Andy Murray is no contender, Serena Williams seeded 28th at US Open, where does Sharapova stand? – The Friday Five

Feast or Famine

After suffering an embarrassing opening round loss in Montreal, Andy Murray bounced back nicely to take his seventh TMS shield last week in Cincinnati. The victory came at a crucial time, as Murray prepares to try and win his maiden slam at his favorite tournament of the year. But while his run to the title will have him feeling good about his game, it also needs to be put into context. A couple of years ago, Murray’s draw might have been considered pretty brutal, but in 2011, players like Nalbandian and Simon are struggling to find their games and just mere shadows of what they once were. He also played an obviously ailing Djokovic in the final, who ultimately retired early in the second set. In reality, outside of US Open Series Champion Mardy Fish, it turned out to probably be one of the most comfortable TMS draws Murray could ask for. So don’t be too quick to use his Cincy win as justification to label him as even one of the top three favorites to win in New York. It might give him the right frame of mind to reach the semis, but as Jon Wertheim so rightly paraphrased Hall of Famer Wilander in this week’s mailbag, you can’t be one of the top favs to win a major if you’ve never won one in the first place.

Maria Sharapova

Still a “W”

Similar to Murray, it’s hard to gauge where Maria Sharapova should fall in the line of US Open title contenders after her win in Cincinnati. It was a well-earned victory, as the former No. 1 scrapped and clawed her way across the finish line. She’s also posted some great results this year, and between pullouts, niggling injuries, and inconsistencies among the other top women, she’s not a bad bet to be the last woman standing in Flushing. But her status as a heavy lock-in favorite is questionable. Her wins over Stosur and Kuznetsova don’t hold as much weight as they might have a year or so ago, with both of those women struggling to find confidence and notch wins. It took an on court visit from her coach to right the ship against Zvonareva in the semis – a luxury that won’t be available to her at the Open. As for the final, it was a poor quality match with both players committing a plethora of unforced errors and needing their coaches to motivate them and provide strategy. So while Sharapova’s game was good enough to get her by Jankovic – a player whose last title came at the 2010 Indian Wells as a result of an even more pronounced drop off in form – Sharapova can’t expect that kind of performance to get the job done against some of her more confident opponents, like Serena Williams.

Question of Seeding

As they have oft done, the seeding committee at the US Open opted to stick by the rankings when naming seeds, which resulted in Serena Williams being seeded a lowly 28th. As Serena has frequently shown a lack of support for the tennis establishment, it would have been unfair to deny one of the currently top-ranked 8 players a top 8 seed, but a top 16 seed would have been well within the realms of fairness and logic. She did win two titles during the US Open Series and is one of the heavy favorites to win the Open. A top 16 seed would have been beneficial to other players as well. You can put money on the fact that the top 8 seeds would have been thrilled to have seen Serena seeded higher in order to avoid potentially meeting her even earlier in the tournament (Right, Azarenka?). So while tennis is unpredictable, and any player can strike lightning or have a bad day at any given time, it was a real head scratcher that the USTA didn’t show Serena a little more love.

Question Marks

Earlier in the week, it was announced that 2001 US Open Champion Lleyton Hewitt was to be a recipient of one of the wildcards into this year’s event. After an early exit in Winston-Salem, however, the Australian has opted to pull out of Flushing, citing continued soreness in his foot. At the age of 30, he could potentially have a few more years left in him. But having suffered chronic injuries and undergone multiple surgeries the last three years, one could understand if “Rusty” eventually comes to the conclusion he has to call it a career earlier than planned. Personally, I hope it doesn’t come to that. He’s been a phenomenal player, who not only gives 100% in every match, but there are no excuses with him either. He adheres to that old Aussie adage, “If you’re fit you play, and if you play, you’re fit.” And though he may not be cut from the same genteel cloth as other past Aussie champions, he’s a great champion in his own right. The game will lose one of its fiercest competitors the day Lleyton Hewitt calls it quits.

Weather Watch

As if the players don’t have enough to worry about as they prep for the final major of the year, Mother Nature has thrown some curve balls their way. On Tuesday, a freak delay of play occurred in New Haven when an earthquake originating in Virginia shook the stadium, with play unable to resume until after the structure had passed a safety check (but hats off to the tournament staff for being quick on the uptake to sell T-shirts saying “I survived the 2011 New Haven Open.”) Hurricane Irene is also barreling towards the United States, with parts of NYC directly in the middle of her path. Expect to hear more grumblings about a roof, but at least with Irene hitting now, we might get to see the men’s singles final in its regularly scheduled slot for the first time in four years!