Road Warriors

June 27, 2006 05:12 PM

The leading contenders are looking to ride their talents to a first-place finish in the US Open Series and a major-league payoff when the road ends in Flushing.

Roger Federer

The game’s greatest is looking down the road at a historic three-peat at Flushing Meadows this year, but along the way, he’ll likely stop and throw some hardware in the trunk. The winner at last year’s Cincinnati stop on the US Open Series trek, Federer figures as the favorite wherever the journey takes him. After winning the Aussie Open in January, he won both the Indian Wells and Key Biscayne hard-court events. Federer owns the road, and isn’t likely to get passed often.

Venus Williams

Tennis fans have been waiting for Williams to shift her game back into high gear. A sizzling summer road trip might be just the thing to help her again find the form that allows her to blow past opponents. A two-time US Open winner, Williams has the hard-court savvy to accelerate her comeback on the summer swing.

Andy Roddick

Hampered by a testy ankle that forced him out of the French, Roddick will definitely be looking for a lift this summer. No one is more capable of accelerating on the US Open Series’ hard courts, as Roddick proved last year in finishing first in the Series’ standings. If he’s healthy, expect him to map out another winning summer.

Lindsay Davenport

The winner of the inaugural US Open Series in 2004, Davenport took home the title from New Haven last year, and her taste for the hard stuff certainly makes the 1998 US Open champ a formidable force on this year’s trip.

Lleyton Hewitt

The self-driven Aussie was the top point-earner among the men in the inaugural season of US Open Series play, and has the sort of hard-court goods to again travel far this year. Winner of the US Open in 2001 and runner-up in ’04, Hewitt reached the final of the Las Vegas hard-court event this spring.

Amelie Mauresmo

Having regained the No. 1 ranking this spring, on the strength of her first career Slam title at the Aussie Open, Mauresmo’s game has been in high gear for some time. Her power and precision play well on the hard highways of the US Open Series, as she showed last year in finishing third in the US Open Series standings. Expect her to linger long at every stop.

Andre Agassi

No one is more familiar with the road to greatness than Agassi—and he shows no signs of running out of gas. He won in Los Angeles and finished runner-up to Nadal in Montreal in last year’s US Open Series, good enough for a second-place Series finish. Just for good measure, he went on to reach the US Open final. One of the all-time greats, Agassi is the ultimate Road Warrior.

Kim Clijsters

Last year’s US Open Series champ, Clijsters is poised for another drive to glory. She took the 2005 US Open Series titles in Stanford, Los Angeles and Toronto, then topped off her sizzling summer by capturing the richest prize in the history of women’s sports—$2.2 million—when she triumphed at the US Open. One thing’s for sure: She’s got gas money.

Maria Sharapova

Voted least likely to have difficulty hitching a ride, Sharapova nonetheless prefers the driver’s seat. A Grand Slam winner at 17, she’s now got the maturity and the game to drive to many more titles—and figures as a leading contender at every Series stop this summer.

Martina Hingis

For tennis fans, it’s just great to have the Swiss Miss back in the game, but Hingis has never been satisfied just going along for the ride. In this, her first summer swing in four years, expect Hingis to do more than sight-see.

James Blake

Driving home his growing greatness by taking the title in New Haven last summer, Blake continued his wild ride into the Open. Always a driving force on the hard stuff, he figures as a factor in every event he visits.

Justine Henin-Hardenne

The 2003 US Open champ is always a hard-court force, as she’s shown this year in winning Sydney and reaching the final of the Aussie Open. The three-time Slam champ is a full-time contender, and Henin-Hardenne owns the sort of game that plays nicely along the US Open Series trail.

Rafael Nadal

One of the very few players who’s proven capable of running Federer off the fast track, this sensational Spaniard is best known for owning the dirt roads, but Nadal would like nothing more than to find some traction on cement this summer.​