Sunday, August 25, 2013

U.S. Open Preview: For Whom Will the Odds Be Temporarily in Her Favor?

Seriously, what are the odds that the women's U.S. Open champion will be anyone other than either the #1 or #2-ranked player in the world?

Could it happen? Sure. But, really, how likely is it?

I'm no official oddsmaker, but it would seem that the odds are pretty good that the end result of the next two weeks is going to fall one of two ways. While there could very well be an "eyebrow-raising" finalist, they probably wouldn't rise to the occasion and play the role of "spoiler." And it's highly unlikely that a landscape-razing string of upsets, ala at this year's Wimbledon, is going to be repeated, either. That SW19 champion Marion Bartoli up and retired from tennis a few weeks ago only serves to emphasize the point of what a one-of-a-kind tournament the All-England Club played host to earlier this summer.

In other words, get your "I like Serena" and "I'm with Vika" placards, buttons and apps (there's one for everything, right?) ready for use and public display. When appropriate, of course.

After a summer of odd occurrences, the Open draw seems nearly perfectly designed to match up world #1 Serena Williams with #2 Victoria Azarenka in the women's final in Flushing Meadows. And what a match-up it would be, too. Quite possibly, considering the usually disappointing finals betweens the Belgians and Sisters over the past decade or so, it'd be the most anticipated, and seemingly destined to be competitive, women's slam final since, well, maybe one of the Graf/Seles clashes before that fateful day in Hamburg, or maybe the underrated Graf/Sanchez Vicario finals that followed. A Serena/Vika final would be a double -- triple? -- rematch of the Doha, Cincinnati and, most importantly, 2012 U.S. Open finals. You remember that last one, right? The one in which Azarenka served for the match in the 3rd set, ultimately coming that close to being able to say today that she'd won the last three hard court slam crowns. As it is, she's still pretty content with having won two of them.

But not TOO content.

Of course, while Williams and Azarenka have separated themselves from the WTA pack as 2013 has gone along, the disparity between the two of them and the field this summer has had as much to do with everyone else as it has Serena and Vika:

Agnieszka Radwanska hasn't seemed to ever quite recover from squandering what may be her best chance to win Wimbledon, while Sloane Stephens hasn't exactly risen to meet her heightened expectations back home in North America. Meanwhile, Petra Kvitova is still Petra Kvitova -- dangerous as all get out, but just as easy to get out of town if she falls apart for at least one and a half sets, as she often does, each match. Caroline Wozniacki has shown improvement this summer, but... well, you know. Jelena Jankovic has shown signs of a resurgence in '13, but she, too, is still JJ, for all the fabulousness and faulty logic that that entails. Li Na, as always, seems to too often fall just short of reaching her potential (see 2013 AO Final, and much of the recent hard court season, too), while Samantha Stosur won in Carlsbad, her first title since taking the U.S. Open in 2011, but then split with coach David Taylor. It only serves to make her an even bigger question mark than usual at slam time.

But, of course, nothing compares to the implosion that has been Maria Sharapova's summer. It's included disappointment at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, two fired coaches, hip and shoulder injuries and a bad-idea-averted (oops, too late -- it's all over the internet) name change proposal in order to promote Sugarpova candies. It's like Maria's life has been taking place in some bizarro universe... hmm, or maybe in a run down, dirty, dusty, seemingly vacant building posing as some sort of insane asylum, complete with upset chairs and messages written in blood on overturned mattresses?

But maybe that's just me.

Thankfully, for her, I guess, no more of it will play out in front of the eyes of the world in New York, where it's already been seven years (yikes!) since she was "exquisite in the city." In fact, we might not see her on the court again until 2014.

Williams, the defending Open champ, is, as always, the odds-on favorite to win slam #17. But a third slam for Azarenka is fully in the discussion now, as we're one more Vika win over Serena in a final from a full-on, ESPN-will-cover-it-because-it's-considered-news-and-not-just-WTA-news-either situation anytime these two meet and/or talk about each other in the future. There's never been a true WTA rivalry in the internet age, but this might be as close as we've ever come to one. It's so close you can see it poking its head above the horizon. The big payoff could come two weeks from today.

But who'll win?

Well, I guess maybe it'll come down to which one, or maybe even some OTHER one, is the most hungry. The odds will ultimately be in someone's favor. Stay tuned to find out whom it is that they embrace over the next two weeks.

