US Open Women’s Draw Analysis

The tennis tours have sweated their way once again to the sauna of summer in the eastern United States, and the sport’s last big show of the year is about to get underway. Players are tired and their injuries are accumulating, but those who are still standing will make at least one more push for glory under the lights of the US Open.

Here is my in-depth analysis of the women’s draw. In each eighth, I list the seeded players and a few others who have a chance to pull off upsets, along with their updated form scores based on results through last week’s tournaments. Players scoring greater than 5 are playing above their current ranking; players scoring below 4 are struggling. After discussing how I see the early rounds unfolding, I make predictions for the later rounds at the end.

This post is now complete, updated with analysis of the bottom half of the draw, which starts play today.

Williams’ Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Williams, S 1 1 5.0
Stephens 15 16 4.7
Hampton 23 26 4.6
Rybarikova 29 31 8.6
Mladenovic 36 0.7
Radwanska, U 38 4.1
Shvedova 78 4.8

On paper, it would seem Serena Williams has an unusually tricky first-round match, against Francesca Schiavone. Schiavone will fight hard and will try to throw Williams off her rhythm by charging the net or mixing up the spin on the ball. But Schiavone has never won a set from Williams on any surface other than clay, and is more erratic now than she was in her heyday. Unless Serena has a very bad day, she’ll outclass Francesca in power and precision and dominate the match.

Williams’ next match should be easier, against either Monica Niculescu or Galina Voskoboeva. Both have unorthodox games that can trouble many players, but both have also had mixed results lately and won’t have answers for Serena’s power.

Serena should be concerned to see Yaroslava Shvedova lurking in the draw as a potential third-round opponent. Shvedova is a streaky shotmaker who fought Williams to a close third set at Wimbledon last year. However, after taking nearly two months off to recover from an arm injury, Shvedova retired from her second-round qualifying match last week in New Haven—with an injury to the same arm. It’s not clear that she’ll be able to play at all, let alone navigate her own tricky draw to the third round.

Most significantly, Magdalena Rybarikova looms as Shvedova’s likely second-round opponent. Rybarikova is a skilled and versatile all-court player whose week-to-week inconsistency has largely kept her from fulfilling her potential over the years. But her recent results suggest that may be changing. In the last four weeks, Rybarikova has compiled a 10–2 match record, beating top-10 players Marion Bartoli and Angelique Kerber, and losing only to #2 Victoria Azarenka and #1 Serena Williams. Unfortunately for Rybarikova’s hopes of surviving to the second week of the US Open, though, she won only two games in the match against Serena—the only time they’ve played.

Sloane Stephens is already building a reputation as a player who saves her best for the slam tournaments. While that might be a good thing for an established star seeking to prolong her career, the 20-year-old is nowhere near that stage, measured by either her years on tour or the contents of her trophy case. In her last six slams, Stephens has a 19–6 record, never losing before the third round. However, during those runs Stephens has beaten only one top-20 player—an injured and slow Serena Williams at the Australian Open.

While Stephens has the power and talent to reel off winners and dictate play against most opponents, she has a natural tendency to play more conservatively and wait for her opponents to make errors. Particularly in WTA Tour tournaments, she often struggles to decide which strategy to employ and shows extended lapses of focus that make her vulnerable to defeat. It’s only a matter of time before a lower-ranked opponent shakes her confidence enough to expose these weaknesses in a slam.

Sloane should have little trouble in the first round against Mandy Minella, who aside from one standout run to the semifinals in Marrakech has had a dismal season. But in the second round she is likely to face a much more serious threat from Urszula Radwanska, who beat her in straight sets in Indian Wells this year (their only meeting). While Ula can’t match the precision and touch of her sister Agnieszka, she’s getting closer and is the more powerful of the two from the baseline. To beat Ula, Stephens will have to be aggressive enough to keep her under pressure and consistent enough to profit from Radwanska’s inevitable errors.

If Stephens gets past that test, she’s likely face a similar challenge from versatile and aggressive shotmaker Jamie Hampton in the third round. Or she could meet the tall and talented 20-year-old Kristina Mladenovic, who started the season very well, but whose successes this summer have been surprisingly confined to doubles.

If Sloane runs that gauntlet, she’s likely to meet Serena in the fourth round. Serena had some trouble with an abdominal injury two weeks ago in Cincinnati, and her game doesn’t look as invincible as it did a year ago. But Williams will be very determined not to lose to Stephens twice in a row.

