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 Lesson on Greatness

 

 

What exactly is it that enables raw talent to develop into greatness?

The factors that separate champions from all-time greats are so minute and difficult to discern that even the Greatest Players of All Time often find that question difficult to answer.

I mean it makes sense. We’re each trapped inside of our own skin. We’re only able to perceive the world from this perspective and none other. As such, our outlook is an accumulation of our unique set of lived experiences. How is one discern the quality that sets oneself apart from the rest of the world if one has only ever perceived the world from one’s own eyes.

It’s the human condition.

And yet, on Saturday July 7th, 2018, while answering a seemingly routine question, “what is it like always being the one to beat?”, Serena went off-script.

She begins to answer the question in routine fashion:

Serena: Every single match I play, whether I’m coming back from a baby or surgery, it doesn’t matter. These young ladies, they bring a game I’ve never seen before. And it’s interesting because I don’t even scout as much because when I watch them play, it’s a totally different game than when they play me.

However, when she takes a breath, seemingly about to reiterate the above, something special happens. In fact, you can pinpoint the moment in which her internal gears turn and she slips in a trance (0:53) and comes to a candid realization:

Serena: That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest. So I have to be greater.

Interviewer: It must suck to be you.

Serena: At first it did, but I like it because it kind of backfires because everyone comes out and they play me so hard and now my level is so much higher because of it. From years and years of being played like that. So it’s like, you know what, my level, if it wasn’t high, then I wouldn’t be who I am. So I had to raise my level to ‘unknown’ because [it forces them into] playing me at a level that’s unknown … so now I’m used to it.

With clarity, humility, and poise, Serena’s answer is humble; while, obviously, she’d be nothing without raw talent, greatness has been rung out of her by the strength of the entire tour.

Now, the only question remains, if any other player either currently on the tour or to come, can exhibit such fearless and resilience under the same conditions and make their case that they are indeed the greatest…

 

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. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 4.34.33 PM.png

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.

bouchard.jpg

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

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 4.42.51 PM.png

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.

serena2

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