The US Open 2013 was robbed of some lustre and character with the surprising withdrawal of Maria Sharapova and the even more surprising retirement of Marion Bartoli. The fans’ loss is the players’ gain, however: Sara Errani, last year’s semi-finalist, has been bumped up to fourth seed, and the slumping Angelique Kerber is now seeded eighth.
Check out the Full Draw Here: US Open 2013 Draw
As usual, Serena Williams is the favourite. Aside from her uncharacteristic tentativeness at Wimbledon, she has been on another plane this year, both in terms of her level of play and mental strength. Can Victoria Azarenka, who sneaked the Cincinnati final last week, stop her? Or is there someone else in the field who capable of putting together a giant-killing run?
Here’s a breakdown of the US Open 2013 women’s draw…
As she did in Toronto a few weeks ago, Serena will begin her campaign against former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. It will be an entertaining, quirky night match featuring some inspired net play and shotmaking from the Italian, but she won’t trouble Serena for long. The top seed could face another unconventional player in round two: Monica Niculescu. The Romanian likes to carve, slice and moonball, much to the frustration of more accomplished foes. She could flummox Serena for half a set before the American lets rip and treats Niculescu’s game with the contempt some feel it deserves.
In round three, Serena is slated to meet 29th seed Magdalena Rybarikova. The Slovak has had a great summer on hard courts – she won the title in Washington and made the last eight in Toronto – but at the Rogers Cup she was schooled 6-1, 6-1 by Serena, and we can expect a similar result in New York. Three promising young players will audition for the role of Serena’s last 16 opponent: Jamie Hampton, Kristina Mladenovic and Sloane Stephens. Mladenovic is the least proven at this stage, but the Frenchwoman is too talented not to make a breakthrough at some point in the near future. A Stephens-Hampton third round battle would be intriguing, a rematch of their Wimbledon first round encounter that Stephens won. Hampton has more variety in her game, but Stephens is getting better and better at winning the matches she’s supposed to win, whether playing well or not. She also brings her best tennis to the Grand Slams. But Serena will have something to prove should they meet in the fourth round here. The Australian Open wasn’t so long ago, and the prospect of avenging her shock defeat to the youngster on a big stage will be all the motivations she needs.
Angelique Kerber will be doing extremely well if she lives up to her eighth seeding at Flushing Meadows. The German reached the semi-finals in 2011 and used that result to propel her into a superb 2012 season. Alas, she has slipped since then. Despite maintaining a top ten ranking, the losses to lower ranked players have become more frequent, and her previously rock solid game has been misfiring. Kerber will probably get past Lucie Hradecka in the opening round, but rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard has a real shot at upsetting her in round two. Kaia Kanepi is another capable competitor in this section, but she hasn’t played since making the quarter-finals of Wimbledon.
Just like Serena and Schiavone, Venus Williams will play the woman she faced in her opening round in Torotno: Kirsten Flipkens. The Belgian won that encounter after Venus relinquished her grip on the match, but things will feel very different on a show court in New York. Venus isn’t the player she was – illness, injury and lack of match fitness have left her looking like a veteran enjoying one last hurrah – but she can still belt the ball, and loves the big occasion. But even if she gets past Flipkens, she could face the solid Jie Zheng in the second round and 18th seed Carla Suarez Navarro in round three. To defeat all of those players, Venus would need to summon the consistency that has been lacking in recent seasons.
Predicted quarter-final: Serena v Bouchard
With Sharapova’s withdrawal, Agnieszka Radwanska finds herself seeded third. The Pole lost a golden opportunity to win her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon last month – can she get closer this time? Her draw is favourable for the first couple of rounds: she’ll play Silvia Soler-Espinosa and then either Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor or Marina Erakovic, but her famous tennis nous and guile will be tested in round three if she meets 32nd-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a player who has been erratic this year but is still tough to beat when she finds her range.
It’s difficult to predict who will be Radwanska’s fourth round opponent. In a very open section, Sabine Lisicki is the 16th seed, but the Wimbledon finalist has played only three hard court matches this summer and hasn’t looked like a world-beater in any of them. Bethanie Mattek-Sands hasn’t done much since a promising clay court season, but the attention-loving American will feel right at home in the Big Apple. Elsewhere, watch out for 24th seed Ekaterina Makarova, who beat Sara Errani in New Haven earlier this week.
Li Na, seeded fifth at this year’s US Open, has had an up-and-down season. Impressive results such as her Australian Open runner-up finish have been interspersed with early round losses, and her form can waver from one match to the next. She shouldn’t have too much trouble seeing off Olga Govortsova and either Sofia Arvidsson or Petra Cetkovska to reach round three. There, she is slated to meet her conqueror at that stage last year, Laura Robson. The Londoner is seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time in her young career, and with so many points to defend she’ll be eager to live up to that. Yet for all her brilliant ball-striking and promise, Robson remains an inconsistent player. If she is off her game in New York, she could be vulnerable to the solid Lourdes Dominguez Lino in round one. And even if she can summon her best form at the right time, will it be enough to unseat Li again, who will be much more wary of the threat she poses this time around?
