I didn’t think I would be writing about live tennis again in 2020 but here we are! The US Open is set to begin on Monday in New York. While six of the top ten have pulled out, the draw still manages to showcase the depth on the WTA tour. I really enjoyed last week’s tennis in Cincy-New York and felt ready to write again, if anything, just for a distraction from the day job. Read on for a preview of the four quarters with a few predictions along the way.
Seeds 1️⃣: (1) Karolina Pliskova, (8) Petra Martic, (12) Marketa Vondrousova, (13) Alison Riske, (17) Angelique Kerber, (23) Yulia Putintseva, (28) Jennifer Brady and (30) Kristina Mladenovic
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Caroline Garcia, CiCi Bellis and Aliaksandra Sasnovich
Fun fact 🤓: There are four players in this quarter who will be competing in a Slam main draw for the first time – Tamara Korpatsch, Hailey Baptiste, Varvara Gracheva and 15-year-old, Robin Montgomery, who is the reigning Orange Bowl champion. Seven players, that’s nearly a quarter of the players in this section (!), will be playing the US Open main draw for the first time.
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: In truth there’s nothing that really stands out in this section from the slate of first round matches. The match i’m most keen to watch is Angelique Kerber against Ajla Tomljanovic, mostly to see Angie play for the first time post-lockdown.
Match-ups hoping for 🤞: The pick of the potential match-ups is Pliskova-Brady (R3) after Brady announced herself by winning her first WTA title in Lexington. In the pair’s only previous meeting at the US Open in 2017, Brady won just one game. If the pair were to meet, i’d expect Brady to win a lot more games. Into the second week, a Pliskova-Kerber (R4) clash on a fast hard court would be one to relish.
General thoughts 🤔: Going into a Slam having not won a pre-Slam tune-up event is a rarity these days for Karolina Pliskova. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing because it hasn’t exactly favoured her in recent years. Pliskova’s draw has its pitfalls with Caroline Garcia a possible second round opponent (3-3 H2H record) and Jennifer Brady lurking in the third round. Just my personal opinion but I don’t see Pliskova winning. Despite not having played post-lockdown, i’m high on Angelique Kerber‘s chances. She loves a fast court, has history at the US, and often starts the year well down under after the off-season break. Add to that, Kerber has teamed up again with Torben Beltz which is a legendary combination.
As much as I like Petra Martic, it does feel rather jarring to see her as a top eight seed. Martic’s eighth of the draw is definitely the lightest on paper. A resourceful Martic will be the favourite to prevail although I also like the enigmatic, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, to reach the second week.
QF Prediction 🏵️: Angelique Kerber vs. Petra Martic
Seeds 1️⃣: (4) Naomi Osaka, (6) Petra Kvitova, (11) Elena Rybakina, (14) Anett Kontaveit (19) Dayana Yastremska, (24) Magda Linette, (31) Anastasija Sevastova and (32) Rebecca Peterson
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula, Marie Bouzkova, Camila Giorgi and Danielle Collins
Fun fact 🤓: Elena Rybakina had to qualify for last year’s US Open. One year on and she’s the number 11 seed!
Blockbuster R1 matches 🎆: Two players who have shone since the restart, Jessica Pegula and Marie Bouzkova, will clash in the first round. I was disappointed when I saw the draw as I fancied both players to have a shot at reaching the second week. It’s a 50-50 clash – instinct is with Bouzkova.
Also of note is Anastasija Sevastova vs. Coco Gauff. I thought Gauff looked superb in Lexington where she reached the semi-finals. Her resilence and ability to problem solve is already exceptional at 16 years old. Sevastova hasn’t won a set on the restart and is the kind of player who can blow hot and cold. She has history at the US Open. I’m trending towards Gauff, despite a one-sided loss to Maria Sakkari in the first round of Cincy-New York.
Match-ups hoping for 🤞: Osaka-Gauff (R3) will draw the headlines although their two previous matches, while highly memorable occasions, were one-sided affairs. As a potential first time match-up, i’d like to see Rybakina-Yastremska (R3). If it happens, pray for those tennis balls.
General thoughts 🤔: Naomi Osaka looked in fantastic form in Cincy-New York before having to withdraw from the final due to a leg injury. I love how Osaka is playing and so, so clutch on the big points. A slight concern that the overwhelming attention will catch up to her and now with this injury and such a quick turnaround to a Monday start. Hopefully it’s all precautionary. The dark horse in this section is the steadily improving, Anett Kontaveit. I don’t like Collins as a first round opponent for Kontaveit but if Osaka were to go out early, Kontaveit would be my pick to take advantage of the opening.
Petra Kvitova lost her opener in Cincy-New York to a brilliant, Bouzkova in three sets. I actually thought it was a positive showing from Kvitova and she played a stunning first set. The forecast implies the weather won’t be too oppressive for the next two weeks and Kvitova should be fresh. Dare I say she is going somewhat under the radar which is when Petra is always at her most dangerous. The Czech star could face Marie Bouzkova again in the third round.
QF Prediction 🏵️: Naomi Osaka vs. Petra Kvitova
Seeds 1️⃣: (3) Serena Williams, (7) Madison Keys, (10) Garbiñe Muguruza, (15) Maria Sakkari (18) Donna Vekic, (22) Amanda Anisimova, (25) Zhang Shuai, (26) Sloane Stephens
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Jill Teichmann, Alize Cornet and Margarita Gasparyan
Fun fact 🤓: The US Open is set to welcome the return of Tsvetana Pironkova! The 32-year-old has not played a competitive match since Wimbledon 2017 following the birth of her first child in 2018. Pironkova will play Liudmila Samsonova in the first round.
