With many eyes focused on Hurricane Irene as it wreaked havoc along the Eastern seaboard, the tennis world will now shift its attention to Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams as the U.S. Open Tennis championships blows onto the sports scene over the next two weeks.
Although there are other compelling storylines, the main narratives for the final 2011 Grand Slam center on Djokovic, the sport's ascendant player, and Williams, the once and future champion on the ladies' side of the net. For the third consecutive year, longtime broadcaster CBS and cable doubles partners ESPN2 and Tennis Channel will bring U.S. viewers all the action from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park.
With 18-time major winner Chris Evert making her Open debut, ESPN2 will provide 100 hours in high-definition from New York from Aug. 29 through Sept. 11. ESPN2 has averaged a 0.8 rating during each of its first two Opens. For its part, broadband service ESPN3.com plans to serve up 420 hours.
During the first week, ESPN2's coverage will start at 1 p.m. each weekday and continue nonstop for at least 10 hours through the evening sessions. Indeed, Primetime at the US Open presented by IBM, will begin at 7 p.m. and continue until 11 p.m. or when play is concluded, whichever is later. The second week, ESPN2 will see Primetime at the US Open presented by IBM air at 7 p.m. on Labor Day Monday, Sept. 5, followed by day-long windows
Tuesday - Thursday starting at 11 a.m. On Sept. 8, the evening telecast will include a special doubles exhibition with actors Will Ferrell and Matthew Perry and Tennis Hall of Famers John McEnroe and Jim Courier.
All of ESPN2's telecasts are also available online through ESPNnetworks.com, and on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app. Both are accessible to fans who receive their video service from an affiliated provider.
Tennis Channel, meanwhile, is adding Mary Carillo to its on-air lineup for the first time in Flushing Meadows. Tennis will once again deliver its "Grounds Pass" coverage, which has expanded to Court No. 17, from around the site. All told, Tennis, which is building its net for the tournament from 31 million to more than 50 million homes via a freeview with DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T U-verse, has scheduled 236 hours, including 72 devoted to live matches during the fortnight. DirecTV and the telco will be serving up interactive, multicourt views to its subscribers.
Starting with the first match of the tournament Aug. 29, Tennis Channel's typical day of coverage will showcase live matches from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is followed by US Open Tonight at 11 p.m., which alternates with encore matches throughout the late-night and early morning hours. At 6 a.m. Breakfast at the Open introduces the coming day's play and, save for a two-hour encore-match break at 8 a.m., runs up to the first match at 11 a.m.
Labor Day weekend marks the scheduling exception, when the network's live window takes place from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Some Tennis subscribers, whose providers distribute the service through an affiliate contract with the National Cable Television Cooperative, may not get to see its coverage during the second week. The network has reached a new deal for digital-basic carriage with the co-op, whose extant contract expires on Sept. 3. Some distributors, though, may opt not to renew their deals.
As Irene washed away the youthful festivities on Saturday, CBS starts its 44th year of U.S. coverage on Aug. 28 at noon with a 90-minute Best of Arthur Ashe Kids Day telecast. That will be followed at 1:30 p.m. by analysts Carillo, Courier and Johnny Mac sizing up the contenders during the U.S. Open Preview Show. The half-hour telecast will take a look back at the amazing 1991 run by then-39-year-old Jimmy Connors, highlighted by his memorable match versus Aaron Krickstein.
CBS's match coverage begins Saturday, Sept. 3 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. continues in the same time slots on Sunday and Labor Day, before concluding with the men's final on Sept. 11 at 4 p.m. Black Rock, with vice president of production Harold Bryant serving as executive producer, will televise some 37 linear Open hours.
It will also deliver expanded 3D coverage from Arthur Ashe on the first and second weekends, as well as additional enhanced format action from Louis Armstrong Stadium.
When last seen in Queens, Williams, the queen of women's tennis was disqualified for serving an invective toward a lineswoman after she called a foot fault against her versus Kim Clijsters in the 2009 semifinals. The younger Williams sister was then assessed a penalty point for conduct violation, giving the Belgian the match.
