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

Where in the World is Jelena Jankovic?

As the US Open Series begins, I want to call attention to the mysterious and silent disappearance of a WTA veteran and former US Open Finalist, Jelena Jankovic, from the Tour.

Eleven years ago, the Serbian star was at the height of her career. She reached the 2008 US Open final–losing to Serena Williams in a highly competitive and entertaining two-setter. A couple of months later she secured Year-End No. 1. 

Jelena US OPen

Unlike her contemporaries Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina, Jelena never wilted from the extra attention that came with reaching the summit of the sport. In fact, Jelena thirsted for the show courts, commercial deals, and packed press rooms; she lived for the limelight.

While she remained in the game’s upper echelon for the next two subsequent seasons, her all-around consistency never put her in the position to vie for Grand Slam glory again.

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Joining the notorious club of “Slamless World No. 1s”, many tennis experts chalked up Jelena’s deficits to her defensive-oriented game. Compared to fellow ‘Slamless No.1’, Caroline Wozniacki, who spent the better part of a decade refusing to adjust her game, Jelena made adjustments almost immediately. Between the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Jelena gained sixteen pounds of muscle (yes–sixteen) in order to imbue more power into her relatively week serve and trademark down-the-line shots. However, the extra bulk proved to work to her detriment, hampering her agility so significantly that she failed to make a deep run at a Slam again until 2010. 

If anything, her hamartia (or fatal flaw) proved to be her mentality. Too often Jelena would take herself out of matches by berating her box or chastising the umpire. These problems became obvious when she suffered a two-season slide in 2011. When she reemerged in 2013, her melodramatic nature remained. Unsurprisingly, that season would be her last Top 10 finish.

It is interesting to note that when Jelena began her decent in 2014, a mini-rivalry emerged between her and a player who carried similar critiques from tennis pundits: Simona Halep. A future “Slamless No. 1”. Simona too was criticized for her passive tendencies and for headcase nature. When the pair faced off five times between 2013 and 2015, it was the Romanian who emerged victorious on every occasion. While it may not have been apparent at the time, this quintet of matchups signified the divergent journies these two players would embark upon. While Simona has famously exorcised her mental demons and gone on to win not one, but two Grand Slam singles titles, Jelena has faded into obscurity.

In 2018, after 56 consecutive appearances in Grand Slams (the third-longest streak in the WTA record books and sixth-longest streak across both tours), Jelena announced that she’d be skipping Melbourne in order to rehab a back injury. Moreover, after going winless since July of 2017, she admitted that she had been contemplating retirement.

Jelena Fall 2.jpg

After undergoing an eye procedure later that year, Jelena seemed poised to formalize these plans. She sent an invitation to journalists to a press conference in Rome–the site of her two most notable championships. In fact, her close friend and sometimes double partner, Andrea Petkovic, alluded to the announcement in a farewell message recorded in Charleston (on a side note: if you haven’t viewed their annual Charleston media day interviews, I highly suggest taking a peek–they’ll leave you in stitches). However, in the end, the event was called off, seemingly when the announcement of hometown darling, Roberta Vinci, announced that the tournament would be the site of her retirement (remember, Jelena is not one to be upstaged.)

Since, the former World No. 1 has vanished without a trace. The only mentions of her in the news have been the sale of her Rancho Santa Fe mansion for $13.5 million. 

However, after going radio silent, the former World No. 1 has reemerged on social media, posting photos and videos from a mysterious vacation— offering no indication of any preparation for a return to the WTA Tour.

As it stands, Jelena is one of two active players (without the surname Williams) who hold at least four wins over Serena. Additionally, she’s one of six active players who have ever claimed Year-End No. 1. However, she is also the only Year-End No. 1 without a Slam.

Whatever the outcome may, given her tenacity & outspoken nature, the story of Jelena Jankovic deserves a louder ending than one that fades into obscurity within the annals of Tennis History.

