The U.S. Open: Are you being served?

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I look forward to the end of summer every year — cooler weather sets in, school supplies go on sale, and

dozens of women with serious balls (tennis balls, that is) descend upon Queens to play in the final Grand Slam event of the season, the U.S. Open.

Although the crowd at the top is sadly out-lesbian-free this year (get well,

Amelie!),

there’s nothing else sad about it: Powerful players and no hands-down favorite should make for a terrific tournament.

If you’re a tennis fan, you’re probably as excited as I am — and if you’re not, take a gander at these phenoms and you just might change your mind.

No. 1, Justine Henin (Belgium)

Her size can be misleading, but her stats aren’t — 2003 U.S. Open champ Henin is the world No. 1 for good reason. As a Mauresmo fan, I

feel that I shouldn’t root for Henin on principle, and since she is the top seed a win may be anticlimactic, but she’s so much fun to watch that I won’t be

disappointed if we see her for the full two weeks.

No. 2, Maria Sharapova (Russia)

Returning champion and world No. 2 Sharapova will either reach the final or suffer an upset — she lucked out this year as the only favored seed in her bracket.

A little unfair, perhaps, but the 6’1″ powerhouse may well have screamed her way past higher-ranked opponents if given the chance. She relies a lot on confidence,

and although her recent game hasn’t been up to par (am I allowed to mix metaphors like that?) she can look at her 2006 crown for a boost.

No. 5, Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)

Ivanovic has climbed from No. 14 to No. 5 this year, reaching her first Grand Slam final by surpassing

Sharapova during the French Open semis. I would be absolutely thrilled to see her take the whole thing, and not just because that would result in lots of photos to gaze at

admiringly (although c’mon, that would be a rather delicious bonus).

No. 12, Venus Williams (USA)

She has 128 miles-per-hour serves. 128 mph! Is there more to say about this half of the Williams juggernaut? A lot, but I’ll just observe that despite Venus’ long stretch of time off

coming into the Open, it would be crazy to discount her after her stunning Wimbledon win earlier this year.

These may be my favorites (to watch, to win, or both), but there are plenty of other players on the scene:

No. 3, Jelena Jankovic (Serbia)

No. 4, Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia)

No. 9, Serena Williams (USA)

No. 15, Nicole Vaidisova (Czech Republic)

Watch all the gorgeous action on the USA network, with weekend coverage on CBS; check to see

when your favorites are playing at

USOpen.org. Who’s everyone out there rooting for?

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