US Open women’s preview

by whyilovesport

The central theme to the women’s draw is the growing rivalry between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka.

However, the headlines were grabbed by Marion Bartoli and Maria Sharapova in the last month. As it turns out, neither will compete at Flushing Meadows.

Marion Bartoli at the peak of her tennis career having just won Wimbledon and ranked a career best 7 in the world announced her shock retirement after her loss to Simona Halep in Cincinnati. The Frenchwoman looked quite emotional as she cited physical exhaustion and her body no longer being able to handle the rigours of professional tennis as the reason behind her retirement.

As for Sharapova, she ended her three-year partnership with coach Thomas Hogstedt. She then hired legendary eight-time grand slam winner Jimmy Connors as his replacement, but one match later, he too got fired. She also flagged the possibility of legally changing her surname to ‘Sugarpova’ for the duration of the Open as a marketing campaign to promote her candy range. That idea was put to bed because she had to pull out anyway because of a shoulder injury.

Back to Serena and Azarenka though. This rivalry is an intriguing one. Serena holds a 12-3 record against Vika but twice this year the Belarusian has got the better of Serena and both times were in finals; in Doha and more recently Cincinnati.  So she’s starting to get the monkey off the back but has to do it in a Grand Slam to really make a statement.

Azarenka has played in the past three hard-court grand slam finals, winning the Australian Open twice and losing a heartbreaker to Williams at last year’s US Open final where she served for the match but failed. By the way, that was probably the best women’s Grand Slam final in a few years. So many end up being one-sided fizzers.

Serena has only lost four times this year; to Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open, to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon and of course those 2 losses to Azarenka I mentioned earlier. Serena is turning 32 in a month and she’s looking to surpass Margaret Court’s record as the oldest winner of a US Open women’s singles title. Her bid also includes trying to win at Flushing Meadows for a 5th time and 17th Major overall – that would equal Federer. Aren’t we spoilt to have two legends playing in this era?

Serena has such an intimidating power game and if her serve finds her groove, she is close to unstoppable. As mentally tough as she is, every now and then, she has a match where she looks nervous and tentative and can’t buy a first serve and that’s when she is vulnerable. Quite often, she digs herself out of those holes but not always.

Azarenka is a more technical, drilled player. Her weakness is definitely her serve. Her return game is brilliant and she’s pretty strong off both wings and probably has one of the best backhands in women’s tennis.

Azarenka and Serena seem destined for the final but, just from the amount of tennis I have watched, I expect one of them to get knocked out before the final. If both get eliminated, the draw opens up and we get a Wimbledon-like scenario.

I give Aussie Sam Stosur a decent chance! That win in Carlsbad (over Azarenka) a few weeks ago was actually her first since winning the US Open 2 years ago and just her 4th overall, which is extremely low for someone who’s won a Major.

Radwanska, Errani, Li Na and Kvitova are some of the outside chances. British prodigy, Laura Robson, the highest ranked teenager in the world, will be seeded (30) at a Major for the first time.

Donna Vekic could be an exciting player. The 17 year old Croatian is the youngest player inside the top 100.

Simona Halep has become a bit of a bolter; she’s been one of the most improved players this year. Out of nowhere, she has won four titles this year and surged into the top 20 in the WTA rankings.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, who’s playing doubles with Stosur, is a two-time Major champion and previous winner in New York, so she might be a chance to make it deep. And also look out for the batch of young US players led by Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys.

Alisa Kleybanova makes her comeback to Grand Slam tennis after two and a half years out with Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a frightening cancer of the lymphatic system which can spread to the rest of the body.