Saturday, August 23, 2014

U.S. Open Preview: The Women Behind the Curtain

As everyone gathers in New York for the final grand slam event of the year, a player's career could be about to change forever. But, then again, that's no different from the rest of this season, which has unflinchingly pushed forward, making unexpected turns, since the calendar turned over to 2014.

Li Na became a multiple slam winner in January but soon parted ways with her coach, and now a knee injury will deprive us of even a glimpse of her at Flushing Meadows. Quick! Who was the other finalist in Melbourne? If you had to think about the answer, well, that says a lot about her season. Pssst... it was Dominika Cibulkova, difficult as that is to remember now. Elsewhere, a Canadian -- a CANADIAN -- has been the most consistent slam performer all season, while Vika Azarenka's year has essentially been a bust. Ana Ivanovic has been welcomed back into the elite party she pretty much self-evicted herself from five years ago, while Maria Sharapova has seemingly never left (and it now providing the guests with candy). Simona Halep is currently the #2-ranked player in the world, while Venus Williams -- again! -- is the second-best American.

Oh, and about the only woman ranked above both Halep and Venus... well, Serena Williams comes to this U.S. Open with high career stakes. Her year-end #1 ranking isn't yet solidified as she attempts to become just the second woman to three-peat in New York in the last sixty-one years, Simultaneously, she's staring down the notion of possibly not only taking home no slam titles in '14, but also failing to reach a single slam final in a full-participation year at the majors for the only time since she first arrived on the WTA scene sixteen years ago.

Of course, those are all the storylines that will be played out and added to over the next two weeks. Here's a quick overview of the women's draw, quarter-by-quarter:

1. Serena Williams, USA ...Serena weaved her way through the North American hard court circuit, wobbling but winning in Stanford, falling to Venus in Montreal and then taking Cincinnati for the first time ever, playing her best match of the summer in the final against Ivanovic. But Serena has found a way to win titles in the "regular season" before in '14 (a tour-best five times, in fact), but it hasn't translated to slam success when the pressure was really on. She hasn't yet advanced past a Round of 16 in the majors, and now stands THIS CLOSE to experiencing her first season without an appearance in a slam final since 2006, and just her second since winning the Open in 1999 at age 17. The only year in which she's played all four slams and didn't reach a final was her debut season of '98. So, history would seem to be on her side to at least advance to the final weekend, right? Maybe, but winning a third straight title might be another matter. It hasn't happened on the women's side since Chris Evert's four straight titles from 1975-78, and you have go back to the early 1950's (Maureen Connolly 1951-53) to find the last time someone did it before that.
2. Ana Ivanovic, SRB ...AnaIvo has turned a significant corner in '14, rediscovering her ability to win titles (three) as she's climbed back into the Top 10 for the first time since 2009. She even upset Serena in Melbourne, pushed her to three sets on two other occasions, and outlasted Maria Sharapova in another dramatic three-set affair in Cincinnati that had everyone checking their blood pressure. But the Serb is still looking for her first true deep run in a slam since winning Roland Garros in '08, having only reached the QF stage at two of her last twenty-five majors. Barring an unforeseen early collapse, Ivanovic should be fine to the Round of 16, then the Knob of Intrigue will get turned up a few notches.
3. Samantha Stosur, AUS ...for most of the season, the 2011 U.S. Open champ has seemed a lost cause searching for answers. Briefly, she seemed to find a few over the last two weeks. After losing to world #406 Naomi Osaka in the Japanese teen's main draw tour debut in Stanford, Stosur put up just two games against Serena in Montreal. But she rebounded in recent weeks by battling Williams through two tie-breaks in Cincinnati and riding a week of fine serving stats to the semifinals this week in New Haven, her first final four result since Week 2 in Hobart. If the Aussie could somehow reach the second week she'd be a legitimate threat, but that's a scenario that's a big reach for anyone other than a true Stosur fan. For everyone else, it's hard to envision without calling upon an illusionist.

THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP & Coco Vandeweghe, USA... both are positioned in the same section as Stosur in the quarter. #15-seeded CSN and unseeded Vandeweghe are set up for a possible 2nd Round match-up, with the winner getting the chance to face the #24-seeded Aussie a round later, or to slip through the hole left in the draw should Stosur fail to make it that far. The Spaniard is generally thought to be at her best on clay, but she's put up a hard court win over Maria Sharapova this summer and took Venus Williams to three sets in the Montreal QF. The big-serving Bannerette upset Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic in Montreal and played Angelique Kerber into a 3rd set in Stanford. If Serena has another first week stumble, either woman -- both first-time title winners in '14 -- would be in contention for a surprise semifinal run.
THE WILD CARD: Flavia Pennetta, ITA... After a slow comeback from wrist surgery, Pennetta was on the verge of retirement in the middle of '13, but a good run at Wimbledon was followed up by a first career slam SF in New York and everything changed. She grabbed the biggest title of her career in March in Indian Wells, pushing her to within shouting distance of a Top 10 return at age 32. She's had a hard time getting her game back up to speed since, going 10-11. She won just three matches on the North American hard court circuit, with a loss to Serena in Cincinnati sandwiched between tournaments in which she was upset by Yulia Putintseva and Alison Riske. Can the Italian find her fire again in New York, her best slam even before 2013 (three QF results, and that memorable gut-check vs. Vera Zvonareva in '09)? She doesn't have a "gimme" draw, with Julia Goerges, Shelby Rogers and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova likely early-round foes. But if she can get to a Round of 16 match-up with, say, AnaIvo and keep playing beyond it, she could still go from crowd favorite to serious threat.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Samantha Stosur, AUS... did she peak too soon? The wake-up-the-echoes loss against Serena in Cincinnati and a win over Genie Bouchard in New Haven aside, it's questionable whether the Aussie can get past her tough early-round draw (Lauren Davis, then likely Kaia Kanepi and CSN or Vandeweghe) and get her third summer '14 shot at Serena in the 4th Round. Stosur won the Open three years ago, but she's failed to reach the 3rd Round in seven of her other nine trips to New York. A year ago, she dropped her opening match to Vicky Duval.
THE POOR SOUL: Taylor Townsend, USA... considering Serena is 55-1 in career 1st Round slam matches, the chances that the 18-year old wild card will follow in the footsteps of Virginie Razzano (at Roland Garros '12) are pretty slim. Still, after a 3rd Round run in Paris this year, whatever happens will be a good learning experience.
=Final Thought...=

It's Serena's quarter, and likely tournament, to win... but that was the case at the other three slams this season, too. At this point, it would seem prudent to not expect career slam #18 to come until 2015.


1. The Hat ...any hat. Take your pick. As in: you can pretty much pick the winner of this quarter out of a hat. Yep, this quarter is loaded with big names, but whether it's loaded with legitimate title contenders is up for debate.

Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon, but saw her results sag once again on the hard courts of North America until this past week. She's had a great run in New Haven, but playing in the summer heat and in the middle of the daily buzz of New York is a different animal altogether, and the Czech is still looking for her first QF result there. She could be tested in the 3rd Round by Madison Keys. Victoria Azarenka has reached the final in NYC the last two years, but comes to the city seeded #16 and nursing a knee injury. How match tough can she be with just eight matches (and three wins) since the Australian Open? 2014 can't end quickly enough for Vika, so that she can wash the bad memories out of her hair and move onto next season. Svetlana Kuznetsova is the only former U.S. Open champion in the quarter, but she hasn't reached the QF in Queens since a run to the final in 2007. Meanwhile, Eugenie Bouchard has been the most consistent slam performer on tour in '14, reaching two semis and the Wimbledon final. But she's had a disappointing summer hard court campaign, going 1-3 and having questions being raised about how hard the WTA is pushing her as the tour's new "It" Girl. But the Canadian has been the picture of an even-keeled and confident performer in the slams in '14, and she'll have the chance to prove herself again in New York. Bouchard seems to have a good early draw, but she's just a few matches past having been served a pair of bagels by Shelby Rogers in her home tournament in Montreal, and Ekaterina Makarova (4th Rd.) has been known to knock high seeds down a peg or two when given an opportunity.

