Sunday, August 28, 2016

U.S. Open Preview: Crazy is as Crazy Does

In a season which has defiantly defied expectations and battled back against developing anything with even a remote likeness to anything resembling a "groove," here comes New York.

In 2014 in Indian Wells, Li Na won what seemed to be a routine 4th Round match over Aleksandra Wozniak. It took her ninety-three minutes to dispense with the Canadian, 6-1/6-4. But that was just a scoreline. In reality, the match included a 20-minute final game in which Li prevailed after having initially led 40/love. In that single game alone, she saved two break points, overcame a bad call by and heated protest with the chair umpire, and double-faulting four times on match point. Finally, she won on her ELEVENTH MP of the game, and when starting an on-court interview after it was all over, she uttered the immortal words, "Welcome to the crazy women's tennis tour."

Few seasons have lived up to that description of the Most Interesting Tour in the World better than the entire 2016 WTA campaign, both on court and off, up and down and all around.

But did you know that that wasn't the first time that Li pulled out the on-the-nose phrase? Well, it's true. Nine months earlier, Li won by a particularly-peculiar (but not really, as things often turn out) scoreline over one Simona Halep. After the match...

Two years earlier, Halep had defeated Li at the U.S. Open to notch her first career main draw win at the event. She still remembers it fondly...

Are you sensing the finite connections here?

Well, with that important bridge placed... it's time to get all-in for this U.S. Open.

Here's a quick overview of the women's draw, quarter-by-quarter:

THE FAVORITE: #1 Serena Williams, USA
...well, naturally. Of course. As it should be. But wait... is she really? If Serena's shoulder is healthy, yes. If not, well, Katie bar the door. The craziness could get underway before anyone has even settled into their seats at this Open. With Ekaterina Makarova as her 1st Round opponent, Williams' health should be tested. Serena is 4-1 vs. the Russian, including 4 & 0 and 1 & 3 wins over her in the 3rd Round (2012) and SF (2014) in New York over the last four years, though Makarova does have a 2012 Australian Open win over Williams under her belt (she's one of just two woman who have never been ranked #1 -- w/ Sloane Stephens -- but who have slam wins over both Sisters during their careers). Unless Ana Ivanovic is in exceedingly (more) rare form at this Open, Williams won't likely be tested again until, when and if, she'd reach the Round of 16, precisely where the deep talent in this quarter would begin to rear its upset-minded head in every match.
...Simona belongs here, but the fact is that she probably has the potential for the worst draw of any woman in the entire field.

Her slip from #4 to #5 in the rankings, behind Radwanska, following her semifinal result in Cincinnati has made things a great deal more difficult for her since it allowed her draw the super-short straw and land in Serena's quarter. Well, unless the possible 2016 WTA craziness strikes and clears away some of the potentially deadly debris that looks as if it could be in her way. Her path looks something like this: Flipkens/Safarova or Gavrilova/Babos or Watson/CSN or Vesnina, and then the survivor of the Serena/Stosur section (unless Kasatkina can wreak some havoc at a second straight Open, that is). That said, Halep's form and confidence have both been at a high level this summer, and she could coast through those "difficult" early rounds as a result. So, by a hair, I"m STILL all-in... I think.
THE THIRD WHEEL: #16 Samantha Stosur/AUS
...lost in the wave of names in this quarter is the former Open champ who, you may remember, actually defeated Serena in the final in 2011. Does she have one more run in her? She's already reached a slam semifinal (in Paris) earlier this season, but will be tested in the 1st Round by Camila Giorgi (though the Italian hasn't exactly been burning up the courts this summer). Zhang Shuai and Daria Kasatkina could be the two who stand in the way of another NYC match (under the lights, no doubt?) vs. Serena. It's hardly the preferred under-the-radar path that the Aussie took to her one slam title, though.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #29 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
...I mean, it just rates as a good likelihood, right? Down to #31 and staring at what might go down as her worst season since 2004, AnaIvo comes to Flushing Meadowns on a four-match losing streak. She'll face Denisa Allertova in the 1st Round. The Czech has posted at least one victory in six of her seven career slam MD appearances over the past two seasons. Last year, Allertova upset Carla Suarez-Navarro in the U.S. Open 1st Round. But the Spaniard wasn't the First Seed Out of last year's event... that honor actually went to Ivanovic. Seriously, sometimes the Tennis Gods make this a little TOO easy.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Ekaterina Makarova, RUS and Elena Vesnina, RUS
...sure, the Rio Gold medalists are a force to be reckoned with in doubles, but they could overturn the Big Apple cart in singles, too. 2014 Open semifinalist Makarova, as noted, opens with an is-she-healthy-or-not? Serena, while '16 Wimbledon semifinalist Vesnina is having the best year of her singles career. If she holds form, the Russian could have #11 Suarez-Navarro in the 3rd Round, with Halep possibly waiting in the 4th... then either Serena or Stosur after that. Of course, with this I'm leaving out Flipkens, who has already gotten one big event (Rio, def. Venus) off with a bang this summer.
THE WILD CARD: #23 Daria Kasatkina, RUS
...the Hordette has made a habit of making a good first impression. Over the past year, Kasastkina has reached the 3rd Round in all four of her debuts at the slams (including as a lucky loser last summer in NYC), and then the QF in her Olympic debut. Her results have shown a definite Rio hangover the last two weeks, but she finally seemed to begin to (slightly) regain her footing in New Haven. She'll open with Wang Qiang, with Stosur (3rd Rd.) looming a little farther down the road.
DON'T CALL HER AN UBER (well, actually, maybe you should): #1 Serena Williams, USA???
...well, this is a first. Even if this listing is just a premptive strike, just in case. Serena comes to New York with zero momentum, questionable confidence, the lingering bad memory of her semifinal loss to Vinci last year and -- oh, yeah -- a shoulder injury that turned her serve all Kournikovian in Rio and forced her withdrawal from Cincinnati (even with her #1 ranking in jeopardy). Williams will be going for slam #23 in the twenty-third major at which she'll be seeded #1 (hmmm) -- more than all other active WTA players' top seeds combined (17), and could become the first woman since 2006 (Henin) to play in all four slam finals in the same season, even while she's the reigning champ at only one major. Once again, her #1 ranking is hanging in the balance as play begins, though she's assured of tying Steffi Graf's record of 186 straight weeks in the top spot. This could go really well, or really poorly.

