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U.S. Open women's preview: Serena isn't only Williams who can contend

U.S. Open women's preview: Serena isn't only Williams who can contend Photo:

SI.com's Jon Wertheim previews the women's U.S. Open with a breakdown of the favorites, dark horses and first-round matches to watch. Click here for his men's preview. The women's draw is available here and the men's is here.

Top 16 seeds

1. Serena Williams: The dominant storyline on the women's side: Can Williams, a five-time champion, save a disappointing 2014 -- and overcome her dreadful and strange Wimbledon -- by winning her first major of the year? A title would be in keeping with the rhythms of her career.

2. Simona Halep: The athletic, well-rounded, thoroughly likable player has backed up her strong 2013 with a standout 2014. But she hasn’t been at her best since injuring her left ankle in the Wimbledon semifinals.

3. Petra Kvitova: The Wimbledon champion should be on the contender short list. But can she overcome her avowed dislike of New York?

4. Agnieszka Radwanska: A quiet year got better with the Rogers Cup title in Montreal earlier this month. She's never been past the fourth round at the U.S. Open.

5. Maria Sharapova: A contender, always. And especially when Williams is in the other half of the draw, as is the case here.

6. Angelique Kerber: The solid lefty from Germany has been to the fourth round at nine of the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments, including the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last month. But she's the only top 10 player who hasn't made a major final.

7. Eugenie Bouchard: The It Girl through July, she’s now playing to salvage a miserable U.S. hard-court summer (one victory in four matches).

8. Ana Ivanovic: Good for her for getting back into the top 10. Her (melo)dramatic win over Sharapova in Cincinnati last week ought to fire her with confidence.

9. Jelena Jankovic: The 2008 finalist has a singular flair for the dramatic.

10. Caroline Wozniacki: She ran out of gas this week at the New Haven Open, but otherwise it's been an encouraging summer for the 2009 finalist. The Dane has a real chance to go far -- provided she hits the darn ball as she navigates a challenging draw.

11. Flavia Pennetta: A fine player with a fine track record in New York (three-time quarterfinalist, a 2013 semifinalist).

12. Dominika Cibulkova: The Australian Open finalist has struggled since May.

13. Sara Errani: If only she could translate this kind of force and fire to her generally punchless game.

14. Lucie Safarova: Lefty Lucie is coming off a semifinal run at Wimbledon.

15. Carla Suarez Navarro: Love the backhand. And her hard-court prep did include a win over Sharapova.

16. Victoria Azarenka: Yes, it's (mostly) injury-related, but it's jarring to see the runner-up in 2012 and '13 seeded so modestly. A strong showing would help redeem a forgettable year.

Seeds 17-32 to watch

17. Ekaterina Makarova: A quarterfinalist last year, the Russian lefty has made the third round in five consecutive Slams.

18. Andrea Petkovic: Easy to root for, especially in this comeback season.

19. Venus Williams: The biggest crowd favorite this side of Roger Federer. And her recent play has been befitting a contender.

20. Svetlana Kuznetsova: The 2004 champion won the Citi Open last month and knocked off Bouchard in Cincinnati.

21. Sloane Stephens: Count the 21-year-old American among the players seeking to salvage a rocky season.

22. Alize Cornet: Anyone who has beaten Serena twice in one season gets tipped.

24. Samantha Stosur: The 2011 champion has had a rough year, but she's looked good in reaching the New Haven semifinals this week.

25. Garbine Muguruza: Ascending steadily.

27. Madison Keys: The 19-year-old American hits as big a ball as any player this side of Serena. How will she handle the pressure?

Dark horse stable

Elina Svitolina (No. 34): Perhaps the best player you’ve never heard of. (Learn about her here.)

Camila Giorgi (38): You worry about overplaying the week before a Slam, but the 22-year-old Italian has ousted Wozniacki and Muguruza to advance to the New Haven semifinals. The streaky Giorgi also upset Sharapova at Indian Wells in March and defeated Wozniacki in the third round of last year's U.S. Open as a qualifier.

CoCo Vandeweghe (39): The hard-serving Californian has been playing top-shelf tennis this summer.

First-round matches to watch

No. 1 Serena Williams vs. Taylor Townsend: Townsend, 18, will make the most of the moment in defeat.

No. 3 Petra Kvitova vs. Kristina Mladenovic: Mladenovic is a big hitter who stunned Li Na in the first round of the French Open, though the 21-year-old Frenchwoman didn't get out of qualifying on the hard courts of Montreal or Cincinnati.

No. 5 Maria Sharapova vs. Maria Kirilenko: If Sharapova isn’t on her game, Kirilenko will make her pay.

No. 8 Ana Ivanovic vs. Alison Riske: This is a big opportunity for Riske to score an upset over a player highly capable of succumbing to nerves. Riske, a 24-year-old from Pittsburgh, eliminated Kvitova en route to the fourth round last year.

Venus Williams vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm: Combined age approaching 80! Winner gets canned peaches and a book of coupons.

Doubles winner

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci: The Italians won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year and lost the French Open final.

Singles picks

Semifinals: Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova; Angelique Kerber vs. Venus Williams

Final: Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams

Winner: Serena Williams

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