A Thorough Analysis & Predictions: 2019 US Open Women’s Singles

A year ago, entering the US Open, I wrote about how the stakes were as high as ever for the usual suspects on the WTA Tour.

Serena was seeking to tie Margaret Court’s elusive record by claiming her first Grand Slam post-pregnancy. Maria Sharapova was attempting to redeem herself following her doping suspension. Halep was looking to cement herself as the undisputed leader of a tour increasingly defined by parity. Former Grand Slam Champions Kerber, Kvitova, and Muguruza were seeking to re-establish themselves amongst the game’s elite.

After one revolution around the sun, many of these narratives remain intact. If anything, several new wrinkles have arrived.

Firstly, we’ve got the arrivals of several newcomers, led by World No. 1 & 2, Naomi Osaka & Ashleigh Barty who enter this year’s championships with the experience of lifting Grand Slam hardware.  Furthermore, we’ve got the likes of even younger WTA rookies Bianca Andreescu and Sofia Kenin knocking on the door to the podium. Last, but not least, we’ve got the cloud of last year’s final hanging over the entire tournament.

Enough of introductions. Let’s dive deep into the matchups that the draw gods have given us.

First Quarter

20180908 Serena Williams v Naomi Osaka - Day 13
September 8, 2018 – Naomi Osaka in action against Serena Williams in the women’s singles final at the 2018 US Open.

If Naomi Osaka is feeling any nerves heading into her first attempt at defending a Grand Slam title (or any achiness in her knee for that matter), her draw is exactly the kind that could expose those anxieties.

Entering the first title defense of her career, earlier this year, at Indian Wells, Naomi threw the pressure off, explaining that she didn’t perceive the task as a title “defense” but more as an opportunity to win another title. However, after bowing out in the quarterfinals to Belinda Bencic, she admitted to feeling nervous.

Crippling anxiety has been a recurring theme for the young Japanese this season. After bowing out early in Madrid (again, to Belinda Bencic–take note), Naomi explained that the desire to secure top seeding at Roland Garros got to her. Even after claiming the top position, her nerves attributed to her sputtering loss to Katerina Siniakova in the third round of Paris. In her post-match presser, she explained that she has been thinking too much about “the calendar-year Grand Slam…

If we’ve learned anything in the past year, it is that Naomi holds only the highest of expectations for herself. While these expectations give her the motivation necessary to reach the pinnacle of the sport, they can also send her reeling for months on end.

In an open letter to fans before the North American hardcourt swing, Naomi claimed to have rediscovered a love for the sport. Judging solely from her on-court demeanor in Toronto and Cincinnati this seems to be true. This revelation becomes all the more interesting when you consider the fact that last year Naomi penned a similar letter before pummeling her way through the field at Flushing Meadows.

However, this year, the situation is much different. Naomi is a two-time Grand Slam champion, World No. 1, and the uncomfortable circumstances of last year’s certainly linger.

Furthermore, Naomi’s draw pits her against many in-form players who will be swinging freely. Her first round opponent, Anna Blinkova, recently reached the quarterfinals of New York’s other tournament, the NYJTL Bronx Open, claiming a bagel set versus the tournament’s top seed, Wang Qiang, before taking a bow. In the second round, she could face Magda Linette, who, at the time of writing this article, is slated to play in the final of the Bronx Open on Saturday. Beyond that, she could face the tour’s newest superstar, Coco Gauff, in round three and if she is to move on to the fourth round she could face the player who has repeatedly had her number this season, Belinda Bencic. Also lurking in her section are Marie Bouzkova (recent Cincinnati semifinalist), Julia Pegula (2019 Washington, D.C. champion), and Annett Kontaveit, who recently beat Maria Sharapova in a three-set thriller and pushed Ash Barty to the brink last week.

The bottom half of this quarter is helmed by Kiki Bertens, who has firmly entrenched herself in the Top 10 after surging into the game’s elite at the tail end of last year. However, the only blemish on the Dutchwoman’s resume in the past year has been a deep run at a slam. She seemed primed to make a deep run in Paris only to be sabotaged by an untimely gastrointestinal virus. Unfortunately, her preparation for Open has been less-than-ideal, posting a 1-2 record on North American hardcourts (losing to Bianca Andreescu and Venus Williams respectively). However, her draw is more than manageable with the strongest competition she will have to face being slumping No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka who takes on former two-time US Open Finalist, Viktoria Azarenka in the first round.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Bertens

Second Quarter

Halep

The second quarter provides two of the more interesting sections of the draw.

The top half is led by fourth seed, recent Wimbledon champion, and Romanian superstar, Simona Halep, and is bookended by breakout sensation, 2019 Rogers Cup Champion, and Romanian-born Canadian, Bianca Andreescu.