THE BRACKET BUSTER: Madison Keys, USA... the American has shown an ability to gain confidence from her victories and learn from her losses. With '14 wins over Halep, Kerber and Jankovic, the #28-ranked Keys is poised to push Sloane Stephens as the highest-ranked of the young Bannerette corps. Keys doesn't have an easy draw by any means, as she's positioned in the same section of the quarter as three slam winners -- Kvitova, Kuznetsova and Azarenka. But with all three having their own reasons for possibly disappointing in New York, Keys could slip through to set up a "battle for the hearts of North American youth" in the QF in a clash between Team Madison and Genie's Army.
THE WILD CARD: Kuznetsova, RUS

...ten years ago, Sveta became the third Russian to lift a slam title in the '04 season, taking the Open as a braces-wearing 19-year old with what seemed like an amazing future. She's had a very good, likely Hall of Fame-worthy (when you factor in her Fed Cup history), career. But she hasn't become the great champion her talent said she COULD be. But while Kuznetsova is still capable of being ousted in the 1st Round of a slam and surprising no one with the result, the same can be said about her if she put together a deep run into the second week that could potentially put a career-defining THIRD slam on her racket. She's already "missed" on a trio of additional slam wins in the past, three times failing to convert match points or serve out victories in slam matches against players (Henin, Myskina and Serena) who would go on to win the title. At 29, an age which has come with something of a buy-two-get-one-free deal for many on tour in recent seasons, Kuznetsova has shown "signs" of, well, SOMETHING. A brief return to the Top 20, her first final since 2011 and her first title since 2010 have her ranked #21 and once again playing the role of Ultimate Wild Card at slam time. She has a rough potential draw: Erakovic in the 1st, followed by Vesnina, Azarenka, Kvitova and Bouchard to just reach the semifinals. But considering the current fallibility of that entire group, Kuznetsova might not even have to face anyone from that "murderer's row" other than the Kiwi. Curses! What am I trying to talk myself into???
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Dominika Cibulkova, SVK... not that anyone is expecting much from the Slovak, of course. But that says something about her season, which began with an Australian Open final and included a 16-2 run from February to April. She's only won five of her last fifteen matches, though, and is far, far off the radar heading into this Open. She's seemingly a "given" to win her 1st Rounder against 15-year old wild card CiCi Bellis, the youngest player in the draw, but what version of Cibulkova we'll see after that is anyone's guess.
THE POOR SOUL???: Kristina Mladenovic, FRA... the Pastry has been spinning various webs of Mladenovic Magic over the past few months, from her upset of Li Na in Paris to her Istanbul semifinal and three doubles finals (including at Wimbledon) since June. But Kiki's gone 0-3 in those finals, retiring in the Cincinnati decider with Timea Babos due to a back injury. She gets reigning Wimbledon champ Kvitova in the 1st Round at the Open, and would seem to be soon left to nurse only her doubles and mixed hopes by Day 3 of the tournament. Hmmm, but then again, Kvitova lost in the 1st Round at the Open in '11 after winning Wimbledon, and Mladenovic already has one 1st Round slam win (Australian Open champ Li) this season over the woman who won the previous major on the schedule. Could Petra, tired from her run in Connecticut, make it two?
=Final Thought...=
The best story of the women's draw seems likely to emerge from this collection of talent. I hesitate to say which storyline I'm leaning towards happening, for fear I might curse the outcome. But...

1. Angelique Kerber, GER ...Kerber surprisingly emerged in New York in 2011, reaching the semifinals while barely being ranked in the Top 100. While she hasn't racked up singles titles, the German has admirably maintained a Top 10 ranking since the spring of '12, reaching a second slam SF ('12 Wimbledon) and reaching at least the Round of 16 at ten of the last twelve majors. She's never reached a slam final, though. At SW19, she upset Sharapova, only to be caught in the scheduling web of the All-England Club, getting little rest and going out in the QF a day later to Bouchard. She opened her summer hard court campaign by reaching the Stanford final, and might just end it on another high note, for she has what could be the best draw of any top contender, opening with back-to-back qualifiers in the only quarter that doesn't sport a former slam singles champion (each of the other three have more than one).
2. Aga Radwanska, POL