Speaking of that, here's a quick overview of the draw, quarter-by-quarter:

1. Serena Williams, USA...Serena has seemed a bit "off," or at least "less focused," since winning in Paris. She was dumped out of Wimbledon early, played a clay event before heading back to North America, where she routinely won a title, but then lost once again on hard courts (and in three sets) to Victoria Azarenka is maybe the only match that's really "mattered" on tour since Marion Bartoli lifted the plate at the All-England Club. The "fire" to make up for losing at Wimbledon just hasn't been in Williams' eye the past two months. It doesn't mean she won win slam #17, but this time out it does mean that picking her to do so isn't something that one feels as if they HAVE to do in order to avoid looking stupid two weeks down the line. Hint, hint.
2. Sloane Stephens, USA... if ever Stephens was going to show that she embraced and could thrive in the spotlight, the Open would be the place. But is the time right? Serena hasn't looked unbeatable or always totally focused this summer, and Sloane has already bested her in a slam in '13, then sent Sharapova on her merry way in Cincinnati, too. But in between, we've been treated to a Stephens who flutters between looking like a player with slam-winning potential to one who sometimes has a hard time concentrating and dealing with far less pressure-packed situations than the ones she'll face at slams. In other words, the same Stephens we saw BEFORE Melbourne. Only now we KNOW the promise wasn't a mirage. That she has yet to reach her first tour FINAL would seem to rule out that sort of thing at this slam, but if Serena were to trip up... well, far stranger things have happened on a tennis court than a potential star shining her brightest on the biggest stage imaginable. Who knows, there's still a chance we might look up two weeks from now and realize that Sloane's star has indeed officially ascended.
3. Kirsten Flipkens, BEL...the Belgian was a surprise semifinalist at Wimbledon, and has a draw more than conducive to at least reaching the quarterfinals and playing for a shot at a second.
4. vacant...really, this spot should belong to Kerber, former Open semifinalist. But, well, I just can't. Nope... I just can't.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: Sloane Stephens, USA... Future Sloane calling Current Sloane. Are you ready for the mission? Hmmm, maybe the #15 seed is offline. Or maybe she's just playing opossum.
THE WILD CARDS: The North Americans... in recent seasons, the Open has made short-term stars of youngsters making surprising first-week runs in NYC. Oudin, Capra, Falconi, Burdette and Stephens have fit the bill in recent seasons. There will likely be a few at this Open, too. So I'll throw out #23 Jamie Hampton (vs. Stephens in the 3rd Rd.?) and Canada's Eugenie Bouchard (vs. #5 Kerber in the 2nd?) from this quarter as players to keep an eye on. While I'm at it, I may as well included Lauren Davis and qualifier Coco Vandeweghe, too.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Venus Williams, USA... after missing Wimbledon, it's nice to have Venus back at a slam. She won't likely be around long, if her outings this summer are any indication. In fact, she might not make it to Day 2, as she'll face #12 Flipkens -- who beat her in Toronto a few weeks ago -- in the 1st Round on Monday... under the sun, on Ashe, as the second-up match following the debut of Aga Radwanska. The stage would seem to be set for something that might make us want to cover our eyes.
THE POOR SOUL(s): Francesca Schiavone, ITA & Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP... Serena is 51-1 in slam 1st Round slam matches, though Schiavone is a bit of a step up from previous competition. Meanwhile, when AMG goes out is a question, but we know it'll be before the quarterfinals. The Spanish vet plays Kristina Mladenovic in the 1st Round. The Pastry reached the 3rd Round at the Open last year.
=In the End...=
If a handful of other players had managed to slip into this quarter -- a Stosur, Halep, Vesnina or someone of similar ilk, say -- I'd consider a possible surprise. But it's hard to imagine Serena not at least reaching the semis.