Predicted fourth round: S. Williams d. Hampton
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Radwanska, U
Not to be counted out: Stephens, Mladenovic

Kerber’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Kerber 8 9 1.9
Flipkens 12 14 4.3
Suarez Navarro 18 20 3.5
Kanepi 25 27 10.2
Voegele 49 2.1
Bouchard 59 6.5
Williams, V 60 3.0
Davis 70 5.4
King 130 8.3

Angelique Kerber is still a reliably competitive player who makes opponents beat her. But she seems unable to sustain her forehand’s power and depth throughout a difficult match as well as she did last year, and her confidence has eroded as a result. She hasn’t beaten a top-20 player since April, and will be vulnerable to a player who can overpower her defense without donating too many errors.

Unless Kerber’s first-round opponent, the powerful Lucie Hradecka, has one of her extremely rare days when she can’t miss, she won’t cause much trouble. But 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard could be a much greater threat in the second round. To her already formidable baseline firepower, Bouchard is adding improved defense and skill at the net. If Bouchard plays well, she could knock off the eighth seed, helping to blow this section of the draw wide open.

By seeding, whoever wins that match should face Kaia Kanepi. But Kanepi mysteriously hasn’t played in almost two months, and her hardcourt form is anyone’s guess. An Estonian press report quotes her father as saying she is healthy, but nevertheless decided not to play any hardcourt tournaments this summer. Kanepi was last seen firing winners at will on her way the quarterfinals at Wimbledon (where she upset Kerber in the second round). But if she’s rusty or physically not at her best, her time in New York could be cut short.

Kanepi’s first-round opponent, Vania King, has had a mostly dismal season and seen her ranking fall well outside the top 100. But she showed signs of turning that around two weeks ago in Cincinnati, beating the solid Paula Ormaechea and Niculescu to qualify, and then upsetting Mladenovic before losing to Azarenka. At her best, King is a smart all-court player who plays more aggressively than her size would suggest.

If Kanepi’s form is good enough to get past King, she’ll most likely face Stefanie Voegele, who has had a disappointing summer but is another smart all-court player, and who upset Kanepi at Roland Garros. Alternatively, Kanepi could face Anna Schmiedlova, a promising and solid 18-year-old who will make her pay if her timing is off.

If the seedings hold and Kanepi meets Kerber in the third round, Kaia will be playing well and I expect her to pull off the upset, extending her record against Angie to 3-0. Any third-round match involving Bouchard will be interesting and difficult to predict—the only players in the entire eighth Bouchard has faced before are Hradecka and Suarez Navarro. (She’s never beaten either of them.)

In the first round, Kirsten Flipkens and Venus Williams will play a rematch of their first-round encounter three weeks ago in Toronto. In that match, Williams came out strong and Flipkens came out rusty, playing her first match since Wimbledon. Williams won the first set, 6-0. And then Flipkens found her game of low slices and net approaches. Under more pressure, Venus’ accuracy disintegrated. Flipkens ended up winning the third set rather easily. Williams is 0-3 in three-set matches since April. It seems likely that at this stage of her career, if Venus is to beat a player of Flipkens’ quality, she’ll have to come out with all guns blazing and do it in straight sets.

On the other hand, if Venus can still step up and make another run, a slam is where she’ll do it. The outdoor hard courts suit Williams’ style better, too—Flipkens’ game is better suited to grass or indoor conditions.

If Flipkens survives that test, she shouldn’t have too much trouble in the second round, against either Zheng Jie or Kiki Bertens. Both players can be dangerous, but both are slumping badly, neither having beaten a top-70 player since May. Zheng stands a better chance if she meets Williams—she’s good at redirecting opponents’ power at difficult angles, and Venus’ ability to hit kicking serves may be lacking if she’s still affected by the back injury that has plagued her for most of the year.

Whoever emerges from that section is likely to meet the winner of an interesting first-round match between two natural counterpunchers, Carla Suarez Navarro and Lauren Davis. Both have the ability to seize control of points by placing the ball precisely and approaching the net, but Davis is the player with the hot hand at the moment. She beat lucky loser and #28 Svetlana Kuznetsova twice in a row in Toronto, once in qualifying and once in the main draw, and took a set from Li Na in Cincinnati.

To get past Davis, Suarez Navarro will have to serve well, take maximum advantage of her topspin, and play aggressively enough to take early and decisive control of points without yielding many errors. It won’t be easy for the Spaniard, who broke into the top 20 for the first time this year largely with success on clay and grass, and who has suffered disappointing losses to #131 Virginie Razzano and #77 Marina Erakovic on hard courts this month.

