WATCH—The Daily Serve takes a look at the US Open draw:
In a season of parity, do we finally have a clear favorite among the women at a Grand Slam event? Simona Halep, the top seed and French Open champion, would seem to deserve that billing at Flushing Meadows; judging by her draw, though, parity may yet win out.
After winning the title in Montreal and nearly winning another in Cincinnati seven days later, Halep will be the player to beat when the Open begins. The only problem is, there are quite a few players capable of beating her who happen to have landed near her in the draw.
To a degree, that begins with her first match, against hard-hitting Kaia Kanepi, and continues with her potential third-round matchup against even harder-hitting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. But the danger ramps up considerably in the fourth round, where Halep is slated to face either Serena or Venus Williams. And then there’s the specter of a quarterfinal against either 2016 Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova, two-time Slam champ Garbiñe Muguruza, or Ash Barty.
First-round matches to watch: Halep vs. Kanepi, Venus Williams vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Serena Williams vs. Magda Linette, Muguruza vs. Shuai Zhang, Lucie Safarova vs. Petra Martic
Potential third-round match to watch: Williams vs. Williams
Is Sloane Stephens ready to defend? She has been pointing to this moment all season; if there’s one Slam where she doesn’t want to go out early, it’s the one she won last year. Judging by her recent play in Montreal, where she lost a classic final to Simona Halep, she shouldn’t have to worry about an early exit in New York. Stephens begins against Evgeniya Rodina; the Russian is ranked 81st, but she did stun Madison Keys at Wimbledon this year. The first seed Sloane could face is Daria Gavrilova, and the two highest seeds after her in this quarter are Elina Svitolina and Julia Goerges.
But this is not a cakewalk for the American. In the third round, she could face Victoria Azarenka; Stephens won their two meetings in 2018, but still trails their head to head 3-2. If she survives that test, Sloane could face Elise Mertens, a steadily rising Belgian who beat her last week in Cincinnati.
First-round matches to watch: Anastasija Sevastova vs. Donna Vekic, Magdalena Rybarikova vs. Qiang Wang
An intriguing assortment of seeds have been scattered across this quarter: Angelique Kerber, Caroline Garcia, Jelena Ostapenko, Madison Keys, Maria Sharapova, and CoCo Vandeweghe. Each has a legitimate shot at the semifinals, but none is a clear favorite.
Kerber won Wimbledon last month, and the Open two years ago, but she’s had an indifferent August, which ended with a defeat to Keys in Cincinnati. Keys herself seemed to be rounding into form with that win, but she couldn’t make a dent in Aryna Sabalenka in the next round. Sharapova is a former champion here, but in recent months her flashes of brilliance have often been followed by flashes of mediocrity. Jelena Ostapenko made the Wimbledon semis, but hasn’t won a match since. Caroline Garcia is the sixth seed, but she’s never been past the third round at the Open.
The upshot is a section that should feel like an opportunity for all of these women.
First-round matches to watch: Garcia vs. Johanna Konta, Ostapenko vs. Andrea Petkovic, Vandeweghe vs. Kirsten Flipkens, Amanda Animisova vs. Taylor Townsend
Caroline Wozniacki is the top seed here, but the momentum, as well as the ground- stroke power, resides in the other half of this section. That’s where Petra Kvitova and Aryna Sabalenka would seem set for a titanic third-round clash. Kvitova has never loved summer tennis in the U.S., but she has slowly pushed deeper into the Open draw—last year she made the quarters, only to lose a third-set tiebreaker to Venus Williams. Could her first semifinal run in New York finally be here?
Elsewhere in this quarter, Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina, finalists in Indian Wells, are scheduled to meet in the third round. The same goes for Kiki Bertens and Mihaela Buzarnescu, two of 2018’s breakout players—provided that Buzarnescu, who was wheeled off court after injuring her ankle in Montreal, can play. As for Wozniacki, who defaulted to Bertens with a knee injury in Cincinnati, she might have her hands full in her opener with 2011 Open champ Sam Stosur.
First-round matches to watch: Sabalenka vs. Danielle Collins, Wozniacki vs. Stosur
Semifinals: Halep d. Stephens; Kvitova d. Kerber
Final: Halep d. Kvitova
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