For me, this is the most wonderful time of the year. My favorite sport. My favorite tournament. The tennis world turns its gaze upon New York City and Flushing Meadow as the 2014 United States Open brings the best players in the world to the year’s final Major. Well…I say the best players, but on the men’s side the defending champion, Rafael Nadal, will be absent. On the women’s side the reigning Australian Open champion, Li Na, is also missing. Both are dealing with injuries. Nadal clearly is a threat anywhere and anytime. Li Na is more of a streaky player, although she was off to a great start this year, winning two early titles, before getting bitten by the injury bug. Her history at the US Open hasn’t been stellar, but she did reach a career best semifinal last year. At 32 it’s disappointing to see her lose a chance to add to her career achievements.
The top 4 seeds on the women’s side are Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska. I am not making any predictions concerning who will do what, especially this year. However, here are a few thoughts on each of the quarters.
1 SERENA WILLIAMS
(8 Ana Ivanovic, 11 Flavia Pennetta, 15 Carla Suarez Navarro, 23 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova)
Any quarter with Serena Williams is hers to win or lose. Ana Ivanovic might be the greatest threat, having beaten Serena at the year’s first Major, the Australian Open. But even with that, Serena has won their last 3 meetings including a decisive straight set win in Cincinnati. On the other hand, it must be noted that Serena has not had much success in Majors this year, failing to reach even a quarterfinal. As great as she’s played the summer hard court season, it would be a surprise if she doesn’t end that drought in Flushing Meadow, reaching the quarters and probably more. We might find out a lot with her first round match against Taylor Townsend. A possible dark horse here could be Flavia Pennetta. She reached the semis last year at the US Open and then reached the quarters of the Australian Open earlier this year, another hard court Major. She won Indian Wells earlier this year, taking out Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na, Sloane Stephens and Samantha Stosur along the way. However, she hasn’t played that well since then. Can she find her form at Flushing Meadow?
2 SIMONA HALEP
(5 Maria Sharapova, 10 Caroline Wozniacki, 13 Sara Errani, 18 Andrea Petkovic)
Simona Halep must be tired of seeing Maria Sharapova this year. As great a year as Simona is having, with a career high #2 ranking to go along with 2 titles and a runner-up at Roland Garros, she seems joined at the hip to Masha this year. They’ve played three times, most notably in the Roland Garros final. While Sharapova has won all 3 matches, they have all been tight 3 setters. It seems like Halep is getting close to overcoming Sharapova. They both need to look over their shoulder in this quarter as Caroline Wozniacki has been playing much better tennis since…well, you know what happened. But Caroline has to deal with Magdalena Rybarikova in the first round. Maggie upset Halep last week in New Haven, finishing runner-up to Petra Kvitova. Also lurking in this quarter is the potentially dangerous Venus Williams. It all depends on her health. Another dark horse in this quarter could be the big serving Sabine Lisicki.
3 PETRA KVITOVA
(7 Eugenie Bouchard, 12 Dominika Cibulkova, 16 Victoria Azarenka, 17 Ekaterina Makarova)
We could see a rematch of the Petra Kvitova vs Eugenie Bouchard Wimbledon final if both ladies get through this quarter. I don’t know if that’s really what Genie wants to see right now. Without a doubt, Bouchard has been fantastic in the Majors this year. But aside from picking up her first title in a regular tour event earlier this year, non-Majors have been more of a struggle. Since being thumped by Kvitova in the Wimbledon final, Genie has only won 1 match. She lost her first match in Montreal and Cincinnati as well as her second match in New Haven. Some players prefer the bright lights and biggest stages. Genie seems to be one of those. Maybe she’ll find her mojo at the US Open. The big unknown is what kind of Victoria Azarenka will show up. In a year almost lost to one injury after another, Vika will have to fight to reach her third straight US Open final. If she were healthy and match-tough, Vika would be the second pick to Serena to win this event. As it stands, the top ranked player in this quarter is the enormously talented but wildly inconsistent Petra Kvitova. It would not surprise me if she won the US Open, nor would it surprise me if she lost in the first round. If Petra does win, adding the US Open to her Wimbledon win this year, it could mark the beginning of a new era of dominance from a player the tennis world has been waiting on to reach her true potential.
4 AGNIESZKA RADWANKSA
(6 Angelique Kerber, 9 Jelena Jankovic, 14 Lucie Safarova, 21 Sloane Stephens)
The Agnieszka Radwanska quarter features three top players (Aga, Angelique Kerber and Jelena Jankovic) who don’t overpower players but have tremendous craft and guile in their style. This could be the part of the draw with the most creative shot-making. But is that enough to win a Major? The last four Major winners (Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Serena Williams) all have the power to win free points when they are playing their B or C games. They don’t need to be near-perfect to get through 7 matches at a Major. I have so much respect for Aga, Angie and Jeca…but I have to see them win a Major before I believe. Aga and Jeca have made the final of a Major, but you need 7 wins, not 6. Lucie Safarova is a real threat in this quarter, as is Sloane Stephens. And don’t forget about the only player to beat Serena Williams twice this year, Alize Cornet.
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VARIOUS PRE-US OPEN EVENTS
1 SERENA WILLIAMS
2 SIMONA HALEP
3 AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA
5 MARIA SHARAPOVA
7 EUGENIE BOUCHARD