Despite retiring in her quarterfinal match against Marie Bouzkova in Toronto, due to an Achilles injury, Simona looked to be playing near her highest level during her titanic tussle against eventual Champion, Madison Keys, in Cincinnati.

She’s got the draw to make the second week, however, lying in wait will likely be Bianca Andreescu. Bianca will be riding a surge of momentum following her second seemingly out-of-nowhere run this year, claiming the title in Toronto and defeating the likes of Kiki Bertens, Karolina Pliskova, and Serena Williams in the process.

Ironically. it was after a hitting practice with Simona Halep in Toronto in 2017 that the young Canadian gained the confidence necessary to pursue a career in the sport (and look how successful that has already turned out). Should the Halep-Andreescu match up come to pass, it will be interesting to see who emerges the victor. It could signify the limits to Bianca’s potential (if she has any). Destiny seems to be on her side, but logic tells me that Simona still has the edge in that matchup.

While the top half is dominated by two marquee headliners, the bottom is an ultimate duke-out. With

It is led by fourth seed and recent Wimbledon champion, Simona Halep and is bookended by a section containing five grand slam champions with eight Grand Slam titles between them. Sloane Stephens. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbiñe Muguruza. Only one will make the fourth round. The projected prize for the sole survivor of the bloodbath? A date with Petra Kvitova.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Simona Halep

Third Quarter

US Open Pliskova.jpg

Eagerly seeking to remove herself from the WTA’s shortlist of slamless No. 1’s, Karolina Pliskova leads this quarter of the draw. While the Czech’s big serve and booming groundstrokes make her a logical pick to win Wimbledon, the US Open has been the site of her biggest success. In 2016, she reached the Final by beating the sisters Willams in succession and seemed poised to raise the trophy before Kerber’s forehand down-the-line turned the tide of the match. In the ensuing years, she’s reached two quarterfinals and looks to build upon a solid season in New York.

Karolina leads the WTA’s hardcourt power rankings and she has a manageable draw. Nearby Karolina’s name on the drawsheet are Bernarda Pera and Jamie Brady, players who have experienced recent success during the Summer hardcourt swing. Additionally, she could face former Top 10 player Carolina Garcia, reigning French Open open Finalist Marketa Vondrousova, 2011 US Open Champion Sam Stosur, or a resurgent Johana Konta.

The other half of this section is led by recent Wimbledon semifinalist Elina Svitolina. However, her draw can be considered brutal at best. She opens against junior standout Whitney Osuigwe and could have to face the likes of Venus Williams, San Jose Champion Zheng Saisai, gold-medalist Monica Puig or big-hitting rookie Dayana Yastremska. The other side of this section lies recent Cincinnati champion and former US Open finalist, Madison Keys, and Sofia Kenin who made back-to-back Premier Mandatory semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Karolina Pliskova

Fourth Quarter

Serena Sharapova.jpg

While the fourth and final quarter is led by No. 2 seed, reigning Roland Garros Champion and recent World No. 1, Ashleigh Barty, all attention in this section falls upon the titanic match-up of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

With twenty-eight Major titles between them, the duo remains the tour’s premier rivalry (albeit a one-sided one) even fifteen hours after the first matchup. Their first-round face-off will undoubtedly sell out Arthur Ashe.

While Serena is coming off of back-to-back finals at Wimbledon and the Rogers Cup, Sharapova is coming into the match with a 2-3 record since returning to tour from injury in Mallorca. However, despite all signs pointing to an outright beatdown, I think this match might be Maria’s best chance to beat Serena in fifteen years. Serena enters the match with a bad back and boatloads of pressure given the circumstances of last year’s final whereas Sharapova has nothing to lose. While I don’t think Sharapova has the form or fitness to win the tournament, I think she’s got the hunger necessary to exploit any and all nerves Serena might face upon returning to Ashe for the first time since “the incident”.

Beyond Serena & Maria, spoilers include the crafty Su-Wei Hsieh, giant-killer Karolina Muchova, 2018 semifinalist Anastasia Sevastova (who seemed to crumble under the pressure of being ten points away from attaining a Top 10 ranking in recent weeks), and former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.

Flying under the radar is Ashleigh Barty, who only weeks ago was the No. 1 ranked player in the world. In-form players she could face include Camila Giorgi (recent Washington, D.C. and Bronx Open finalist), Maria Sakkari (who has secured three top 10 wins in as many weeks), and a resurgent Lauren Davis. Also sitting in this section is 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, however, she seems to be out of sorts since returning to bottoming out in the second round of Wimbledon.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Ashleigh Barty

SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS

Halep d. Bertens

Pliskova d. Barty

 

FINAL PREDICTIONS

Halep d. Pliskova

A Thorough Analysis and Predictions: Australian Open Women’s Singles

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While the tennis off-season is the shortest of nearly all professional sports, for the avid tennis fanatic, those ten weeks can feel unbearably long. I’m sure the players feel otherwise, with only a couple weeks to rehab their bodies before they resume their training. Nonetheless, the dust has finally cleared and the players are ready to vie for Grand Slam Glory once again.