1. Jelena Jankovic, SRB...five years ago, JJ reached the Open final and played a tight two-setter against Serena. So much has happened since then, but Jankovic has come close to resembling her old self this summer. She's got a rugged road to get out of this quarter, with a potential mix of young (Keys, Puig), rising (Robson, Cirstea) and veteran (Li) players in her path... and then maybe a certain Pole, as well. If the Serb is ever going to catch one more wave of late stage momentum at a slam, this might just be the one.
2. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL...although she made her bones with an upset of Sharapova at the Open in '07, A-Rad has never been at her best there. She's never reached the QF, and is coming in off a disappointing Wimbledon semifinal loss, a summer of high expectations on hard court that never really panned out, and just had to make a detour back home after the death of her grandfather. Needless to say, she's not going to be an en vogue pick here. Still, she heads up this quarter and, as we saw at Wimbledon, destruction could happen around her in the draw, especially one where the other top players have names like Li, Jankovic, and Lisicki.
3. A Surprise...this quarter has the makings of an of-the-moment player becoming a star with the on-court deeds to back it up. Several players have the goods to pull something off and reach the second week: Laura Robson, Sorana Cirstea, Ekaterina Makarova, and even Madison Keys and Monica Puig under the right circumstances, are hereby offered up for your consideration.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: Laura Robson, GBR... a year ago, Robson ended Kim Clijsters' career and knocked out Li Na in the Open. As the #30 seed, she's set up for similar destruction this time around. Li could be there in the 3rd, Jankovic in the Round of 16 and maybe even A-Rad in the QF. One wouldn't think she'd pull off more than one or two of those upsets here, but the Brit has strung together big wins in slams before.
THE WILD CARD: Sorana Cirstea, ROU... the Swarmette proved in Toronto that she could knock down several big names -- Wozniacki, Jankovic, Kvitova & Li -- in a row, and she's got a shot at Jankovic, Li and Radwanska in succession from the 3rd Round through QF at this Open. Of course, such an encore for the #19 seed is no easy task, and highly unlikely, especially since she hasn't been the same player since the Rogers Cup... and she'll get no in-match coaching help in Queens, either.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Li Na, CHN... Li is at her best on hard courts, but she's only reached the U.S. Open QF once, and that was in 2009. Robson awaits in a possible 3rd Rounder. For that matter, so does Petra Cetkovska in the 2nd Round. The likelihood of #5 Li getting to those big-name match-ups with Jankovic and Radwanska that could be in the cards in the second week aren't that good.
THE POOR SOUL: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS... the Russian won the Open junior title in '06, and reached the women's QF in '11. But that latter result is one of the few times that Pavlyuchenkova has come close to meeting the expectations that her glorious junior career (three slam titles) placed upon her shoulders. She was set to be an unseeded floater in this draw a week ago, but when Sharapova pulled out she was suddenly bumped up to the #32 seed. Not incredibly higher expectations go with that, but it's more than she had before. Would it be a huge shock if she went out in the 1st Round to wild card Virginie Razzano? Not really.
=In the End...=
Just call this one the "Quarter of Dreams," both unrealized and hoped for. A-Rad and JJ harbor missed grand slam dreams yearning for another shot. Li, too. Robson has proved to be able to raise her game at the slams, which could foreshadow greater things down the line that would made "Virginia Wade" the new "Fred Perry." With the presence of so many "off-center" players, something strange feels like it could be on the horizon in this quarter. And, well, when I say something like that how can I not be looking to place a spotlight on ol' Queen Chaos? If she can get out of the 1st Round against Keys, that is.

1. Simona Halep, ROU...she's won on clay, grass and hard courts this season, and rides into NYC fresh off a win in New Haven. While winning a title so close to the start of a slam isn't usually the best way to prepare, the #21-seeded Romanian seems to thrive on momentum, if her current 28-4 run is any indication. There is no one in this quarter that Halep can't take down, and as long as her body holds up to her heavy match load she might just become the first slam semifinalist from Romania since the infamous Irina Spirlea controversy-loaded run -- "the Venus f***ing Williams," and "big white turkey" -- at Flushing Meadows in 1997.
2. A Veteran...could emerge to put up a career-best-or-close-to-it challenge from this quarter. Amongst the contenders: #10 Roberta Vinci, #14 Maria Kirilenko, #27 Svetlana Kuznetsova (just forget that she's already a multiple slam winner) and unseeded Flavia Pennetta (if she's healthy enough, that is).
3. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN... based on her runs in Cincinnati and New Haven, which included wins over Kvitova and Stephens, the Dane could ride a more aggressive game's momentum to a moment that allows her to breathe a sigh of relief after two years of scuffling on the regular tour, and doing even worse in the slams. She reached the Open final in '09, and followed up with semifinal berths the next two years. But it's been difficult for her to get out of the first week at slams ever since. She's got a draw loaded with qualifiers and a 31-year old #31 seed (Zakopalova) standing between her and the Round of 16, which would put her one win away from reaching her first slam QF in two years. As the #6 seed, just putting up a 4th Round result might seem to be a disappointment, numbers-wise. But for Wozniacki it'd actually be an encouraging sign.
4. Sara Errani, ITA... it's easy to forget that Errani found her way into the semifinals at last year's U.S. Open, and Sharapova's withdrawal allows her to be seeded (#4) to do the same this time around. She probably won't, though.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR... well, Halep would probably rightly fit in here as the #21 seed. But I'll go with the qualifier, mostly because she has a shot at another seeded Russian named Maria in the 2nd Round of a slam. Only this time instead of Sharapova, it's Kirilenko. If she gets past that, she could get Halep.
THE WILD CARD: Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS... she's already reached two slam quarterfinals this year as an unseeded player. Here, she's the #27 seed, as well as a former champion nine years ago in the big Russian Revolution year of 2004. She wouldn't seem a good bet here, but who says Sveta CAN'T knock off the likes of Burdette, Peng, and Pennetta/Errani on a string a good days? If she can, she'd be in the Round of 16. "Shadow Wild Card": another Russian, #22 Elena Vesnina.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Caroline Wozniacki, DEN... because recent history tells us not to.
THE POOR SOUL: South Africans with the initials "C.S."... well, one of them, since both Chanelle Scheepers and Chanel Simmonds -- oh, how I'd love to hear announcers call this one, with confusion so naturally woven into the fabric of the match -- facing off in the 1st Round.
=In the End...=
The "Bizarre Quarter." It would seem a shock result for #21 seed to reach a slam semifinal, but if Halep did it it really wouldn't be, based on her summertime form. And, hey, if it would allow the old sixteen year old -- double yikes! -- memories of the Venus/Spirlea bump to be rekindled, it'd be double the fun, too. Not that it was a particularly proud moment for women's tennis, but rarely has a player donned the "black hat" as openly as Spirlea, even while literally wearing a white hat, and that's always an interesting thing to watch, discuss and re-live.

