2021 US Open Preview

Well hello there… it’s been a while. I haven’t had the motivation, energy or time to get back to the blog since the French Open-Wimbledon double. Since then, I was absolutely absorbed in the Olympics. I actually didn’t watch that much of the tennis – was it just me who found it rather underwhelming? I loved catching up with the highlights each night and watching new sports that I didn’t know anything about. If the world is a bit less weird then i’d love to make it to Paris 2024!

Back to the tennis and it’s time for the final Slam of the year with the US Open set to begin on Monday on a glorious Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK. I’ll be around for most of the first week on the blog. I’m holidaying in the second week so I will still be watching but probably won’t be posting anything new. Since I haven’t written about anyone since Wimbledon, i’ve laid out my thoughts on the 32 seeds and unseeded loomers at this year’s US Open.

(1) Ash Barty: It has been unfairly questioned many times over the last year but I don’t think there can be any doubts right now that Barty is the best player in the world. And by quite some distance. While we’re here, I think Barty is the most consistent performing world number one in a longg time. Barty’s Cincy run differed to her two hard court titles this year as she was rather emphatic and did not drop a set. Barty’s forehand was wicked in the lively Cincy conditions and the serve continues to the bedrock and foundation of her game.

Hard to look past Barty as the favourite for the US Open. On first glance, Barty has a favourable draw. I never normally fancy the Cincy winner or any pre-Slam tournament champs to win the upcoming Slam. Decisons to be made when filling out my draw this weekend…

(2) Aryna Sabalenka: Reaching the semis of Wimbledon must have been a huge monkey off Sabalenka’s back. Results since have been so-so. Recent three set losses to Donna Vekic (Olympics) and Paula Badosa (Cincy) are a slight concern. Sabalenka’s record in three setters this year (7-12 W-L record) hasn’t been great. I still remain a tad wary because Sabalenka is prone to an error-strewn display.  Still a worthy contender and in my top five.

(3) Naomi Osaka: Gosh it’s been a wild ride these past few months for Osaka. I think Cincy was actually a positive tournament for Naomi. The first press conference where she was tearful appeared to be a storm-in-a-teacup. I would guess emotions must have been charged with it being her first press conference since everything unfolded at Roland Garros. In her final press conference after a three set loss to Jil Teichmann, Osaka seemed reasonably content and philosophical.

The last player to defend a Slam title was Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2016. Osaka has won the last two hard court Slams. I wonder whether Osaka will be mentally prepared for this title defence after the past few months and whether she can maintain her form through seven matches.

(4) Karolina Pliskova: In summary, I can’t figure Pliskova out! There have been plenty of highlights since Wimbledon, a run that I did not see coming at all. Pliskova reached the final in Montreal with yet another fantastic semi-final victory over Sabalenka and then the holy grail, FINALLY beating Jessica Pegula for the first time in Cincy and rallying from hefty deficits in both sets. It felt like a gamechanging win for Pliskova. However, she ended Cincy with a pretty lacklustre display against Jil Teichmann in the semi-finals. Just an off day after a busy few weeks?

Pliskova’s consistency has certainly been restored since Wimbledon. I haven’t changed my opinion though about Pliskova winning a Slam. I just don’t fancy Pliskova to win seven matches in a row. Pliskova has lost her last four finals which may be something to take account of if she goes all the way to finals weekend in New York. The draw looks pretty favourable on paper…

(5) Elina Svitolina: I was thrilled for Svitolina that she won a bronze medal at the Olympics. Svitolina has overcome early losses in Montreal and Cincy to Johanna Konta and Angelique Kerber respectively with a semi-final run in Chicago this week. I haven’t changed my opinion about Svitolina at the Slams and not currently in my top ten contenders.

(6) Bianca Andreescu: I don’t know what to say about Andreescu. Her run in Miami earlier this year was a welcome reminder of what she is capable of. Injuries just keep on derailing her momentum and there’s not been much of note since that Miami run. This will be Andreescu’s first appearance in New York since her glorious title run in 2019. Very few data points to support a deep run but if she’s going to have a good run anywhere then it will be here.