...with her title run in Montreal, Radwanska seemed to finally turn back the unable-to-finish-anything mojo that began with her loss in the 2013 Wimbledon semifinals. Her "blue period" gave most of her results a sour aftertaste, and the magical quality that went along with watching her take down opponents while reaching into her bag of game day tricks just wasn't quite as fun. The evil joy of it all might be back... but that doesn't mean she's going to put on a deep run at this U.S. Open. She's never reached the QF at this slam, and while the draw would seem to set up to give her at least a chance to reach the 4th Round again and play for her best Open result, it's hard to get over the thought that it won't happen. But even if Lucie Safarova doesn't trip her up in the Round of 16, Kerber could do it in the QF. The German is 4-3 against Aga on hard courts, winning two of their last three meetings.
3. Jelena Jankovic, SRB ...JJ is forever in search of what she lost. The former #1 reached the U.S. Open final in '08, playing and losing a tight two-setter against Serena. The Serb has been all over the board ever since. Rising, falling, doing splits and spinning around like a top. Well, maybe not that last one... but would you put it past her if she did? JJ climbed back into the Top 10 last year, but she hasn't reached a slam semifinal since 2010. This Open might just provide her with the best shot she's had to do it in years, though. If she can get past a 1st Round match against her countrywoman, that is.

THE BRACKET BUSTER: Bojana Jovanovski, SRB... BoJo comes to NYC on a four-match losing streak, having dropped eight straight sets. And that's not even her longest losing streak of the season, having survived a six-match skid earlier this year before rebounding by upsetting Azarenka at Wimbledon and reaching the Baku final in July. She'll face countrywoman JJ in the 1st Round (1-2 in their head-to-head, she defeated Jankovic on hard court in 2010), with a shot to deliver the first draw-altering upset of the Open. The removal of JJ from the equation would surely immediately set off a firestorm of talk on ESPN about how the "draw has opened up for Sloane." Of course, as things played out, that wouldn't likely last long. But, really, it'd be so much more fun to just keep Queen Chaos alive and ticking in this draw for as long as possible.
THE WILD CARD: Lucie Safarova, CZE... since (barely) failing to convert match point in the 3rd Round against eventual AO champ Li Na in Melbourne, Safarova has been on something of a grand slam mission. She went to Paris and upset AnaIvo en route to the Round of 16 (matching her career RG best), then reached her first career slam semifinal at Wimbledon. This past Monday, Safarova reached a career-high ranking of #15. She's never been beyond the 3rd Round in New York, but she put up a win over Venus in Cincinnati and has a draw that seems suited to the Czech setting up a Round of 16 clash with Radwanska, who's never been to the final eight in New York. A break or two and Safarova might find herself in her second slam semifinal this summer.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Alize Cornet, FRA... The Pastry has given every sign of being the tour's Most Improved Player in '14, notching two wins over Serena and being a drama queen of immense proportions. In a good way. Most of the time. But Cornet has gone 1-5 since defeating Williams in the 3rd Round at Wimbledon. She was one-and-done in both D.C. and Cincy, and even lost to an injured Vika in Montreal. That doesn't speak well for a deep run in New York.
THE POOR SOUL: Sloane Stephens, USA... a victim of her own success, Current Sloane's slips are now more noticeable. Coaching changes, a 1st Round loss at Wimbledon, being passed by fellow North American Bouchard on the tour landscape, then countrywoman Venus in the rankings (with Keys not far behind). If Future Sloane ever becomes a reality, her birth will be a very public triumph. The blessed event probably won't happen in New York, though. If she makes it that far, Stephens is slated to face Jankovic in the 3rd Round. She's already lost to the Serb twice on hard courts this summer.
=Final Thought...=
Kerber is the only current Top 10 player without an appearance in a slam final. With ten different finalists at the last five slams, you'd think the law of averages would get the German into one of those championship matches at some point, right?