Since my last preview, it feels like many of the storylines we’ll watch unfold during the fortnight remain unchanged. Serena is still in pursuit of Grand Slam trophy No. 24, Sharapova & Azarenka are still looking to recharge their comebacks, while Simona is looking to solidify her dominance over the tour.

Let’s preview this year’s draw:

FIRST QUARTER:

ozhalep

It must seem like déjà vu all over again for Simona Halep. Entering last year’s US Open, Simona seemed unstoppable, compiling a 9-1 record in seven days (that’s a “slam-and-a-half’s worth of matches). Somehow, Kaia Kanepi didn’t get the memo and blew the World No. 1 off the court in straight sets in the first round.

Somehow the draw gods have tapped the two to tango in the first round of the year’s first major again. However, the parallels to year’s Open don’t stop there. Like last year, the Sisters Williams have been drawn in her proximity. She’s projected to face Venus in round three and Serena in round four.

Last year, Simona’s herculean effort to reach the final was one of the most memorable Grand Slam runs this century, surviving a sprained ankle and two marathon matches to only to falter during the last hurdle in the final (being sent to the hospital after suffering from dehydration–no less). This year, she doesn’t look primed to replicate the same success. Recovering from a herniated disk, Halep has only played three matches since the US Open and enters the tournament short on match-experience. While coming in with low expectations might mean that she’s able to swing freely, something tells me that the question marks concerning the strength of her back will hold her back.

All in all, I’d say this section is Serena’s for the taking. She could face a re-inspired Eugenie Bouchard in the second round (who loves to step it up for big matches). Additionally, in the fourth round, she’s likely to face her sister Venus. Nonetheless, Serena looks fitter than ever and will be the favorite against whomever she faces.

In the bottom half of the draw, sit Karolina Pliskova, Daria Kasatkina, Gabiñe Muguruza, and Camila Giorgi. Karolina and Camila enter the Happy Slam looking hot, with Karolina opening her season by winning Brisbane and Camila ending 2018 with a title in Linz. Conversely, Dasha and Garbiñe come into Oz with question marks hanging over their heads, bottoming out during their AO tune-ups.

Whoever wins the third round match between Karolina and Camila, I expect will reach the quarterfinals. However, if they face Serena in that match, I don’t think either will prevail. Last year, both Karolina and Camila faced off against Serena in the quarterfinals of a Slam after having built up some serious steam during their first four matches. In the end, they both lost.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: S. Williams

SECOND QUARTER:

20180908 Serena Williams v Naomi Osaka - Day 13
September 8, 2018 – Naomi Osaka in action against Serena Williams in the women’s singles final at the 2018 US Open.

In this section of the draw lie three players carrying great expectations heading into the new season. First and foremost is Naomi Osaka. Since becoming a star overnight with her controversy-ridden upset over Serena Williams in the US Open final, Naomi has handled the pressure well. She hasn’t shrunken from the big stage like most first-time Grand Slam champs, reaching the finals of Tokyo, semifinals of Beijing, and, most recently, the semifinals of Brisbane. Osaka is no fluke and she’s out to prove it.

Last year, Naomi was proud to reach the fourth round in Australia. It was the first time that she had ever gone past the third round at a major in five attempts. Slated to face then-newly-minted World No. 1 Simona Halep, who had just survived a nearly four-hour marathon against Lauren Davis (on a sprained ankle, no less), Naomi seems primed to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Instead, she sprayed balls wildly and Halep coasted to victory in about an hour. In the past year, Naomi has undergone a complete transformation, developing into a cool, calm, and collected competitor who’s able to temper patience with power. I firmly believe that this reformed attitude and gameplan will inevitably lead her to more Slams in the future–if not soon.

Her draw certainly suggests that she’s primed for a deep run as well. Opening against World No. 83 in the first round, her first challenge comes in round three, against either former World No. 1 & two-time Australian Open Champion Victoria Azarenka or junk-baller and giant-killer Hsieh Su-Wei. She handled her projected fourth round opponent Anastasia Sevastova well in Brisbane, showcasing her superior serve and newfound problem-solving abilities.

Her other potential fourth round opponent is Qiang Wang, who is another player carrying great expectations heading into 2019. Surging at the end of last year, amassing a 23-6 record after the US Open (reaching three finals),  she was declared by many to be the successor to Li Na’s legacy. However, in 2019, she’s only played one match thus far, a loss to Alison Riske en route to the final of Shenzhen.

