Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep are the top two seeds on the women’s side at the U.S. Open, but when the draw was made, all the expectation and suspense surrounded No. 3. Where would Garbiñe Muguruza, Wimbledon champion and Flushing Meadows favorite, land?
Next question: Can a player like Muguruza, who has never been past the second round in four tries at the Open, go all the way in one fell swoop? Let’s take a look at who, if anyone, might stop her.
Pliskova is No. 1 in the world, and she was the breakout star of last year’s U.S. Open, where she beat Venus and Serena Williams, and nearly beat Angelique Kerber in the final. As usual, though, the chilled-out Czech is flying well below the radar when it comes to attention and expectations. Part of that is her low-key personality, but part of it has also been her so-so record of late. She lost early at Wimbledon, and didn’t reach the final in Toronto or Cincinnati. Last year, after her win in Cincy, there was a sense that something big might be coming for Pliskova. There’s not much sense of that this time around.
Still, Pliskova has major-title talent, she’s been aiming for these two weeks all season, and her draw could be worse. The other seeds in her quarter are Shuai Zhang, Barbora Strycova, Kiki Mladenovic, Agnieszkaa Radwanska, Coco Vandewehge, Anett Kontaveit and Svetlana Kuznetsova. None of those women have been tearing up the circuit this summer.
Player to Watch: CiCi Bellis. The 18-year-old Californian has had a strong season; she’s unseeded, but she could do some damage at the bottom of this quarter.
First-round matches to watch:
—Vandeweghe vs. Alison Riske
—Radwanska vs. Petra Martic
—Kontaveit vs. Lucie Safarova
Elina Svitolina is in roughly the same boat as Alexander Zverev on the men’s side. Like him, she has won five titles this season and shot up the rankings. But also like Zverev, she has no history of significant success at the Slams. That’s especially true at the Open, where she has never been past the third round. All of which makes it difficult, as it does with the German, to predict how long Svitolina will last in New York. Her first-round match, against 41st-ranked Katerina Siniakova, isn’t the easiest.
And what about the No. 6 seed here, Kerber? The defending champion isn’t just flying under the radar; she’s buried deep among the rank and file. Without a title in 2017, she’s just 16th in the year-end race to Singapore, and she suffered a blowout loss to Sloane Stephens earlier this summer. Still, I think Kerber will hold off Naomi Osaka in one of the more intriguing first-round encounters.
Players to Watch:
Madison Keys: The Stanford champ’s game has looked good lately, but how is her recently repaired left wrist?
Jelena Ostapenko: What goes up must eventually come down, right? Is the French Open champ, who was 0-2 in Toronto and Cincinnati, in the process of falling to earth?
First-round match to watch: Kerber vs. Osaka
Here is where we find Muguruza, the woman of the moment. As noted above, she has a poor history at the Open, but she does have form and confidence going for her. Can they survive two weeks in Queens?
As for Muguruza’s draw, varied is the best word for it. The first seed she could face is Magdelena Rybarikova, the soft-balling Slovakian whom the Spaniard sent unceremoniously packing in the semifinals at Wimbledon. After that, Muguruza could find herself up against the hard-hitting Petra Kvitova in the fourth round. Finally, she might have to slow it down again in the quarters, where she’s slated to play two-time finalist Caroline Wozniacki.
Player to Watch: Venus Williams. She hasn’t been at her best so far during the hard-court swing, but after watching her reach two Grand Slam finals this season, the fans at the Open will do whatever they can to help her make a third. It won’t be easy: she might have to get through Wozniacki in the fourth round and Muguruza in the quarters.
The top story of the first round takes place at the very bottom of the draw: That’s where Halep, the No. 2 seed, will face 2006 Open champion and 2017 wild card Maria Sharapova. The Russian is 6-0 against the Romanian, but several of those matches have been close, inlcuding their three-setter in the 2014 French Open final. This would seem to be Halep’s chance to get on the board against Sharapova, who has been injured all summer, and who has played just one match since May. Either way, the winner of this one could go deep into the draw.
Also here: Johanna Konta. Has the Brit recovered from her high-profile run to the Wimbledon semifinals? She’s just 2-2 since then, and one of those losses came to Halep. Still, Konta has traditionally done better in New York than she has in London; she’s reached the fourth round at the Open the last two years. Her biggest early test could come against Julia Goerges in the third round.
Player to Watch: Sloane Stephens. The American, who has looked much cooler and calmer since returning from foot surgery, will start against Roberta Vinci. If she can survive that giant-killer, she has a draw that could let her go far.
First-round matches to watch:
—Halep vs. Sharapova
—Ana Konjuh vs. Ash Barty
—Donna Vekic vs. Beatriz Haddad Maia
Semifinals: Pliskova d. Keys; Muguruza d. Halep
Final: Muguruza d. Pliskova
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