Women’s Look Forward: US Open

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Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.

Women’s Look Forward: US Open

No, we don’t know if anyone can beat Serena either.

It almost seems useless to do a US Open preview this year. All people are talking about is Serena Williams and her quest for the calendar year Grand Slam. If she weren’t going for the Grand Slam, she would be so obviously a favorite that it would hardly even bear discussion. But the thing Serena cares about most of all is Slams. Will that add to the pressure on her? And will she be able to respond?

Looked at the other way, who can beat her? The #2 seed is Simona Halep. She has dramatically improved her hardcourt game this year. But she hasn’t done much to threaten Serena.

The #3 seed, in Serena’s half, is Maria Sharapova. But she doesn’t beat Serena — ever, on anything. And, with that so-called serve of hers, hardcourt isn’t likely to be a good surface for her; there are simply too many big returners who can make her pay for the fact that she no longer has much velocity and hasn’t found a way to replace it with variety.

Caroline Wozniacki is seeded #4, but she’ll come in tired and she hasn’t looked especially good in her finals here. And Serena will know how to deal with her if it comes to that.

The #5 seed, in Wozniacki’s quarter, is Petra Kvitova. She has the tools; she has beaten Serena this year. But she’s sick. To win the title would require her to have seven good days. What are the odds?

Seeded #6, in Halep’s quarter, is Lucie Safarova. She is having the best year of her career, but… winning a Slam?

Ana Ivanovic is #7; she’s in Sharapova’s quarter. She has proved she can win a Slam — but that was long ago. This year, she seems to be making quarterfinals and semifinals at everything — and not doing more. Like Kvitova, she seems much too likely to have that One Bad Day.

The #8 seed is Karolina Pliskova, and even though she is having a great year, she’s struggling right now, and she almost certainly plays more than is good for her, and she has yet to win a really big title. And she’ll catch Serena in the quarterfinal — late enough that Serena will have worked her way into form; early enough that Serena probably won’t be nervous. Doesn’t sound good.

So there really aren’t any obvious candidates to beat Serena, unless she beats herself. Unless someone can wear her down?

It does’t look all that likely. Her first round is easy. In the second, she’ll likely face Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Lucic-Baroni had a great year here last year, but she seems to have good weeks only about three or four weeks a year. So less than one chance in ten that she’ll threaten Serena. In the third round, Serena would face #29 Sloane Stephens (or maybe CoCo Vandeweghe or Bethanie Mattek-Sands) — but Stephens seems to have lost some of her Slam magic this year. In the fourth, Serena is up against #15 Agnieszka Radwanska or #29 Madison Keys. Keys may be the bigger threat; Radwanska has been struggling, plus she faces her sister Urszula in round two, and that tends to get her steamed.

The quarterfinal may be more interesting, because Karolina Pliskova faces some pretty serious threats. Not in the first few rounds, to be sure; the first seed she would face is #31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. But it’s the fourth rund that’s interesting, because her possible opponents are #12 Belinda Bencic, the player who handed Serena her most recent loss, or Serena’s sister Venus, seeded #23. That Bencic/Venus third round could be very interesting — and the winner looks like a good bet to face Serena in the quarterfinal.

#2 Halep also has a pretty good draw; her first two rounds are easy, and she faces #27 Alize Cornet in the third. Cornet was Serena’s nemesis last year, but there aren’t many things Cornet does better than Halep; that doesn’t look like a good match-up for Cornet at all. Then would come #14 Timea Bacsinszky, or #24 Sabine Lisicki, or maybe Camila Giorgi — tough opponents all, but none of them have that special skill that could beat Halep. Here again, the quarterfinal could be more interesting, because Safarova has a tough, tough draw — first red-hot Lesia Tsurenko, then maybe Varvara Lepchenko. Her third round, against #28 Irina-Camelia Begu, isn’t bad, but then comes either #11 Angelique Kerber, one of the trickiest players out there, or #20 Victoria Azarenka, one of the strongest. Azarenka, Kerber, and Safarova are all genuine candidates for the quarterfinal, and any one of them could be trouble for Halep.

#3 Sharapova might get pushed from the very beginning; she opens against Daria Gavrilova, who has been having a great year. In the third round, she’s supposed to face #30 Svetlana Kuznetsova — which sounds bad, but Kuznetsova has been a shadow of herself this year and could well lose her opener to Kristina Mladenovic. The fourth round would see Sharapova face either #13 Ekaterina Makarova — a semifinalist last year, but one who has been out for weeks — or #17 Elina Svitolina, who has been having a great year but still doesn’t have much history at big events. Then comes Ivanovic — and it really does look as if it will be Ivanovic, because the other seeds in that section are #10 Carla Suarez Navarro (who still prefers other surfaces), #21 Jelena Jankovic (struggling to go deep at events this year), and #25 Eugenie Bouchard (you know about that one…). Nor are there a lot of tough unseeded players there — Roberta Vinci and Zarina Diyas and Dominika Cibulkova are in there, but none of them are in good form right now, and Cibulkova must be exhausted after New Haven.

