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U. S. Open - Day 5 preview

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Federer signs autographs after practice Thursday at the U.S. Open (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for USTA)

Federer signs autographs after practice Thursday at the U.S. Open (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for USTA)

NEW YORK – There isn't a ton of home-country content left in this U.S. Open – no offense to the friends and family of Tim Smyczek.

But whenever that occurs, regardless of the country tennis travels to that week, there is always the honorary citizen of the world, Roger Federer.

In the absence of the stars and stripes, he usually fills in just fine as a pseudo-local favorite.

Meanwhile, the women are starting the third round, which means the seeds will begin to square off.

Federer has a night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium against Australian Sam Groth and his massive serve, which will be followed by a women's match full of firepower involving Maria Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki.

Federer, generally speaking, doesn't have much trouble with big serves. As proof, we offer his last two matches against huge-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, at WImbledon and a few weeks ago in Cincinnati.

MATCHES TO WATCH - MEN

[11] Ernests Gulbis (LAT) vs  Dominic Thiem (AUT)

There are a lot of subplots weaving through this appealing second-round matchup, starting with the fact that the mercurial, brilliantly-talented Gulbis and the 20-year-old with the sweet one-handed backhand, Thiem, share a coach, a training base, and a clothing sponsor. The notion that the flaky 25-year-old Latvian, whose press conferences are always highly entertaining and well-attended (as are his matches) can serve as a sort of mentor to Thiem, who looks like someone's eager little brother but who has a very grown-up game, is a fascinating one. And it's always absorbing to watch a contest between two players who know each other well and are good friends.

Gulbis has been ripping it up in practice and, if he's focused and on his game, can beat any of the players remaining in the tournament. Yes, any of them. The questions that are asked every time he takes the court are about whether he will be 1) focused and 2) on his game. The two have met only once, back when Thiem was just 18.

[7] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs. Dudi Sela (ISR)

Sela is one of the diminutive men in the game, the possessor of a one-handed backhand to rival that of the 23-year-old Bulgarian who has come into this own this season – and not just because he has captured the love attention of iconic women's player Sharapova.

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Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) in action during his match against Ryan Harrison (USA) Wednesday.  (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports)

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) in action during his match against Ryan Harrison (USA) Wednesday. (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY …

It could be an easy one for Dimitrov; Sela defeated Carlos Berlocq of Argentina in the first round. It was a signature win, and an emotionally draining and significant one. Israel will play Argentina in the Davis Cup a week after the conclusion of the U.S. Open. And with the unrest in Israel, the International Tennis Federation decreed that the tie, which was to be held in Israel, be moved either to a neutral venue or all the way to Argentina, effectively giving the visiting team the home-court advantage. In the end, it will be played at a tennis club just outside Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The last meeting between the two, on grass last year, ended with Dimitrov winning in a third-set tiebreak.

[18] Kevin Anderson (RSA) vs Jerzy Janowicz (POL)

As much as the men's game has grown in stature the last few years – literally – matchups between two guys listed at 6-foot-8 remain rare. And this one is probably not what you'd expect. Yes, there will be some massive serving; Anderson, a South African who went to college in Illinois and married an American, possesses one of the bigger deliveries in the game. Janowicz also is a big server; but he likes to show off his delicate touch as well. It's also a major contrast in personalities. Anderson is the strong, silent type; Janowicz is anything but.  The two have met once, last year on red clay in Monte Carlo.

 

MATCHES TO WATCH - WOMEN

 

[13] Sara Errani (ITA)  vs. [19] Venus Williams (USA)

The lower seed is the decided underdog in this one, with Errani giving up at least nine inches in height and some 40 miles an hour on her serve to the American Williams. Errani spent significant time in the top 10 over the last few years, an amazing feat considering her first serve wouldn't dent a Kleenex. The key thing to watch here is how greedily Williams feasts on that serve.

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The Williams sisters will be back in action in doubles Friday. Venus also has singles against Sara Errani. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Williams sisters will be back in action in doubles Friday. Venus also has singles against Sara Errani. (AP …

 

Not surprisingly, Williams has won all three of the career meetings, and she wasn't playing nearly as well in those days (the last was two years ago) as she is right now.

 

[5] Maria Sharapova (RUS) vs. [26] Sabine Lisicki (GER)

Sharapova leads their head-to-head 5-1, but that one win for Lisicki was a big one – in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2012. The two also had a major battle just a few weeks later at the same venue, at the Summer Olympics.

Sharapova hasn't won the U.S. Open since 2006, and that was her only title here. But many would consider her the second favorite behind Serena Williams this year. She had a surprisingly difficult time against Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania in the second round, and Lisicki is definitely an upgrade in terms of the level of opposition.

Americans to watch

Tim Smyczek will play No. 17 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain for a spot in the third round of the U.S. Open today, which is a fairly good deal in the grand scheme of things. Bautista Agut, who is physically unprepossessing and relatively unknown considering his ranking – the raft of Spanish players at the top of the game has something to do with that – always gives full value on the effort front.

Beyond that, there are some youngsters to watch in the secondary events, including juniors Francis Tiafoe and Michael Mmoh in the men's doubles. Tiafoe and Mmoh, both 16 and born just 10 days apart, upset the pickup doubles team of Estrella Burgos and Gabashvili in the first round. They're up against veteran American doubles specialists Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram.

Others in action: Lisa Raymond and Vania King ... Chicago natives and longtime friends Taylor Townsend and Donald Young in the mixed doubles against another American wild-card team, Jacqueline Cako amd Joel Kielbowicz. ... Alison Riske and Coco Vandeweghe take on the No. 8 seeds, Andrea Hlavackova and Zheng Jie.

Venus and Serena Williams, who had a tough one against No. 7 seeds Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos in the first round of doubles, should have an easier time today against Oksana Kalashnikova of Georgia and Olga Savchuk of Ukraine. They will be on Louis Armstrong Stadium after packing the smaller Grandstand to the rafters Thursday.

The junior qualifying gets under way today, and there will be plenty of young American kids trying to get into the U.S. Open junior main draw. You have to leave the site to see them, though; they'll be competing on auxiliary practice courts just outside the gates.

 

 

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