(7) Iga Swiatek: I’m struggling to forget about the sight of Swiatek weeping for a good five minutes on court after losing her second round match at the Olympics to Paula Badosa. A tough watch. Swiatek lost her only match since then in Cincy to Ons Jabeur. Very few data points for Iga. Always one to watch and early rounds look fair on paper so perhaps an opportunity to build some momentum.

(8) Barbora Krejcikova: What a season it has been for Krejcikova. It will be a travesty if she doesn’t scoop at least one prize in the WTA awards come the end of the season. Since winning the French Open in both singles and doubles, Krejcikova has kept on building and added an Olympic gold medal to her resume. Krejcikova’s three losses in singles since Roland Garros have been to Barty (x2) and Bencic who were all the eventual champions. Her game is nailed on and I still marvel at her nonchalant ability to change direction and create angles. Krejcikova’s in the mix and I like her draw…

Ashleigh Barty-1

(9) Garbiñe Muguruza: Not really been the same since that leg injury from Charleston. I saw some Mugsy promise in a three set, third round loss to Krejcikova in Cincy. Muguruza showed some of the battling qualities that had instilled her as arguably the most consistent player on hard courts through the first three months of the season. Muguruza played some bold tennis in the second set, coming forward with success, which is always where I feel she is at her best. The US Open has always been Muguruza’s weakest Slam. Expectations are lower than normal because of this and I feel Muguruza needs more matches to be a contender. She’ll have to play her way into form which will be tricky with this draw.

(10) Petra Kvitova: Cincy was actually Kvitova’s best tournament in a while as she reached the quarter-finals. A nod to what hasn’t been the most fruitful of seasons for Kvitova so far. Never going to fancy Kvitova at the US Open… that is apart from last year when I excitedly picked her as my champ 😱. The hustle and bustle of New York, and the heat and at times, oppressive humidity, are not a great match for Petra. The draw’s there for a run though…

(11) Belinda Bencic: After a surprising first round exit at Wimbledon, Bencic went and surprised at the Olympics by winning the gold medal! I missed most of Bencic’s matches in my tennis slumber so I can’t really comment on her form. I heard good things about BB in her run to the quarter-finals in Cincy too. The US Open has been Bencic’s best Slam by a mile and is the only Slam where she has made the last eight.

(12) Simona Halep: Is it jarring anyone else to see Halep outside of the world’s top 10? I just cannot get used to it. It’s rough on Simona that it has been largely down to injury as she was forced to skip Roland Garros and Wimbledon with the calf injury. A tear to her right adductor in her first match in Cincy pretty much sums up Simona’s luck this year. I think it will be a triumph if she lines up for the US Open. The draw’s been a bitch as well with Montreal champ, Camila Giorgi, up first 😬.

(13) Jen Brady: Another player who hasn’t had much luck with injuries of late is Brady who has retired hurt or withdrawn from three of her last seven matches. It sounded like she was in a bad way at Cincy where she retired with a leg injury in her second round match. It’s a travesty that Brady hasn’t cracked the top ten over the past year and with semi-final points up on the chopping block, it will be a feat to stay where she is.

(14) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: An underrated feel-good storyline of 2021 has been Pavs who has reached her first Slam final and won an Olympic gold medal! Pavlyuchenkova’s form has been decent since reaching the final of the French Open. Visa troubles have disrupted her preparation for the US but she’ll be lining up when play starts on Monday.

(15) Elise Mertens: I feel like Mertens hasn’t been the same player since a tight three set loss to Maria Sakkari at the French Open earlier this year. The Belgian player has lost four of her last five three set matches and I sense her confidence has taken a bit of a beating. Still pretty reliable at beating players you would expect Mertens to beat but often comes up short against quality opposition. Not really on my radar.