1. Victoria Azarenka, BLR...Vika is ranked #2 behind Serena, and has less than half as many titles in '13... but a case can be made that she's had a spectacular season as good as, and still possibly "better" than that of Williams. They've both won one slam title, and had long winning streaks (Serena's 34 & 14 matches, Vika's 18), but Azarenka's pair of wins in three-set finals over Williams, including a week ago in Cincinnati, are quite a claim to fame. And she might not be finished yet. While Vika's Wimbledon ended via injury, the layoff it precipitated allows her to come into New York on the upswing and getting healthier and fitter every day, rather than trying to hold on at the end of a long summer. With Williams displaying a bit less "Serenativity" this summer, it might be enough to make up the difference one year after the Belarusian was unable to serve out the match in last year's Open final.
2. Sam Stosur, AUS...sure, it would seem counterintuitive to think that Stosur might have a better shot at winning a slam just a week after splitting with coach David Taylor than she did during the two years since she won the Open with him in 2011. But, unless we're talking about Melbourne, Stosur's career often defines unpredictability. It's too bad she couldn't be in a different quarter than this, because I'd look kinder on her chances there. But, then again, so might Stosur... and that pressure would likely spell her doom. A year removed from being "defending champion," maybe the Aussie can recapture some of the under-the-radar underdog mojo she picked up during her dramatic run of night matches on outside courts in '11. Hopefully she's got buddies on the scheduling committee.
3. Petra Kvitova, much as you'd like to give Kvitova a chance, it's hard to do it. Asthma. Crazily streaky play. Brain freezes. At some point, you know one of them is going to take her down. And the sad thing is, not a single person will be surprised by it when it happens. 2011 seems so long ago.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: Andrea Petkovic, GER or Alison Riske, USA... the German has been an Open star before, reaching her third of three 2011 slam quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows two years ago. Many injuries have slowed her since, but she's quietly made a nice comeback the last few months. She could face #7 Kvitova in the 2nd Round. If Kvitova survives, she might get wild card Riske, who could quite possibly be in contention to be the young Bannerette who is dubbed a first week star. There are always one or two, after all. Riske took Kvitova to three sets in New Haven, and showed some non-grasscourt abilities on the hard courts this summer.
THE WILD CARDS: Ana Ivanovic, SRB & Dominika Cibulkova, SVK... #13 AnaIvo is always dangerous, but has never been able to string together enough matches at a slam to remind us that she's a former #1 and grand slam champion. It's the same in many respects with #17 Cibulkova, who shined so brightly in Stanford, but hasn't done much of note in North America in the month since then.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Petra Kvitova, CZE... with her asthma not a good mix with the North American summertime weather, Kvitova has never done much at the Open, the only slam where she's never reached the quarterfinals. She'll likely get past Misaki Doi in the 1st Round, but then things could get sticky. Really fast.
OH, THE POOR SOUL: Nadia Petrova, RUS... we haven't seen Petrova in a singles match since Wimbledon. So it's hard to imagine she'll be around very long here, #20 seed or no #20 seed. At least she can't be the "First Seed Out," as she was in Paris, since the top half of the draw plays on Monday.
=In the End...=
Vika, Vika, Vika. I've been itching to pick her to win this title since early July. I wish she didn't end up in potentially the most difficult of all the quarters, but if Azarenka is playing well it likely won't matter, especially if the slew of talented-but-often-troubled players there live down to worst expectations. She has been the world's best hard courter the last two years, dominating Sharapova in '12 and then taking down Serena twice in '13. She comes to NYC 25-1 in her last twenty-six HC matches. Andy Roddick is gone (well, he's on the new Fox Sports 1 channel, hosting a talk show, something SOMEONE -- cough, cough -- predicted was in his future a few years ago, by the way), and Sharapova dumped NYC fave Jimmy Connors. But Azarenka is alive, kicking and HERE. National allegiances aside, there might be no player in this tournament whose take-it-or-leave perception better fits the traditional New York City state of mind. There were some underlying signs that Vika was starting to win over the Flushing Meadows crowds a year ago. Seven months after all that needless mess in Melbourne, the time may be right for a full embrace. She might not be a typical "crowd pleaser," but there's a grit and fire about her that's admirable, and should -- one day, whether sooner or later -- carve out a place for her in New York's heart. I hope she's given the chance at this Open to make it so, and that she seizes the opportunity if it arrives. She really just needs to be herself. It'll be enough. The rest will take care of itself.