Why I’ll Never “Get Past” The US Open Final

It took me a long time to find the energy to write about what I witnessed from Row X (yes, there’s a Row X) of Arthur Ashe Stadium during the US Open Women’s Singles Final on Saturday September 8th.

By posting this reaction now, I’m probably beating a dead horse. However, at the same time, this is probably one of the most important topics to address in the sport of tennis this season—and mostly likely the next few to come.

During the fallout of “the incident” many things were said. And many fingers were pointed.

At umpire, Carlos Ramos.

At Serena.

At the US Open.

And at the tennis community as a whole.

However, I want to be clear: while what transpired on Saturday was unfortunate, it is by no means reflects upon the state of tennis or Serena for the matter. What it reflects upon is the state of society as a whole—it just so happened to transpire on a tennis court.

If you need a catch-up on “the incident” read after the break. If you don’t, scroll below.


The Set-Up

20180908 Serena Williams v Naomi Osaka - Day 13

Serena Williams was playing Naomi Osaka, a 20-year-old half-Japanese, half-Haitian upstart in the US Open Final. While Serena was gunning for Grand Slam 24 (her first since her pregnancy), Osaka was looking to achieve a lifelong dream by lifting her first Championship trophy–and triumphing over her childhood idol no less.

Just eight weeks prior, Serena seemed destined for Greatness with her run to the Wimbledon final—only to be stopped in her tracks by an impenetrable Angelique Kerber. Heading into Saturday’s final, the Serena Express seemed to have shaken off the disappointment and primed to go all the way and tie Margaret Court’s record—firmly establishing herself as the undisputed best tennis player of all time and arguably the greatest athlete of all time.

The stakes were set, setting the stage for a tense match.

The Match

From the outset, the nerves were apparent. The fact that Osaka was playing some of the best and most carefree tennis since she pummeled her way to the Indian Wells title in March didn’t help much either. While Serena was pumped, she also appeared flat-footed and listless. Osaka had all the answers. She bulldozed through the first set in just over a half an hour. Serena committed 13 unforced errors compared to Osaka’s 4. She served at a measly 38% in contrast to Osaka who made astounding 73% of her first deliveries.

The second set is when things got dicey.

The Controversy

While trailing 40-15 in Osaka’s opening service game, Serena was issued a coaching violation by chair umpire, Carlos Ramos, after her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, gestured for her to move forward from the stands.

Serena, who was already on edge given the fact that she was losing and certainly not playing her best and who has a reputation for never calling her coach, even during tour-level events where on-court coaching is permitted once per set, was set off. She briefly halted play in order to offer a few choice words to Carlos Ramos (“I am not a cheater”).

Serena Ramos 2As Serena should know, the rules clearly state that players may not attempt to communicate with their coach during a Grand Slam-level match—or vice versa. Every player on tour knows this. In this case, the penalty was issued due to Mouratoglou’s actions—not Serena’s. However, given the tense circumstances (being behind and not playing great), she took it personally.

 

After saving break point in her following service game and finally breaking Osaka’s serve (in a dramatic game that went several deuces) to go up 3-1, Serena looked on the cusp of one of her characteristic Houdini-like escapes. However, after going up 30-15 in her subsequent service game, with a chance to hold a commanding 4-1 lead, Serena threw in not one, but two, double faults, ultimately losing the game on an unforced error.

Understandably, Serena smashed her racquet on the ground—an action that, as every player knows, leads to an automatic code violation. This, being her second code violation of the afternoon, automatically generates a point penalty.

Somehow, in the hubbub of the changeover, Serena was unaware of this until the score was announced as Osaka stepped to the baseline when play resumed.

If the first violation conjured a spark in Serena, this violation ignited a full-blown a flame. Serena unloaded on a silent Ramos, reiterating that she “[has] never cheated in [her] life” and that Carlos owed her “an apology”. Again, in the heat of the moment, Serena failed to understand that the issue revolved around coaching—not cheating. She was putting words in the mouth of Ramos, which were simply never there.