NYC! @NikeCourt

A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

And it'd be impossible to be surprised either way.
...most would point to Richel Hogenkamp, who faces Heather Watson in the 1st Round, as the highlighted qualifier (of a set of four) in this quarter, but I'm partial to the Argentine. The 19-year old is making her slam MD debut this week vs. Annika Beck. The German is 0-3 in her U.S. Open career, the only slam at which she's never posted a win (she's 13-13 at the others). And, yeah, I'm just itching to say, "Oh, Nadia!," too.

THE POOR SOUL: Ekaterina Makarova, RUS Jelena Jankovic, SRB
...normally, this "honor" goes to the poor soul drawn to face Serena in the 1st Round. But, this time, Williams' opening opponent is not your run-of-the-mill cannon fodder, no matter what ultimately happens in the match. So, unfortunately, I'll have to go with JJ. The now 31-year old has been seen diminishing on-court returns and lingering injury issues derail her '16 season, and has lost her opening match at five of the last eight slams (and failed to win two matches at six of seven). She gets Mariana Duque in the 1st Round this time and would be favorite to advance, but it's hard to imagine her lasting beyond that. It's sad, and it's hard not to wonder just how much longer we'll have Jankovic around to make us smile... just by being as JJ as any JJ can be.

THE FAVORITE: #6 Venus Williams, USA a quarter that has "Shenanigans are Possible Here" posters hanging on every available wall, Venus (playing in her record 72nd slam) has the Open history to go in as the "favorite" to emerge, even if her ill/lackluster (even with her Mixed Doubles Silver rebound) performance in Rio raises all sorts of red flags when it comes to whether she's actually capable of a SECOND 2016 slam semifinal run. While she's not the highest seed in the quarter, Williams -- assuming good health for two weeks, which isn't a given -- would be "expected" to win almost every match-up that she might face. But, no, this isn't an announcement of a brilliant Summer of Venus final chapter... it just takes more effort to roll out anything else as a better possibility, and someone had to fill the top line here.
THE ALTERNATE CHOICE: #10 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
...see what I mean? How far does one have to bend backwards to pick the Czech to win this quarter? Still, Pliskova was confident and ON IT in Cincinnati, but that she's never advanced past the 3rd Round at a major is a BIT of a red-lights-flashing-warning-signal, wouldn't you say? She'll get a teenage WC (Kenin) first, but Danka Kovinic (2nd Rd.) could be the first true, we'll-know-more-after-it's-over obstacle she'll face in this slam. Pavlyuchenkova or Mladenovic might be up next. Then things would get really scary, with the likes of Venus and Radwanska ahead. Which Pliskova will show up -- the one saying the right things and backing them up on the court, or the one who shrivels like a raisin on the slam stage? It could tell not only the tale of this quarter, but maybe even one HALF (at least) of the women's singles draw. In a crazy season, Pliskova going from career slam bumbler to ultimate slam achiever wouldn't really even register beyond a 4.0 on the Tennis Richter Scale. Not in 2016. After Cincinnati, such a result IS in play, though. At least for a few more days.