That leaves #4 Wozniacki. Can she set up a rematch with Serena? Her early rounds are good, and the first seed she would face is #26 Flavia Pennetta, who hasn’t done much lately. Next would be #16 Sara Errani or #22 Samantha Stosur — and although both have had good results here (including a title for Stosur), Errani is too apt to be overwhelmed and Stosur is too apt to be Stosur. Then, in the quarterfinal, she’s supposed to face #5 Kvitova (sick) or #9 Muguruza (in a real funk on hardcourts) or maybe #18 Andrea Petkovic or #32 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (playing the best tennis of her life, but seeded at a Slam for the first time). Nor are there any obvious unseeded threats in there. It’s anyone’s guess who will come out of Kvitova’s quarter; in any case, she seems unlikely to threaten Wozniacki. Maybe that Serena/Wozniacki rematch isn’t so unlikely after all….

The Rankings

It looks as if Halloween will come early this year. At least, we’ll see a lot of players turn into pumpkins this week.

Our informal list: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who last year made the US Open Round of Sixteen and then won Quebec City (remember, because of calendar shift, not only is the US Open coming off in this fortnight, but also the events immediately after — Quebec City, Tashkent, and Hong Kong). Aleksandra Krunic, who like Lucic-Baroni qualified for the Open and made the fourth round. Peng Shuai, who made the Open semifinal — and retired from that match; it seems as if she has never been the same since. Kaia Kanepi, who made the Open fourth round and also has been mostly hurt since. Shelby Rogers, a Quebec City semifinalist. Bojana Jovanovski, the Tashkent finalist. Nigina Abduraimova, a Tashkent semifinalist. And Francesca Schiavone, a Hong Kong semifinalist.

Others with a lot on the line, but a bit more rankings cushion, include US Open champion Serena Williams and finalist Caroline Wozniacki. In addition to Peng, Ekaterina Makarova was a semifinalist. Making the quarterfinal were Flavia Pennetta, Victoria Azarenka, Belinda Bencic, and Sara Errani. Out in the Round of Sixteen, in addition to Lucic-Baroni and the others, were Casey Dellacqua, Eugenie Bouchard, Jelena Jankovic, Lucie Safarova, and Maria Sharapova.

The finalist at Quebec City last year was Venus Williams; Julia Goerges was the other semifinalist. Karin Knapp won Tashkent; Lesia Tsurenko was a semifinalist as a qualifier. Sabine Lisicki won Hong Kong, over Karolina Pliskova; Alison van Uytvanck was the second semifinalist.

Of the rest of the Top Fifteen, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suarez Navarro, and Angelique Kerber lost in the third round of the US Open; Ana Ivanovic, Timea Bacsinszky, and Agnieszka Radwanska lost in the second round; and Garbine Muguruza lost her opener.

It isn’t going to matter to Serena. She’ll be #1 no matter what. And it really looks as if Halep and Sharapova will stay #2 and #3 in some order. Which order? They come in pretty close together, but Sharapova has a bit more to defend. She’ll need to add several hundred more points than Halep to regain the #2 spot; that means she’ll need at least one more, and probably two more, wins.

Petra Kvitova, because she has so little to defend and Wozniacki has so much, is a very good bet to reach #4. She has a mathematical chance at #3, or even #2 (the only player with such a shot), but only with a title plus cooperation from Halep and Sharapova.

That’s four Top Five spots. Who gets the other one? Wozniacki, Safarova, and Ivanovic are very close together in safe points, and Pliskova not too far behind. Odds are that the one who lasts longest will be #5.

Those eight (Serena, Halep, Sharapova, Kvitova, Wozniacki, Safarova, Ivanovic, and Pliskova) look safe in the Top Ten. That leaves two spots, currently held be Muguruza and Suarez Navarro. Neither Spaniard has much to defend, but neither does #11 Kerber. Given that #12 Bencic and #13 Makarova do have big points on the line, odds are that the last two Top Ten spots will go either to Muguruza, Suarez Navarro, or Kerber. Bencic runs a slight risk of losing her Top Fifteen spot; Makarova might end up in the #20 range.

We don’t even want to think about Peng. She is still hurting and isn’t in the draw, and she’s already down to #38; it appears she’ll end up around #105. Lucic-Baroni could be around there, too. Krunic too could fall out of the Top Hundred.

Copyright © 2015. No duplication is permitted without permission from Bob Larson Tennis.