This quarter of the draw is headlined by Elina Svitolina, who sit in the bottom half. By winning the WTA Finals last year, she finally put the rumors surrounding her sudden weight loss to rest and reignited questions surrounding her Grand Slam hijinx. While Wozniacki was able to leverage the momentum earned from her WTA Finals win in order to finally get the Grand Slam hoodoo off of her back, I don’t expect the same from Svitolina this go around. She lost her opening match to a red-hot Sasnovich while attempting to defend her title in Brisbane and her draw poses her against a couple players who could exploit the nerves she has to be feeling. She opens up against an in-form qualifier and in the third round, she could face another WTA Finals champion, Dominika Cibulkova.

At the top of her section sit last year’s semifinalist, Elise Mertens, and the always dangerous Madison Keys. Mertens’ level seems to have hit its peak and she has yet to earn another signature win over a Top 10 player at a big event since her breakthrough triumph over Svitolina in last year’s quarters. On the other hand, Madison enters the event with no match play, being the only player to not participate in any tune-ups heading into OZ so as to rehab some lingering injuries. Last year, Madison Keys entered almost every Grand Slam with little match experience and was still able to reach at least the quarterfinals of three of them and I expect her to be a contender this time, nonetheless.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Osaka

THIRD QUARTER:

sabalenka1

If the second quarter of the draw is characterized by expectations, the third is defined by a battle between two generations. Can the veterans put the young-guns at bay?

The top section of the quarter is led by Petra Kvitova who seems to be in top form. Reaching the semifinals of Sydney (at the time of writing) and claiming the scalp of Angelique Kerber, Kvitova seems primed for a deep run.

Standing in her way is another surging player: Belinda Bencic. A former Top 10 player, Belinda’s past three seasons have been derailed by injuries resulting in a loss of confidence for the young Swiss. However, her stellar performance alongside Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup seems to have inspired her current run of form, leading her to the semis of Hobart this week (at the time of writing). Last year, Bencic entered the tournament on a streak, claiming to $125k titles and upsetting Venus Williams in the first round. Projected to go far, the weight of expectations bore heavily on the young Swiss and she bottomed out to Luksika Khumkhum 1 & 3 in the following round.

Whichever player survives to make the second week will face either red hot veteran Lesia Tsurenko or the explosive Aryna Sabalenka. While the former reached the Brisbane final last week, coming within two points of victory, Aryna is by far the more dangerous player. Aryna ended 2018 by winning Wuhan and starting this year’s campaign by lifting the trophy in Shenzhen (as the top seed, no less). At 20-years of age, she seems to possess enough maturity to control her explosive repertoire while also carrying enough naive confidence to feel like she should win every match she plays.

Only last year, she was laughed off the court by the Melbourne crowd for her grunts during her match against home-favorite, Ash Barty. This year, I think she’ll be cheered on by fans as she clobbers her way through the field in Melbourne Park. I foresee her becoming an unstoppable force in 2019.

Speaking of Ash Barty, she’s one of the challengers that will test defending champion, Caroline Wozniacki in the bottom half of this quarter. Ending her season by hoisting the biggest title of her career at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, Barty seems to have returned with a new, matured attitude. In fact, it has already paid dividends, already claiming the scalps of Simona Halep and Garbiñe Muguruza.

 

Conversely, Wozniacki arrives in Melbourne to defend her title with a few questions hanging over her head. While she was finally able to exorcize her Grand Slam demons at last year’s Australian Open, the rest of her year was below-average until her title in Beijing. After that tournament, she revealed her recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Insisting that the condition can be managed, she recognizes that her energy levels fluctuate day-to-day and I don’t expect the conditions in Melbourne to be kind to her.

Beyond Barty, other challengers standing in her way include two Maria’s: Sakkari and Sharapova. I actually think that the former poses a greater threat in Oz than the latter. Sakkari comes into the tournament after an extremely successful run at the Hopman Cup alongside her childhood friend Stefanos Tsitsipas. Their win against Federer in mixed doubles will undoubtedly be a highlight of her season and hopefully inspire a run of form that lasts throughout the year. Conversely, Sharapova enters Melbourne on a low. Retiring against Sabalenka in Shenzhen after suffering a thigh injury that seeming left her immobilized, she seems further away from recapturing her top-level from than ever before.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Sabalenka

FOURTH QUARTER:

kerber oz1

Compared to the top three quarters of the draw, the fourth quarter is by far the most… boring. While the section is headlined by Angelique Kerber, the rest of the competition doesn’t seem ready to post much of a threat.

The second-highest seed, Sloane Stephens, enters this tournament with a 1-2 record and seems to be listless after her “break” from coach Kamau Murray. Similarly, Caroline Garcia has lost both of her matches to open the year.

The only players who can pose a threat have tricky openers. No. 9 seed, Kiki Bertens, opens up against American Alison Riske, who reached the final of Shenzhen last week while Julia Goerges faces off against another American Danielle Collins, who pushed Kvitova to the limits in Sydney last week.