THE THIRD WHEEL: #4 Aga Radwanska, POL
...Aga put on a last second push to save her summer season, winning in New Haven by simply destroying the likes of Petra Kvitova and Elina Svitolina for three sets in the semifinals and final. But while she grabbed the title and won the U.S. Open Series, the way she seemed to tighten and lose her razor sharp edge in the 2nd set vs. the Ukrainian makes one wonder what she'll have left for the Open. Flushing Meadows has never been her favorite place. It's the only major at which she's never reached at QF, and she's lost in the 2nd Round in four of her last seven trips to the city. She'll open against a New York native, qualifier Jessica Pegula (who notched a 1st Round win last year, and took Cibulkova to three sets), with Robson/Broady up next and Bouchard/Garcia/Siniakova after that. A tough, but do-able road in a winnable quarter... well, unless the Pole has already peaked for the summer. Oh, if only Halep had managed to hold onto the #4 seed.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
...the Russian has improved her fitness and (not coincidentally) consistency in 2016, but will it make a difference in New York? She's coming off a QF at Wimbledon, her first at a major since 2011 at the Open. Since that run, though, she's lost in the 2nd Round three times in four U.S. appearances (and has failed to reach the 3rd Round at seven of her last nine hard court slams). She faces Louisa Chirico in the 1st, with the winner of Mladenovic/Hibino on deck in the 2nd.
...after winning a recent challenger event (her first post-wrist surgery title run), Robson went off for an end-of-summer holiday, thinking she'd have no chance at being granted a WC into Open qualifying. But then she got one. Seven hours after getting off a plane, she was heading back to North America. Three Q-rounds -- and six straight sets won -- later, she's back in the U.S. Open MD, riding an eight-match winning streak and positioned to cause havoc. She'll open vs. countrywoman Naomi Broady, but a win there would likely put her up against #4-seeded Radwanska. A possibly tired Radwanska, with no history of U.S. Open success, mind you. Could the sport be ready for another surprise slam run by a Brit (after Konta Down Under), AND a second heart-warming post-wrist surgery tale of success (after Delpo in Rio) in the same season? It could happen.
THE WILD CARD: Genie Bouchard, CAN
...those devilish Tennis Gods couldn't have been waiting all season to spring this story -- and all its shadowy corners, quite literally -- anew on the sport, could they? One year after Bouchard looked to have rediscovered her form at the '15 Open, only to slip and fall on a wet locker room floor and suffer a concussion that troubled her for months afterward, the Canadian returns with her lawsuit vs. the USTA regarding the accident still in play and once again getting publicly heated. Bouchard has flashed her old orneriness and great play at times in '16, but her consistency of results has lagged far behind. With a target to push back against (the USTA... which, really, is a grudge that isn't too hard for anyone to get behind, is it?), could it all come together for her again in New York? A 1st Rounder vs. Katerina Siniakova is no easy-peasy opener, but if she can string some good performances together she could blow up this quarter. #25 Caroline Garcia is in her section, as is Aga Radwanska. But she could just as easily exit meekly, leaving the USTA's lawyers to crow a little more about how it'd be proof that she needs to focus on her tennis rather than any sort of work-related injury lawsuit that the organization seems intent to bring to trial. Perhaps as a lead-up to her upcoming on-the-sly "bad" treatment by tournament officials at the Open, Bouchard recently got an opportunity to practice being on the receiving end of something that, in the right frame of mind, might have been perceived as a bit passive aggressive. She handled it well.

DON'T CALL HER AN UBER (well, actually, maybe you should): Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
...a year ago, the Russian became Serena Williams' U.S. Open 1st Round Victim, retiring down 6-0/2-0 and being forced to wear a boot soon after. Well, she's back and still seeking her first career Open MD win. This time, on the side of the net will be #15 Timea Bacsinszky (a quiet presence in this quarter, especially after her Rio 1st Round flame-out... but one who could legitimately be left standing after all the other bigger-named stars crash out of a very volatile quarter). No matter what, at least Diatchenko's got her social media sidewalk posing game down cold.

QUALIFIER TO WATCH: Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
...two years ago, Krunic rode a qualifying run all the way to the Round of 16 in New York after posting star-making wins over Keys and Kvitova, and taking Azarenka to three sets. Well, the Bracelet is back, ready to rage on the city. Maybe. She opens with Nicole Gibbs, and a win there would allow the seeds to once again line up in front of her: #26 Laura Siegemund, #6 Venus, #10 Pliskova, etc. Is she up to an encore performance?
THE POOR SOUL: Varvara Lepchenko, USA
...Lepchenko just can't catch a break. After being constantly referred to by ESPNers and the like as a "naturalized American" a few years ago when she finally gained the right to represent the U.S. in international competition, this year she's been caught in a whisper campaign about having served a secret/silent provisional suspension earlier this year for a positive test for meldonium. Not only does the whole thing serve to allow many to once again refer to her origin of birth and background (or even use her U.S. citizenship as a weapon, as if it "conveniently" shielded her from a public reprimand), but last week's announcement that all provisional suspensions will now be made public only served to drag her name into the conversation again... even while she can't really publicly comment on the matter. She opens up vs. Peng Shuai in the 1st Round, but I doubt if the match will be the main topic of conversation where she's concerned at the start of the coming week.

