It’s been quite some time since the tennis world has entered the final major of the year with this much excitement. All eyes—even those of people who don’t normally follow the sport closely—will be craning their necks towards New York City starting next week. On the men’s side, a trio of the establishment will try to vie for the title while a growing insurgence among the rank-and-file threatens to turn things on its head again. And on the women’s side, arguably the greatest female athlete of all time is simply trying to accomplish dual feats that will only further to grow her aura as an indomitable champion. Here is your women’s singles draw analysis, complete with a breakdown of each section with possible upsets and surprises.
Seeds: (1) Serena Williams, (15) Agnieszka Radwanska, (19) Madison Keys, (29) Sloane Stephens
Well, you certainly can’t claim the US Open has fixed the draws to ensure deep runs by Americans. Three of the four seeded Americans are all lumped in here, including the two young guns. In addition, another two Americans—the hard-hitting Coco Vandeweghe and the funky Bethanie Mattek-Sands—also reside in this compact section of the draw. Serena will certainly have her work cut out for herself, as none of her opponents are necessarily pushovers.
Sibling Rivalry: While most people pointed towards a possible quarterfinal matchup against the Williams sisters, there could be a all-sisters clash even earlier. Urzula Radwanska, the younger sister of Agnieszka, has been placed only two slots ahead of her more successful sibling. If both can win their first round match, there’ll be a guaranteed Radwanska in the third round.
Quarterfinalist: Serena Williams.
Seeds: (8) Karolina Pliskova, (12) Belinda Bencic, (23) Venus Williams, (31) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Serena’s quest for the calendar grand slam wasn’t made easy for her, as evidenced by the seeds as a possible quarterfinal opponent. Venus is the sentimental favorite to make it through, but she’s only played two matches all summer. While she has a historically good record at Flushing Meadows, it might be a little difficult to see her get through this section. Belinda Bencic is the new darling of the WTA after her stunning run to the title in Canada, which included handing Serena just her second loss all year. If she is able to handle the pressures of being considered a real threat at this event, she could go quite far.
The other seeds: What makes this section look just as dangerous as the first is the fact that both Pliskova and Pavlyuchenkova have had quite good summers on the hardcourts. Pliskova played a tough, grueling final in Stanford, where she eventually fell to Angelique Kerber. Pavlyuchenkova has played great tennis throughout the North American swing, propelling her race ranking (which compiles only results from this year) from somewhere around 100 to 30 during this time, highlighted by a finals appearance in Washington.
Quarterfinalist: Belinda Bencic.
Seeds: (3) Maria Sharapova, (13) Ekaterina Makarova, (17) Elina Svitolina, (30) Svetlana Kuznetsova
If the first two sections were full of players in form, this one is where, sadly, most of the seeds are being considered threats due to their reputation more than the current state of their game. Svitolina is the only one who might—and should—be considered as someone playing good tennis: she reached the semifinals of both Stanford and Cincinnati, losing to the eventual champion in both tournaments. However, injuries have sapped the other seeds: Makarova hasn’t looked great since retiring against Pavlyuchenkova in the semifinals of Washington, Kuznetsova hasn’t played since Washington, and Sharapova hasn’t played on the hardcourts this summer at all.
Upset Alert: Gavrilova over Sharapova. And it’s partly because of her lack of match play that Maria will be on upset alert from the very first match. Gavrilova is young Russian-turned-Australian who has been making an upward trajectory towards the top of the rankings this year. When she started 2015, she was outside the Top 200. Entering the US Open, she just barely missed out on a seed, as she’s now ranked 37 in the world. Furthermore, Gavrilova will be entering this match with confidence: she pulled off a shocking upset of Maria in the second round of Miami earlier this year.
Quarterfinalist: Elina Svitolina.
Seeds: (7) Ana Ivanovic, (10) Carla Suarez Navarro, (21) Jelena Jankovic, (25) Eugenie Bouchard
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A year ago, Eugenie Bouchard was the new “it” girl of tennis. A budding marketing superstar with the game that propelled her to a final and two semifinals in the majors in 2014, Bouchard looked like she was on the precipice of greatness. Now, she enters the 2015 US Open barely hanging onto a seed and being sought-out as a player to get matched up against in the draw. Alison Riske has that distinction, and the American has a better-than-solid chance to pull of the upset. Elsewhere, it simply seems like the seeds are more vulnerable here than elsewhere in the draw. Unseeded threats such as Roberta Vinci (two quarterfinals on hardcourts after Wimbledon), Zarina Diyas (world number 34) and Dominika Cibulkova (2014 Australian Open finalist) are all lurking and waiting for the chance to pounce.