TOP PLAYER: Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
...the 20-year old from Portugal qualified for her third slam of the season with wins over Chiara Scholl, Zarina Diyas and Elena Baltacha in the final round. Remember, it was MLDB who knocked out Sharapova at Wimbledon and sent the Russian spinning off into what has turned out to be a perplexing summer, at best, and, at worst, a full-blown existential crisis.
RISERS: Maria Joao Koehler/POR & Ajla Tomljanovic/CRO
...yet another qualifier from Portugal, Koehler reached the main draw with wins over Yuliya Beygelzimer, Cristina Mitu and Olivia Rogowska. She was also a qualifier at the Australian Open. Tomljanovic qualified for her second straight slam with victories over Melanie Klaffner, Sachie Ishizu and Alison van Uytvanck.
SURPRISES: Aleksandra Krunic/SRB & Julia Glushko/ISR
...the "Serbian Good Luck Charm" was of great benefit to herself at Flushing Meadows... and in singles, too. She got wins over Carina Witthoeft, Daria Gavrilova and Louisa Chirico to reach her first career slam main draw. Glushko knocked out Zheng Saisai, Stephanie Dubois and Anastasia Rodionova to qualify for her second consecutive Open, making sure ALL of Israel's qualifying attempts didn't prove fruitless (see below).
VETERANS: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO & Casey Dellacqua/AUS
...31-year old Lucic-Baroni was the only woman in the Open qualifying with a grand slam semifinal ('99 Wimbledon) on her resume. Apparently, the experience served her well. Dellacqua, 28, is the second-oldest qualifier. She got a final qualifying round win over Ksenia Pervak, who'd earlier upset the #1 Q-seed in the opening round.
COMEBACK: Vera Dushevina/RUS
...the 26-year old, a recent quarterfinalist at Stanford, was also a qualifier in Melbourne in January. Her biggest win this past week came over fellow vet Catalina Castano.
FRESH FACES: Victoria Duval/USA & Chanel Simmonds/RSA
...Duval, 17, made her slam debut under the lights at last year's Open after having been given a wild card. She battled her own way into the draw this year after emerging victorious over #4 seed Teliana Pereira, Valeria Solovyeva and Tereza Mrdeza. Simmonds, 21, took out Renata Voracova, Nina Bratchikova and Taylor Townsend in three sets in the final round.
...both former U.S. Open Girls champs -- Coco in '08, Min in '11 -- reached the main draw via the qualifying route. Vandeweghe got a win over #5 seed Zhang Shuai, while Min knocked out #3 Andrea Hlavackova.
DOWN: Shahar Peer/ISR
...Peer has always had good support in New York City, and came to town this year after reaching the Baku final and winning the WTA 125 title in Suzhou. It got her the #1 seed in the qualifying rounds... and it all lasted less than two hours, as she lost in the opening round in straight sets to Ksenia Pervak.
OTHER QUALIFIERS: Duan Ying-Ying/CHN, Sharon Fichman/CAN, Camila Giorgi/ITA & Kurumi Nara/JPN
WILD CARDS: Ashleigh Barty/AUS, Nicole Gibbs/USA, Vania King/USA, Virginie Razzano/FRA, Alison Riske/USA, Shelby Rogers/USA, Maria Sanchez/USA, Sachia Vickery/USA
LUCKY LOSER: Patricia Mayr-Achleitner/AUT

