By Mark Bodenrader
American Andy Roddick heads into the 2006 US Open donning a familiar title to that of last year -- winner of the US Open Series. But despite Roddick’s repeat victory in the summer series of North American hard courts tournaments, a lot has changed in the past year.
That was evident when Roddick, under the tutelage of new coach Jimmy Connors, clinched the US Open Series title by winning the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati. While the triumph was the 21st tournament victory of Roddick’s career, it also halted a winless drought that stretched all the way back to his victory in Lyon in October 2005.
Roddick, playing in his second final of the 2006 US Open Series, posted a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero in Cincinnati to put himself in position to potentially win a total payout of $2.2 million at the 2006 US Open.
The American star is once again eligible to claim $1 million in bonus prize money at the US Open on top of the $1.2 million awarded to the singles winner, should he capture his second career Flushing title. The same potential bonus will also be available for the women’s winner of the US Open Series, Ana Ivanovic of Serbia.
"We think we've got a concept now that's beginning to catch on with sports fans, with TV viewers, with our television partners, certainly our sponsors," said USTA Chief Executive, Professional Tennis Arlen Kantarian about the US Open Series before the trophies were presented to Roddick and Ivanovic during Day 1 of the US Open.
"We've got twice the number of people now watching tennis in the summer leading up to the Open than ever before, attendance has been up, and we think it's also caught on in the locker room with the players."
While repeating as the US Open Series champ is nice confidence booster for Roddick heading into the US Open, one thing Roddick doesn’t want to duplicate from last year is his performance in the big event. The American was sent packing in the first-round in 2005 after suffering an upset at the hands of the unheralded Gilles Muller of Luxembourg.
As for the final US Open Series standings, Roddick finished atop the men’s race with 147 points, but he isn’t the only one capable of collecting extra dough at the US Open. Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, who came in second with 124 points, and Great Britain’s Andy Murray, who totaled 105, can also pad their prizes depending on where they finish in Flushing.
The 19-year-old Murray used the 2006 US Open Series as his personal coming out party, with his most notable victory coming against the mighty Roger Federer in the second round of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters. Murray’s 7-5, 6-4 victory over Federer in Cincinnati stopped the two-time defending US Open champ’s impressive 55-match winning streak in North America. Federer hadn’t suffered a defeat on the continent since losing in the first round to Dominik Hrbaty in, coincidentally, Cincinnati way back on August 3, 2004.
One player just starting to write her history is Ivanovic, an 18-year-old phenom who burst on the scene this summer by winning the women’s US Open Series title.
Ivanovic clinched the victory after posting just her second career tournament win, and her first Tier 1 crown, at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. The final had the feeling of a changing of the guard, as Ivanovic defeated the Swiss star and five-time Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3.
Ivanovic finished with a point total of 127 and beat out some impressive names to capture the US Open Series.
Maria Sharapova posted a strong showing in the Series, winning the Acura Classic and reaching the semifinals in Los Angeles. However, Sharapova still came up just five points short of Ivanovic at 122 to end up in second.
Defending US Open Series champ Kim Clijsters managed to hold the third spot at 120 points despite being forced out of action at the Rogers Cup with a wrist injury. Clijsters retired from her second-round match in Montreal against Stephanie Dubois with the injury, and an MRI exam and X-Ray showed it to be worse than originally believed.
Soon after, the Belgian announced that she would be sidelined for the next two months. Thus, Clijsters’s quest to repeat as US Open Series champ came to an end, as well as her hopes of defending her title at the US Open, meaning there will be a new women’s champ in 2006.
US Open Series Week-By-Week Notes
American James Blake took the early lead in the men’s US Open Series race by claiming the title at the RCA Championships in Indianapolis. Blake, the top seed in the event, bested fellow American Roddick, the second seed, in the final to claim the crown, winning a tiebreaker in the final set to do so.
It marked just the second time in eight head-to-head match-ups that Blake came out the victor against Roddick.
Blake failed to reach the quarterfinals in his subsequent US Open Series tournaments.
Roddick was able to taste glory later in the day, however, as he and Bobby Reynolds posted a 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Paul Goldstein and Jim Thomas in the doubles championship match.
At the Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles it was Tommy Haas rising above the rest of the field to win his second title in three years at the event. The sixth seed from Germany rallied past No. 8 seed Dmitry Tursunov of Russia in the final, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Andre Agassi, participating in the event for the final time, was ousted in the quarterfinals by Gonzalez, while Roddick pulled out in the quarters due to a muscle strain in his side.
Bob and Mike Bryan captured the doubles crown, marking their third title in six years at the tournament. The pair defeated Jamie Murray and Eric Butorac in the final match, 6-2, 6-4.