(16) Angelique Kerber: Even after her run to the semi-finals of Wimbledon, I didn’t really expect this Angie resurgence to continue. Kerber looked superb in Cincy where she managed to overturn a seven match losing streak to beat Elina Svitolina in the second round en route to the semi-finals. I still think back to Doha-Dubai where Angie was completely out-of-sorts. It’s fun to watch this resurgence and you cannot discount Kerber in this form at a tournament she has won before. Tough draw though…

Kerber

(17) Maria Sakkari: It’s been a decent year for Sakkari. Perhaps it’s more of a story of what could have been. There have been some superb three set wins, notably the win over Mertens at RG and the come-from-behind-saving-match-points victory in Miami against Pegula. However, it feels like the year has been defined by the losses – Azarenka in Montreal, Svitolina in Tokyo, Krejcikova in Paris, Muchova in Madrid, Kvitova in Stuttgart and Andreescu in Miami. There’s some scar tissue for sure. I always scan for Sakkari in a draw. Perhaps lower expectations this time round based on form and a pretty dicey looking draw.

(18) Victoria Azarenka: Longing for peak Vika. It’s not really happened this year with a persistent spate of injuries not helping her cause. Solid wins in both Montreal and Cincy but both runs were ended in rather comprehensive fashion by the world’s top two. Big points to defend – will it spur or impede Vika? Tending towards the latter…

(19) Elena Rybakina: 4th at the Olympics is not a nice place to be and it’s unfortunately where Rybakina ended up. Even more crushing was that Rybakina had a wealth of opportunities to win her semi-final and bronze medal matches agaisnt Bencic and Svitolina respectively. Groundstrokes are undeniable. Mentality has been questionable of late.

(20) Ons Jabeur: It’s been another great year for Ons with so many fantastic wins and that elusive WTA title coming in Birmingham. I really thought she had a shot at winning Wimbledon. The stars seemed to be aligning. Jabeur has continued to build on the consistency from last year. I’d tag Jabeur as an outsider for this Slam. I still have my doubts that she can maintain her level for seven matches.

(21) Coco Gauff: I’ve had a feeling going into this year’s US Open that Gauff is going to go deeeep and this could be her breakthrough. I wouldn’t say her recent form has really suggested this is on the cards. Serve and forehand continue to be areas for opponents to exploit but her attitude and mentality on court are already one of the best. Now more undecided as Gauff has landed in a rather hellish quarter of the draw.

(22) Karolina Muchova: Six months on from Australia and I still think Muchova is not fully healed from the abdominal injury. I think this was the same injury (?) that forced her to retire in Cincy in the third round against Belinda Bencic. I think it’s a testament to Muchova’s class that she reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon well below her best and pretty subdued for the most part. I was hoping Muchova would take the time to properly recover from this injury and go all in for 2021 but then I don’t know the extent of it. Looks like she is intending to play in New York and SST up first. Oof.

(23) Jessica Pegula: The Australian Open quarter-final run wasn’t a flash in the pan. Pegula has had a stunning year and proven that she can compete with the best of them, particularly on hard courts. The Pliskova streak may have ended in Cincy but she reached the semi-finals in Montreal with four top 30 wins. Definitely a dark horse and one to keep an eye on.

(24) Paula Badosa: A shout out for Badosa who has to be one of the prime contenders, along with Krejcikova and Pegula, for most improved player of 2021. Badosa was nowhere on my radar at the start of the year. She’s been a revelation and i’ve enjoyed getting to watch her play. Great attitude and is increasingly picking up quality wins on ALL surfaces with the latest being a third set tiebreak victory over Sabalenka in Cincy. One to watch and in a favourable section of the draw too.

Badosa

(25) Daria Kasatkina: This has been Kasatkina’s best season since 2017 and she’s slowly been rebuilding after a sad slump in 2019. I still think Kasatkina lacks boldness and belief in critical moments and there’s still the occasional disappointing result such as in Chicago this week where she won just three games in a quarter-final loss to Magda Linette. I am generally encouraged considering where she was back in 2019. Pironkova up first is a scary sounding opener!