THE FAVORITE: #8 Madison Keys, USA
...coming off a 4th place finish in Rio and Montreal final, Keys is surely the in-form player in this quarter. Picking up steam as the season has gone on, she's turned a 6-4 hard court start into a surprising 11-4 clay campaign, leading into a summer where she's gone 8-1 on grass and 9-3 in her return to hard courts. In a quarter filled will sorts of great early-round matches, the Bannerette's path looks to littered with her countrywomen. Alison Riske, Madison Brengle/Kayla Day and then, likely, CoCo Vandeweghe are squarely in her first week path, so she stands a good chance to play one night match (if not more) in the early rounds (and she's been scheduled to get the first on Night 1). This looks to be most straightforward of the draw's four quarters, as far as a truly shocking semifinalist emerging here not seemingly in the cards. But the field IS still chocked full of players who can run hot and cold. Muguruza, Keys and Kuznetsova are the three high seeds here, so you get the idea. It's just a matter of which one of the lot can hold it together the longest and/or limit the damage of an occasional error-strewn walkabout. The good money would seem to be on Keys.
THE ALTERNATE CHOICE: #3 Garbine Muguruza, ESP
...we know that the Spaniard CAN win this quarter, but whether or not she's up to doing that is another thing. She's gone 6-4 since winning Roland Garros, a mark greatly bolstered by a SF result in Cincinnati. But that event ended with a blink-and-you-missed-her loss (1 & 3 to Pliskova) after she'd failed to lose a set prior to her defeat, the same as happened in Rio when back-to-back dominating wins were rendered meaningless by a 1 & 1 loss to eventual Gold medalist Monica Puig. If things go according to plan, Muguruza might get another shot at the Puerto Rican in the 3rd Round. But even if she won there, could she sustain her momentum beyond that? Overall, Muguruza is the best player in the this quarter, but she's not the best player there RIGHT NOW.
THE THIRD WHEEL: #13 Johanna Konta, GBR
...the Brit has already reached a hard court slam semi this year (AO), won a title in Stanford and narrowly missed out on the U.S. Open Series title. Thing is, Konta's draw might be quite the nut to crack. Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the 1st Round, with Belinda Bencic lurking, as well as the never-look-past-her-because-that's-when-she's-most-dangerous specter of Tsvetana Pironkova. If she makes it through, Konta could be positioned to face the Muguruza/Puig section survivor for the right to play (vs. Keys?) for another slam semifinal berth.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #32 Monica Puig, PUR
...Rio Gold medalist Puig has been having a career season, but she's been experiencing a long celebration period back home since the end of the Olympics. Armed with her first career slam seed, how prepared can she possibly be to jump back into the fray? She's pulled herself through some epic matches this season outside of Brazil (see vs. Kr.Pliskova in Melbourne), but she's about to experience the big-success-big-expectations phenomenon that has sidetracked so many young players who have put up career results in recent seasons. If she manages to not be negatively impacted by all the hoopla, it will say a great deal about her career prospects from this point forward. She starts off with Zheng Saisai, who upset Radwanska in the 1st Round in Rio. It'll be interesting to see whether #PicaPower has its own cheering section at the Open. Or maybe I should say it'll be interesting to see just how BIG the cheering section will be?

THE BRACKET BUSTERS: The Women in the Mirror
...the only thing most of the top women in this quarter should really fear isn't their opponents, or even fear itself... but themselves. The presence of the likes of Keys, Muguruza and Kuznetsova, and well as the always-fighting-injuries-or-on-the-cusp-of-doing-so Bencic and Petkovic, not to mention the sliding-badly Anna Karolina Schmiedlova and likely-to-have-an-Olympic-hangover Puig and star-crossed Schiavone (vs. Kuznetsova in a slam 1st Round AGAIN!) makes this the quarter probably most in need of a session on the couch at the moment. In most cases, one can say that there will be three (or four) players effectively on the court when some of the singles matches in this quarter take place.
THE WILD CARDS: The Crazy Ones survivors
...make no mistake, those Tennis Gods are little stinkers. How else would you explain a single quarter serving as the host of two of the wildest 1st Round slam matches possible? For about the millionth time, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone (maybe for the last time) will face off in a slam match. If history is any indication, it'll be long, fun, epic and everyone will be sweaty and smiling by the time its over... but one will be out of the tournament, and the other might be exhausted enough to make her survival chances limited. Just a few spots away in the draw is a match-up of two of the most, umm, "active" in-match players on tour -- Barbora Strycova and Monica Niculescu. It'll be a battle for points, and a case study of just how much emotion (good, bad and otherwise) two players can pack into a single match perfectly suited to the most twisted of tennis fans. And, just as a eye-rolling tip-in, we have the footnote that these two have BOTH shared the court with Sania Mirza in title-winning doubles runs the last two weeks. What. Are. The. Odds?

Of course, the USTA being how it is, the match that every twisted tennis fan is begging to see will probably be sent out to the hinterlands of the grounds on a camera-less court with the least space provided for fans with a penchant for this particularly sporting intoxicant to get their fill.
DON'T CALL HER AN UBER (well, actually, maybe you should): Andrea Petkovic, GER
...this isn't exactly an Open with good news for some fan favorites. Once an entertaining, budding comedy duo, both Jelena Jankovic and Petkovic might have a lot of free time on their hands in New York. It's difficult to see the Serb lasting long in the draw, and the same can be said for the German. Petko has a tricky opening match vs. qualifier Kristina Kucova, and then immediately would begin to wade into seeded waters (she's ranked outside the Top 40), as #24 Belinda Bencic and #13 Johanna Konta form the first wave of top seeds (or in the Swiss' case, a former-top-seed-who's-injury-plagued-but-still-deadly-if-healthy) that Petkovic isn't likely to penetrate.

