Tennis-Open-New chapter in Federer, Nadal rivalry
NEW YORK, Aug 25: World number one Roger Federer and chief rival Rafael Nadal will be aiming to write a new chapter in the hottest rivalry in tennis when the US Open begins on Monday.
While the pair will be the overwhelming favourites to contest a third successive grand slam final, Andre Agassi will be busy penning the last entry in his tennis memoirs as he contests his 21st successive US Open, a record in the professional era.
Federer and Nadal, who between them have won the last six grand slam crowns, are seeded to meet in a final that would extend their scintillating rivalry to the hard courts of Flushing Meadows after riveting jousts on Roland Garros clay and the grass of Wimbledon.
Top seed Federer, 25, seeks his third consecutive US Open title and ninth major victory of his career.
Nadal, 20, winner of the last two French Opens, has been the only player capable of standing up to the Swiss maestro, winning six of eight career meetings, including two of three on hard courts.
The early focus of attention, however, falls on Las Vegas showman Agassi, who will retire after his last match at the Open.
''This is the final curtain call for one of the game's greatest ambassadors and champions,'' U.S. Open chief executive Arlen Kantarian said of the 36-year-old American.
''When Andre comes out of that tunnel each night, hopefully several nights at the US Open, you will see a special electricity in that stadium.'' Twice former champion and eight-times grand slam winner Agassi made an improbable run to the final last year, winning three five-set matches in a row before falling to Federer.
Unseeded Agassi, who has played infrequently this year due to a bad back, faces fellow 30-something Andrei Pavel in his opening match, with a daunting obstacle looming next in eighth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, this year's Australian Open finalist and Wimbledon semi-finalist.
His difficult quarter of the draw could also bring a fourth-round clash with 2003 champion Andy Roddick. MAGNETIC DUEL Another inspiring charge would fill the hearts of Agassi's legion of supporters. More likely, the men's draw will narrow down to prospects of another Federer-Nadal collision.
Not since the days of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, and Agassi's showdowns with Pete Sampras, has the game had such a magnetic duel.
Contrasting styles enhance the rivalry with the dazzling arsenal of spin and power employed by Federer pitted against the thundering groundstrokes and fitness of Nadal.
Federer has lost four times this year to Nadal, including the final of the French Open. The Spaniard has established himself as a road block to the Swiss champion's dream of completing a career Grand Slam.
Nadal also showed he was able to challenge Federer beyond the red clay in Paris by reaching the Wimbledon final before losing to the Swiss in the final.
Despite the electricity at Agassi's matches, the lights could go out early for him, leaving fellow American Roddick as a potential challenger in the bottom half of the draw.
Roddick has revitalised his game since working with former champion Jimmy Connors, winning in Cincinnati this month.
''He's playing more aggressively, stepping into the court a lot more, trying to return bigger on second serve,'' said US Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe.
''He's coming to the net a lot more, his mindset is very positive. I think Jimmy's had a huge impact there.'' Another player buoyed by a coaching change is young Briton Andy Murray.
Murray, 19, has thrived this hard court season since joining Agassi's former coach, Brad Gilbert.
The Scot reached the final in Washington, the semis in Toronto and the quarters in Cincinnati where he became the only player besides Nadal to beat Federer this year.
Another seed with title aspirations is number three Ivan Ljubicic, who is in Nadal's half of the draw.
Federer's projected path includes a probable quarter-final with fifth-seeded American James Blake. Fourth seed David Nalbandian of Argentina is a possible opponent in the semis, with 17th seed Murray also in the mix.