If Minnesota Nice is the favored descriptor for the people and culture in the Land of Lakes, then let me suggest a contrasting label -- New York Hard -- for life in the Big Apple.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the biggest tennis tournament in America held in the biggest city in America would be any different. Indeed, the U.S. Open is hard, very hard.

The court surface is hard and jarring to the body. The timing is hard as the final major in a long season. The conditions are hard in the late-summer sun. The schedule is hard with late-night matches and the semifinals and final being played back-to-back. The city is hard with congestion and crowds. Even the venue is hard, all concrete and steel.

And this year, the U.S. Open will be even harder.

In normal years, players would have seven weeks after Wimbledon to get some rest and then rev up for the arduous hard-court season.

But this year, smack dab in the middle of those seven weeks, a "fifth major" was played in London -- at the Olympics. If you thought the Triple Crown of horse racing goes snap-snap-snap, then maybe this summer's tennis tour goes snap-crackle-pop ... fall over. When you throw in the Olympics, players never had more than three weeks between majors beginning with the French Open.

That must be how Spain's Rafael Nadal is feeling right about now having fallen over, so to speak, with a bum knee that caused him to pull out of the Olympics and the U.S. Open.

It's a pity as the men's game has been parity personified this year with the top four players each winning one major -- Novak Djokovic Down Under, Nadal at Roland Garros, Roger Federer at Wimbledon and Andy Murray garnering Olympic gold and glory in his home country. The story line on Super Saturday in New York was setting up to be all symmetrical, but now it reads like a question from Mensa: "Which of the three will get two?"

A good case can be made for any of the trio -- Federer has resurged to No. 1 and would relish a sixth Open win; Djokovic's best surface is hard court and he's eager to defend his title after disappointments in Paris and London; and Murray has broken the major barrier and now more will surely come. Add a couple of spoilers to the mix such as Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champ who is starting to regain full form after injury, and American giant John Isner, ranked No. 10 and having a good summer, and you have an extra-interesting fortnight ahead.

On the ladies side, the answer to one question will determine who wins the title: "Which Serena Williams will show up in New York?" The Serena who bowed out early in Melbourne and Paris or the one who dominated at Wimbledon and the Olympics?

The three seeded above her -- Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka, Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska and French Open winner Maria Sharapova -- have all played well this year, but if Serena is fresh, motivated and executing (and not berating on-court officials as she has done in previous years to her own harm), she will likely win a fourth U.S. Open championship.

But not only is it never easy in New York, it is always hard. One glance over the serenity and soft courts at the All England Club or Roland Garros elicits a primal urge to get out there for a dive or a slide. Not so much in Flushing. Except for the most urban among us, the U.S. Open will always be a hard place to play ... but a great place to win.

Minnesotan David Wheaton won the U.S. Open junior title in 1987, and then as a pro reached the 1990 quarterfinals of singles, falling in four sets to John McEnroe. David is now a radio host and author. Find out more at davidwheaton.com.