1. Maria Sharapova, RUS ...the '06 champion SHOULD cast a bigger shadow at this tournament than she actually does. But she's only reached one QF in New York since she won the title eight years ago, and ever since her shoulder injury Sharapova has been more of a consistent threat on clay than hard courts. That she comes into the Open after being forced to three sets in five of six hard court matches this summer -- losing to CSN and AnaIvo, the latter in the sort of dramatic match that Maria always usually wins -- doesn't exactly speak highly of the form -- especially on serve -- she's dragging to Flushing Meadows, either. But, still, even with all that, she's the favorite in this quarter. A combined 10-3 in her head-to-heads against #2-seeded Halep (5-0, including a recent win in Cincinnati) and Venus Williams, Sharapova has lost just once to the latter since 2008. She's 5-2 against Caroline Wozniacki, too, with the Dane putting up a only one win since 2010. There are pitfalls in this quarter for the Russian, of course, starting in the 1st Round with countrywoman Maria Kirilenko. But Sharapova has to be looking at this draw -- with Serena all the way on the other side of it -- and thinking, "Yeah, this is doable." Then again, she probably always thinks that.
2. Venus Williams, USA ...maybe the best developing story of this '14 season has been the re-emergence from the shadows of her condition and all the endless "r"-word talk of a Venus whose game has, at times, looked better than it has in years. Back in the Top 20 and having won her first title in two years, Williams' summer included a run to the Montreal final and her first win over Serena in five years. She hasn't reached a slam QF since 2010, and the day-by-day nature of the fatigue associated with her Sjogren's, even as she's managed it better and better, still make Venus a question mark over the course of a two-week slam event. But for the first time since before we -- and she -- finally learned the cause for the lethargy that often engulfed her tennis game a few seasons ago, there's reason to believe that a deep slam run from Venus isn't just a fairy tale-like story emerging from one's imagination and heartfelt desires. It could really happen.

3. Simona Halep, ROU ...Halep arrives with little match play (2-2) on North American hard courts, and one wonders just how much her second straight long season might be wearing down the Pride of Romania, especially as she's likely still being bothered by the ankle she injured in the Wimbledon semifinals. If the world #2 can get her teeth into this Open, she might be able to ride her all-purpose game into yet another slam semi, or maybe better. But a reinvigorated Venus would seem to be slated to be waiting for her in the Round of 16, and she's 0-3 against the American. A deep run from Halep at this Open would be good for the game, as it'd be nice to see the Romanian's low-key personality and reassuring court intelligence/athleticism combo given a proper showcase on the biggest stage the sport has to offer. Not sure if it'll play out that way, though.
4. Andrea Petkovic, GER ...lost in the weeds of this high octane quarter is one of the most well-liked players on tour, and a former quarterfinalist (in 2011, before injuries dragged the German's career into a corner and pummeled it for a few seasons). Petko has recovered quite nicely this year, as she's won two titles and reached the SF in Paris. She's got a 3rd Round date with the Dane, and if Andrea is seen dancing on the court afterward, well, things could get very interesting down here in this quarter.

THE BRACKET BUSTER: Maria Kirilenko, RUS... we all KNOW she's capable of it. We've even seen her do it, in the 1st Round of the Australian Open in 2010. Sure, that's the only time Kirilenko has converted a match point to defeat Sharapova in eight career meetings (she won a match in' 05 via retirement), but the all-Russian match-up will surely be one of the most closely watched 1st Round matches at Flushing Meadows because everyone immediately went on Upset Alert as soon as the draw became public. Thing is, Kirilenko just might not be up to it. After a long injury break, the #113-ranked Kirilenko has played just seven matches in 2014, and none since her 2nd Round exit at Wimbledon. Even in her few outings this season, though, she's shown some fight. Still, Sharapova being ousted in the 1st Round in New York for the first time ever would send shock waves through the draw right out of the gate. And when that happens so early in a slam, almost anything can happen next.
THE WILD CARD: Camila Giorgi, ITA... a year ago, the hard-hitting little Italian (and her papa) put on quite a show as she charged into the Round of 16. She might be warming up for something again, too. Giorgi ended a four-match losing streak this week, showing up in New Haven and taking out Caroline Wozniacki (she beat Caro at last year's U.S. Open, as well) and Garbine Muguruza (despite 19 DF's!) en route to the semifinals. After facing qualifier Anastasia Rodionova, she'd get the Errani/Flipkens winner, and then maybe Venus.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Caroline Wozniacki, DEN... did she play TOO much this summer? Maybe, but after leading the tour with thirteen match wins since Wimbledon, grabbing a title in Istanbul and getting a pair of Top 10 wins (A-Rad, Kerber) on her way to the Cincinnati semifinals, she's finally earned a passing grade in "Wozniology-101" by proving that she can actually learn to move TOWARD the net on occasion. Because of that the Dane shouldn't look at the Open as a barometer of where her career stands at the moment. After such a successful post-tabloid fodder summer, another of her recent early exits at a slam would be only a blip this time, not the reason for a revolt by tennis watchers against all that is Wozniacki's game. Again. She gets New Haven achiever Magdalena Rybarikova first, but it's hard not to point toward a possible 3rd Rounder vs. Petkovic. A QF+ run is possible for her, but it's not a "necessity."
THE POOR SOUL: Sara Errani, ITA... she put up an aberrational semifinal in 2012, but the Italian hasn't gotten past the 3rd Round in her six other U.S. Open appearances. She's was just 1-3 on the summer hard court circuit, and very well could challenge for "First Seed Out" when she faces Kirsten Flipkens in the 1st Round. She and Roberta Vinci are the favorites to take their second Open doubles title, though. In a season in which no singles player has really stood above the others, the Italian doubles pair should be given serious consideration for "Co-Players of the Year" honors.
=Final Thought...=
This is a complicated quarter. What with the issues of the contenders placed here, you get the feeling that the path for the survivor is going to include multiple three-set victories that won't exactly put them in an advantageous position when it comes time to play for a spot in the final. But everyone might be rooting for them to take it all.

