The final slam of the year begins on Monday and in the women’s side, the US Open looks wide open. Serena Williams is the bookmakers favourite but the chasing pack will include a whole host of former No.1’s from Halep to Barty as well as the current No.1 and defending champion Naomi Osaka.
Full draw here: US Open women’s 2019 Draw
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With no chance to gain points, Osaka will have to hold on to her title to maintain the top spot. It will be a tough task as the Japanese star looks to cope with the pressure she will be under in New York. It hasn’t been a great time for her since she won the Australian Open and the US Open Series swing has been no different. She made the quarter finals in both but was outplayed by Serena in Canada and retired hurt in her loss to Sofia Kenin in Cincinnati. She is likely to be more at home on the courts in New York, which suit her style more than elsewhere. She begins with Anna Blinkova and may well have to play the in-form Magda Linette in round two. Wildcard Cori Gauff will have high expectations placed upon her this fortnight but may struggle against another rising star in Anastasia Potapova. Another Cincinnati retiree in Belinda Bencic is among the chasing pack in this section of the draw – the Swiss does have a whole host of wins against the top players including two against Osaka this year.
Kiki Bertens remains a top 8 seed but looks vulnerable, having failed to convert her clay form to the hard courts this year. She should at least match her career best third round this year but could find it tough if her first seeded opponent in Julia Goerges is on her game. Donna Vekic looks much improved from previous years and would not be a surprise quarter finalist but it is the winner of the Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka match that many of the eyeballs will be on. Sabalenka has struggled recently but her power tennis is up there with the best of them. She was the only player to give Osaka real trouble on her way to the title last year but has rarely hit those heights since. Azarenka is a former finalist but it does feel like she is running out of time to reestablish herself as one of the elite players.
Surprise Wimbledon winner Simona Halep will look to build on that title with another strong run here. The US Open is now the only slam she has not made at least the final in after winning Wimbledon. The Romanian is probably less suited to this surface than others but is definitely more of an all-court player than in years gone by if her Wimbledon is anything to go by. There will be monstrous expectations over Bianca Andreescu after her 2019. The Canadian added another huge title to her list with Toronto joining Indian Wells in her trophy cabinet this year. She plays excellent attacking tennis and looks a well rounded player in general with only her physical issues letting her down so far. She hasn’t played that many tournaments but when she does, she certainly makes the most of them.
If she makes the quarter finals, Andreescu could potentially play one of five slam finalists in her section of the draw. The least likely of them would probably be Jelena Ostapenko, who has never really pushed on from the year that saw her win the French Open. Svetlana Kuznetsova is unlikely to go deep here but showed in Cincinnati that she is still capable of stunning tennis at her age. She beat Sloane Stephens, Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty on her way to the final there, eventually losing to Madison Keys in the final. Along with Kuznetsova, Stephens is the other to win this one. However, she didn’t look like a slam champion in her crushing defeat to Kuznetsova, picking up just three games in the process. Wimbledon champions Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova wrap up this quarter with high hopes for the Czech in particular. Her injury woes likely mean she won’t be able to put together a deep run this fortnight.
The third quarter of the draw includes some fascinating matchups. Madison Keys established herself as a contender once more with her Cincinnati title, playing some stunning tennis in the process. The one-time finalist begins with Misaki Doi and could well face Sofia Kenin in round three. The pair played recently with Keys winning a straight sets clash in Cincinnati. It’s a result that will give her a lot of confidence against one of the more impressive young players in 2019. Coco Vandeweghe makes her return here but the big serving American is way off the level required to compete for a slam right now. Elina Svitolina will hope for another strong slam after making the final four at Wimbledon but the sight of Kenin so near her in her draw will likely be bad news for the Ukranian. She lost to her in both Toronto and Cincinnati, failing to win a set on either occasion. Another Ukranian in Dayana Yastremska will also be hoping for a good run here and should fancy her chances against her compatriot Svitolina. Yastremska is the second to last seed at 32, a good achievement for her in just her fifth slam.
Former champion Sam Stosur is among the wildcards but the likelihood of her rolling back the years is slim at best. This section of the draw looks set up for Karolina Pliskova but it’s not always the way things go for the 2016 losing finalist. The third seed could well begin with back to back qualifiers but it is Caroline Garcia and Johanna Konta who may give the Czech issues in a long and drawn out affair. Hard court slams have always produced good results for her in the past with a combined six straight quarter finals or better across the Australian Open and US Open for Pliskova. Meanwhile, Konta looks to back up two straight strong performances at the slams having made the semis at Roland Garros and quarters in Wimbledon. She is going to need to improve from her Toronto and Cincinnati losses to do so, having lost to much lower ranked players on both occasions. Pliskova won their only meeting this year, beating the Brit in straight sets in the Rome final.
It’s hard to predict how Serena Williams will perform these days but she has to be considered the favourite if she can hold it together mentally and more so than ever, physically. Her return to New York was bound to attract tons of attention but even more so with her opening round against Maria Sharapova, a draw that brought out the conspiracists. If she extends her lengthy head to head record, it does appear pretty clear sailing for her during the first week. It would be interesting to see how she deals with the trickery of Su Wei Hsieh while Anastasija Sevastova has gone well in the past few years here – adding a 2018 semi final to that of quarter finals the previous two. She was crushed by Serena 3 and 0 in that match last year, suggesting things are unlikely to go well this time round either should they meet. It has to be considered unfortunate for the Latvian, who could have gone even further with a kinder draw. Serena retired hurt early in the Toronto final and didn’t compete at Cincinnati so will be well rested for this event, if fit.
Despite winning a slam this year and holding the No.1 spot for a bit, there doesn’t seem to be much fanfare around Ashleigh Barty coming into the tournament. A surprise loss at Wimbledon when she was considered the favourite seems to have knocked a bit of shine off her but she should still be considered one of the favourites for the title. She was a semi finalist in Cincinnati, eventually becoming one of the victims of another inspired Svetlana Kuznetsova run of form out of nowhere. Maria Sakkari, who she beat along the way, is also in the final section of the draw while Angelique Kerber is the 14th seed here. She was No.2 at the start of the year but the failure to defend her Wimbledon title has cost her dear. She followed that early exit with disappointing losses in Toronto and Cincinnati and could well suffer another round one exit at a grand slam. She lost there in France earlier in the year and hardly did any better in SW19, making the second round.
Prediction – Serena Williams def Bianca Andreescu