U.S. Open women's draw up for grabs after plethora of upsets
NEW YORK -- With No. 3 seed and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova's surprising 6-4, 6-4 loss to No. 145 Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic on Saturday, the women's draw at the U.S. Open is wide open. Kvitova's loss came a day after No. 2 seed Simona Halep, No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber, and No. 19 seed Venus Williams all lost. Compound those upsets with the early exits by No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 8 seed Ana Ivanovic and, well, it's time revisit what's left of the draw and which favorites remain.
The Favorite: Serena Williams
Yes, five of the top five seeds are out, but our pre-tournament favorite is still in the tournament and she's looked sharp through two rounds. Serena has lost just five games in two matches and faces fellow American Varvara Lepchenko on Saturday for a spot in the fourth round. Williams has not lost before the quarterfinal stage at the U.S. Open since 2006 and the early losses of Ivanovic and Stosur, two women who played her very tough this summer, has softened her draw. Instead of facing Stosur and Ivanovic to make the semifinal, she'll now face unseeded Kaia Kanepi and then either Flavia Pennetta or Casey Dellacqua in the quarterfinals. Also of note: with Halep and Kvitova losing, Serena is guaranteed to hold on to the No. 1 ranking after the U.S. Open.
The Grit: Victoria Azarenka
After looking unfit in Stanford and picking up a knee injury in Canada that forced her out of the tournament in Cincinnati, the sixteenth-seeded Azarenka came into the U.S. Open with little attention. Was that unfair? Azarenka has made the final in New York the last two years and when she's on her game she might be the best pure hardcourt player in the world (a female Novak Djokovic, if you will). Azarenka is still match-rusty but her was draw was set up to give her two to three easy matches early in the tournament to help her find her form and confidence, which she seems have done. After rolling in her third round match with a loss of just two games, she'll play Serbian qualifier Aleksandra Krunic in the fourth round. She's also on a collision course with Eugenie Bouchard and could face Serena in the semifinals.
The Consistent: Eugenie Bouchard
No one knew what form she'd be in when she arrived in New York, having won just one match during the North American lead-up tournaments, but seventh-seeded Bouchard has looked sharp and when she was tested by Sorana Cirstea in the second round, she came through with flying colors. Her massive -- at least by her standards -- celebrations after beating Cirstea and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova seemed cathartic. Confidence has replaced the nerves and tension she played with during the summer and we're seeing the Genie who marched her way to the Wimbledon final. A potential rematch of that one-sided Wimbledon final seemed to be in the cards before Kvitova was bounced by Krunic. Now the main stumbling block for Bouchard to make her fourth consecutive Slam semifinal looks to be Azarenka. That would be a great match, pitting two of the game's fiercest competitors against each other. But first things first. She plays 17th seed Ekaterina Makarova in the Round of 16.
The Fighter: Maria Sharapova
I caught myself wondering last night, after watching fifth-seeded Sharapova turn what looked like a routine 6-2, 6-4 win over Sabine Lisicki into tennis equivalent to a back-alley brawl, "When's the last time you've seen Sharapova play well?" I had to think back to her title run in Stuttgart in the spring, which came before her title run at the French Open. The serve hasn't been a weapon for Sharapova for months now and she's been winning matches by simply out-competing her opponents. One thing to remember about Sharapova: She was rarely at her best at the French Open, but when she needed to be, she was. That's why she remains a threat regardless of how ugly her wins can get. Sharapova is the highest seed remaining in the bottom half of the draw but it's hard to have much confidence in her, especially as she's slated to play an in-form Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round on Sunday (Sharapova leads the head-to-head 5-2). I would put my money on the winner of that match making the final.
The Darling: Caroline Wozniacki
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the tennis community who isn't rooting for Wozniacki to do something special here in New York considering her rough spring. She's proven herself to be up to the task. There's no denying the Dane is back to playing some of her best tennis. She pushed Serena Williams to three sets in both Montreal and Cincinnati and dispatched No. 18 seed Andrea Petkovic easily in the third round. If she can get past Sharapova on Sunday, she's in a good spot. She doesn't have a losing record to anyone left in the bottom half of the draw, outside of Sharapova.
The Dark Horses: Jelena Jankovic and Sara Errani
Could this be the year the Serbian "Glitter Queen" returns to a Slam final? 2008 finalist and No. 9 seed Jankovic is the only woman on this list other than Serena that hasn't lost a set through three matches. She plays 17-year-old Belinda Bencic in the fourth round and then either Lucie Safarova (Jankovic leads 7-2) or Peng Shuai (Jankovic leads 7-3) for a spot in the semifinals. Who knows what happens from there --Sharapova has owned their rivalry and Wozniacki has won five of their last six matches -- but if the draw continues to break, it would be just like Jankovic to take advantage.
As for Errani, it was hard not to be impressed by how she played that final set against Venus Williams, coming back from 3-5 down in the final set to play some smart tennis to win in the tiebreaker. It's easy to forget that Errani has been a semifinalist here. With all the crazy results through the first week, who's to say the diminutive Italian who serves in the 80 mph range couldn't make the final?