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Five women’s first rounds to watch at the US Open: Halep faces giant-killer Giorgi, Stephens squares off against Keys
Meanwhile, No. 1-ranked Ashleigh Barty opens her campaign against a former No. 2.
Published Aug 28, 2021
The draws for the US Open were released on Thursday, and there was no shortage of exciting first-round match-ups in the women’s draw. Here are five to keep an eye on:
(1) Ashleigh Barty (AUS) vs Vera Zvonareva (RUS) [First Meeting]
No one on the women’s tour has had a better year than Barty—the world No. 1 has won more WTA titles (five) and matches (40) than anyone else. And she’s been playing as well this summer as at any point in the year, winning 12 of her last 13 matches, a stretch that brought her a second career Grand Slam title at Wimbledon and her fifth WTA title of the year at the WTA 1000 event in Cincinnati.
The US Open draw could have been kinder to the Australian, though. She opens against Vera Zvonareva, a former No. 2 who’s trying to work her way back up the rankings as a mom-on-tour. The Russian has major credentials—she reached two major finals in 2010, at Wimbledon and the US Open, and she has 33 career Top 10 wins, most recently upsetting Petra Kvitova at Rome this year.
Among those 33 Top 10 wins are four victories over world No. 1s, too...
(12) Simona Halep (ROU) vs Camila Giorgi (ITA) [Halep leads 1-0]
Spare a thought for Halep, who not only had to miss the last two Grand Slams with a calf injury, but who then had to play one of the hottest players of the summer in her first match back in Montreal a few weeks ago, falling to Palermo and San Jose champion Danielle Collins, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. The bad luck continued in Cincinnati last week, as she had to withdraw mid-tournament with a thigh injury.
And in her US Open-er, she has to face another one of the hottest players of the summer: eventual Montréal champion Giorgi. Giorgi powered through an army of top players en route to the biggest title of her career at the WTA 1000 event, including Karolina Pliskova in the final. And with 34 career wins over Top 20 players, she probably won’t be that intimidated by the No. 13-ranked Halep.
Halep did win their only previous meeting, though: a 6-4, 7-5 victory in Miami in 2015.
Madison Keys (USA) vs Sloane Stephens (USA) [Stephens leads 4-2]
In what was the women’s final of the US Open in 2017, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens—both unseeded this year—will open play on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Day 1 of the US Open on Monday.
Stephens got the better of Keys in the final here four years ago, 6-3, 6-0, and has won both of the pair’s hard-court meetings. They haven’t played on this surface since then, their four meetings since then all coming on clay—and they’ve split those four clay-court meetings, 2-2.
The tough draw for both Keys and Stephens might not end here, either. Awaiting the winner in the second round could be No. 21 seed Coco Gauff, if she manages to get past Poland’s Magda Linette in her first-round match.
(6) Bianca Andreescu (CAN) vs Viktorija Golubic (SUI) [First Meeting]
Two years ago, Andreescu took the tennis world by storm, not only winning Indian Wells and Toronto, but then carrying that momentum all the way to her first Grand Slam title at the US Open, beating six-time champion Serena Williams in the final.
Fast forward to 2021, and it’s a much different story—the Canadian showed signs of finding her best tennis by reaching the Miami final, but she’s lost six of her last eight matches coming into the US Open this year, which includes back-to-back first-round exits at the French Open and Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, Golubic—one of the rare players on the women’s tour with a one-handed topspin backhand—is having the best season of her career, highlighted by reaching the first major quarterfinal of her career at Wimbledon. The 2019 US Open champion won’t be underestimating her as they clash for the first time.
(13) Jennifer Brady (USA) vs (Q) Emma Raducanu (GBR) [First Meeting]
Like Andreescu, Brady is defending a lot of points at the US Open this year, having reached the semis last year—and also like the Canadian, the American has had a rough go as of late, struggling with a foot injury and going 6-7 since reaching her first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open.
Though she’s been arguably the second-best player at the hardcourt majors over the last year (after Naomi Osaka), Brady could be on upset alert—and there aren’t many players who’ve played the role of underdog this year as well as Emma Raducanu. The 18-year-old Brit went all the way to the fourth round of Wimbledon as a No. 338-ranked wild card this summer, notching her first two Top 50 wins along the way against Marketa Vondrousova and Sorana Cirstea. She’s now ranked No. 150, and with three wins under her belt in the qualifying this week, she’s definitely dialed in…