Predicted fourth round: Flipkens d. Bouchard
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Kerber
Not to be counted out: Kanepi

Radwanska’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Radwanska, A 3 4 4.6
Lisicki 16 18 6.5
Makarova 24 25 5.4
Pavlyuchenkova 32 33 4.1
Mattek-Sands 53 2.6
Date-Krumm 62 3.6
Erakovic 68 5.6
Ormaechea 71 3.3
Razzano 94 9.0

Agnieszka Radwanska has been criticized this season for some disappointing losses, but has managed her schedule better than in previous years and put herself in a position where it will be very difficult for anyone to overtake her in the rankings. At age 24, having been a fixture in the top 10 for most of the last 5 years, and troubled for much of the last 2 years by a painful shoulder issue, Aga is exactly the sort of player who should seek to peak at the slams. She’s done a pretty good job of it this year, and her shoulder appears to be improving.

After withdrawing from her quarterfinal in Cincinnati two weeks ago to attend her grandfather’s funeral, Radwanska should be able to work her way back into the tennis routine with an easy first-round match against clay-court specialist Silvia Soler-Espinosa. Marina Erakovic’s aggressive all-court game will likely be a stronger test in the second round, but Erakovic is generally too erratic to pose a genuine threat to a player as precise as Aga.

In the third round, Radwanska is most likely to face the winner of an interesting first-round match between two powerful but inconsistent players, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Virginie Razzano. Pavlyuchenkova is the favorite, but her form is questionable—until she upset Sabine Lisicki in New Haven last week, she hadn’t beaten a top-80 player in a completed match since April.

Nowadays Razzano is best known for upsetting Serena Williams in the first round of Roland Garros last year. But people tend to forget that she was ranked as high as #16 in 2009 before injuries, inconsistency, and the death of her fiancé derailed her career. There’s no better way to sum up Razzano’s unpredictability than to point out that after upsetting Kuznetsova, Suarez Navarro, and Petra Kvitova to reach the semifinals of Carlsbad a month ago, she lost to #845 Robin Anderson in the first round of a $25k ITF event the very next week. If Razzano plays her best, her more versatile all-court skills will run Pavlyuchenkova’s simpler power game out of the tournament.

It’s also worth mentioning the first-round match between Australian 17-year-old Ashleigh Barty and Estrella Cabeza Candela. Barty is exceptionally skilled and versatile for a player of her age, but has so far struggled to handle the power of established contenders at the WTA tour level. Cabeza Candela is a solid player with a strong serve, but is at her best on clay, and exactly the sort of player Barty needs to start beating consistently to establish herself at the professional level.

Sabine Lisicki has a renowned serve, powerful forehand, and improving touch, and at her best is a threat to anyone on fast surfaces. But more than half the ranking points she currently holds came from her inspired run to the Wimbledon final, without which her season would look mediocre. Sabine’s game depends heavily on precise timing, which she seems to find when court conditions or player matchups make her unusually comfortable and confident. The US Open is not an event where she has found such confidence in the past—she’s never beaten a top-30 opponent there.

Lisicki probably won’t have much trouble in the first round against qualifier Vera Dushevina, who was a top-50 player on several occasions and had a good run to the quarterfinals at Stanford last month, but for the last two years has unusually been too erratic to compete with tour-level opponents. In the second round, Lisicki will hope to encounter Kimiko Date-Krumm, against whom she has a 3-0 record, rather than Paula Ormaechea. Ormaechea is exactly the kind of solid clay-oriented baseliner that has caused Sabine trouble in the past on outdoor hard courts. (I wish I could forget her loss to Alberta Brianti at the Australian Open in 2010.)

If Lisicki survives those tests, she’s most likely to face Ekaterina Makarova in the third round, who could present another tricky matchup. A left-hander who can trade power from the baseline, defend, and finish points at the net, Makarova has a 1-1 record against Lisicki, but they haven’t played since 2009. Both have improved their games considerably since then, but Makarova has arguably made greater progress.

On the other hand, Makarova has a potentially tricky path to the third round herself. In the first round she faces the multi-talented but inconsistent and injury-plagued Polona Hercog, who seems to employ a totally different strategy every time I watch her play. In the second round, she’s likely to face Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a player whose aggressive tactics can sometimes seem as reckless as her taste in fashion, but who is very dangerous when on her game.

