US Open women's preview: is Madison Keys next to lift a major trophy?

US Open women's preview: is Madison Keys next to lift a major trophy?

On the back of winning the biggest title of her career in Cincinnati, the 2017 finalist enters New York as a perennial contender alongside 2019 Grand Slam champions Naomi Osaka (last year's titlist), Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep.

View the entire women's bracket at our US Open tournament page.

The last two women’s Grand Slams have gone against surface. Ash Barty, lover of grass and hard courts, won on clay at the French Open. Simona Halep, lover of dirt, won on grass at Wimbledon. Is something similar possible at the US Open? Most players are at least competent on hard courts these days, so the surprise probably won’t have to do with the courts themselves. But that doesn’t mean the winner will be anyone you were expecting. Here I’ll take my best guess as to who it might be.

First Quarter

Naomi Osaka is the top seed, but she’s also the biggest question mark in this quarter, and perhaps in the women’s draw as a whole. The last time we saw her, in Cincinnati, the defending Open champion was hobbling off the court with a leg injury, and retiring from her quarterfinal against Sofia Kenin. That just adds another element to what has been a highly unpredictable season for Osaka. After starting with a win in Australia, she has struggled since, and she failed to survive the first week at the French Open or Wimbledon. Which means the best way to approach her Open draw is one match at a time. Her first will come against Anna Blinkova; the Russian is ranked just 93rd, but she has had a good week at the Bronx Open.

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The second seed in this quarter, Kiki Bertens, has also had a topsy-turvy 2019. Lately, she’s been on a downswing, losing early in Paris, Wimbledon, Toronto and Cincy. Does that mean the world No. 7 is due for an upturn? She’s certainly due for a deep run at a major. The first seed she could face is Julia Goerges.

Sleepers: Anett Kontaveit, Belinda Bencic, Donna Vekic, Kaia Kanepi

First-round matches to watch:

Aryna Sabalenka vs. Victoria Azarenka; Coco Gauff vs. Anastasia Potapova

Semifinalist: Osaka

Second Quarter

If Osaka is the biggest question mark in this draw, Halep and Petra Kvitova, the top two seeds in this section, aren’t all that far behind.

Halep retired with an ankle injury in Canada, and still seemed bothered by it in Cincinnati, where she lost to Madison Keys. Has the No. 4 seed lost her post-Wimbledon momentum in the process? As for Kvitova, her season was stopped cold when she had to retire with a calf injury in Rome. Since then, she has missed the French Open, and won just one match since Wimbledon. Both Halep and Kvitova will start against qualifiers here.

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Player of Interest: Bianca Andreescu. The Canadian has a habit of winning a tournament and then disappearing. Her title run in Toronto was followed by a withdraw from Cincinnati. Where will that leave her in New York? If she’s healthy, she’s dangerous. She’ll start against Katie Volynets of the U.S., and could play Halep in the fourth round.

First-round match to watch: Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Alison Riske

Potential second-round match to watch: Sloane Stephens vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian beat the American easily in Cincinnati.

Semifinalist: Halep

Third Quarter

Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys may be the two best players in the game who have yet to win a major. They’re both in this section, and they're both contenders again.

Pliskova is a contender because she always is. At each of the other three Slams this year, she has won a tune-up event, only to fall short at the big event itself. Can the Czech, who reached the final at the Open in 2016, avoid the seemingly unavoidable off day that inevitably sends her packing? She’ll start against a qualifier, and is slated to face Caroline Garcia in the third round.

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Keys is a contender because last week in Cincinnati she found her game and won the title. Now the question is whether she can keep that run going for two more weeks. It’s a lot to ask, but Keys has been to the final here, and when her game is clicking, few can do anything to stop it. She’ll start against Misaki Doi; the American leads their head to head 4-2, but Doi won their last meeting, in Madrid in 2017.

Player of Interest: Sofia Kenin. The 20-year-old has been a model of consistency on all surfaces this summer. She’ll start against Coco Vandeweghe, and could face Keys in the third round.

First-round match to watch: Johanna Konta vs. Daria Kasatkina

Semifinalist: Keys

Fourth Quarter

So far Ash Barty is the WTA’s player of the year, but she hasn’t looked all that intimidating, or reached any finals, since she won Birmingham in June. Which means that this section, where’s she’s the top seed, feels like an opportunity in the making. And there’s someone here who could take it: Serena Williams. The six-time US Open champion will start against perhaps her favorite opponent (and one she hasn’t lost to in 14 years): Maria Sharapova.

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Player of Interest: Anastasia Sevastova. She didn’t win a match in Toronto or Cincy, but she loves the US Open, and made the semifinals here last year. She’ll start against Eugenie Bouchard.

First-round matches to watch:

S. Williams vs. Sharapova; Angelique Kerber vs. Kiki Mladenovic; Camila Giorgi vs. Maria Sakkari

Semifinalist: Barty

Semifinals: Halep d. Osaka; Keys d. Barty

Final: Keys d. Halep

Champion: Madison Keys

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