Q1: Baltacha d. #23 Oudin 6-1/3-6/6-2
...Little MO became an immediate star in NYC with her '09 QF run that included wins over Dementieva, Sharapova and Petrova. Unfortunately for Melanie, Baltacha isn't Russian -- she's a Brit.
Q2: Panova d. #24 Parmentier 6-3/6-4
...Parmentier was originally the main draw wild card pick for the French Tennis Federation. But, with her 4-17 season record, someone apparently thought better of it and gave the WC to Virginie Razzano instead. So, Parmentier was installed as the #24 seed in the qualifying rounds. It all just added another layer to her disappointment.
Q3: #12 Larcher de Brito d. Baltacha 4-6/7-5/6-1
...MLDB has good memories of Britain... and, now, a specific Brit, as well.
Q3: #25 Duan d. Brengle 6-7/6-1/6-2
...the last Chinese woman to qualify for the Open was Yan Zi and 2007.

=1st Q-Rounds Aren't Made for Many Sisters=
Q1 -Mitu d. Y.Sema 6-2/4-6/6-3
#12 Larcher de Brito d. Chi.Scholl 4-6/6-4/6-2
Sadikovic d. L.Kichenok 6-3/6-3
Gavrilova d. N.Kichenok 7-5/6-4
#17 Dushevina d. V.Wongteachchai 6-3/6-2
S.Murray d. Ar.Rodionova 6-4/6-1

=2nd Q-Rounds Aren't Too Friendly, Either=
Q2 - Chirico d. #22 Kr.Pliskova
Brengle d. E.Sema 6-4/7-6

...but, then again...
=Maybe 3rd Q-Rounds Are Just as Bad=
Q3 - #20 Glushko d. #13 An.Rodionova 6-3/6-2, no sisters reached the main draw through qualifying. Hmmm, might this foreshadow something wicked coming this way for Serena, too? What about Aga?

2006 Chang Yung-Jan, TPE
2007 Alina Jidkova, RUS
2008 Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ & Barbora Strycova, CZE
2009 Eva Hrdinova, CZE
2010 Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
2011 Romina Oprandi, ITA (now SUI)
2012 Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
2013 Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR

WC: 30-Razzano, 24-King, 23-Riske/Sanchez
Q: 31-Lucic-Baroni, 28-Dellacqua, 26-Dushevina
WC: 17-Barty, 18-Vickery, 20-Gibbs/Rogers
Q: 17-Duval, 19-Min, 20-Koehler/Krunic/Larcher de Brito/Tomljanovic

3 - Michelle Larcher de Brito (AO/WI/US)
2 - Mariana Duque-Marino (RG/WI)
2 - Vera Dushevina (AO/US)
2 - Julia Glushko (RG/US)
2 - Maria Joao Koehler (AO/US)
2 - Grace Min (RG/US)
2 - Ajla Tomljanovic (WI/US)
2 - Galina Voskoboeva (RG/WI)
2 - Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova (RG/WI)
5 - Czech Republic, Portugal, United States
4 - Russia
3 - Croatia
2 - Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
2 - Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
2...Julia Glushko, ISR (2012-13)
3...Ashleigh Barty, AUS (AO/RG/US)
2...Caroline Garcia, FRA (AO/RG)
2...Virginie Razzano, FRA (RG/US)
2...Alison Riske, USA (WI/US)
2...Shelby Rogers, USA (RG/US)
none (note: Ashleigh Barty/AUS has received a WC at six of eight slams)
2...Nicole Gibbs, USA (2012-13)
3...Caroline Garcia, FRA (AO WC/RG WC/Wimb Q)
3...Vania King, USA (RG Q/Wimb LL/US WC)
3...Virginie Razzano, FRA (RG WC/Wimb Q/US WC)
2...Anna Schmiedlova, SVK (RG Q/Wimb LL)

**US OPEN TOP SEEDS - since 2002**
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2003 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2005 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2002 Lleyton Hewitt, AUS
2003 Andre Agassi, USA
2004 Roger Federer, SUI
2005 Roger Federer, SUI
2006 Roger Federer, SUI
2007 Roger Federer, SUI
2008 Rafael Nadal, ESP
2009 Roger Federer, SUI
2010 Rafael Nadal, ESP
2011 Novak Djokovic, SRB
2012 Roger Federer, SUI
2013 Novak Djokovic, SRB