Predicted fourth round: A. Radwanska d. Makarova
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Lisicki
Not to be counted out: Mattek-Sands

Li’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Li 5 6 5.9
Jankovic 9 12 6.3
Cirstea 19 22 9.1
Robson 30 32 5.5
Keys 39 3.9
Puig 44 6.2
Dominguez Lino 52 2.8
Garcia 75 3.2
Cetkovska 146 6.7

Li Na has greatly improved her week-to-week consistency with the help of coach Carlos Rodriguez, and shouldn’t face too serious a threat in the first round from Olga Govortsova. Govortsova can be a dangerous player, as she proved most recently by upsetting Julia Goerges and Sam Stosur to reach the Stanford quarterfinals. But Govortsova’s results since then have been underwhelming, and she has never taken a set from Li in three meetings.

Li could be tested in the second round if she meets Petra Cetkovska, who won their last match, in New Haven in 2011, in a third-set tiebreak. Cetkovska is a powerful and versatile player who doesn’t always seem to know how to apply her many tools, and has been stricken with a bewildering series of injuries. She returned to the tour in May after suffering a stress fracture in her foot, and by the following month at Wimbledon was playing with both thighs and both knees variously taped or braced. Two weeks later she retired from her first-round match at an ITF event, and then took another month off. She returned to play qualifying in Cincinnati and Toronto, losing close three-setters to Erakovic and Ayumi Morita. Either Cetkovska’s health or form are likely to prevent her from seriously testing Li—if they don’t cause her to fall to the slumping Sofia Arvidsson in the first round.

By seeding, in the third round Li should meet Laura Robson, who beat her in three sets in the US Open last year, their only meeting. But Robson has missed the last three weeks with an injury to her right (off) wrist, which reportedly has kept her from practicing properly. Lourdes Dominguez Lino, her first-round opponent, is a clay-court specialist, but has won both matches they’ve played, one of which was on hard court in Beijing last year.

It’s also possible Li could meet 19-year-old Caroline Garcia in the third round. Garcia is a talented and promising player, but still very inconsistent, and unlikely to trouble Li long enough to cause an upset. Li has never played Garcia before; she has won all four sets she has played against Dominguez Lino.

Very little about Jelena Jankovic’s form, tactics, or execution have been consistent over the last few years, but she has returned again and again to the top 20, more often through her stubborn competitiveness on court than due to occasional streaks when her game flows naturally. In the first round, she faces powerful 18-year-old Madison Keys, who normally would be a serious threat. But Keys hasn’t played since withdrawing from Toronto qualifying three weeks ago with a shoulder injury. She may not be close to her best, especially since her game is heavily dependent on her serve, and this is exactly the kind of weakness Jankovic will find a way to exploit.

The winner of that match is most likely to face another teenage rising star, ambitious 19-year-old shotmaker Monica Puig. Puig won’t have an easy first-round match against former top-20 player Alisa Kleybanova, who deserves a warm welcome back to the tour after missing most of the last two years recovering from Hodgkins lymphoma. But Kleybanova will be playing just her fourth match at the tour level this year, and is unlikely to be ready to beat a player as formidable or relentless as Puig. Puig could pose a very serious threat to Jankovic, as well, and beat Keys in straight sets this year at Roland Garros, their only meeting.

By seeding, whoever emerges from that hotly competitive section should face Sorana Cirstea, who was in the best form of her life in Toronto, upsetting Caroline Wozniacki, Jankovic, Kvitova, and Li to reach the Toronto final. Unfortunately then Cirstea withdrew from Cincinnati and retired from her first-round match in New Haven (after only three games) with an abdominal injury. It remains to be seen whether Cirstea will last for a whole match, let alone play as well as she did in Toronto. If Sorana falls, either underwhelming counterpuncher Alexandra Cadantu or one of the little-known qualifiers, Sharon Fichman or Kurumi Nara, will find herself facing a relative star in the third round of a slam.

Predicted fourth round: Li d. Puig
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Jankovic
Not to be counted out: Cirstea, Keys, Cetkovska

Wozniacki’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Wozniacki 6 8 4.1
Vinci 10 13 4.8
Vesnina 22 24 5.0
Zakopalova 31 30 6.8
Hsieh 40 0.8
Safarova 41 2.1
Knapp 55 7.6
Giorgi 136 9.0

No doubt glad to be back on the hard courts where she has had most of her success, Caroline Wozniacki continues to tinker with her game, working to improve her volleying skills and make her forehand something of a weapon from the baseline. Her improvement comes in fits and starts and it isn’t dramatic, but she looks more confident on court than she has in some time. She shouldn’t overlook her first-round opponent, qualifier Duan Ying-Ying, who has been moving up the rankings with consistent results mostly in ITF events. But Wozniacki should outclass her and advance without major trouble.