When the match resumed, a red-hot Osaka was unfazed and not only leveled the score to 3-3, but immediately broke to lead 4-3—on the cusp of victory and on the cusp of realizing her dream.

To put it nicely, during the changeover, Serena let her emotions get the best of her. You can view the two-minute, one-way exchange for yourself:

Quite honestly, it echoed her dispute with chair umpire Eva Asderaki (“You’re unattractive on the inside. If you’re walking down a hallway and you see me, look away.”) Needless to say, it was difficult to watch.

When play resumed, Serena was issued her third code violation. This time: verbal abuse. The penalty? The forfeit of a game–now making the score 5-3 in Osaka’s favor.

While Serena insisted that she was given the code violation for merely calling the umpire a thief, that wasn’t the case. She received the violation for calling into question the non-biased integrity of the umpire, which directly violates ITF rules.

Calling for the tournament director to come onto court, Serena pleaded her case, insisting, “Many men have said far worse things on this court”.

What Serena’s said is true. In the amateur and early-pro eras of tennis, men like Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nasatse (nicknamed “Nasty” for short), and John McEnroe were famous for their tirades. This history of unruly behavior, particularly from men, is exactly why the code violation system is in place—and they have suffered for it as well.

At the 1990 Australian Open, John McEnroe was disqualified for menacing a line judge. Just last year, at the 2017 US Open, Fabio Fognini was suspended for saying things that can never be repeated in print to an umpire.

To compare two different eras of tennis history is comparing apples and oranges—and the statistics support it. Research from the NY Times shows that men have 62 code violations for verbal abuse since 1998 compared to 16 for women.

In the end, the tournament director informed Serena that the decision could not be reversed, and soon after it was game, set and match. Oska had won.

Needless to say, the trophy ceremony was awkward (at best). There was Serena breaking down on stage trying to convince herself “we’ll get past this”. There was Katrina Adams saying “this isn’t the result we wanted”. And lastly, there were Naomi’s tears.

Osaka Cry


The Takeaway

In the vacuum of the match, the violations that Serena was given were all warranted. Moratoglou admitted to attempting to coach his pupil. Serena did smash her racquet. And Serena did verbally abuse Albert Ramos while questioning his integrity as an official.

However, I sympathize with Serena because we don’t all have the privilege of living in a vacuum. As Serena said in her post-match presser, “I thought back to 2004…”, when the events on court were transpiring. While the sexism involved in the incident is questionable—it’s the effects of sexism that she’s faced in past instances, both on court and off, that surfaced during the match.

It’s an anxiety that disables one from being able to accurately recognize bias in the heat of the moment is the effect of racism, sexism, and homophobia. It’s the kind of insecurity that questions the intentions of those around you during every waking moment of the day. Do they see you for you–or do they see what’s on the outside first? It’s a feeling that some have the privilege of living without. It’s the kind of insecurity that Serena went through before our very eyes on that Saturday afternoon.

When Serena and Naomi cried while on the podium, I cried too. The situation was unfair for everyone involved—Serena, Carlos Ramos, Naomi, the fans, and the sport of tennis at large.

For a sport that has been the harbinger of so much social progress (being the only professional sport where women earn equal prize money on the highest stage, the only Olympic sport where men and women compete directly against each other, and one of the only sports that’s truly international and diverse), the sport looks backwards during moments like these. For the casual viewer, who might falsely characterize tennis as “elitist”, the events that transpired only legitimized this belief. Why would any kid feel comfortable with picking up a racquet if our sport is so consistently characterized with such exclusion?

There’s one thing that everyone inside or watching the event on Louis Armstrong have in common—Serena, Naomi, Carlos Ramos, the USTA, and the fans—that being a love of tennis.

As I said before, when Serena and Naomi cried while on the podium, I cried too. And that’s why I’m won’t get past this for some time to come.

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

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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