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Who Will Win the US Open? (The Women)
Editor's Note: This prediction-analysis article was written before the start of
Like the three previous majors, the US Open has no clear-cut favorite and should provide plenty of surprises.
Questions abound. Will three-time singles titlist Serena Williams, sidelined for 11 months and relatively short of match play this year, regain her top form? Will China’s Li Na, the French Open winner and Australian Open finalist, excel again? Can anyone stop 21-year-old Czech Petra Kvitova who overpowered foes to capture Wimbledon? How will resurgent Maria Sharapova, rising stars Victoria Azarenka, Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki, and No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki fare? And who are the big upset
Wimbledon and French Open champions Petra Kvitova and Li Na both bowed out early at the Open.
threats and young talent?
For the answers to these intriguing questions, I consulted Mary Joe Fernandez, a former singles finalist and doubles champion at the Australian and French Opens, the U.S. Fed Cup captain and a respected tennis analyst for ESPN. Here are her authoritative predictions.
I predict Serena will win her 14th Grand Slam title. She was very impressive in Stanford, her third tournament back [after being sidelined with injuries and illnesses for nearly a year]. She didn’t play her best tennis. Despite not having played much, she’s still found ways to win, and she played with controlled aggression.
She wasn’t hitting consistently hard because she wasn’t 100 percent confident yet on all her shots. She didn’t go for the big [service] returns then. And she picked her spots on her serve. So she smartly kept her unforced errors down. She’s occasionally been erratic in her career, but she made relatively few errors when she easily beat Sharapova, Lisicki, and Bartoli at Stanford.
But Serena turned on the power when she won Toronto. After struggling a bit in the early rounds, she outclassed Azarenka and Stosur in the semis and final and looked like the Serena of old.
When she plays fast players Li Na or Wozniacki, she’ll have to do damage with her returns and groundstrokes and overpower some of these other elite players at Flushing Meadows.
Click photo: Serena won here at Stanford and beat Stosur in the finals in Toronto and is Mary Joe's pick at the Open.
Serena is so determined, she seems so eager and fresh. She’s appreciative of the second [career] chance she’s getting to be competing again. I’ve always said Serena at her best is better than everybody else.
I’m a big believer in Serena. If she’s healthy, she can go on another year at the majors. But it gets harder as you get older. It’s going to be a challenge for her to tie or even surpass Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who have 18 Grand Slam titles. Can she do it? Yes, of course she can do it.
Li Na has had an impressive year at the majors, except for Wimbledon. She’s a strong contender for sure. She plays with such little margin for error. We did an ESPN segment on “Shot Spot” to show how low she hits the ball over the net. She hits so flat. With that low trajectory, she should do well on the hard courts at the US Open. Even so, she has to be confident. Her game is really based on confidence.
I like Li’s game a lot because she’s a great ball striker. If she is set up and is timing the ball well, she can beat anybody. The main problem is that her forehand occasionally breaks down. At Wimbledon, that shot just left her at the end of her loss to Lisicki.
When she won the French Open, she moved well and she played a little bit higher percentage tennis, but she still was hitting the ball pretty flat. She had a good draw in Paris. We’ve been saying that the women’s fields without Serena, and also Venus and Clijsters, are more open. And Li definitely took advantage of that. Sharapova had a chance but didn’t serve well, and in the final against Schiavone, Li played aggressively and Schiavone couldn’t hurt Li.
Petra Kvitova has been coming on strong for a while. I really think she is a complete player, although she can still improve her court coverage. Being lefty gives her an advantage. She has a great lefty serve, and she plays the big points well on the ad side. She has the Monica Seles tactic of serving wide and then hitting into the open court for a winner. It’s an easy play that she uses very often.
Her groundstrokes are a lot like Li Na’s. They’re heavy and penetrating. And Kvitova puts you on the defensive right away. Recently Roberta Vinci [an Italian player ranked No. 22] described it well when she said, “You have to hit the ball perfectly to Kvitova. If you don’t, it’s her point. And usually she doesn’t let you hit a good shot.”