Blockbuster R1 match 🎆: Like the first quarter, nothing blows me away in terms of first round matches. I am fascinated though by Sloane Stephens up against Mihaela Buzarnescu. Two years ago, the pair were in their prime and this would have been an all-top 20 clash. Stephens has won just one of her last nine matches, while Buzarnescu hasn’t played a competitive match in nearly a year. The Romanian player has never been the same since she went over on her ankle in Montreal. I’d give Stephens a slight edge with some match play under her belt.
Match-ups hoping for 🤞: Keys-Teichmann (R2) is the most exciting potential second rounder. Sakkari-Anisimova (R3) would be a nice clash of game styles.
General thoughts 🤔: Serena Williams has had plenty of court time with all five of her post-lockdown matches going three sets. While she has shown flashes of clutchness, she was unable to close out her two eventual losses against Shelby Rogers and Maria Sakkari in Lexington and Cincy-New York respectively. Madison Keys lost her opener in Cincy-New York to Ons Jabeur, while Garbiñe Muguruza is untested having pulled out last week due to a left ankle injury.
While I know not to underestimate Serena, i’m just not convinced that she can win seven matches against the field. My dark horse tip is Amanda Anisimova. Anisimova has been overshadowed by Gauff in the last year but I still think she is a tremendous prospect and has such a clean game. I was impressed with her level in a first round win over Alison Riske in Cincy-New York. The Keys-Muguruza eighth is highly uncertain but their quality and ability to peak for the Slams may well prevail. Jill Teichmann and Alizé Cornet are ones to watch following promising runs in Lexington and Cincy-New York respectively.
QF prediction 🏵️: Madison Keys vs. Amanda Anisimova
Seeds 1️⃣: (2) Sofia Kenin, (5) Aryna Sabalenka, (9) Johanna Konta, (16) Elise Mertens (20) Karolina Muchova, (21) Ekaterina Alexandrova, (27) Ons Jabeur and (29) Veronika Kudermetova
Unseeded loomers ⚡: Victoria Azarenka, Venus Williams, Iga Swiatek, Taylor Townsend, Vera Zvonareva, Leylah Fernandez and Kim Clijsters (!)
Fun fact 🤓: Three of the four semi-finalists from Cincy-New York have landed in this fourth quarter. Victoria Azarenka and Johanna Konta could reprise their semi-final clash in the fourth round, while Elise Mertens is in the final eighth of the draw.
Blockbuster R1 matches 🎆: Karolina Muchova against Venus Williams is best of the first round match-ups. Both players have impressed on the resumption without making great progress in the tournaments they played. Venus debuted a brand new serve in Lexington and looked sharp in her opener against Victoria Azarenka. Muchova pushed Osaka to three sets in Cincy-New York in one of, if not, the highest quality match from the past week. A 50-50 clash but my admiration for Muchova is swinging the tables in favour of the Czech player!
Also of note in this section is Veronika Kudermetova vs. Iga Swiatek, a match where it’s not obvious who the seed is (it’s Kudermetova for the record). An all-British clash between Johanna Konta and Heather Watson is a brutal opener for the pair who joined Sue Barker for the Wimbledon daily shows back in July. Finally, a hipster match-up alert for the energetic 17-year-old, Leylah Fernandez going up against the two-time Slam finalist and 35-year-old, Vera Zvonareva.
Match-ups hoping for 🤞: Sabalenka-Azarenka (R2) is the pick of the second rounders if it materialises. The pair’s only previous meeting was at last year’s US Open where Sabalenka won in three sets. In the same section, i’m pulling for Swiatek-Townsend (R2) which would be a perfect showcase of the variety that the WTA has to offer.
General thoughts 🤔: This is a fun, fun section mixing experience and youth. Victoria Azarenka was playing with a new sense of freedom in Cincy-New York, all just a week after many had written her off following a swift exit in Lexington. Aryna Sabalenka has looked wildly erratic even for her standards so i’d say Azarenka is the favourite to come through that section. Johanna Konta has suddenly burst into form and the courts seem to suit her game perfectly. If Konta’s knee holds up then she will be dangerous. I’m also keeping an eye on Karolina Muchova and Iga Swiatek.
Sofia Kenin improved during her Cincy-New York opener against Alizé Cornet after an understandably rusty start but lost in straight sets. She should have won the second set, missing an almost open court on one of her three set points. She’s got some tricky players in her section, including Ons Jabeur, who are all capable of causing of Slam upsets. Elise Mertens is in great form after reaching the final of Prague and the semi-finals of Cincy-New York. She’s consistently performed well at the Slams and will likely sweep up if Kenin falters with her supremely solid game and temperament.
QF Prediction 🏵️: Victoria Azarenka vs. Sofia Kenin
The WTA is unpredictable at the best of times so this should be a whirlwind of a two weeks. I think it’s probably the most challenging Slam to predict in recent memory. I’m just so thankful that we have some live tennis to enjoy. Here’s to a safe and exciting tournament 😊.
Final Prediction: Kvitova d. Anisimova