Are we back to days when the women’s draws at the majors were all about Serena Williams? That depends on which of her 2014s you want to believe. If we go by her Grand Slam season, the Open is just that, wide open; Serena hasn’t made it to the second week at a major this year. But if we go by the rest of her 2014, she’s the woman to beat; Serena has won five titles this year, including two of the three she played in the U.S. Open Series.
Serena says she has multiple personalities. This year she seems to have developed one for the Slams, and another for everywhere else. We’ll see if the split continues over the next two weeks, and who might be in the right place to take advantage of another major meltdown by the world No. 1. Here’s a look at the draw.
It used to be that Serena struggled to get up for the events she didn’t really care about—i.e., pretty much everything outside the Slams. Now it seems as if she gets too nervous, too easily panicked, when she does care. How will she feel when she has to play a young U.S. up-and-comer, Taylor Townsend, in the first round? Williams could be tight, as she was against Sloane Stephens in the Aussie Open last January; or she could be motivated to keep the next generation at bay, as she was against Stephens at Flushing Meadows last September. Townsend has talent, and she’ll show it, but a night match against Serena is the tennis version of trial by fire.
Of longer-term concern to Serena is the presence of two other women in this quarter: Sam Stosur, who beat her in the final here in 2011, and who lost to her in two close tiebreakers in Cincinnati last week; and Ana Ivanovic, who upset her at the Aussie Open. Serena has since come back to beat Ana three times this season, but two of those matches went the distance. The better news for Williams is that she has yet to be bitten by the upset bug at the Open, where she has reached the last three finals.
Sleeper: Coco Vandeweghe. The American made some noise this summer, and appears to have her game better organized. She starts against Donna Vekic and might play Carla Suarez Navarro after that.
First-round match to watch (besides Williams vs. Townsend): Ivanovic vs. Alison Riske. Ivanovic won their only match, in two tight sets, in Auckland in January. Riske likes the Open.
Semifinalist: S. Williams
Oh, how the mighty have fallen...into the second section of the draw. Petra Kvitova and Eugenie Bouchard are the top two seeds here. Together they played the Wimbledon final; and together they’ve won a total of four matches since.
That could change for Kvitova in New Haven; as of this writing, she was still in the event, and had recorded a couple of decent wins. Either way, the hard courts at the Open have never been Petra’s stomping ground, the way the grass at Wimbledon is. She’ll try to begin to begin to change that in a tricky opener against Kristina Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman knocked Li Na out of Roland Garros this spring.
As for Bouchard, she’s struggling not only with the increased attention, but with a hamstring that she strained in practice. Still, this has been the Genie formula in 2014: Go deep at a Slam, lose early in the follow-up events, and then shake it off and go deep at the next Slam—she’s had Serena’s season in reverse. Bouchard will try to begin the pattern again when she faces Olga Govortsova in the first round.
Also here, inconspicuous at the bracket’s center, is the Open finalist from the last two years, Victoria Azarenka. Vika is coming back from yet another injury, this one to her left leg, which forced her to miss Cincinnati. She’ll start against Misaki Doi at Flushing Meadows.
Sleepers: Ekaterina Makarova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The two Russians can play with anyone on the right day. Makarova is on Bouchard’s side; Kuznetsova is near Azarenka.
Young American: Madison Keys. A seed this time around, the 19-year-old begins with Jarmila Gajdosova, and might play Kvitova in the third round.
As August began, Agnieszka Radwanska, despite spending the last two years in the Top 5, was far from the list of possible U.S. Open sleepers and dark horses. Then came Montreal, where she negotiated her way through a first-rate field to win her maiden title of 2014. Aga is in the conversation at the moment, but her draw certainly hasn't been tailored with her in mind. She could play Roberta Vinci, who beat her here two years ago, in the third round; Lucie Safarova, who has won their last three meetings, in the fourth round; and Angelique Kerber, who has won two of their last three, in the quarterfinals.
Question Mark: Sloane Stephens. She has made progress with coach Thomas Hogstedt, and her draw is promising. But it could leave her in a third-round encounter with the woman who beat her in both Montreal and Cincy, Jelena Jankovic.
First-round Serbian showdown: Jankovic vs. Bojana Jovanovski
Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova have come to know each other’s games well in 2014—three times they’ve gone three sets this year, and three times Sharapova has survived in the end. Now they’re scheduled to play for a fourth time, in the U.S. Open quarters.
The third of Maria’s wins over Simona came last week in Cincy, but Sharapova didn’t leave that event on a high note. Despite somehow reaching match point, she was mostly awful in a three-set loss to Ivanovic in the semifinals. Maria will try to do better against another Russian Maria, Kirilenko, in the first round at Flushing. She’ll need to find her rhythm at some point; in her half are Sabine Lisicki, Andrea Petkovic, and Caroline Wozniacki, each of whom owns at least one win over her.
As for Halep, her primary early-round competition could come from No. 19 Venus Williams or No. 25 Garbine Muguruza.
First-round matches to watch:
V. Williams vs. Kimiko Date Krumm. One’s over 30, the other’s over 40, but they’ve played some great ones in the past.
Wozniacki vs. Magdalena Rybarikova: Wozniacki beat her in Cincy, but Rybarikova is in the New Haven final this weekend.
Question Mark: Camila Giorgi. As erratic as they come, she wowed a night crowd here last year.
Semifinals: S. Williams d. Azarenka; Wozniacki d. Kerber
Final: S. Williams d. Wozniacki