Jelena Jankovic, Madison Keys, Monica Puig and Sorana Cristea are the main contenders to be Li’s last 16 rival. Jankovic, seeded 9th, is at her highest ranking in years following a run to the semi-finals in Cincinnati. Keys and Puig are two of the most promising members of the next generation, and both played well at Wimbledon. Cristea beat Wozniacki, Kvitova, Li and Jankovic in Toronto a fortnight ago. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of these women reach the fourth round, but we’ll give the nod to Jankovic, who is the most experienced and knows how to take advantage of a good opportunity.
Predicted quarter-final: Radwanska v Li
The third quarter is by far the most open. Sara Errani is the fourth seed and proved that she can compete on hard courts by making the semis at the 2012 US Open, but the diminutive Italian hasn’t done anything special on the Deco-Turf this summer, and she could be blown off the court in the third round if Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 27th seed, can get her act together. (If she can’t, the Russian would be a notable scalp for young American Mallory Burdette in the first round.) The most in-form player in this section is Simona Halep. The Romanian won three International titles on clay and grass earlier this summer; she also beat Bartoli and Stosur to make the last eight in Cincinnati and, at the time of writing, is into the semi-finals in New Haven. She’ll kick off her campaign against the confidence-starved Heather Watson, and will have the edge in the third round over 14th seed Maria Kirilenko, who has a mediocre 4-4 win-loss record since the French Open.
Things finally seem to be looking up for Caroline Wozniacki. Bar the odd highlight, the Dane has endured a miserable 18 months since she was toppled from the rankings summit, and her Grand Slam record has been particularly underwhelming. But back on her favourite surface, she has shown signs of life again. She beat Kvitova in Cincinnati and played a good match against Azarenka in the quarter-finals there, and she’ll be contesting the semi-finals in New Haven. Back at the scene of her biggest Grand Slam success – she was a finalist at the 2009 US Open – Wozniacki has a prime opportunity to make the last four this year. Klara Zakopalova could give her a few problems in round three, but if Wozniacki plays as positively as she has done recently she should be too solid for the erratic Russian. Elena Vesnina and Lucie Safarova are two other big-hitters lurking in this section, but Wozniacki’s most likely fourth round opponent is Roberta Vinci. The pair have split their two previous meetings and Vinci has an effective all-court game, but the Italian will have to be firing on all cylinders if she is to break down Wozniacki’s relentless defence.
Predicted quarter-final: Wozniacki v Halep
When fully healthy, Victoria Azarenka has made the latter stages of almost every tournament she’s entered this season. She certainly looked to be in peak physical condition as she edged Serena in the Cincinnati showpiece, and if she doesn’t intimidate the field quite as much as her arch-rival, she has definitely earned a reputation as a mental rock and one of the toughest “outs” in the game. She has a relatively straightforward route to the fourth round: Dinah Pfizenmaier in the first round, followed by Aleksandra Wozniacki/Vesna Dolonc and then a qualifier or 26th seed Alize Cornet.
The second seed’s competition will step up a gear in the last 16, where she could face either Ana Ivanovic or Dominika Cibulkova. Both are powerful players who can hit through Azarenka on a good day, but neither has the Belarusian’s consistency or variety. Ivanovic and Cibulkova could are liable to fall early to a lesser starlet, but even if they do make the second week, it’s hard to envisage either of them upsetting a sharp, fit and motivated Azarenka.
The top section of the fourth quarter is headed by two players with many parallels. Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur both won Grand Slams in 2011. They are both tremendously talented players who are almost unplayable at their best. Yet both have gone into a tailspin in the last year or so. Kvitova won a title in Dubai in February and Stosur triumphed in Carlsbad last month, but their seasons have also been studded with head-scratching early round losses. Can they make a big statement with a strong result in New York? Kvitova could face comeback queen Andrea Petkovic in round two, who has beaten her four times, and in the third round she could play dark horse Mona Barthel. After playing a match tough qualifier in her opener, Stosur could meet veteran Daniela Hantuchova and then 20th seed Nadia Petrova, who she beat in a memorable marathon on her way to the US Open title two years ago. Should Kvitova and Stosur overcome those myriad obstacles and face off for a quarter-final spot, the odds are in the Czech’s favour: she has beaten Stosur in five of their previous six meetings, including all four of their hard court encounters.
Predicted quarter-final: Azarenka v Kvitova
Predicted semi-finals: Serena def. Radwanska; Azarenka def. Wozniacki
Champion: Serena Williams
There are some who feel that the 31-year-old Serena Williams is now facing a new, invisible opponent: her nerves. She was incredibly tight in the deciding set of her Wimbledon loss to Sabine Lisicki, and she blinked when serving for the match against Azarenka in Cincinnati. Could it be that the woman renowned for her fight and ability to come back from the brink of defeat is now burdened by the weight of her own legacy? Many all-time greats have spoken of how it becomes more and more difficult to cope with expectations. Is Serena, the overwhelming favourite to win every match she plays, finally feeling the pressure too?
If the 16-time Grand Slam champion fails to win the US Open 2013, we may look back on this summer as the beginning of her unravelling. On the eve of the tournament, however, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that she’ll falter. Azarenka may be her most formidable foe at the moment, but Serena still leads the head-to-head 12-3, and we know that she’ll be more pumped in New York than she was in Doha and Ohio.