That was not a fluke victory at Wimbledon. We’re going to see Kvitova win more major titles. The courts at the Open will be quick, and she may not be able to defend as well as she did at Wimbledon, but she’ll be right up there among the top four or five contenders to win the title. I foresee Kvitova as a top 5 player for the next five or so years. She’s the real deal.
Maria Sharapova has just one issue, and that’s the serve. If that weren’t an issue, you would have to say she’s favorite because she’s played so well besides that problem. She won Rome and reached the semis at the French on clay, her least favorite surface, and then reached the final at Wimbledon.
After a slow start in the US Open Series, she started firing on all cylinders, especially return of serve, at Cincinnati. She had a tough draw and knocked off Kuznetsova and Stosur in straight sets and then came back from a set down to beat Zvonareva and Jankovic. Maria’s grit and determination have always been great assets, and she’s a terrific 11-0 in three-set matches this year.
But the problem lingers when Sharapova hits all these double faults. She can’t get away with that against the top players. It has hurt her. Other than that, she’s played really well. She’s moving better, her groundstrokes have been terrific, her return of serve has been among the best this season. If her serve were to become a weapon as it was in 2004, 2006 and 2008, Sharapova would win major titles again.
Sabine Lisicki is coming on strong. She’s a dynamic player with a lot of power. She can serve over 120 miles an hour, as we saw at Wimbledon where she made the semis. I would put her in the category of players who can upset high seeds.
Big-serving Sabine Lisicki get the walkover due to Venus' illness.
Lisicki plays high-risk tennis. She goes for her serve returns. If you hit anything in the middle of the court, she’s going to whack it. She still misses some backhands, and she’s not the fastest mover. She may get to the latter rounds, but right now it would be difficult for her to break through and win the whole thing. But she’s dangerous.
I like her personality a lot. She wears her emotions on her sleeve. She lets you know how she’s feeling. But she smiles a lot on the court. And she’s a little bit like Serena because she also came back after injuries. Lisicki didn’t play for five months, and she had to learn how to walk again because of the ankle injury. She has this appreciation of being back on the court and competing and doing well. She’s still young  and making the most of it, and it’s great to see.
Victoria Azarenka is playing some of her best tennis, as she showed when she crushed Clijsters, Zvonareva and Sharapova to win Miami and then made her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon. She seems to be controlling her emotions better, and that’s helped her be more consistent. She’s playing a little more high-percentage tennis.
You think of Azarenka as a huge power hitter, which she can be. At Wimbledon, though, she wasn’t making a lot of errors, and she wasn’t hitting a lot of winners, but she was making her opponents earn points. Her serve and her movement have always been relative weaknesses. She reminds me a lot of Sharapova. And she was outstanding when she outhit and beat Maria in Miami.
Azarenka has had so many injuries and so many tournaments where she’s defaulted or retired. But it seems like mentally she’s starting to figure it out. And if she can keep that power-consistency balance, then she can be a threat for sure.
Caroline Wozniacki is number one in the world but she still has a lot to prove at this year's Open.
Caroline Wozniacki has a ton of potential because she has a lot to improve. Being No. 1 in the world and being able to improve is a pretty good thing. But she has to develop more of a weapon for sure. But I think she’s trying to do that. At Wimbledon [where she was upset by Dominika Cibulkova] she was trying to serve and volley and trying to attack some second serves and come in to net. So she’s working on it. But her nature is to be consistent. And consistency goes a long way.
Now it’s a matter of when Wozniacki gets to the quarters or semis or get to another final of a major, being able to take a little more of a risk on big points and attack more. But the fact that she’s so fast, her anticipation is so good means that opponents have to beat her. She rarely beats herself. Her game has the base, so that’s why I think she can develop more weapons. Her backhand is outstanding, she can place it anywhere she wants on the court. But like Andy Murray, she has difficulty generating pace on her forehand. She has a good serve.