Clijsters picked up right where she left off in 2005 by claiming the first tournament of the 2006 US Open Series season – the Bank of the West Classic.
Clijsters, the top seed, breezed past the second-seeded Patty Schnyder in the tournament final to continue her dominance in the event. The Belgian is now unbeaten in the Bank of the West since 2002 and has captured four titles on the Stanford campus in the last six years.
The doubles title went to Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Shahar Peer, who defeated Maria Elena Camerin and Gisela Dulko, 6-1, 6-4.
Arnaud Clement came through with an impressive showing in winning the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington D.C. The Frenchman, who played in the first U.S. final of his career, didn’t drop a set on his way to championship and beat the likes of Hrbaty, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin just to get to the final. In the title match, Clement held off rising star Murray, 7-6 (3), 6-2.
The Bryan brothers took home their second consecutive US Open Series tournament title of the season by successfully defending their Legg Mason doubles crown. In the final, the top-seeded Bryans defeated the second-seeded Paul Hanley and Kevin Ullyet.
Maria Sharapova prevented Clijsters from winning her second straight US Open Series tournament by defeating the top seed, 7-5, 7-5, in the Acura Classic final. The triumph in San Diego marked Sharapova’s first-ever victory in five career meetings against Clijsters.
With the loss, Clijsters saw her streak of 24 straight match wins in North American summer hardcourt events come to an end.
In the doubles final it was Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs cruising past Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Meghann Shaughnessy, 6-2, 6-2, to claim the top prize for the second time in three years.
Federer claimed his second Rogers Cup title in three seasons despite a tough challenge from the unseeded Richard Gasquet of France in the final. The Swiss star dropped the first set to the 20-year-old Gasquet before finding his game early in the second and going on to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win.
The triumph in Toronto ran Federer’s North American match winning streak to 54 straight victories and gave him his 40th career title.
The Bryan brothers made it three straight US Open Series tournament wins by earning a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Hanley and Ullyet in the Rogers Cup doubles final.
Sharapova’s attempt to win back-to-back US Open Series tournaments was thwarted in the JPMorgan Chase Open by compatriot Elena Dementieva, who posted a 7-5, 6-2 victory in their semifinal clash.
Dementieva maintained her winning ways in the final, defeating Jelena Jankovic in three sets, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, to capture the title in Los Angeles.
Jankovic was coming off a 6-4, 6-3 semifinal victory over American Serena Williams, who was making her first US Open Series appearance of the year.
In doubles, Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez seized the championship by defeating Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama, 6-3, 6-4.
Roddick’s Series-clinching victory in Cincinnati marked his first win in the event since 2003, which was also the year of his lone US Open championship. The runner-up to Roddick in the ’03 US Open was Ferrero – the man who also lost the America in this year’s Cincinnati final.
Besides Federer being ousted early, rival Rafael Nadal saw his run in the tournament end early with a quarterfinal loss to Ferrero. It marked the first time in the past 16 tournaments that either Nadal or Federer didn’t win an event they both entered.
The Bryan brothers’ tournament winning streak came to an end with a loss in the doubles final to Max Mirnyi and Jonas Bjorkman. The Bryans had won the previous four tournaments they had entered, starting with their title in Wimbledon followed by three straight US Open Series tournament wins.
While it was a rising star – Ivanovic -- taking the singles title in Montreal, a living legend added to her already loaded resume by wining the doubles championship.
Martina Navratilova captured her 176th career doubles title, pairing up with Nadia Petrova of Russia to defeat Cara Black and Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the Rogers Cup final, 6-1, 6-2.
The 49-year-old Navratilova, who also has 167 career singles titles, has said that the upcoming US Open will be her final tournament.
The Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven saw the early exit of Blake, the defending champion and top seed. Blake bowed out after dropping his opening round match against Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo of Spain, 3-6, 5-7.
Blake’s ouster opened the door for second-seeded Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, who defeated 10th seed Agustin Calleri in the final, 6-4, 6-3, to capture the Pilot Penn.
In doubles, Israelis Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich captured their third crown of the year by defeating Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, 6-3, 6-3, in the championship match.
Justine Henin-Hardenne captured the women’s Pilot Pen crown after Lindsay Davenport retired with an injury in the final. The second-seeded Henin-Hardenne was leading the seventh-seeded Davenport 6-0, 1-0 when Davenport pulled out of the match with an ailing right shoulder.
The injury put an end to an impressive run by Davenport, who was the defending champion in the event. The American had ousted top seed Amelie Mauresmo in straight sets in the quarterfinals.
Defeding Pilot Pen doubles champions Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur saw their effort to repeat thwarted by China’s Yan Zi and Zheng Jie. The Austalian Open and Wimbledon champions cruised to a 6-4, 6-2 victory to take the title – their sixth of the year.