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2015 US Open Contenders: Can anyone top Serena?

By McCarton Ackerman
Sunday, August 30, 2015

This year in women’s tennis has been all about Serena Williams. The No. 1 seed is looking to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to capture the Grand Slam. A win in New York would also tie her with Graf at 22 Grand Slam singles titles, the most in the Open era and behind only Margaret Court (24) on the all-time list. It would also give Williams her seventh US Open singles title, more than any other man or woman in the Open era.

However, there are plenty of players who will be eager to stop Williams from making history. World No. 2 Simona Halep is keen to lift her first Grand Slam singles title, rising star Belinda Bencic appears destined to eventually win one and top seeds Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova can never be counted out.

Who will emerge to lift the trophy in two weeks? Here are our picks for the favorites to win the title, the contenders who have outside chances to remain the last woman standing, and the sleepers who could make deep runs through the draw.

FAVORITE

Serena Williams: Serena arrives in New York as the undisputed favorite to win her seventh US Open singles title. With an astounding 45-2 record this year, she has produced performances that can only be described as breathtaking. The world No. 1 has also proven time and again that she’s capable of beating anyone in the draw. In fact, Serena’s biggest hurdle to lifting the trophy in two weeks may be Serena herself. Although she’s nearly untouchable in the later stages of a Grand Slam, she can be vulnerable in the early rounds as she often plays her way into form.

Not being in full flight during the first week is something that No. 29 seed Sloane Stephens (Serena’s potential opponent in the third round) or No. 19 seed Madison Keys (fourth round) have the ability take advantage of. A potential quarterfinal also awaits with No. 12 Bencic, who defeated Serena this summer in Toronto.

The world No. 1 has shown incredible mental resolve throughout 2015, but going for the Grand Slam is uncharted waters even for her. It remains to be seen how Serena will react to the likely once-in-a-lifetime moment, but if her results this year are any indication, the odds are that she will rise to the occasion.

CHALLENGERS

Simona Halep: Halep rebounded from disappointing clay- and grass-court seasons in a big way, by reaching the finals in Toronto and Cincinnati this summer to finish third in the Emirates Airline US Open Series standings (behind rising Czech Karolina Pliskova and Serena). The No. 2 seed also owns career victories over every player in the Top 10 except Sharapova, who she would not face until the final.

However, the mild-mannered Romanian has struggled to adapt the rowdy atmosphere of New York. The US Open is the only major in which she hasn’t reached the quarterfinals. But her results this summer show there’s no reason why she can’t correct that problem and make a legitimate run for her first Grand Slam singles title.

Belinda Bencic: The sky appears to be the limit for 18-year-old Bencic. Her back-to-back victories over Williams and Halep to clinch the title in Toronto established her as a Grand Slam contender for years to come. A wrist injury forced her to retire from her third-round match in Cincinnati the following week, but she insists that she’s healthy and ready to compete in New York.

Bencic first made headlines by reaching the quarterfinals at last year’s US Open, but it remains to be seen how she’ll react to the pressure of being viewed as a Grand Slam contender for the first time. She also has a tricky draw, with two-time US Open champion and No. 23 seed Venus Williams potentially waiting in the third round, followed by Serena in the quarterfinals. Despite that, Bencic has a real shot at winning her first Grand Slam if she can continue her summer form.

Caroline Wozniacki: The affable Dane always brings her best tennis to New York. A two-time finalist, the No. 4 seed has reached the semifinals or better in four of her last six appearances in Flushing Meadows and routinely plays her best tennis on outdoor hard courts.

Her summer season this year has been far less fruitful than last year’s, though, with a 3-4 summer hard-court record coming into the US Open (compared to 13-4 last year). But Wozniacki has a kind draw, on paper at least, for her first few matches and is in arguably the softest quarter of the draw. In all, she’s in a position to make another run at her first Grand Slam title.

Petra Kvitova: The No. 5 seed won the tournament in New Haven last week, defeating four Top 20 players in the process, to put to rest any doubts that her mono diagnosis earlier this summer would affect her form. The two-time Wimbledon champion is also one of only two players to defeat Serena this year, showing that she’s truly capable of beating anyone when she’s playing her best.

But while Kvitova has proven her bona fides on outdoor hard courts, her results in New York have remained head-scratching. The US Open is the only Grand Slam tournament in which she hasn’t reached at least the quarterfinals. But with a relatively easy first few rounds to get her started, she could make a case for winning the title if she can find her top form. She’s certainly a player that no one will want to face in the second week of the tournament.

SLEEPERS

Elina Svitolina: The Ukrainian reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at this year’s French Open and produced solid results on the hard courts this summer. The No. 17 seed has beaten Top 10 players before and proved she’s capable of deep runs at the majors.

Sloane Stephens: Although the No. 29 seed can remain hit-and-miss in her form, winning her first WTA title this summer in Washington, D.C., released a huge boulder off her back. A potential third-round clash with Serena, who she famously defeated in the 2013 Australian Open, is something that everyone would want to see.

Flavia Pennetta: The No. 26 seed has had a dip in form this year, but she always brings her best to the US Open. She’s reached the quarterfinals or better in five of her last six appearances in Flushing Meadows and will be a dangerous opponent for the top players in the draw.

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