US Open 2017: Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza favourites in packed women's field
The US Open promises to be an unpredictable and thrilling ride in the women's section with as many as eight players in contention for the WTA top spot.
The final Grand Slam of the year gets under way on 28 August in New York, and it promises to be one of the most dramatic events in recent time. Like the Big Apple, the US Open has a chaotic, flashy and electric vibe — the night sessions under lights, the flamboyant outfits and the gruelling hard courts make for a thrilling two weeks.
While the French Open and Wimbledon were unpredictable and open because there were no clear-cut favourites, the US Open's intrigue stems from a very strong field on the women's side. Each of the top six seeds has a case for them to be considered as a genuine contender. And to add to the drama, there is an eight-way battle for the WTA top spot at the final Slam of the season. Here’s a deep dive into the women’s draw, with predictions for who could emerge from each quarter:
Karolina Pliskova heads the top quarter of the women’s draw. The Czech player made the final of the US Open in 2016 with gutsy wins over Venus and Serena Williams and then followed that up with the most consistent 12 months on the tour that saw her clinch the World No 1 ranking.
Pliskova opens her campaign against Magda Linette of Poland but shouldn’t face much trouble in her opening week. Zhang Shuai, who made the Australian Open quarters in 2016, and France’s Kristina Mladenovic are her potential opponents in the third and fourth rounds respectively. Mladenovic had a brilliant run in the first six months but has faded away since the French Open.
The second-highest seed in Pliskova’s quarter is 2004 US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is seeded eight. The Russian made the quarters in Cincinnati in the North American hard court season, but has a tricky draw to tackle in New York.
Kuznetsova faces the dangerous Marketa Vondrousova in her opening round, and also has 26th seed Anett Kontaveit, former No 5 Lucie Safarova, big-serving CoCo Vandeweghe and the crafty Agnieszka Radwanksa looming in her section. If Kuznetsova makes it through to the quarter-final, we may be treated to yet another three-set thriller between Pliskova and her.
First round match to watch out for: Safarova vs Kontaveit
Semi-finalist prediction: Pliskova
Fourth seed Elina Svitolina and defending champion Angelique Kerber sit on opposite ends of the second quarter. Svitolina is enjoying a breakthrough year this season with five titles to her name, and after winning the warm-up event in Toronto, she is definitely one of the favourites at the Flushing Meadows.
However, Svitolina has struggled to translate her incredible form from the WTA events to the Grand Slams. She made the quarters at the French Open this year, but has failed to reach the second week of the hard court Majors in her career. Standing between her and a fourth-round appearance are Daria Gavrilova, who just won her first career title at Conneticut on Saturday; 17th seed Elena Vesnina and the ferocious Madison Keys.
If she manages to get past these difficult potential opponents, it’s likely that either Kerber or French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko would be waiting for her in the quarter-final. Kerber seemed to have found some confidence at the Wimbledon, where she was ousted by eventual winner Garbine Muguruza, but then had a tough hard court season, with only one win over two tournaments.
Ostapenko, on the other hand, continues to exude self-belief and fearlessness regardless of her opponent or the event. While her high-risk style of tennis may not always pay off, it makes her a potent threat. Her path may cross with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, another ball-basher who could string together a deep run at the US Open. This section of the draw promises plenty of intriguing clashes but Svitolina’s solid play could see her survive this loaded quarter.
First round match to watch out for: Kerber vs Naomi Osaka
Semi-finalist prediction: Svitolina
The third quarter is the one that looks the toughest on paper. Fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki and Wimbledon champion Muguruza are the two highest-seeded players in this section. It also features seven-time Major champion Venus, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, French Open quarter-finalist Caroline Garcia, Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova, Australian Open semi-finalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Washington champion Ekaterina Makarova.
Wozniacki has had a decent warm-up run before the US Open, with a final and quarter-final appearance at Toronto and Cincinnati respectively. The courts of the Flushing Meadows have always brought out the best in the Dane – this is the Slam where she has performed the best, with two finals and three semi-final appearances (including in 2016) here.
Venus is the only female player to have made two Slam finals in 2017, and despite her poor performances at Toronto and Cincinnati, she will be a formidable force in front of her home crowd. Kvitova hasn’t had the ideal return since her hand surgery but she if gets a couple of easy wins under her belt, she could pose trouble for the other seeds in this quarter.
Muguruza’s painful loss at the French Open at the hands of Mladenovic in the fourth round seemed to have been a turning point in her career. Since that loss, she has been playing with a lot more freedom and composure, which helped her win her second Grand Slam in July and the Cincinnati Open a week ago. The Spaniard has the weapons to outhit any opponent on the women’s tour and she is in red-hot form.
With so many dark horses and contenders, this is a tough quarter to make a prediction for but one can't help but be tempted to back Muguruza to come through.
First round match to watch out for: Alize Cornet vs Heather Watson
Semi-finalist prediction: Muguruza
When the women’s draw was announced on Friday in Manhattan, it was the unveiling of the bottom quarter that drew the loudest gasps from the audience. Second seed Simona Halep was drawn to face five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova in the first round. The Russian had been given a wildcard into the main draw, and hence was a dangerous unseeded floater, but few people were expecting such a high-profile first round.
In fact, the last time Sharapova and Halep met at a Grand Slam, it was in the final of the Roland Garros in 2016. The Romanian has never beaten Sharapova in six meetings, but this could be her best chance for a win. Sharapova has struggled since returning from her doping suspension and has only won six matches over four tournaments.
If Halep gets past Sharapova, she has a relatively easy draw. She could run into sixth seed Johanna Konta in the quarter-final, and have a shot at avenging her heart-breaking Wimbledon loss. Had Halep won that encounter in July, she would have been the World No 1.
However, for Konta to reach the last eight, she will have to overcome a landmine-ridden path – the Brit faces a potential third round against dark horse Julia Goerges, and one of 21st seed Ana Konjuh, resurgent Sloane Stephens, rising star Ashleigh Barty or Connecticut finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round.
First round match to watch out for: Halep vs Sharapova
Semi-finalist prediction: Halep
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