...there are actually quite a few qualifiers who could make a dent in the draw in this quarter. Duan Yingying faces Maria Sakkari, Ana Bogdan goes into an all-Swarmette clash with Sorana Cirstea, Montreal semifinalist Kristina Kucova plays Andrea Petkovic, and even Elise Mertens has a shot to face THAT OTHER Muguruza. And then there's Townsend, the only one who might actually be considered the favorite in her 1st Round match. She faces Caroline Wozniacki, who comes in on a 1-5 slide, 13-14 on the season (19-20 over the past year) and with her last three-win event coming at LAST year's New Haven tournament. Speaking of the Dane...
THE POOR SOUL: Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
...was it really just two U.S. Opens ago that Wozniacki was playing in the final vs. Serena, having re-established herself as a Top 5 player after finally adding a touch of aggression to her game? It seems like about ten years ago at this point. The Dane will enter this Open ranked at #74 in the updated Monday rankings, having ended the brief coaching relationship with David Kotyza (who didn't see that coming weeks ago?) just a few days before the start of the tournament, and will be coached in NYC by (wait for it...) her father Piotr. Even worse, she's facing an upset-minded (and capable) opponent in qualifier Taylor Townsend. Whether she survives that one or not, Wozniacki won't likely last much longer than an additional round in the draw in this or any other reality (and certainly not in the trapped-in-amber WTA one in which the Dane currently resides/is encased, perhaps for all eternity).

THE FAVORITE: #2 Angelique Kerber, GER
...Kerber has been a big event workhorse in 2016, winning the Australian Open, and reaching the Wimbledon and Olympic finals. But how much did her run to the final in Cincinnati, immediately after Rio, take out of her? The German came within two sets of swiping the #1 ranking from Serena Williams, but instead had her third missed-it-by-that-much moment (w/ SW19 and a Gold medal) of the summer. While her Player of the Year and "Ms. Backspin" resume is as full or fuller than any other player on tour, is another two-week trudge in her wheelhouse after a brilliant-but-exhausting 21-5 summer stretch? Outside of the condition of Williams' shoulder, it's the biggest question heading into this U.S. Open. Because if Kerber runs out of steam (as she did in Cincy), the entire bottom half of the draw opens up wide. Assuming a 1st Round win over Polona Hercog, things will immediately get interesting one round later. Cornet or Lucic-Baroni would be waiting, and the quarter is also stocked with players who have flashed both early (Cibulkova) and late (Svitolina) this summer. Kerber is still the likely survivor, but if her HUGE season doesn't include a New York chapter, it won't be a black mark on her record.

Hello NYC ?? #whenInNewYork #UsOpen2016 #teamangie

A photo posted by Angelique Kerber (@angie.kerber) on

THE ALTERNATE CHOICE: #22 Elina Svitolina, UKR
...Justine Henin's charge is learning and winning, and winning and learning, as the final days of summer drift away. In Rio, she held her nerves and took out Serena, but couldn't follow up the win. She reached the New Haven final, falling behind a frighteningly-in-form Radwanska before getting herself back into the match, but couldn't quite push things to a 3rd set. If she had, a fifth career title might have been in her grasp as the Pole seemed to be straining to maintain her form after a long couple of weeks (which began with a 55-hour ordeal just to get to Rio). Petra Kvitova (3rd Rd.) is squarely in Svitolina's way in her section, but nothing says the Czech will survive long enough to face her, nor be in any shape to compete if she does. That leaves a possible match-up with Kerber in the Round of 16. Kerber would be expected to win, but Svitolina is showing signs that she knows she can pull out matches such as that. It'd be great to see her get another chance at one more before the summer turns to fall. And, of course, it's always nice to see La Petit Taureau in the stands for as long as possible.