All-Serbian Clash? There are two seeds here that have rounded into relatively good form just in time for the Open, however. Serbians Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic both had deep runs in Cincinnati, which should do well for their confidence. The two have played some hotly contested matches before, and if they can both avoid falling prey to the unseeded threats in this section, they’d likely be playing for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinalist: Jelena Jankovic.
Seeds: (5) Petra Kvitova, (9) Garbine Muguruza, (18) Andrea Petkovic, (32) Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
This section of the draw is anchored by two players who made themselves famous on the grass courts at Wimbledon. Kvitova, a two-time champion at Wimbledon, is the top seed, but given her lack of success in North America, her distaste for the US summer, and her recent diagnosis of mono, it’s hard to expect anything remotely resembling a deep run from her. Garbine Muguruza was this year’s surprise Wimbledon finalist, but she’s failed to win a set in her two early losses since Wimbledon.
Rehab Rematch: A first-round encounter in this section of the draw features two players who are both trying to climb back up the rankings following some injuries. Talented Brit Laura Robson is making an appearance in the main draw of the US Open for the first time since 2013. She’s been sidelined since last year with a wrist injury and is slowly trying to return to form. Against her across the net will be the Russian Elena Vesnina. Vesnina has been playing on the tour—she’s ranked in the Top 5 in Doubles—but nagging small injuries have combined with some poor play in singles to see her ranking fall out of the Top 100. This will be a much-needed win for the victor.
Quarterfinalist: Andrea Petkovic.
Seeds: (4) Caroline Wozniacki, (16) Sara Errani, (22) Samantha Stosur, (26) Flavia Pennetta
All of the seeds here can point to recent success in Flushing Meadows as inspiration for another potential deep run. Last year’s finalist is the top seed, and while Wozniacki has been dealing with a small hip injury, she’s still out there playing and winning matches. Sara Errani, a former semifinalist, looked to be on a downwards trajectory this season, but a strong post-Wimbledon run, highlighted by a semifinal showing in Canada, appears to have her back in position to play her superb scrappy defense. Samantha Stosur won the US Open four years ago, and she herself has had a decent summer with a title on clay and semifinal showing in Washington. Finally, Flavia Pennetta, whose last three showings in Flushing Meadows have been quarterfinal-semifinal-quarterfinal, hasn’t had a great summer with only a 2-2 record, but her two losses have been to Serena (in which she took the first set) and Belinda Bencic.
Slice-and-dice. Monica Niculescu isn’t going to win a major. But she’s certainly going to frustrate opponents. The Romanian has the type of game that can absolutely frustrate opponents, using slice backhands and squash forehands to kill the pace from the ball during rallies. She was Serena’s first opponent in Williams’s return to Indian Wells, and the match was entertaining as Serena had to deal with the awkward game of Niculescu. Monica plays a qualifier in the first round and could get a shot at Flavia Pennetta, who has a penchant for on-court drama, in the second round.
Quarterfinalist: Caroline Wozniacki.
Seeds: (6) Lucie Safarova, (11) Angelique Kerber, (20) Victoria Azarenka, (28) Irina-Camelia Begu
This year’s French Open finalist is the top seed of this section, but it’s the third-highest ranked player who might be the most dangerous. Victoria Azarenka is a two-time finalist at the US Open, having fallen to Serena in both 2012 and 2013. She’s collected a number of wins over Serena in the past few years when she’s been healthy, and many see her as potential threat to Williams’s quest to complete the calendar grand slam. However, the key word for Azarenka is “healthy”. She hasn’t been the last two years, and when it seemed like her game was just getting together on the hardcourts this summer, she withdrew from Cincinnati with a leg injury. It’s a shame, because Victoria is one of the world’s best when fit.
