By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, August 27, 2020
No. 9-seeded Johanna Konta faces fellow Briton Heather Watson in her US Open opener.
Photo credit: @CincyTennis Western @ Southern Open
The US Open bubble offers a world of opportunity for elite women.
The USTA conducted the draw at noon today and though it wasn’t televised the US Open women’s draw presents an intriguing picture.
Our Top 10 Takeaways here:
Serena’s Trek to History
Twenty-one years ago a 17-year-old Serena Williams, clad in a canary-colored Puma dress, topped world No. 1 Martina Hingis to capture her first Grand Slam title at the 1999 US Open.
Gearing up for her 20th US Open appearance, Williams is playing for her record seventh US Open title to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slams.
The third-seeded Serena’s draw is challenging, but manageable. Williams opens against Flushing native Kristie Ahn, who reached the fourth round last year while doing her laundry at her parents’ nearby home.
The 38-year-old Serena could face 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, who has been struggling, in round three followed by a potential fourth-round rematch with Maria Sakkari, who knocked Williams out of the Western & Southern Open after the former No.1 failed to close out a 7-5, 5-2 lead.
All five matches Serena’s played since tennis resumed have gone the three-set distance.
While Serena looks fit, battles hard, shows flashes of explosiveness and she can still bring the heat on first serve, her inability to close tight matches is a question mark that weighs on her mind—and gives added hope to opponents who won’t have to deal with the 23,000-plus Serena fans inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Can the 38-year-old mom, who has lost four straight major finals, string together seven victories against younger opposition?
Karolina Pliskova: One Direction
Top-seeded Karolina Pliskova is one of seven former world No. 1 players in the singles field—and the only one yet to win a Grand Slam.
In 2016, the powerful Pliskova toppled Sofia Kenin, Venus Williams and Serena Williams then pushed Angelique Kerber to three sets in the US Open final before bowing.
Pliskova has a favorable draw—her first potential seeded opponent is Lexington champion Jennifer Brady and the next highest seed in her quarter is No. 8-seeded Petra Martic—but struggled to land her second serve in her Western & Southern Open first-round loss. Though Pliskova’s searing serve and flat forehand should play well on the fast US Open courts, when she’s tight there’s little margin for error, her shots can expire in net and confidence can go kablooey.
“[Pliskova] is the most unpredictable of the top players,” Tennis Channel analyst and Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova said. “She hasn’t come through in the majors and she knows it. The longer that goes on, the more the pressure goes…
“The only way to stop those questions is to win, and you know that.”
Naomi Osaka Statement Slam
Two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka moved many by opting out of the W&S Open semifinals originally scheduled for Thursday to show support for racial justice after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old African American man, was shot seven times in the back by a white Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer.
Osaka will be under the spotlight—and for her aggressive baseline game should play well next week. The 2018 US Open champion went on a nine-game run conquering Anett Kontaveit in a W&S Open quarterfinal comeback.
If Osaka can impose her first-serve, first-strike pattern and drive the ball down the line with conviction she should go deep in the draw. Osaka opens vs. fellow Japanese Misaki Doi, could face 31st-seeded Anastasija Sevastova in round three and if the seeds hold true to form Osaka would play sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals that would be a rematch of the 2019 Australian Open final.
Late Arriving Champions
Both three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber and two-time major winner Garbiñe Muguruza are two of the elite players who opted to skip this week’s Western & Southern Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and still play the US Open.
The 26-year-old Muguruza has contested quarterfinals or better at all five tournaments she’s played this season. At the Australian Open, Muguruza scored straight-sets wins over four straight seeds—Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Simona Halep—before bowing to Sofia Kenin in the Melbourne final.
Muguruza, who opens vs. Nao Hibino, has struggled in New York, including a first-round loss to Alison Riske last year.
Kerber, the 2016 US Open champion, should find the fast court and low bounce conducive to her lefty counterstrikes. Given the 23rd-ranked German hasn’t played since her Australian Open fourth-round loss to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova it’s tough to know what level she will bring. Kerber has reunited with coach Torben Beltz, who coached her during her rise to world No. 1, and takes on Ajla Tomljanovic in the first round.
3 Sleepers To Watch
We’re defining sleepers as players outside the Top 10 seeds:
(16) Elise Mertens—US Open doubles champion reached the Prague final on red clay then bounced back to make the W&S Open final four on hard courts. A smart, all-court player, with a flair for finesse and angles, Mertens opens German Laura Siegemund.
(11) Elena Rybakina—The 21-year-old power player reached four finals in her first six tournaments posting a 21-4 record (two losses to world No. 1 Ash Barty and one to No. 2 Simona Halep) before Coronavirus stopped the sport.
(28) Jennifer Brady—True, the former UCLA standout was crushed by top-seeded Karolina Pliskova, her potential third-round opponent, in their lone prior meeting at the 2017 US Open. But Brady is much fitter, stronger and more confident these days after capturing her first WTA title in Lexington.
Former Grand Slam champions Kim Clijsters, Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams all face dangerous draws.
Azarenka, who played Venus Williams in her Lexington opener and has looked sharp in the Western & Southern Open, could meet fifth-seeded compatriot Aryna Sabalenka in a Belarusian battle in round two.
If Clijsters, who withdrew from the W&S Open with an abdominal strain she sustained in WTT beats 21st-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in her Open return the Hall of Famer could face fellow Belgian Elise Mertens, a W&S Open semifinalist and US Open doubles champion, in round three.
Forty-year-old Venus faces a tough opponent in 20th-seeded Karolina Muchova in round one with the winner potentially playing No. 9-seeded Johanna Konta in round three.
Fast Track Helps Heavy Hitters
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic says the new Laykold US Open courts are playing “20 to 30 percent faster.”
Who does the fast track help?
It should benefit assertive baseliners who can take offense from the first strike—top-seeded Karolina Pliskova, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova and ninth-seeded Johanna Konta—to name a few. Serena enjoyed the added benefit of installing the same surface in her backyard court earlier this year and may have more experience on the new surface than anyone else.
Will We See a Maiden Major Champion?
If recent history holds, it’s quite possible the woman holding the US Open silverware on the final Saturday will be a first-time Slam champion.
Eight of the last 12 women’s Grand Slam champions were first-time winners, including 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, 2019 Roland Garros Champ Ashleigh Barty and 2018 US Open winner Naomi Osaka.
Six of the world’s Top 10-ranked women did not make the trip to New York offering Open opportunity for the players here.
First-Rounders To Watch
Coco Gauff vs. (31) Anastasija Sevastova
Danielle Collins vs. (14) Anett Kontaveit
(20) Karolina Muchova vs. Venus Williams
(WC) Kim Clijsters vs. (21) Ekaterina Alexandrova
Leylah Fernandez vs. Vera Zvonareva
(9) Johanna Konta vs. Heather Watson
Oddschecker lists Naomi Osaka as a 4 to 1 favorite to win her second US Open crown in the last three years followed by Serena Williams (9 to 2), Karolina Pliskova (11 to 1), Petra Kvitova (12 to 1) and Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza, who are both 14 to 1.