THE THIRD WHEEL: #12 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
...the Slovak has gone just 4-4 since winning that epic Round of 16 match over Radwanska at Wimbledon (4-3 since getting married). The hard court slam where Cibulkova has shined the brightest is in Melbourne (RU and QF in the last three years), not New York (a single QF in '10), but the opportunity for another big run is present at this event. As the #12 seed, she's got a Top 4 seed sort of draw, and very well could reach the QF without even facing a seeded player (depending on whether or not #7 Vinci recaptures her '15 NYC mojo), or having #30 Misaki Doi being the first. But while she's a legit threat, Cibulkova just doesn't realy FEEL like one heading into this slam. But if she can play her way into her something remotely resembling the player who put together a 23-4 stretch on hard, clay and grass courts during the spring and early summer, well, that assessment will change dramatically.
ENDANGERED SEEDS?: #27 Sara Errani, ITA and #7 Roberta Vinci, ITA
...both vets had their best '16 moment early in the season, and come to New York with no momentum to speak of. One year after two Italians (including Vinci) met for the U.S. Open title, there's a legit chance the nation's five women in the draw could go winless in the 1st Round this time around. '15 runner-up Vinci was 3-4 this summer hard court season, while former Open semifinalist Errani was 3-3. Errani faces Shelby Rogers in the 1st Round, while Vinci goes up against Anna-Lena Friedsam. Both will be favored to win. It wouldn't be shocking if neither do.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Alize Cornet, FRA or Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
...both women, who play each other in the 1st Round, have a history of recent big-time upsets on slam stages. Lucic knocked off Halep at both the U.S. Open and Roland Garros in recent years, while Cornet had Serena Williams' number a few seasons back. The winner here will likely get Angelique Kerber it the 2nd Round. Kerber is a combined 6-0 vs. the two, but Lucic took the German to three sets in Montreal this summer, just as Cornet did the same in Eastbourne two years ago.
THE WILD CARD: Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
...Ostapenko is one of the more volatile players out there, but with that unpredictability comes an accompanying ability to knock off big names, too. Well, she's about to get another chance when she faces off with Petra Kvitova in the 1st Round. The Latvian teen has played the Czech twice, both time this year, and walked away with three-set victories on both occasions, on hard court in Doha and even the grass in Birmingham. Kvitova is coming off looking exhausted and ill in the New Haven semis, putting up just two games vs. Radwanska at a tournament at which she was the two-time defending champ. Needless to say, the Bad Petra Alert will be sounded at the start of Day 1. Which is quite convenient, since...
DON'T CALL HER AN UBER (well, actually, maybe you should): #14 Petra Kvitova, CZE
...Petra's opening round match vs. Ostapenko has been scheduled for Day 1, at 11 a.m. on Court 12. So, if the teen can push things deep, the east coast heat and humidity could work their wonders on what is possibly an already ill Czech. This could get ugly. Well, unless you-know-who shows up. But the sightings of her are becoming fewer and farther between, and playing without a coach in recent outings doesn't seem to be working out all that well (one has to wonder if the suddenly-free-again David Kotyza might be back in the picture by the start of 2017).
...a year ago, Daria Kasatkina rode a LL second-chance-pass into the MD all the way to the 3rd Round. The Belgian has that opportunity at this Open. She opens with qualifier Wang Yafan, the only 1st Round match-up of players who participated in this past week's qualifying tournament, so they come in on equal footing, and Van Uytvanck is the more experience slam player. She reached the QF at Roland Garros last year, though she's 0-5 in the MD of hard court majors. Wang has played just one MD slam match in her career, losing in the 1st Round of the Australian this January. CiCi Bellis, who handed Van Uytvanck her Q3 loss on Friday, faces Viktorija Golubic in this same quarter.
THE POOR SOUL: Sabine Lisicki, GER
...the German surely can't wait to get this season over with. She'll enter the U.S. Open fighting against the tide to just stay in the Top 100, coming in at #84 in the new rankings. Her only worse season-ending ranking since 2008 came in 2010, when she missed five months with an ankle injury. This year, it's mostly been just poor play that has her sinking down the charts. She won a wild night match over Strycova en route to the Round of 16 at last year's Open, but might be lucky to get past Yulia Putintseva in the 1st Round this year.

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
2014 Serena Williams, USA
2015 Flavia Pennetta, ITA

8...Serena Williams (6-2)
4...Venus Williams (2-2)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
2...Victoria Azarenka (0-2)
2...Caroline Wozniacki (0-2)
1...Maria Sharapova (1-0)
1...Samantha Stosur (1-0)
1...Jelena Jankovic (0-1)
1...Roberta Vinci (0-1)
1...Vera Zvonareva (0-1)

**U.S. OPEN TOP SEEDS - since 2002**
2002 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2003 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2005 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Justine Henin, BEL (W)
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2014 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2015 Serena Williams, USA
2016 Serena Williams, USA

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

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
2014 Marie Bouzkova/CZE def. Anhelina Kalinina/UKR
2015 Dalma Galfi/HUN def. Sonya Kenin/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
2015 Flavia Pennetta, ITA

[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

06: Sharapova (W), Henin-H. (RU); Jankovic/Mauresmo
07: Henin (W), Kuznetsova (RU); Chakvetadze/V.Williams
08: S.Williams (W), Jankovic (RU); Dementieva/Safina
09: Clijsters (W), Wozniacki (RU); Wickmayer/S.Williams
10: Clijsters (W), Zvonareva (RU); V.Williams/Wozniacki
11: Stosur (W), S.Williams (RU); Kerber/Wozniacki
12: S.Williams (W), Azarenka (RU); Errani/Sharapova
13: S.Williams (W), Azarenka (RU); Li/Pennetta
14: S.Williams (W), Wozniacki (RU); Peng/Makarova
15: Pennetta (W), Vinci (RU); Halep/S.Williams

Unseeded - 2000 Elena Dementieva, RUS
Unseeded - 2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Unseeded - 2011 Angelique Kerber, GER
Unseeded - 2013 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
Unseeded - 2014 Peng Shuai, CHN
Unseeded - 2015 Roberta Vinci, ITA
Wild Card - 2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL (W)
#28 - 2011 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#26 - 2015 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (W)
#19 - 2006 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
#16 - 2014 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
#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
#10 - 2014 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (RU)

2004 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL *
2006 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Serena Williams, USA
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Serena Williams, USA *
2014 Serena Williams, USA *
2015 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2016 Aga Radwanska, POL
* - also won U.S. Open title

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
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Aga Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki
2014 Australian Open - Dominika Cibulkova
2014 Roland Garros - Simona Halep
2014 Wimbledon - Genie Bouchard
2015 Roland Garros - Lucie Safarova
2015 Wimbledon - Garbine Muguruza
2015 U.S. Open - Roberta Vinci
2016 Australian Open - Angelique Kerber (W)
NOTE: first-time finalists at 4 of last 6 slams, and 7 of 11
NOTE: Hingis (1997 AO - W), Zvonareva (2010 WI)

