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Winning Is Federer’s Style, After a Fashion

Times Staff Writer

Roger Federer of Switzerland wasn’t in the interview room at the U.S. Open on Saturday when Serena Williams posed for pictures with her not-so-ready-for-prime-time dog, Jackie, or when top-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia revealed it took nine months to develop her just-launched perfume with the oh-so-ingenious name, “Maria Sharapova.” He didn’t need to be.

The No. 1-seeded men’s player and defending U.S. Open champion’s off-court alertness is on a par with his sublime awareness between the lines. He knows divas wear Prada and don’t mind talking about it.

“In men’s tennis, it’s still the game that counts more,” said Federer, the two-time Wimbledon champion. “Maybe women’s [tennis], it’s sometimes a little bit more of their personality. Obviously, they’re more sexy, let’s say, they show more skin, all these sort of things, and they talk about more than that actually than their forehand and backhand.

“We’ve been asked much more about, ‘What’s your preparation? How’s your backhand doing?’ I get one question about fashion, basically. That’s how it goes with us. But I think that’s how it should be, to be honest.”

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That set up the natural follow-up from one reporter: “How’s your perfume?”

“Perfume is still there,” he said, laughing, of his own line, “RF-Roger Federer.”

Welcome to the yearly merging of sport and celebrity at the U.S. Open, usually a happy coexistence in New York for the better part of two weeks. But it’s also where a casual comment turns into a tabloid headline or an off-the-cuff riff on a website starts a battle of the sexes.

Justin Gimelstob’s blog entry on Friday for SI.com was like rolling a verbal grenade into the women’s locker room. He ripped the WTA, writing: “As dysfunctional as the men’s tour is, the women’s tour blows it away.” He also predicted that it would soon resemble women’s volleyball with bikinis being the next logical step.

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Of course, Gimelstob didn’t need to say beach volleyball.

Lindsay Davenport, who will retake the No. 1 ranking today, had a few choice words with Gimelstob, who happens to be the boyfriend of her close friend and occasional doubles partner, Corina Morariu. “I thought it was a waste of time,” Davenport said to reporters when asked about the blog Sunday.

This was one day after Davenport won her 48th career title, defeating Amelie Mauresmo of France in the final at New Haven, Conn.

More important, her back survived several difficult tests in her first tournament in about a month, including playing three consecutive days. Davenport had injured her lower back during the Wimbledon final against Venus Williams and since had been limited to playing five games before stopping in her opening match at Palo Alto last month.

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Sisters Venus and Serena Williams come to New York with even less match preparation. Venus lost to Kim Clijsters in the Palo Alto final and has not played an event since because of the flu and fatigue. Still, she was reported to have been working hard in practice earlier this month with USTA coaches at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

Serena’s left ankle injury has continued to cloud her season. It occurred in April and carried through the summer, apparently having an impact on her creaky knee. She has played one match since losing to Jill Craybas in the third round at Wimbledon, playing one round at Toronto and pulling out.

“I’m moving much better,” she said. “I’m obviously not moving as well as I normally do, but I’m almost there. Hopefully, I’ll pick up steam later on in the second week.”

Unfortunately for Serena, older sister Venus could be standing in the way at the start of the second week, in the fourth round, an unpalatable proposition for the sisters. They had been on course to play in the fourth round at Wimbledon before Serena’s lack of fitness and match play was exposed against Craybas.

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There’s another difference from Wimbledon. Here, they are in the same quarter of the draw as the fourth-seeded Clijsters, who is playing the best tennis of her career, winning three of her last four tournaments.

Also in the same half of the draw are Sharapova and 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. Sharapova’s best showing here was reaching the third round last year. She will face Eleni Daniilidou of Greece tonight in the first round. Daniilidou, like almost all the women, is coming off an injury, having sprained her left ankle in Carson.

The fifth-seeded Kuznetsova, hit with a double dose of mental doubt and an aching back, is one of the shakiest defending Grand Slam champions since Iva Majoli returned to the French Open in 1998. Kuznetsova has not gone past the fourth round in three tournaments since Wimbledon.

On the men’s side, Federer is in the same half of the draw as third-seeded Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, who has not defeated Federer in their last eight meetings. Fifth-seeded Marat Safin was in that half of the draw too, but he withdrew Sunday because of an injured knee.

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The other side of the draw appears tougher with second-seeded Rafael Nadal of Spain, fourth-seeded Andy Roddick and seventh-seeded Andre Agassi.

Roddick opens against left-hander Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, a finalist against Agassi at Los Angeles, and in the second round could face Robby Ginepri, who defeated him at Indianapolis.

For a seeded player, No. 32 Greg Rusedski of Britain seemed to have received one of the roughest opening matches. He will play wild card James Blake, who has returned to form in recent weeks, culminating with a victory in the final at New Haven on Sunday against Feliciano Lopez of Spain.

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Featured matches

Today at the U.S. Open:

TV: USA Network, 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

DAY SESSION

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* Serena Williams (8) vs. Yung-Jan Chan, Taiwan

* Bobby Reynolds vs. Rafael Nadal (2), Spain

* Venus Williams (10) vs. Rika Fujiwara, Japan

* Jan-Michael Gambill vs. Nicolas Massu, Chile

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* Kim Clijsters (4), Belgium, vs. Martina Muller, Germany

* Ekaterina Bychkova, Russia, vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (5), Russia

* Mardy Fish vs. Ivo Karlovic, Croatia

NIGHT SESSION

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* Maria Sharapova (1), Russia, vs. Eleni Daniilidou, Greece

* Andre Agassi (7) vs. Razvan Sabau, Romania


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