Early U.S. Open upsets pave way for unexpected players to break through
NEW YORK – On Monday, opening day at the 2015 U.S. Open more closely resembled the first round of March Madness than an average Grand Slam tournament. Six seeded women lost on the first day: No. 7 Ana Ivanovic, No. 8 Karolina Pliskova, No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, No. 21 Jelena Jankovic, No. 29 Sloane Stephens and No. 30 Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The surprises continued on Tuesday, with No. 6 Lucie Safarova and No. 14 Timea Bacsinszky bowing out of the tournament.
The upsets make Serena Williams’s path to a title even smoother, but they also provide an opportunity for a number of unexpected players to make a run in Flushing. Here’s a look at some of the women that could benefit the most from the opening round’s exodus of seeded players.
The Ukrainian scored the first big upset of Day 2, dismantling No. 6 Lucie Safarova 6–4, 6–1. While Tsurenko’s win over Safarova may have been a surprise, the world No. 37’s form has been stellar leading up to New York. She beat Pliskova in New Haven and topped Garbine Muguruza in Toronto on her way to a quarterfinals appearance. She also won the Istanbul Cup title in late July, the first of her career. Tsurenko won’t meet another seeded player until at least the fourth round, and her current form suggests she could still be playing into the second week.
After breaking out last year, Bouchard entered the U.S. Open with just a 9-17 record this season. The No. 25 seed made headlines last week when she began working with five-time U.S. Open champion Jimmy Connors, but Bouchard is poised to make a lot more noise in the tournament. The struggling Canadian opened the tournament with a solid 6–4, 6–3 victory over American Alison Riske and she suddenly became a favorite to reach the quarterfinals after Jankovic and Ivanovic lost on Monday. Bouchard won’t meet another seeded player until at least the quarterfinals, where she could play No. 13 Ekaterina Makarova or No. 17 Elina Svitolina. After a disappointing year, it's not out of the question that the 21-year-old could make a run to the semifinals at the final Slam of 2015.
While Bouchard is now the top seed in the bottom half of her quarter, she’s no lock to advance past this weekend. After upsetting, Jankovic in the first round, World No. 128 Dodin could make a surprise run. A wildcard, Dodin rallied from a set down to beat Jankovic 2–6, 7–5, 6–3 on Monday. Because of Denisa Allertova’s upset of Carla Suarez Navarro, Dodin won’t meet another seeded player until at least the fourth round and possibly the quarterfinals if Bouchard bows out. Dodin’s favorite surface is the hardcourts and she made it to the second round of the Australian Open this year. She plays Mariana Duque-Mariño in the second round.
The player responsible for Ivanovic’s defeat and the void it created in the draw is Dominika Cibulkova, a 2010 U.S. Open quarterfinalist. Despite her success on the Australian Open’s hard courts—Cibulkova was a finalist in 2014 and a quarterfinalist this year—the Slovakian hasn’t fared well in Flushing historically, only making it past the third round in 2010. But her hard-fought 6–3, 3–6, 6–3 victory over Ivanovic paves the way for Cibulkova to recapture her 2010 magic: She will face American qualifier Jessica Pegula in the second round, potentially setting up a third-round meeting with Bouchard. Her lack of match play this year after returning from heel surgery in July could affect her chances, but with the slumping Canadian as the only seeded player standing in Cibulkova’s path to the quarterfinals, the World No. 50 is a dark horse semifinal contender.
Ranked No. 47, Brengle had her best Grand Slam finish earlier this year in Melbourne, when she made it to the fourth round of the Australian Open. She has never advanced past the second round of the U.S. Open, but this year she has a manageable path to the fourth round after qualifier Anna Tatishvili upset No. 8 Pliskova. Brengle will meet Tatishvili on Wednesday, and if she prevails she’ll meet the winner of No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Magdalena Rybarikova in the third round. But the American is always streaky and unpredictable and if she can make it that far, she’ll likely be in for a tougher test against No. 12 Belinda Bencic or No. 23 Venus Williams, who double-bageled Brengle at Wimbledon earlier this year.
Major caveat here: If Vandeweghe beats Bethanie Mattek-Sands on Wednesday, she’ll likely face Serena Williams in the third round. The big-serving American upset No. 29 Sloane Stephens on Monday, spoiling a potential Sloane-Serena matchup. While Serena would have a significant advantage in a match against Vandeweghe, it would give the 23-year-old an opportunity to raise her profile. A third round appearance would be her best-ever finish at the U.S. Open. Vandeweghe is 0-3 in her career against Serena, but a high-profile match against the tournament’s headliner would give her invaluable experience as well as a platform to show that she can compete on the big stage.