This quarter is Kerber’s to lose.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Kerber

 

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTIONS

S. Williams d. Osaka

Kerber d. Sabalenka

 

FINAL PREDICTION

Kerber d. S Williams

 

A Thorough Analysis and Predictions: US Open Women’s Singles

US Open.jpeg

There hasn’t been an Open in which the stakes have been incredibly high for so many of the top players in a very long time.

We’ve got Serena, who showed the world at Wimbledon that, despite juggling the responsibilities of motherhood, she is very much still a contender. Can she tie Margaret Court’s record by winning Grand Slam No. 24 and prove that without a doubt she’s the greatest player of all time—not just in the Open Era?

We’ve got Sharapova, 16 months into her comeback from her infamous drugs ban, who has yet to push her ranking into the Top 20. Can she legitimize her pre-meldonium career by lifting a post-meldonium trophy under the bright lights of the Big Apple? (After all it is “prime time baby”.)

We’ve got Venus, whose sputtering, injury-plagued season at the age of 38 makes her seem further away from winning another Major than ever before. Can she prove that age is truly just a number by going all the way in New York?

We’ve got Angelique Kerber who aims to cement her place in the upper echelons of the game once more after fulfilling her Wimbledon dreams. And, we’ve also got previous Grand Slam winners Azarenka, Kvitova, and Muguruza, who thirst for redemption after fairly lackluster Grand Slam seasons.

Lastly, we’ve got World No. 1, Simona Halep, who is at the peak of her career. Can she separate herself from the rest of the pack and cement the kind of invisible aura of invincibility that has previously built several all time greats?

The stakes are set. Ready. Play.

FIRST QUARTER:

HalepAzarenka

For the sake of this preview, it’s a shame that the top half of the draw is by far the most loaded.

In this quarter, there are five current or former World No. 1s: the top seed, Simona Halep, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Garbiñe Muguruza, and Karolina Pliskova. In addition, there are several dangerous floaters in the form of Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004 US Open Champion), Lucia Safarova (former French Open finalist), big-hitting, Maria Sakkari, and several talented rookies (Caroline Dolehide, Whitney Osuwige, and Sofia Kenin).

Halep’s opening match-up is no cakewalk. She’s slated to face giant-killer and six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, Kaia Kanepi, so she’ll have to hit the ground running. However, should she survive that test (and I think she will, given Kanepi’s inconsistencies), she has a more than manageable draw to reach the fourth round. She owns an 8-0 record against the highest seed in her section, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and even though their most recent encounter two weeks ago in Cincinnati went three sets, Halep should find confidence in the fact that was able to pull through that match even while dealing with a blister and running on empty.

The fourth round is when things get interesting. Lurking in the other half of her section are the Sisters Williams, who are projected to face off in the third round in what would be a popcorn match. Whether or not that match will come to pass is a different story.

SerenaVenus

While reaching the third round seems like a manageable ask for Serena, it’s a far more difficult ask for Venus. She opens against two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and should she win that contest, she will have to face the fearless Italian, Camila Giorgi, or reigning junior French Open champion, Whitney Osuigwe. However, Sveta has been in fine from this North American hard court season, winning the title in D.C. and pushing Svitolina to three sets in Cincinnati. Her style of game, blending heavy topspin, power, and athleticism, is exactly the brand of tennis that can reap its rewards against a player whose footwork isn’t up to snuff. As Venus’ knee has been wrapped since Stanford and Serena has appeared flat-footed on occasion (especially during her recent losses to Kerber, Konta, and Kvitova), I think Kuznetsova will crash the party and reach the fourth round.

On the other half of the quarter, we have two former No. 1s who have fallen from grace. Karolina Pliskova entered last year’s US Open as World No. 1 and by the fortnight’s conclusion, Garbiñe Mugurza walked away with the WTA’s crown. However, since last year’s Open, both players have tumbled from the summit, with Pliskova’s ranking at risk of falling out of the Top 10 without a good result in the City that Never Sleeps and Mugurza’s ranking having already plummeted to No. 12 following her first round defeat in Cincinnati.

Neither player’s recent results inspire much confidence in their chances to make a deep run in New York. Garbiñe enters this tournament short on match-play and nursing an arm injury while Pliskova is slated to face off against Maria Sakkari and her frustrating, Rafa-esque game in the third round (and we all remember what happened the last time these two faced off).

All in all, while this section appears loaded at first glance, there are too many asterisks hanging over everyone’s heads for me to back anyone other than the world No. 1 who has posted a 22-3 record since the start of Rome.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Halep

SECOND QUARTER:

If there is a draw “winner” it has to be Sloane Stephens. While defending a title is never easy, let alone a Grand Slam, Sloane’s relatively easy draw should help relieve some of the pressure.