Lotta Lefties: This part of the draw features a few southpaws that could make noise at the US Open this year. This part of the draw is actually bracketed by two left-handed players, with the aforementioned Lucie Safarova at the top and the feisty Angelique Kerber sitting at the bottom. In addition, American Varvara Lepchenko is also found here. She may not be seeded, and she may lack a superb weapon in her game, but Lepchenko has been known to go on a decent run in tournaments, including her run to the semifinals of Stanford most recently.
Quarterfinalist: Angelique Kerber.
Seeds: (2) Simona Halep, (14) Timea Bacsinszky, (24) Sabine Lisicki, (27) Alize Cornet
People have termed Simona Halep’s 2015 campaign a disappointment, and perhaps that’s due to the fact that we have started to expect so much out of her. Yes, she crashed out shockingly and prematurely at both the French Open and Wimbledon this year, but she’s also made it shockingly clear she’s the second best hardcourt player this year, with titles in Dubai and Indian Wells and deep runs in Miami, Canada, and Cincinnati—with finals appearances in the last two despite not having practiced in weeks and dealing with fitness and slight injury issues. She’s got a pretty decent draw to start her campaign as well.
A first rounder with potential: If you’re looking for a possibly good match that’s going to be thrown on an outer court between two unseeded players, the Camila Giorgi-Johanna Larsson tilt could be just the ticket. Both players are capable baseline players with the ability to dazzle with shotmaking or shake your head with patches of error-prone play. In particular, Giorgi looks like the next player to take the reins of Italian tennis on the WTA. The world number 35 can look back on her 2013 run to the US Open Round of 16 as inspiration, where she knocked off Caroline Wozniacki in a thrilling night match.
Quarterfinalist: Simona Halep.
The tail end of business
The world is hoping for a Serena win in New York. However, there’s so much immense pressure on her to get it done, and to be fair, Serena hasn’t necessarily looked all that great in the last handful of tournaments she’s played. Her quest for the calendar grand slam easily could have ended in Wimbledon to Heather Watson or at the French Open (to any number of players), but she’s managed to survive those scares and put herself in this historic position.
If she can get past the tough draw she’s been handed in the first week (just about every in-form player from the last month is near her), she’ll get a shot against Belinda Bencic, in what’s sure to be a hyped-up match given Bencic’s win over Serena in Canada. Serena certainly won’t forget, and in typical Serena fashion, she’ll probably give Belinda a bruising. In the semifinals, Williams is likely to face off against the more experienced player in the Svitolina-Jankovic tilt. Jelena may not be the same player she once was, but she can still trouble Serena with her baseline steadiness and ability to pull the trigger on shots. Could Jankovic pull off the upset though? It’s possible, but unlikely.
In the other half of the draw, backboard baseliners have basically dominated. Andrea Petkovic is a surprise pick for the quarterfinals, but Wozniacki is in better form and has typically done very well in New York, as evidenced by her two finals runs there. In the other quarterfinal, two players who have done very well outside of the majors—Halep with her three titles and other finals versus Angelique Kerber and her four premier-level titles—will face off. It is a cause for concern that Halep has looked both gassed and struggling with niggling aches and pains in her two warmup tournaments; she’ll need to be at her best to beat Angelique Kerber, who’s proving to be an incredibly tough out this year. If the Romanian is relatively healthy and can summon the power she’s shown to go with her defense, she should pull off the victory. The same could be said about the semifinal: Wozniacki might be a better defender, but Halep’s definitely a better offensive player. Expect long, grueling rallies in this one, but expect Halep to simply be better at all facets of the game to pull out a hard-fought victory.
What does that bode for the final? Serena, with the pressures of all eyes on her and history to make, takes on Halep, who will likely have had to grit and grind her way past two in-form and good players to reach the final. Should we recall memories of the Cincinnati final from this year, where Serena took the title but Simona fought bravely and could be seen as a plausible foil to the world number one at times? Perhaps. Halep is that good, and there’s no telling which Serena might show up. But it’s become a familiar refrain when it comes to the younger Williams: she saves her best for last. And even with the weight of expectations, making history, and the world watching her, Serena Williams will likely still take her game up a notch to win the 2015 US Open.
Final Prediction: Serena Williams defeats Simona Halep in two sets.