**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
2014 Serena Williams, USA

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
2013: Serena Williams (W), Victoria Azarenka (RU), Li Na, Flavia Pennetta

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
2013 Ana Konjuh/CRO def. Tornado Black/USA

[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
2014 Australian Open - Dominika Cibulkova
2014 Roland Garros - Simona Halep
2014 Wimbledon - Eugenie Bouchard

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
2013 US: Serena Williams, USA
2014 AO: Li Na, CHN
2014 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE

1999 Serena Williams, USA
2000 Venus Williams, USA
2001 Venus Williams, USA
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2003 Justine Henin, BEL
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
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
2013 Serena Williams, USA

7...Serena Williams (5-2)
4...Venus Williams (2-2)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
2...Victoria Azarenka (0-2)
1...Maria Sharapova (1-0)
1...Samantha Stosur (1-0)
1...Jelena Jankovic (0-1)
1...Caroline Wozniacki (0-1)
1...Vera Zvonareva (0-1)

[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; 2012-13 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

Unseeded - 2000 Elena Dementieva, RUS
Unseeded - 2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Unseeded - 2011 Angelique Kerber, GER
Unseeded - 2013 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
Wild Card - 2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL (W)
#28 - 2011 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#19 - 2006 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
#12 - 2005 Mary Pierce, FRA (RU)
#12 - 2007 Venus Williams, USA
#10 - 2001 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#10 - 2002 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
#10 - 2012 Sara Errani, ITA

306...Martina Navratilova
299...Chris Evert
278...Steffi Graf
252...Serena Williams *
218...Venus Williams *
210...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
198...Lindsay Davenport
180...Monica Seles
174...Conchita Martinez
164...Gabriela Sabatini
162...Maria Sharapova *

AO (4): 1969,1970,1974,1993
RG (1): 1992
WI (10): 1973,1976,1978-79,1988,1992,1995,2003,2006,2009
US (1): 1975

#1 S.Williams d. #24 Stosur
#11 Pennetta d. #8 Ivanovic
#20 Kuznetsova d. #3 Kvitova
#7 Bouchard d. #17 Makarova
#6 Kerber d. #9 Jankovic
#4 A.Radwanska d. #14 Safarova
#5 Sharapova d. #10 Wozniacki
#19 V.Williams d. #2 Halep

...Stosur likely peaked in New Haven. Same with Petra. Meanwhile, it'd be a case of reverting to form if '13 U.S. semifinalist Pennetta rights her listing ship in New York while AnaIvo's result comes up a bit shorter on the biggest stage than it did on the smaller ones. If Bouchard gets past this round, she will have properly earned another set of wings as a big event player... then she'll head into '15 hoping she doesn't turn into a Current Sloane-like pumpkin overnight. Kerber/JJ would be, well, not for the faint of heart. Aga breaks out of her Round of 16 doldrums at the Open. Halep could certainly sail through to the QF, but Venus has a better summer track record, as well as large history in Queens.

#1 S.Williams d. #11 Pennetta
#20 Kuznetsova d. #7 Bouchard
#6 Kerber d. #4 A.Radwanska
#5 Sharapova d. #19 V.Williams (I WANT to go the other way)'s oh so tempting to push Venus forward at least another round, but I won't. If Kuznetsova makes it this far on the tenth anniversary of her '04 Open championship run, well, the Tennis Gods will be up all night, chuckling over their clever maneuverings and the mere mortals who would surely marvel at them. Sharapova survives. Barely.