2013 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2013 WI: Marion Bartoli, FRA (ret.)
2013 US: Serena Williams, USA
2014 AO: Li Na, CHN (ret.)
2014 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2014 US: Serena Williams, USA
2015 AO: Serena Williams, USA
2015 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2015 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2015 US: Flavia Pennetta, ITA (ret.)
2016 AO: Angelique Kerber, GER
2016 RG: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2016 WI: Serena Williams, USA

9...Serena Williams, USA (age 30-34)
3...Martina Navratilova, USA (age 30-33)
3...Margaret Court, AUS (age 30-31)
2...Billie Jean King, USA (age 30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert, USA (age 30 & 31)
1...Flavia Pennetta, ITA (age 33)
1...Virginia Wade. GBR (age 31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones, GBR (age 30)

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

1970 Margaret Smith-Court
1984 Chris Evert-Lloyd
1985 Martina Navratilova
1986 Martina Navratilova#
1987 Martina Navratilova
1988 Steffi Graf
1989 Steffi Graf
1992 Monica Seles
1997 Martina Hingis
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne
# - only three slams were contested in 1986 calendar year (AO shifted from Dec.'86 to Jan.'87)
NOTE: Serena Williams has played in first three 2016 slam finals

#16 Stosur d. #1 S.Williams (Bam! Or, maybe "BamBamSam!")
#5 Halep d. #19 Vesnina
#15 Bacsinszky d. Bouchard
#10 Ka.Pliskova d. #6 V.Williams
#8 Keys d. #18 Strycova
#13 Konta d. #3 Muguruza
#12 Cibulkova d. #30 Doi
#22 Svitolina d. #2 Kerber (Bam, Pt.2)

...I guess I'm committed to the crazy, as that's six double-digit seeds in the QF.

#5 Halep d. #16 Stosur
#10 Ka.Pliskova d. #15 Bacsinszky (oh... I'm bending back SO far right now!)
#8 Keys d. #13 Konta
#22 Svitolina d. #12 Cibulkova (LPT pick, by proxy? I can live with it.)

...and the Pliskova Slam Futility Update dies a premature death, I suppose.

#5 Halep d. #10 Ka.Pliskova (all-in for Si-mo-na)
#8 Keys d. #22 Svitolina

...they've already played twice this summer, with Halep winning at Wimbledon and Montreal.

#5 Halep d. #8 Keys (crazy like a fox)

...and I'll be personally conducting tours of the Cliffs of Simona throughout the fall. It's the least I could do, right?

All-in... I always keep my promises.

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


Blogger colt13 said...

*This one is a lot crazier than usual, with negatives in the positive, and positives in the negatives. Confused? Read on.*

Top 10 to Watch.
1.Halep-Would Hope Solo call her a coward? She does rely on defense, although she has a more offensive game on hardcourt. Like Kvitova, she is known for being someone who needs to go home to recharge. Before her first slam, in a 2 month period, she reached the final in Prague, then Eastbourne, then won Wimbledon. In a similar stretch this year, Halep won Bucharest, then Montreal. So she is the US Open pick.
2.Muguruza-Has a mathematical chance of leaving with the #1 ranking, so she deserves a mention. Plus reaching 2 slam finals on different surfaces in a year means she could do it here too. The huge red flag is that Pliskova and Puig, both in the Top 10 in aces, took her out this summer. Then look at her matches with Serena. Beat her on clay, but not anywhere else. So a skilled big server can take her out.
3.Puig-Snuck in with a seed. On the list because every woman who won the Olympics has reached the 3rd round that year. Capriati was the only one not to make the 4th(Hy). Plus with Jankovic on the downside of her career, she has the best backhand in the game. Note- I have been feeling that way since the Aegon Classic.
4.Ana Bogdan-If I was going to pick a qualifier, and Gonzalez was a worthy pick too, as Pliskova is a 2nd match for her, this is the one. The Romanian Hammer is the WTA version of James Harden. She can light it up from anywhere, but lacks defensive positioning. She has Top 30 talent, and think of her as the 2006 version of Jankovic, who had a 10 match losing streak, then beat Venus and Serena in a 2 month span and never looked back. Has talent far above her ranking.
5.Siegemund-In the section most likely for a first time SF. She has a Nadal like ability in the fact that even though she is clearly much better on clay, she can hang in on hardcourt.
6.Putinseva-Without Azarenka, this is the lady in the black hat. New York will either love her or hate her. Over/under on rackets is 7. Unlike Jankovic, who threw away 10 games in a row against Henin in 2006, Yulia only goes away for a game or two.
7.Svitolina-Not on this list because of New Haven, but the Olympics. She beat Serena, and everybody that has beaten the #1 seed in a played match(de los Rios won due to walkover) there has reached a slam final in their career. She is solid, and New York rewards defenders/solid play(Pennetta, Vinci, Zvonareva, Clijsters, Jankovic, Wozniacki).
8.Konta-In a bad section, but has a big serve and now has a title.
9.Kucova-In 2009, she beat Petkovic and Oudin to qualify for Wimbledon. Then lost in qualies her next 19 slam attempts, although she did make the 2010 AO directly. Her summer seems reminiscent of Agnes Szavay in 2007, in which she qualified in New Haven, reached the final, the reached the QF in NYC, while Kucova qualified in Montreal and reached the SF. Not worried about her New Haven "injury" as she couldn't be in 2 places at once. SF in New Haven- 37k, first rd US- 43k. Fun fact-Agnes' sister Blanka attempted to qualify for 2 WTA events(Budapest) in 2009 and 2010. The two players that beat her are in the field in Golubic and Bacinszky. Oh, and to close the sister act, Zuzana still heads in MD slams 5-3.
10. Brengle-With the exception of Hingis, nobody uses team tennis as a springboard better than Brengle. Won 61 pct of her games, and took her annual break from traveling, as she hasn't played a WTA event in a month, but has still played 27 since the Open last year.