Sloane

She opens against mother and World No. 81, Eveginy Rodina, and the highest seed in her half of her section is Daria Gavrilova. The biggest challenge she could face en route to the fourth round is Victoria Azarenka, however, after her back-to-back wins in Indian Wells and Miami, I believe that Sloane has surpassed her former rival. If the seeds hold up, she is set to play Elise Mertens, who is in the midst of her breakout season, in the fourth round. The two played a classic three-setter in Cincinnati two weeks ago, with Mertens coming out on top. Regardless, I think that Stephens’ appetite for big matches gives her the edge against the young Belgian.

The top seed in the other half of this quarter is Elina Svitolina, who is still looking to ender her Grand Slam hoodoo. Luckily for her, she has a manageable draw—the question is whether or not she’ll be able to hold her nerve in order to navigate her way through it. If not, players like Radwanska (her project second round opponent), Ekaterina Makarova, and Anastasia Sevastova will easily pounce upon the opportunity to sneak into the quarters.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Stephens

Third Quarter

If there is one word to describe this quarter of the draw it has to be “opportunity”.

At least a dozen formidable players have fallen in this quarter of the draw like Caroline Garcia, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Ostapenko, Madison Keys, Dominika Cibulkova, and Angelique Kerber, and each of them share one thing in common: underwhelming hard court results leading up to the US Open.

Kerber

While 6th-seed Caroline Garcia leads the top half of this section, she will certainly have her hands full during her opener against a resurgent Johanna Konta, who has recently defeated the likes of Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, and Victoria Azarenka in the weeks leading up to the US Open. Should she survive that test, she’ll have to face Monica Puig, Kristina Mladenovic, and potentially Carla Suarez Navarro just to reach the fourth round.

The other half this section is no less jam-packed, filled with many intriguing first-round matchups, including Sharapova-Schnyder (who qualified for the US Open at the age of 39), Townsend-Anisimova, and Ostapenko-Petkovic.

Madison

In the bottom half of this quarter, the contenders are a bit more spread out, with last year’s finalist, Madison Keys sitting at the top and World No. 4, Angelique Kerber sitting on the bottom. While Keys the matchups in Keys’ section look like she’ll be able to breeze into the fourth round, Kerber will have to get through Alizé Cornet (who beat her in straight sets in Montréal) and potentially Dominika Cibulkova, who owns a formidable 5-7 head-to-head record with the German.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Keys

Fourth Quarter

The fourth and final quarter of the draw is lead by two players with extremely contrasting seasons. While the fifth-seed, Petra Kvitova, has won a tour-leading five WTA titles in 2018, she’s only won two matches at the Grand Slams. In contrast, on the bottom of the quarter sits World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, who won the Australian Open at the beginning of the year, has only reached two tour-level semifinals since hoisting the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.

kvitova

While Kvitova’s results in Cincinnati and New Haven suggest that she’s primed for deep run, there are numerous young guns sprinkled in her section that stand in her path and can pose a serious threat. There’s Naomi Osaka, 2018 Indian Wells champion, who finally feels like she’s striking the ball again . There’s a resurgent Belinda Bencic who just recently reached the New Haven semifinals. There’s Daria Kasatkina, 2018 Indian Wells runner-up, who reached back-to-back quarterfinals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon earlier this year. And last, but certainly not least, Aryna Sabalenka, who won the title in New Haven after reaching the semifinals in Cincinnati (losing to Halep no less).

While Wozniacki’s draw is far less treacherous, the knee injury that she sustained in Cincinnati leaves me doubtful of her chances to make any real waves in New York. Conversely, the recent performance of KiKi Bertens, the second highest seed in this section, in Cincinnati certainly offers me reason to believe that she can make some noise at this year’s Open. While Bertens has had troubles in the past of choking during big matches, she is 11-1 against Top 10 opponents since Madrid. Her relatively easy draw should allow her to fall into a comfortable groove and build confidence leading into the tournament’s second week.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Bertens

 

SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS

Halep d. Stephens

Bertens d. Keys

 

FINAL PREDICTIONS

Halep d. Bertens

A Thorough Analysis & Predictions: 2018 Wimbledon Ladies Singles

Before we’ve had time to digest Simona Halep’s long awaited moment of deliverance, process Sloane Stephens’ hater-silencing run to the Roland Garros Final (a final outside North America, she’d be the first to remind you), or, more importantly, rid ourselves of the champagne hangover, Wimbledon is upon us and you know what that means: Pimms and strawberries & cream. Oh right, and the tennis.

FO FInal

Who is primed to claim the Venus Rosewater Dish? Will newly crowned, Roland Garros Champion and World No. 1 Simona runaway from the pack at the pinnacle of the sport? Will one of the more consistent players on the tour, like evergreen Elina Svitolina or resurgent Petra Kvitova lift the trophy. Or, will one of the tour’s veteran champions Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, or, last but certainly not least, Serena Williams, put them all back in their rightful places by claiming the tour’s most prestigious title. Let take a peek at the tournament the Draw Gods have given us.

