henman, who had beaten his six out of seven times coming into the match. "It's one of those occasions where I didn't perhaps played my best, but I wasn't allowed to."
Fed's draw in Miami isn't easy, with Nicolas Escude or Rafael Nadal as potential third-round foe, maybe Nico Massu in the fourth round and possibly Henman or Hewitt in the quarters. But as long as he's mentally and physically sound, Federer has a arsenal of weaponry that is spilling off his back like no one else. He's re-defining what all-court tennis means "I'm so confident that I have no problem switching from defense to offense, to play serve and volley or just wait for a mistake from my opponents." Federer said. BLAKE MIGHT BOMB OUT OF DAVIS CUP
With his third-set tank to Irakli Labadze in the IW quarters, James Blake all but played himself off the Davis Cup team. The odds are that Blake will lose in the first round to Vince Spadea (whom he lost to in Scottsdale), who's not the worst call ever for the number two spot. Again, it's Mardy Fish's spot to lose. But if Fish loses early in Miami, Captain Patrick McEnroe will have a tough call to make. Speaking of Americans, six-time champ Andre Agassi has a nice draw up to the quarters. His Miami record of six crowns is the only record that he one up on his 22-time Slam winning wife, Steffi Graf.
"Two years ago, I thought I passed her there," said the three-time defending champ. "I was sort of celebrating it around her. She was congratulating me, only for me to find out a few days later I hadn't passed her, I just tied her. She didn't have the heart to tell me that, which I appreciated."
Andy Roddick will have a tough go of it in Miami. Rising Romanian Victor Hanescu could be waiting in round two and then he may get a Davis Cup prelim against Jonas Bjorkman in the third round – unless Taylor Dent knocks off the Swede. … Best NASDAQ first round men's match: Tommy Haas vs. Guillermo Cañas.
JHH NEVER ENTERED NASDAQ
Just to echo my friend Lisa Dillman of the LA Times: Justine Henin-Hardenne never had the NASDAQ-100 on her schedule this year and did not pull out of the event. The same goes for Lindsay Davenport. No. 1 Henin-Hardenne has already played four straight weeks and would not have been making a smart move to go for six in a row. At this point for Ju-Ju, it's all about her Roland Garros defense and her planned assault on Wimbledon. For a much more extensive analysis on Justine's plans, read our interview with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez.
More Justine: After getting revenge on Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova in the IW quarters – the only woman who has beaten her this year – she played near perfect tennis, crushing fifth-ranked Anastasia Myskina in the semis and fourth-ranked Lindsay Davenport 6-1 6-4 in the final. "I'm a different and better player," said Henin-Hardenne of her first Pacific Life title. "I've changed a lot. We can see it on court. Maybe in the past when I wasn't playing well in this tournament I was already feeling pressure before coming here. This week, I've been able to stay focused."
Davenport said that although 5-foot-5 Henin-Hardenne isn't a giant, she can club with the best of them. "She generates just as much pace as the bigger girls," Davenport said. "I felt like even on my first serves, if I didn't hit them great, she was really going to go after them, especially with her forehand. With her second serve she put a lot of pressure on me, going for shots, and she stepped in on her backhand. It was tough. She was really aggressive and just took it to me."
Serena's faces tough draw
Serena's first tournament back could be a tough test.
It does look like film director Brett Ratner's girlfriend – one Serena Williams – will play the NASDAQ. She had better be in good form because in the second round, she'll likely face Marta Marrero, who's been balling in a big way as of late. If she survives that, the third round should bring the fearless Barbara Strycova and she could have a mouth-watering match-up with Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
The women's tour is wracked with injuries, but a few notables who didn't play Indian Wells will appear in Miami, including Dinara Safina, Jennifer Capriati, Lina Krasnoroutskaya, Elena Dementieva and 14-year-old Nicole Vaidisova. Venus Williams has a quite interesting draw, with a potential round-two match-up with Daniela Hantuchova and a potential third-round Aussie revenge tussle with Lisa Raymond.
The top four will not play the NASDAQ (Henin-Hardenne, Kim Clijsters, Amelie Mauresmo and Davenport), but if you're promoter Butch Buchholtz, would you rather market the Williamses, Capriati and Dementieva, or the aforementioned crew? That's an easy call in Florida.
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