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A new era at U.S. Open

The changing of the guard is complete. When the U.S. Open begins Monday in New York, the No. 1 men's ranking won't be owned by Roger Federer for the first time since January 2004. The new king of the court, Rafael Nadal, was officially crowned with the top spot last week, having been virtually unbeatable (48-2) since April. The Spaniard, 22, extended his hot streak in Beijing, winning the men's singles Olympic gold medal, while Federer was ousted by eighth-seeded James Blake, a Tampa resident, in the quarterfinals — a stark sign that the Swiss star's grip has slipped as the game's best male player. Nadal enters the 40th U.S. Open of the modern era having won three consecutive major events — the French Open on clay, Wimbledon on grass and the Olympic gold on hardcourt. Federer, 27, has won three straight Grand Slam events on two occasions. "Nowhere in my best dreams can I imagine something like what I did this year," Nadal said after winning the gold. "So I want to enjoy these moments, no?" Yes — especially because Federer can reclaim his No. 1 ranking if he wins what would be his fifth straight Open. But by all indications, Nadal is the man to beat.

New top woman

Serbia's Jelena Jankovic didn't get to savor her No. 1 status for long. She lost it after just one week, eliminated from the Beijing Games after a quarterfinal loss to Dinara Safina. The new No. 1 — at least for the next few weeks — is fellow Serb Ana Ivanovic, who pulled out of the Olympics the night before her opening match with an inflamed right thumb. Maybe Jankovic should have made the same call. Safina went on to take the silver, losing to fellow Russian Elena Dementieva 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the gold-medal match.

40 years of champs

The U.S. Open will celebrate its many singles champions during festivities Monday. When the first tournament of the modern era was held in 1968, a total of $100,000 in prize money was offered to 96 men and 64 women in the singles and doubles field. Today, the Open's prize money exceeds $20-million for a field of 600-plus. There have been 41 different singles champions, starting in 1968 with Arthur Ashe and Virginia Wade.

Notable moments in Open history

. Arthur Ashe's win in the first Open was a landmark — the first time an African-American man won a Grand Slam event (29 years later, Arthur Ashe Stadium was opened on the tournament grounds in his honor).

. Rod Laver (1969), Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988) are the only players to complete the Grand Slam at the U.S. Open in the open era.

. In 1975, the U.S. Open became the first Grand Slam to feature night tennis.

. Chris Evert has won more U.S. Open titles than any other woman in the past 40 years, taking her sixth and final one in 1982.

Miscellany

The player challenge system has been tweaked. Players will be allowed three challenges per set, instead of two. The one challenge in tiebreakers remains the same. In 2006, the U.S. Open became the first Grand Slam to use electronic line calling. … With one week to go, Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina lead the Olympus U.S. Open tournament title, a six-week competition that culminates with the winners competing for $1-million in bonus prize money at the Open. … This marks the last time in a 25-year span the tournament will be broadcast on the USA Network. In 2009, it moves to ESPN and the Tennis Channel. … The past two women's champions are out — Justine Henin retired, and Maria Sharapova injured.

Dave Scheiber can be reached at scheiber@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8541.

About the Open

When: The 14-day tournament begins Monday. The women's singles final is at 8 p.m. Sept. 6. The men's singles final is at 4 p.m. Sept. 7.

Where: USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York

Surface: Hardcourt

2007 singles champions: Roger Federer of Switzerland; Justine Henin of Belgium

Prize money: The men's and women's singles champions receive $1.5-million each.

TV: Ch. 10, USA

A new era at U.S. Open 08/23/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2008 7:31pm]
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