Open about Fed-Nadal

Aug 15, 2006 2:53 AM

The U.S. Open begins in two weeks as the site of Andre Agassi’s last pro event, but figures to end with another Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal classic.

Federer is an obscene 1-2 at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook to capture his third Grand Slam title of the season. Nadal, second choice at 7-2, defeated Federer to win the French Open and lost to the world’s No. 1 player in the Wimbledon final.

While the sellout crowds in New York will hope to push Agassi into one last hurrah in a stellar career, men’s tennis is basically Federer, Nadal and a gap the size of Grand Canyon to everyone else.

The women’s singles is a bit more wide open, though the clearcut favorite is Justine Henin-Hardenne at 7-2. Maria Sharapova (4-1), Amelie Mauresmo (9-2) and Kim Clijsters (5-1) are certainly contenders, while Serena Williams (12-1), Venus Williams (12-1) and Lindsay Davenport (15-1) have great value despite major injury concerns.

In the men’s singles, there is a major dropoff after Nadal to Americans James Blake and Andy Roddick — each at 15-1. Blake has played the better tennis this year, while the big-serving Roddick has recently hired tennis Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors as coach.

Other value plays on the men’s side are Lleyton Hewitt (20-1), young English hope Andy Murray and, of course, Agassi. Murray and Agassi are each 40-1.

Other women to watch are Nicole Vaidisova (10-1), Nadia Petrova (15-1), Mary Pierce (40-1) and Elena Dementieva (50-1).

The tournament begins Monday, Aug. 28 and ends Sept. 10.