(26) Danielle Collins: Finallyyyy Collins is seeded at a Slam! It’s been a long time coming with the American racing up the rankings after back-to-back titles in Palermo and San Jose. I didn’t see any of those runs but I can’t say it came as a huge surprise. It really does seem that Collins is thriving being pain free following surgery for endemetriosis earlier in the year. I just hope that Collins is physically recovered from all the recent matches as she did retire from her first rounder in Cincy.

(27) Jelena Ostapenko: I fell in the Ostapenko trap for Wimbledon having resisted it for so long. Nothing has changed as Ostapenko’s game is always capable of catching a hot streak. How long that lasts for is always up in the air! I am generally going through a don’t-trust-Ostapenko phase 😂.

(28) Anett Kontaveit: Before Cleveland, Kontaveit was on a five match losing streak. Her last four first round draws were Vondrousova, Sakkari, Pegula and Jabeur. That’s an absolute hosing from the draws. Kontaveit has managed to build some momentum and confidence in Cleveland where she has reached the last four. Kontaveit is always there or thereabouts. I’m hoping she gets her moment soon when all the pieces fall into place and she has a deep run at a Slam.

(29) Veronika Kudermetova: The last few months have been rough in singles for Kudermetova. I thought she was set for a breakthrough run in Paris but she lost a heartbreaker to Siniakova that seems to have lingered for a while. A tough draw in New York with Barty potentially looming in the third round.

(30) Petra Martic: I think I read that Martic is now coached by Michael Geserer, the former coach of Goerges and Brady? Aside from a semi-final run in Rome on favoured clay, Martic has had a pretty quiet year. Martic has lost her last three matches but came so very close to a big win over Badosa in Cincy, missing match points in a heartbreaker.  Not really on my radar for the US Open.

(31) Yulia Putintseva: So-so form on the hard courts since winning a title in Budapest on the clay. Putintseva’s last three losses have been against higher ranked opposition. Kanepi up first, one of the most well known seed-slayers, isn’t an ideal opener.

(32) Ekaterina Alexandrova: Sneaking in with a seeding is Alexandrova who is riding a three match losing streak. I’ve written before about how I always seem to watch Alexandrova on a bad day! Errani up first is a polar-opposite match-up. Will do well to match seeding and reach the third round.

Collins

Unseeded loomers

Camila Giorgi: I really hope Giorgi’s title in Montreal wasn’t a flash in a pan. She’s such an enigma and it was interesting to learn more about her during that run. Giorgi just seemed to rein in her margins a tad and was solid on serve. Brutal draw at the US getting Simona first.

Madison Keys: Jarring to see Keys unseeded. I get that her form has been poor for a while now but still?! US Open has been such a successful tournament for Keys and she has reached the second week in five of her last six outings. Another brutal draw as she opens against Sloane Stephens in a rematch of the 2017 US Open final.

Sara Sorribes Tormo: Love watching SST scrap and battle on the court. She’s been a part of so many thrillers this year! Muchova up first is rough.

Jil Teichmann: The recent Cincy finalist will be full of confidence heading into the US Open.

Katerina Siniakova: Been steadily improving in singles and perhaps still buoyant from French Open and Olympics success in doubles? Keeping an eye on.

Sloane Stephens: Quietly impressed how Sloane has turned around her slump in form. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of work to be done and Sloane still throws in the occasional shockers, but really encouraged to see her fighting spirit on court and going after her forehand. See first round draw above. And it wouldn’t get any easier after that…

Giorgi

Follow Moo’s Tennis Blog on Twitter and Facebook. Photos by Omar Boraby Photography and mootennis.com.

11 thoughts on “2021 US Open Preview

  1. Welcome back James. It is always a pleasure to read your blogs. I do not know what your occupation is but have you ever considered becoming a tennis journalist or something similar ? I imagine it might be hard to do so.

    I did not watch any of the Olympics which seems very focused on athletics, swimming and a lot of minor sports whilst sports such as football, golf and tennis do not get much attention at the Olympics and the media and general public do not take much notice of who wins ( unless the winner is from their country ). This is because these sports have their own prestigious tournaments ( World Cup, The Masters, Wimbledon ) and these tournaments are often considered to be the pinnacle of that sport and get a lot of worldwide publicity.