FIRST QUARTER:

Halep Wimbledon

Winning her first grand slam and legitimizing her No. 1 status lifted a weight off of Simona Halep’s shoulders. Quite literally, in fact–you could see it in her posture during her press conference following the final. Could there be a player playing more freely than Simona Halep this tournament? I think not.

Even if there are any nerves, she’s been handed a mightily manageable draw, playing Japanese Kurumi Nara in the first round and projected to play No. 30 seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who she has a perfect 7-0 record against in the third. The only tricky opponent she might face is Su-Wei Hsieh, whose crafty game might be able to bring an opponent out of rhythm on low-bouncing grass, but quite frankly, her serve is way too much of a cupcake to pose any sort of danger to a strong returner like Halep.

 

While Simona Halep may be the freest swinging player this tournament, the player with the is Jo Konta, who sits in the other half the this section. After reaching last year’s WImbledon semi-finals (and defeating Halep in one of the most thrilling matches of the year), Jo has slipped to No. 22 in the rankings. Luckily for her, she’s discovered a sliver of her form since the tour converted from clay to grass. However, situated in a crowded section that includes big-serving Vikhlyantseva, dramatist Alize Cornet, Energizer-bunny Dominika Cibulkova, giant-killer Danielle Collins, and the crafty Elise Mertens, a run like last year’s appears unlikely.

sharapova wimbledon

The second quarter in this section is one of the most loaded quarters in the draw. Ostapenko, Sharapova, and Kvitova are all here–only one can reach the quarters. Ostapenko plays British wildcard Katy Dunne in the first round and must play either Kirsten Flipkens or Heather Watson (who are no strangers to grass) in the next. Should she survive that task, her reward might be a date with 2004 champion, Maria Sharapova.

However, Sharapova reaching that far doesn’t seem to be a lock to me. While she should breeze by Russian compatriot, Vitalia Diatchenko in the first round, she must play either young-upstart Sofia Kenin (who reached the Mallorca semis last week and took an inspired set off of Sharapova at last year’s US Open) or surging Maria Sakkari (who beat Sharapova at the Boodles Exhibition held in Hurlingham a few days ago). Should she reach the fourth round unscathed, she will undoubtedly be tired. 

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Conversely, Kvitova plays Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round, who had an inspired start to the year but has since cooled down. In the next round, she must play a resurgent Pauline Parmentier or one of the tour’s only remaining serve-and-volleyers, Taylor Townsend (that should be an interesting match to watch). While Gavrilova, Diyas, Peng, and Stosur are all quality players, with wildly different games, I see a healthy Petra navigating her way to the fourth round with ease, where she should be prepared to handle any adversary she should face, even if it’s Ostapenko or Sharapova.

However, in the quarters, Petra’s admitted limitation of “want[ing] it too much” combined with her 1-3 record against a free-hitting Halep will get the best of her.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Halep

 

SECOND QUARTER

muguruza

The first section of the second quarter of the draw is 2017 Champion Muguruza’s for the taking. The question, is whether she’s ready to live up the pressure of defending a Grand Slam title. Last year at the French, after her dramatic encounter with KiKi Mladenovic (“who speaks like 25 languages…”) she admitted that the pressure weighed down on her. However, this year, I don’t think that there are any opponents who will be able to exploit those nerves in the tournament’s first week. She opens against big-serving home-hope, Naomi Broady and the closest seed to her is Anett Kontaveit. While Anett had a brilliant run on clay this season, she’s already 0-2 on grass.

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The second half of this section is quite interesting as it is littered with many young-upstarts who are still finding their way on grass: Ash Barty, Daria Kasatkina, Yulia Putintseva, British wildcard Gabriella Taylor, and, most notably, Eugenie Bouchard, 2014 Wimbledon Finalist turned 2018 qualifier. If there’s ever a draw for her to “turn on” again, it’s this one. The question is whether she’ll be able to take it.

The lower half of this quarter of the draw is equally as intriguing. The 2016 and 2010 finalists, Angelique Kerber and Vera Zvonareva are to square off in the top half of the draw, while young-guns Caroline Garcia and Belinda Bencic are to face each other in the bottom.

 

If Kerber is to win her match (which she probably will if she isn’t too tired from her epic semi-final that she lost against Wozniacki in Eastbourne at the time of writing) she’ll have to play against either young upstart, Ana Konjuh, whose best results have come on grass, or rookie Claire Liu, who was the 2017 Wimbledon Girls Singles Champion. In the third round she is projected to face Naomi Osaka and her boom-boom serve. I think the winner of that match-up will reach the quarter-finals, as the only other player worthy of note in the lower half of the section is Alison Riske (who has been on a 15-4 tear since Rome and whose unconventional game reaps its rewards on grass).