Sun Aug 28, 05:40:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Ten to Avoid

1.Riske-Has had a good enough summer that she should be on the other list. But she is the cautionary tale of living without a seed. She has lost her last NINE slam matches, 7 to seeds, and starts with Keys. Others have had more futility-Foretz lost 15 over multiple slams, but was getting WC's, while Koukalova went 0-12 in MD in New York. Fun fact- while she never made it through qualies, she did win 2 Q matches in 2009, one being Siegemund in her first attempt to qualify for a slam. But Riske is all direct entry.
2.Vinci-6-10 since her QF run in Stuttgart. Plus she loses her hall pass aka her USO ranking points. Has done even less that you think, as she has had 8 byes this year. Only tournament where she has had back to back wins since Stuttgart? Wimbledon, where she beat(wait for it) Riske.
3.Ostapenko-A kind of disappointing year, that bodes well for the future. First the bad-Has lost in the 1st rd of all 3 slams. That serve is bad. Not Dementieva/Ivanovic bad, but mid career Bartoli bad. And the stats back me up, as she has 108 more DF's than aces. The good? If she can stay at 40 for the next 2 months, it will be a good base for next year because she does have a more varied game that she gets credit for. Also with exception of Doha(40 pct of her pts) she won't have anything to defend. Also with age comes wisdom. The wisdom not to play as she did this year-Stanford, Montreal, Florianopolis, Olympics, Cinci, New Haven, USO. The only Olympian to do so.
4.McHale-Sites have her as a trendy pick. But she is the American who is better on clay, then only had one more win on clay than grass, where 2 of her 3 losses were to Serena and Coco. So this is probably her 3rd best surface. And WTT backs that up as she had the worst winning percentage there, only winning 37 pct of games.
5.Vandeweghe-I like the Hingis/Vandeweghe partnership. However, I am expecting singles to drop initally as she learns how to deal with this. Unlike Mattek-Sands/Safarova, who can pull out and get along well, Coco has a partner that only plays doubles. And she was open about the fact that she should have pulled out of doubles before her singles loss at Wimbledon. But doubles is loaded. 69 of the top 70 have won a WTA doubles title- #68 Nicole Melichar is the outlier.
6.Pliskova-In the penalty box for her singles transgressions, but there is a sliver lining. Like other CZE women like Hradecka, Hlavackova, Safarova and Peschke, Pliskova might be the next one with a doubles slam. Pliskova/Goerges are 7 in the YEC race, and with Karolina also at 9 in the singles race, she may pull double duty like Muguruza did last year.
7.Stosur-Here because she has never reached 2 slam SF in the same year, and already did at the French. This is Miss Popcorn. She beat Serena here to win her slam, and arguably it is her 4th most interesting match here. The one AM match vs Clijsters, the tiebreak one against Kirilenko, and the 9 match point match against a young and healthy Laura Robson were better.
8.Robson-Has a winnable match against Broady, but just tempering the excitement. Del Potro won a slam before injury, while Robson has never won a WTA event. In fact, the most recent ITF win was only her second. Winning a round and playing a complete match in a loss is a good starting point.
9.Mladenovic-Suffering from a case of Isner-itis. 8-6 in her 14 tiebreaks this year, plus an 11-9 loss to Gavrilova down under. Almost all of her good results this year were on clay and grass, she is 7-13 on hard.
10.V.Williams-The Abbey D'agostino of the WTA. She is the Olympic runner that tripped over another, then ran a mile with a torn ACL. Venus can play 3 1/2 hours and lose, then come back an hour later for doubles. As much as I admire her spirit, it is insane to pick a 36 yr old to make back to back deep slam runs. Although if she does, it wouldn't be the first time a Williams sister defied the odds.

Sun Aug 28, 06:42:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Solo would probably get drunk and try to beat her up. Oh, wait... she only does that with family remembers, though, right? Nevermind. ;)

"The Romanian Hammer." I like it. :)

Hmmm, interesting note on Vandeweghe. I wonder how long it'll take CoCo's singles aspirations to adversely impact her doubles relationship with Hingis?

Sun Aug 28, 01:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I wonder whether her general demeanor will adversely impact Vandeweghe's relationship with Hingis. I do 't see Hingis putting up with a lot.

Sun Aug 28, 01:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I agree.

(I mean, there's surely another big server who'd be available to play doubles with a Hall of Famer.)

Sun Aug 28, 07:17:00 PM EDT  

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