    This Grand Slam is the one that Naomi seems to treasure the most but I am not sure that she is over her mental health problems or that her heart is really in playing tennis at the moment…..get ready for Naomi to prove me wrong !

    My selection for Wimbledon went out in the first round so I cannot do any worse here ! I would love to see Paula Badosa win this but she lacks experience and her recent shoulder injury is a big concern so I am going with Karolina Pliskova as she has reached the final here previously and is in good form. She has a very laid-back personality and I often think that she lacks motivation but she said after the Wimbledon final that it was her best experience in her tennis career so far and this could motivate her to at least get to another Grand Slam final.

    I have not watched the U.S. Open since 2018. Hoping it will be good and very pleased that there will be spectators there.

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    • Thanks, Peter. I did consider a few years back about trying to do the tennis as a full-time job. Kind of decided it wasn’t really for me. I like the fact that tennis is a hobby and I think I would feel differently about it if it became my job.

      Athletics and swimming were my favourites at the Olympics! Yes that’s a fair point. It’s interesting with tennis as you can see, for example Belinda, how some players clearly rate the Olympics as high as the Slams.

      I’ve actually gone Badosa to the semis in my draw. It’s a long shot but I quite like her draw and she’s impressed me this year. As I wrote in my post, I can’t figure out Pliskova. Decent draw so i’d hope you won’t lose your champ on day one, Peter! I’ve gone for Barty in the end. Boring! But Ash has been so damn reliable and looks in fantastic form right now.

      Full capacity I think so there should be a great atmosphere! I think that was probably another reason why i found the Olympic tennis underwhelming having got used to the fans again from Wimby.

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      • You are similar to me then James as I deliberately avoided a career in any of my hobbies as I was worried that it might mean that I would get less enjoyment from the hobby if it was also connected to my occupation and I could eventually get bored with it. I am a lot older now but still not sure that I made the right decision.

        I hope that you are right about Paula Badosa and she will have a good run. I think that she is now capable of winning any Grand Slam if she can avoid injuries which is often a concern in tennis.

        I decided on Pliskova about 2 weeks ago and then changed my mind to Barty after watching Pliskova play in Cincinnati as I was not too impressed with her and she was quite erratic at times ( I think that she would have lost to Badosa in the QF if Paula had not got that shoulder problem ). However I decided today to change my mind again and stick with Pliskova…a decision I will probably regret !

        Looking forward to some good matches tomorrow.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know how that shoulder will hold up for Badosa but I guess we’ll find out soon. This US Open is kicking off with a bang with some of the most exciting first rounders up first!

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      • Hi James,

        I also liked the athletics and the swimming, and one or two other things such as that Austrian woman with a PhD in maths who won the long distance cycling road race by being so far in front of her rivals that they forgot she was there!

        Anyway, back to the tennis; I think Naomi Osaka will win the title again but it won’t be easy for her and she’ll have some close matches on the way there. The exception may be if she faces Belinda Bencic, who seems to have the measure of her judging from their previous matches and who could well beat her.

        Like

  2. Excellent preview.

    Just on Ostapenko – who I’m a fan of, even though that’s been tempered somewhat by the Wimbledon thing – why is she so good for much of a match, then just declines? I still haven’t worked it out.

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    • Thanks, David. I guess it’s the high-risk strategy that Ostapenko plays. She’s always going to make errors. If Ostapenko could somehow improve her serve then that would be a gamechanger.

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      • I think you’re right James. Maybe Naomi needs to take a break from the game.

        As for this year’s Open, it’s all gone very much by the rankings until the third round, but now it’s all started coming apart. Shelby’s just put Ash Barty out of the tournament too, and then there’s the complete thrashing Sara Sorribes Tormo got earlier on at the hands of a certain Emma Raducanu … it’s shaping up to be a very interesting and exciting tournament now.

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