101...Chris Evert
89...Martina Navratilova
73...Steffi Graf
62...Lindsay Davenport

2004: Svetlana Kuznetsova (W), Elena Dementieva (RU), Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport
2005: Kim Clijsters (W), Mary Pierce (RU), Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova
2006: Maria Sharapova (W), Justine Henin-Hardenne (RU), Jelena Jankovic, Amelie Mauresmo
2007: Justine Henin (W), Svetlana Kuznetsova (RU), Anna Chakvetadze, Venus Williams
2008: Serena Williams (W), Jelena Jankovic (RU), Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina
2009: Kim Clijsters (W), Caroline Wozniacki (RU), Yanina Wickmayer, Serena Williams
2010: Kim Clijsters (W), Vera Zvonareva (RU), Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki
2011: Samantha Stosur (W), Serena Williams (RU), Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki
2012: Serena Williams (W), Victoria Azarenka (RU), Maria Sharapova, Sara Errani

2005 Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Alexa Glatch/USA
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Tamira Paszek/AUT
2007 Kristina Kucova/SVK def. Urszula Radwanska/POL
2008 Coco Vandeweghe/USA def. Gabriela Paz/VEN
2009 Heather Watson/GBR def. Yana Buchina/RUS
2010 Daria Gavrilova/RUS def. Yulia Putintseva/RUS
2011 Grace Min/USA def. Caroline Garcia/FRA
2012 Samantha Crawford/USA def. Anett Kontaveit/EST

[Open Era]
1968 Virginia Wade, GBR
1979 Tracy Austin, USA
1990 Gabriela Sabatini, ARG
1998 Lindsay Davenport, USA
1999 Serena Williams, USA
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS

1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2007 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2010 Wimbledon - Vera Zvonareva
2011 Australian Open - Li Na
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Agnieszka Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki
ALSO: Bartoli ('07 Wimb.), D.Safina ('08 RG)

2004 Elena Dementieva (RU), Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2005 Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova
2006 Maria Sharapova (W)
2007 Anna Chakvetadze, Svetlana Kuznetsova (RU)
2008 Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina
2010 Vera Zvonareva (RU)
2012 Maria Sharapova

2012 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2012 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2012 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2012 US: Serena Williams, USA
2013 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2013 WI: Marion Bartoli, FRA

2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Serena Williams, USA
2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2012 Serena Williams, USA

6...Serena Williams (4-2)
4...Venus Williams (2-2)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
1...Maria Sharapova (1-0)
1...Samantha Stosur (1-0)
1...Victoria Azarenka (0-1)
1...Jelena Jankovic (0-1)
1...Caroline Wozniacki (0-1)
1...Vera Zvonareva (0-1)
6...Roger Federer (5-1)
4...Novak Djokovic (1-3)
2...Lleyton Hewitt (1-1)
2...Andy Murray (1-1)
2...Rafael Nadal (1-1)
1...Juan Martin del Potro (1-0)

[won Girls & Ladies titles]
Lindsay Davenport (1992 Jr. Champion; 1998 Women's champion)
Martina Hingis (1994 Junior RU; 1997 Women's Champion)
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2001 Junior RU; 2004 Women's champion)
Victoria Azarenka (2005 Junior champion; 2012 Women's RU)

1970 Margaret Court, AUS
1972 Billie Jean King, USA
1976 Chris Evert, USA
1982 Chris Evert-Lloyd, USA
1983 Martina Navratilova, USA
1986 Martina Navratilova, USA
1987 Martina Navratilova, USA
1988 Steffi Graf, GER *
1989 Steffi Graf, GER
1993 Steffi Graf, GER
1995 Steffi Graf, GER
1996 Steffi Graf, GER
1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
2000 Venus Williams, USA *
2001 Venus Williams, USA
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2012 Serena Williams, USA *
* - also won Olympic Gold

AO (4): 1969,1970,1974,1993
RG (1): 1992
WI (10): 1973,1976,1978,1979,1988,1992,1995,2003,2006,2009
US (1): 1975

#1 S.Williams d. #15 Stephens
#12 Flipkens d. Bouchard
#3 A.Radwanska d. #24 Makarova
#9 Jankovic d. #30 Robson
#6 Wozniacki d. #10 Vinci
#21 Halep d. #4 Errani
#11 Stosur d. #7 Kvitova
#2 Azarenka d. #13 Ivanovic

...finally, the notion that Serena will NEVER lose to Sloane again after Melbourne (and the Twitter/interview "feud") is tested.