The US Open is the one major where Wozniacki has reached the final. Last year she was flat when she lost to Zvonareva in the semis. She’s still a contender. I think she will still have a breakthrough and win a major, maybe not at this US Open, but eventually she will. She’s still very young, only 21. She’s a likely semifinalist this year.
Venus still believes she can win a big one, and she doesn’t get so frustrated when she doesn’t come through. She has only played a few (12) tournaments in the last 12 months. She played very well last year at the Open, reaching the semis, which was very impressive. I put Venus in the “dangerous” category because she can upset anyone and potentially get through.
Sjogren's syndrome, a little-known chronic autoimmune disease knocked her out of the Open. Is this the end for Venus?
Her forehand or her serve have caused her to self-destruct at times during her career, but she still won seven majors, including two US Opens. But, if her serve is on, watch out! I think her forehand has actually gotten better in the last couple years. She looks to run around her backhand now to open up the court with her forehand—that’s something she did well last year at the Open. Because she hasn’t played many matches, she runs the risk of being flat, like she was again against Pironkova at Wimbledon, and making errors. But Venus still believes in herself, and that’s very important.
I like Andrea Petkovic a lot. She is super-fit. She has good anticipation and is a good mover. She has very compact groundstrokes. Her serve is the only thing I’m not 100 percent sold on. It has a bit of a hitch and can let her down at times.
Petkovic played great earlier in the season. She beat Wozniacki in Miami in a very good match. And she’s gained important momentum during the US Open Series where she made the Carlsbad and Cincinnati semis and Toronto quarters. She was especially impressive in easily beating Kvitova twice.
She is a student of the game. From talking to her, I know she really studies her opponents and comes out with a plan, strategy. That’s refreshing. She’s a potential semifinalist.
Vera Zvonareva is a contender. She was a finalist last year at Wimbledon and the US Open. She won the Baku tournament after Wimbledon and reached the final in San Diego. Marion Bartoli has been pretty impressive the last three months, and she’s a potential semifinalist. She’s 22-6 since mid May. Bartoli is deceiving. She’s in better shape than we think, and she’s faster than she looks. So I think she can last in the New York heat.
Samantha Stosur at the French and she looked so good, and I thought she was going to make another run [to the final]. She didn’t, and that perhaps hurt her confidence. She seems like the kind of player who should be in the quarters, semis and finals. She has a great serve, a huge forehand with heavy topspin, but her backhand is a weakness. She has a little variety but she doesn’t use it enough.
Ana Ivanovic won the French and became No. 1, she totally went downhill. I’ve never seen anything like it. I hope she comes back. The serve has been her main problem, the toss is erratic, and she double faults sometimes. She expends too much energy by fist-pumping after almost every point she wins. It’s almost like she wants it too much. But I love her game. She’s athletic and her forehand is great. She should be back in the top 10.
Veterans Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic could
I like Yanina Wickmayer’s game. She also puzzles me a little bit because she should be doing better than she is. Julia Goerges is another player who has the potential to do really well at the Open. She has a nice serve and a big forehand. I was very impressed by her play on clay this spring when she beat Wozniacki twice.
Veterans Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic, who reached the Cincinnati final, could spring some upsets. Kuznetsova reminds me of Clijsters. She’s a tremendous athlete, she can attack and defend. But she’s admitted she gets nervous and said, “I need tape on my head more than anywhere else on my body.” Aggie Radwanska is one of the best high-percentage players on the tour. She wins on consistency and placement, not power. And she’s played well this summer, beating both Zvonareva and Petkovic twice and winning Carlsbad and reaching the semis at Toronto. Another threat is Dominika Cibulkova, who upset Wozniacki at Wimbledon. They call her “The Pocket Rocket” because she’s small but powerful.
Young Talent — On the American side, I like Christina McHale, who upset Wozniacki and Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova at Cincinnati, and Sloane Stephens, who recently beat Goerges. I also like Bojana Jovanovski, a Serb ranked No. 54. She hits the ball really well. I watched her play Zvonareva in Australia and was really impressed.
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