After winning Wimbledon in 2010, Serena cut her foot, which required multiple surgeries and then endured a pulmonary embolism. She returned to action this past June and won a couple of U.S. hardcourt titles, before withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio with a bad toe. The same day she was spotted riding a rollercoaster in a nearby amusement park.
Billed by ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe as "the most dangerous 28th seed in U.S. Open history," Williams is viewed by many as the favorite to win her 14th Slam. McEnroe will once again team with brother John in the ESPN2 booth.
With the two-time defending champ Clijsters out with an abdomen injury, Maria Sharapova, who won the event in Cincy; Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, who is scheduled to open matters at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Aug. 29 at 11 a.m.; and Victoria Azarenka, the hard-hitting Belarussian; are said to be the most viable potential victors. However, if form holds, Azarenka will meet Serena in the third round.
Elsewhere, No. 1 Caroline Wonzniacki, who on Saturday ended a disappointing summer by winning her fourth consecutive New Haven title, is still looking for her first major. Last year's runner-up and No. 2 seed Russian Vera Zvonareva; French Open champ Li Na; No. 7 and 2010 French Open champ Francesca Schiavone; No. 8 and quirky Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, who has enjoyed a strong season overall; the enigmatic Aussie, No. 9 seeded Samantha Stosur; and the Germans Andrea Petkovic (No. 10), Julia Goerges (No. 19) and Sabine Lisicki (No. 22), she of the 120-mile-per-hour serve, are also deemed as title threats. Venus Williams, a two-time U.S. Open champion, has played sporadically during an injury-decimated season.
Djokovic brings a regal 57-2 mark and nine titles, including his second and third majors overall at the Australian and Wimbledon, to Queens. He enters the tournament, though, on one of only two down notes on his extraordinary 2011 campaign. The world's No. 1 withdrew from the final of the Western & Southern event on Aug. 21 with an inflamed right shoulder, while down a set and two breaks to Andy Murray. Djokovic insists he'll be fine physically as he looks to improve upon his finalist position from the 2010 event.
Rafael Nadal, the Serb's conqueror in New York a year ago and displaced No. 1, is on the opposite side of the draw. Rafa, the French Open ruler, has lost five finals to Djokovic this year, including the Big W, is looking to defend his title and regain some of his lost luster.
No. 3 and all-time Grand Slam king Roger Federer, on paper, at least remains a threat. The Swiss maestro, who lost to his nemesis Nadal in the final at Roland Garros and Djokovic in the semis in Flushing Meadows last year, is seeking to extend his run of claiming at least one Slam back to 2003. Federer, who fell in the same round in Melbourne, handed Djokovic his first loss of 2011 in the semifinals in Paris.
The No. 4 seed Murray hopes the fourth time -- he lost to Djokovic and Federer in the 2011 and 2010 Australian Open finals, respectively, and in New York to Fed in 2008 -- will be the charm on his quest for his first major. Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, looks to return to that form and fully overcome the wrist injury that cost him virtually all of the 2010 season.
The speedy, counter-punching, fifth-seed David Ferrer, who routed the Rafa Slam in Melbourne, is battling a left hand injury that may compromise his chances to match or surpass his 2007 semifinalist showing in New York. However, hard-hitters No. 6 seed Robin Soderling, No. 9 Tomas Berdych and No. 11 Jo Wilifred Tsonga all have to be afforded a puncher's chance to play deep into the second week. The athletic Gael Monfils (No. 7) could also make a run.
As for the Americans, 2003 champ Andy Roddick has fallen to No. 21 in the world, seven spots ahead of big-serving John Isner, who topped Brooklyn Decker's husband in a memorable 2009 Open match that was switched from CBS to Tennis. Isner, who went on to don the Winston-Salem Open crown yesterday, also beat Roddick in that tourney's semifinal encounter.
Seeded eighth, Mardy Fish, the U.S. Open series winner, is now America's top player and will perform in the opening match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
At press time, the United States Tennis Association said tournament, despite Irene's lashing of the metro area, will begin, as close to 11 a.m. as scheduled, on Aug. 29.