Should Muguruza play Kerber in the quarters, it would be a rematch of last year’s fourth round grudge-match (which propelled Muguruza to the title). Muguruza’s coach, Sam Sumyk, has rationalized their often tense on-court coaching exchanges by explaining that the desire to win comes from the athlete “torturing” herself. However, he also admits that this process can’t be healthy for anyone in the long-term. While Muguruza holds a dominating 5-3 H2H over Kerber sweeping their past five matches (two of them at the All England Club), I think that Angie’s grit will prevail of Mugu’s tortured nerves.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Kerber

 

BOTTOM HALF

THIRD QUARTER

 

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The third quarter of the draw is riddled with players with question marks over their form, with No. 7 seed Karolina Pliskova situated in the top section and the No. 4 seed and recent Roland Garros runner-up, Sloane Stephens placed at the bottom.

Almost exactly a year ago, at the conclusion of Wimbledon, Karolina Pliskova reached the pinnacle of women’s tennis by claiming the No. 1 ranking. However, this was underscored by her dismal performance at the All England Club, only reaching the second round. While Pliskova is equipped with a booming serve, powerful groundstrokes, and unexpectedly good footspeed, she’s underperformed this season. She should be winning titles week in and week out, but so far this season, she’s only claimed on title, on clay at Stuttgart. In fact, she’s only 2-2 on grass, having failed to defend her title in Eastbourne and falling in the first round of Birmingham.  

She’s never been past the second round of Wimbledon (quite shockingly) and her second round opponent is former World No. 1 and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka who’s still on the comeback trail following her custody dispute. The question is whether we’ll see the Azarenka who blitzed her way to the Miami Open semis (thrashing Pliskova along the way) or the Azarenka who bottomed out in the first-round of the French Open five weeks ago. We’ll have to wait and see.

venus

Also situated in this quarter are No 9 seed Venus Williams, No. 20 seed KiKi Bertens, and No. 29 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu. While being a five-time Wimbledon Champion means that she must always be considered a contender, her 10-7 record on the year begs otherwise. I see her facing a steep challenge from Karolina’s twin sister, Kristyna in the second round.

Conversely, Mihaela Buzarnescu has posted an excellent record on grass this season, running 7-3 in singles (and 6-1 in doubles at the time of writing). While the top seeds in this section hold question marks over their heads, Buzarnescu has provided every reason to believe she can fight her way to the quarters.

stephens wimbledon

In the bottom half of the section, Sloane Stephens makes her return following her run to the Roland Garros final. While Sloane plays with the kind of relaxed aura that allows her to play freely in finals (posting a 6-1 record), it also leads to many first round loses. If Sloane is able to pick herself up off her feet after the disappointing lost at Roland Garros, there’s no other reason to think that she can’t go far. The only other contenders in her section are the tricky and erratic former quarter-finalist, Barbora Strycova and big-serving, but underperforming German, Julia Goerges.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Stephens

 

FOURTH QUARTER

serena

Last, but not least, we arrive at the most anticipated section of the draw, the one containing none other No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki and No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina. Oh, right, and No. 25 seed Serena Williams.

Serena sits in the top section, where she is projected to face Elina Svitolina in the third round. While both players face tricky openers with Serena opening against the Dutch, former Junior No. 1, Aranxta Rus and Svitolina taking on Nottingham champion, Tatiana Maria, I expect the third round, marquee billing to come to pass.

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The match is difficult to predict. While she is the GOAT and a seven-time Wimbledon champion, Serena hasn’t played many matches during her comeback and none on grass. Conversely, Svitolina has won their last encounter, a 6-4, 6-3 win at the Olympics in Rio, and has matured into a more complete player since. While Serena claimed the scalps of Ash Barty and Julia Goerges at Roland Garros, Svitolina is the more complete player that consistently hits a heavy ball (one of tour’s best backhands) and can run for days. I believe this is exactly the kind of win she needs to get over her grand slam hoodoo.

Woz

The bottom half of the section sits No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, No. 32 seed and 2011 Wimbledon Finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 16 seed and two-time Wimbledon Quarterfinalist CoCo Vandeweghe, and No. 21 seed and Mallorca finalist Anastasija Sevastova. While CoCo and Aga have had success on grass, they haven’t been playing too well this year (mostly due to injuries). Conversely, Wozniacki’s adjusted serve and recent aptitude to come to net have been reaping its rewards on grass and while she’s never had much success at the All England Club, I think she’s primed for a deep run.

SEMIFINALIST PREDICTION: Wozniacki

 

SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS

Halep d. Kerber

Wozniacki d. Stephens

 

FINAL PREDICTIONS

Halep d. Wozniacki