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US Open Women's Contenders: Can anyone stop Serena?

By McCarton Ackerman
Sunday, August 24, 2014

With reigning Australian Open champion Li Na withdrawing from the tournament due to a knee injury, the contenders and favorites in the women’s draw have a major threat cleared from their path before the first ball has been struck.

Top seed and two-time defending US Open champion Serena Williams remains the favorite to win again this year, but question marks have been raised after she exited at all three Grand Slam events this year in the opening week. Her draw will pose a few major challenges. There is a looming fourth-round encounter against No. 22 Samantha Stosur, who defeated her in the 2011 US Open final and pushed her two tiebreaks in Cincinnati, and a potential quarterfinal against No. 8 seed Ana Ivanovic. If she gets past that, either Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard likely awaits in the semis.

Largely unknown a year ago, No. 2 seed Simona Halep enters this year's event as one of the favorites to win her first Grand Slam title, but a potential quarterfinal with No. 5 seed Maria Sharapova could spell trouble for the Romanian. She is winless against Sharapova in all five of their previous matches, three of which came in 2014.

This year also offers an opportunity for players to cement their rise back up the rankings with a Grand Slam title, including former world No. 1s Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki. And while Kvitova has historically struggled at the US Open, she enters New York on a roll and has the game to beat anyone when she’s playing well. Throw in a rising group of young women, led by Bouchard and including such up-and-comers as Madison Keys and Garbine Muguruza, and Serena is hardly a lock for a record-tying sixth women's singles crown.

Previewing the women’s field, here’s a look, broken down into favorites and challengers, at who might be lifting the women’s singles trophy in two weeks.

THE FAVORITES

Serena Williams

Seed: 1

Previous Best: Winner, 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013

Career US Open Record: 72-9

At 32, Williams is still considered the premier favorite to win Grand Slams long after most of her contemporaries have retired. The two-time defending US Open champion hasn’t yet reached the quarterfinals of a major in 2014, but four of her five tournament victories this year have come on outdoor hard courts. She also rounded into form during the Emirates Airline US Open Series, with a loss in Montreal to big sister Venus the only blemish on a summer that saw her win two tournaments and compile a 12-1 record. With her eyes set on Grand Slam title on No. 18, a focused and determined Serena will be a tall order for anyone in the draw.

Simona Halep

Seed: 2

Previous Best: Fourth round, 2013

Career US Open Record: 5-4

Not even ranked inside the Top 15 at this time last year, the humble Romanian has surged to No. 2 in the world in just 12 months. In reaching her first Grand Slam final at this year’s French Open and following that up with a semifinal finish at Wimbledon, Halep showed that she is a threat on all surfaces. Her summer hard-court season has raised a few red flags with a fifth consecutive loss to Maria Sharapova in Cincinnati and an early exit in New Haven, but Halep has declared that she is rested and ready to go. It will likely take a top player in full flight to stop her from winning her first Grand Slam title.

Maria Sharapova

Seed: 5

Previous Best: Winner, 2006

Career US Open Record: 29-8

The 2006 US Open champion was forced to withdraw from last year’s tournament due to a right shoulder injury, but she has been making up for lost time since rejoining the tour in January. The 27-year-old Russian excelled during the clay-court season, posting a 19-1 record and winning her second French Open title. But she hasn’t won a title on outdoor hard courts since Cincinnati in 2011, and she has advanced to the quarterfinals just once in her last five visits to to Flushing Meadows. That said, Sharapova has always thrived on the New York crowds, and the fact she is in the opposite half of the draw as her nemesis Serena is a major plus. If she can build momentum in the early rounds, Sharapova will have a very real shot at winning her second major of the year.
 

THE CONTENDERS

Petra Kvitova

Seed: 3

Previous Best: Fourth round, 2009, 2012

Career US Open Record: 10-6

The 2009 US Open was where Kvitova announced herself to the tennis world, defeating then-world No. 1 Dinara Safina, but she has openly admitted to struggling with the humid conditions and rowdy crowds of New York. Last year she was beaten soundly in the third round by unseeded American Alison Riske. This summer the reigning Wimbledon champion regrouped brilliantly after a pair of early-round losses by winning the final Series event in New Haven. Kvitova appears untouchable when her swerving lefty serve and power baseline game is on, but it remains to be seen whether she can make that happen for two weeks in New York.

Agnieszka Radwanska

Seed: 4

Previous Best: Fourth round, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013

Career US Open Record: 16-8

The always popular Polish player posted one of the biggest tournament victories of her career earlier this month by winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal, and she has won 11 of her 14 career titles on hard courts. But for whatever reason, that success hasn’t translated to New York. The US Open remains the one Grand Slam in which she hasn’t reached the quarterfinals, and recent losses here to Roberta Vinci and Ekaterina Makarova leave her opponents believing they have a shot to beat her here. However, it’s well established that Radwanska won’t give a match to anyone. And if she brings her form from Montreal over to the US Open, it’s very possible she could secure her first Grand Slam title in two weeks. 

Eugenie Bouchard

Seed: 7

Previous Best: Second round, 2013

Career US Open Record: 1-1

The young Canadian has produced outstanding results at the Grand Slams in 2014; in fact, she is the only player, man or woman, to have reached at least the semifinals at all the majors this year. After reaching the Wimbledon final, Bouchard admitted to feeling pressure from herself and the public, and it has shown in her results. She’s produced a forgettable 1-3 record during the Series but always bring her A-game when it matters most, and keep in mind that she lost in the first round of a grass court tune-up event before advancing to the final Saturday at the All England Club. If she can produce the form that she’s shown for the majority of 2014, expect big things from Bouchard this fortnight.

Caroline Wozniacki

Seed: 10

Previous Best: Finalist, 2009

Career US Open Record: 22-7

Few people would have considered the former world No. 1 a contender for the US Open title at the beginning of the summer, but she has produced outstanding results since Wimbledon. After winning the WTA event in Istanbul, she reached the quarterfinals at the Series event in Montreal and the semifinals in Cincinnati, where only world No. 1 Serena Williams could stop her in a pair of grueling three-set matches. The 2009 US Open finalist has added power to her serve and appears as motivated as she’s been in years. Moreover, she seems to thrive flying under the radar and moving quietly through the draw, which could be exactly what she needs to finally win her first Grand Slam title. 

Victoria Azarenka

Seed: 16

Previous Best: Finalist, 2012, 2013

Career US Open Record: 24-8

It’s safe to say that Azarenka would like a do-over on 2014. She has missed the majority of the year due to a foot injury and suffered losses to opponents she would normally handle easily. However, she retains some of the best hard-court bona fides on the women’s tour, having won two Australian Open titles (2012-13) to back up her two Open runner-up showings, in addition to the 16 WTA hard-court titles she has won since 2009. If she’s truly healthy and ready to play, she will be a very difficult out in New York.

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THE QUESTION: Is there anyone we missed? Who do you think will win the 2014 US Open?

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