#1 S.Williams d. #12 Flipkens
#9 Jankovic d. #3 A.Radwanska
#21 Halep d. #6 Wozniacki
#2 Azarenka d. #11 Stosur

...still, this would be a best-ever Open run for Aga. Ah, JJ. Halep proves New Haven was no fluke. Meanwhile, if Stosur had been in the top half of the draw, I'd have seriously considered a final run pick. But I've been jonesing for a heaping dose of Vika-in-New York for almost two months now. So...

#1 S.Williams d. #9 Jankovic
#2 Azarenka d. #21 Halep

...pick JJ as a surprise finalist? Don't pick JJ as a surprise finalist? Pick JJ as a surprise finalist? Don't pick JJ as a surprise finalist? Pick JJ... nah... it'd be better to be surprised.

#2 Azarenka d. #2 S.Williams

...Vika would become the first woman to ever defeat Serena three times in finals in a single season, and the first to do it four times in her career, too (she's tied w/ Venus w/ 3). If it was three-setter? Yep, no one's ever beaten Williams in three three-set matches in a season, either. Azarenka would with just such a win here. If ALL that happened, the only thing standing in the way of Vika being declared Serena's "best ever" opponent -- statistically speaking, at least... since Venus or Henin will likely always be considered the "unofficial" chart-topper in most people's minds -- would be Jennifer Capriati's five career three-set wins over Williams.

Of course, what are the odds of all that happening? Maybe better than you'd think.

#1 Djokovic d. #16 Fognini
#6 del Potro d. #12 Haas
#3 Murray d. #20 Seppi
#5 Berdych d. Stepanek
#10 Raonic d. #8 Gaquet
#4 Ferrer d. #14 Janowicz
#7 Federer d. #11 Nishikori
#2 Nadal d. #13 Isner
#6 del Potro d. #1 Djokovic
#3 Murray d. #5 Berdych
#4 Ferrer d. #10 Raonic
#2 Nadal d. #7 Federer
#6 del Potro d. #3 Murray
#2 Nadal d. #4 Ferrer
#2 Nadal d. #6 del Potro

...quick! Who's the defending U.S. Open champion? Did you forget already? Why, it's Murray, of course. After winning Olympic Gold and Wimbledon, the Scot's NYC run has sort of been lost in the mix. Nadal's sterling hard court run, combined with Murray's barely-there post-SW19 summer, has contributed quite a bit, too. Naturally, #1 Djokovic is still a decent bet to reach the final, but I'm still going with del Potro simply because, other than Nadal, he's been the most in-form hard courter player this summer not named Nadal or Isner (who, for all his North American HC success, probably isn't likely to ever serve his way through six, chocked-full-of-tie-breaks, best-of-five matches to reach the latter stages of this or any other slam). Nadal, quite possibly having the best (late-starting) season of his career, is the odds-on favorite to take his second Open.

Who would have guessed THAT eight months ago?

Of course, there IS that guy named Federer who might face Rafa in the QF. They played close in Cincinnati and, while Fed (likely dealing with back issues, even if he doesn't offer it up as a ready excuse) hasn't looked as poor as he has this summer for, well, maybe his entire career. Then again, no one saw Pete Sampras' late-career run to an Open title in '02, either, did they?

All for now. Day 1 -- and the Daily Backspin -- awaits.


Blogger jo shum said...

Ah right , JJ played well throughout the summer until the breakfest

But I though LI was playing well against Serena until she occasionally loses her mind in big moments . And those times usually don't happen unless they play the big three. Lets see.

Am so excited, will it be a back-to-order slam or upset slam? Being the last one of the year I guess anything can happen

Sun Aug 25, 05:33:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Of all of the well-established players not named Vika or Serena, I like JJ to do the most damage. She has a possibly tough opener with Keys, and all kinds of tough opponents with whom she may have to contend, but right now, she seems steadier to me than Aga and Na. (If she doesn't get into an argument, that is.)

Sun Aug 25, 01:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ah, how fun would it be to have a QC run at this slam? More fun than a camel on Wednesday.

(Sorry, I just like that commercial... and I suspect I'll be seeing it a lot on ESPN over the next two weeks, too.) :D

Sun Aug 25, 04:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I do, too--almost as much as "The Italians are coming!"

Sun Aug 25, 09:08:00 PM EDT  

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