#20 Kuznetsova d. #1 S.Williams
#6 Kerber d. #5 Sharapova (for the second straight slam)

...after so many near-misses against Williams in slams that Serena ultimately won, Sveta finally scales the peak. The last three matches in which they faced off have come in slam QF, with the winner going on to take the title. Kuznetsova won Part I of the trilogy in Paris in '09. About Kerber being the only player currently ranked in the Top 10 who has yet to reach a slam final.... well, it might be time to correct that. And she already has a slam win over Sharapova this year at Wimbledon.

#20 Kuznetsova d. #6 Kerber

...after winning slams in '04 and '09, it'd be just like Sveta to close out another five-year block of her career with a third slam that would make her just the fourth woman who played in the Open era to win three slam without ever reaching the #1 ranking. Of course, this prediction pretty much assures that it'd be smart to go ahead and get those congratulatory messages prepared to send off to Marina Erakovic on the occasion of her 1st Round victory. I'm just sayin'.

#1 Djokovic d. #9 Tsonga
#3 Wawrinka d. #5 Raonic
#4 Ferrer d. #19 Lopez
#2 Federer d. #20 Monfils

...there's no Rafa in the draw, but #1 Novak Djokovic, who hasn't exactly been in great form since winning Wimbledon and getting married, has still managed to get stuck on the same side of the draw with the likes of '12 U.S. champ Andy Murray, Rogers Cup winner (and Djoker conqueror) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, AO titlist Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic, who just claimed the U.S. Open Series. Meanwhile, #2 Roger Federer is joined by #4 David Ferrer in the bottom half, along with a slew of underachievers (if they have "FRA" beside their name, they probably qualify), never-have-beens and good players who come into NYC in bad form (Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych). The six-time Open champ couldn't have asked for a better draw even if he'd put it together all by himself during some quiet time between middle-of-the-night crying fits by the twins.

#3 Wawrinka d. #1 Djokovic
#2 Federer d. #4 Ferrer

...the entire population of Switzerland stops the clocks and collectively watches with rapt attention.

#2 Federer d. #3 Wawrinka

...and Federer's longevity and late-career success adds a little fuel in his favor in the "Greatest of All-Time" debate... or at least the greatest of HIS own time race, which has become a bit muddy as Nadal as inched closer and closer on the major title list.

All for now. Day 1 -- and the Daily Backspin -- awaits, as well as a Q-Round round-up and quick Week 34 recap.


Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ummm... sorry, Zidane? ;)

Sat Aug 23, 01:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Galileo said...

Hiya Todd.
My picks will be along soon. They're pretty similar to yours but not as daring. I am an enormous Kuznetsova fan. I have also picked her to do well but not that well ;) I got up at 2am to watch her lose that match to Schiavone. It still hurts to think about that match haha.

Sat Aug 23, 02:00:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Whew! It's a good thing you didn't commit the cardinal sin, too. Otherwise, we'd DEFINITELY have "The Curse, Pt.2!" :)

Sat Aug 23, 02:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

In 2011, Li Na/Kvitova/Stosur won majors. Stosur was also slated to play Serena 3 times during the US Open Series and the US Open.

In 2014, Li Na & Kvitova have both won majors. Stosur has played Serena Williams twice during the US Open Series and they may meet again at the US Open...

Just saying...

Sat Aug 23, 06:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Galileo said...

But Eric Todd said Williams would win all four majors..are you going against his pre-season picks?

Sat Aug 23, 08:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Galileo - I have no response. Just take me to Wimbledon next time you go -- teach me how lol.

Sat Aug 23, 11:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Galileo said...

I go every year! I would be happy to take you. Hey Eric I' starting to think about my year end top ten.How does Sharapova, Halep, Serena, Li Na, Venus,Bouchard, Kvitova, Ivanovic, Jankovic, Kuznetsova sound? I am seriously struggling with the WTA final list. Any help would be much appreciated. S. Williams dominating makes everything so much easier haha ;)

Sun Aug 24, 04:32:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

That is quite a daring final!

I go with a Serena d. Radwanska final. And Federer d. whoever gets on the other side.

Sun Aug 24, 08:43:00 AM EDT  

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