The same will be true in the second round, where Caro will face the winner of a match between two South African Chanel(le)s, Scheepers and Simmonds. Scheepers is the more established of the two on the professional tour, and occasionally pulls off a surprising upset. But 21-year-old Simmonds had a good run through qualifying, beating the experienced and powerful Nina Bratchikova and widely touted American 17-year-old Taylor Townsend.

In the third round Wozniacki could face a serious threat from inconsistent shotmaker Klara Zakopalova, who has had mostly good results on hard courts this year. But Wozniacki leads the head-to-head 3-0, and should have a mental edge.

Zakopalova said last week that she has a difficult first round opponent—Hsieh Su-Wei, against whom she has a 1-1 record. But Zakopalova is much better player than she was when she lost to Hsieh in 2008, while Hsieh hasn’t beaten a top-60 opponent since February.

Another player who could possibly trouble Zakopalova, in the second round, is Camila Giorgi. Giorgi never saw a ball she didn’t want to hit for a winner, and occasionally she hits most of them inside the court and tears up a draw, as she has at Wimbledon for two years straight.

Roberta Vinci has had mixed results on hard courts this year, but is much more of a threat on the surface than she was a few years ago, as she proved by upsetting Dominika Cibulkova and Aga Radwanska on her way to the US Open quarterfinals last year. Vinci shouldn’t have much trouble with the powerful but erratic Timea Babos in the first round.

The inconsistent but dangerous Lucie Safarova could pose a serious threat to Vinci in the second round. Vinci has never beaten Safarova on hard courts, but won their most recent match on clay, earlier this year in the high-pressure arena of Fed Cup. That should give Vinci an edge in confidence, an area where Safarova may be weak—she’s on a four-match losing streak that includes a 6-1, 6-0 loss to #190 Valeria Solovyeva last month. Indeed, Safarova could struggle in the first round against Lesia Tsurenko, who can be a tough fighter.

Vinci is much more likely to be upset by Elena Vesnina in the third round. Always a player with a strong serve and all-court skills, Vesnina has become much more confident and consistent this year, winning her first and second WTA singles titles in Hobart and Eastbourne. Vesnina has a 4-1 record against Vinci on hard courts. On the other hand, Vesnina doesn’t have an easy path to the third round herself, facing increasingly aggressive 19-year-old counterpuncher Annika Beck in the first round and most likely the resurgent and powerful shotmaker Karin Knapp in the second.

Predicted fourth round: Wozniacki d. Vesnina
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Zakopalova
Not to be counted out: Vinci, Safarova

Errani’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Errani 4 5 2.9
Kirilenko 14 17 2.9
Halep 21 19 13.6
Kuznetsova 27 29 2.1
Wickmayer 57 2.6
Watson 76 1.7
Pennetta 83 6.2

After a strong first half of the season, Sara Errani has not hit her stride on the summer hard courts, suffering early losses to doubles partner Vinci in Cincinnati and to Makarova in New Haven. She should have a fairly easy first round, however, against lucky loser Olivia Rogowska, who has a decent serve and is usually a good defender, but is not in Errani’s class.

Errani could face a much tougher test in the second round from compatriot Flavia Pennetta. Just two years ago Pennetta would have been the favorite, especially on a hard court. But Sara switched to a different racket for greater power and reach, and began approaching the net more aggressively, while Flavia underwent wrist surgery and lost much of her confidence and precision. Pennetta’s summer on hard courts has been worse than Errani’s, and she retired from her second-round qualifying match last week in New Haven with a lower back injury. Errani should emerge as the winner.

By seeding, in the third round Errani should face Svetlana Kuznetsova, a player she has never beaten on hard courts. But Kuznetsova hasn’t won a main-draw match since Roland Garros, and is likely to have her hands full facing Peng Shuai in the second round. Kuznetsova has a 3-2 hardcourt record against Peng, who hasn’t had a good summer either, but Peng won the last two matches. Peng also won her last three matches against Errani, though they haven’t played since Errani’s breakthrough last year.

Maria Kirilenko started the year very well, reaching the top 10 for the first time in her career. But she hasn’t regained that form since taking more than a month off after her recurring knee injury flared up at Wimbledon. She has a difficult first-round match against the powerful but more one-dimensional Yanina Wickmayer. The two have split their two previous matches, both this year, with Wickmayer winning the most recent match in Eastbourne. Since that match, however, Wickmayer is 1-6 in main-draw matches. If Kirilenko can keep her forehand under control and reach the net frequently, she should prevail.

The winner of that match should have a relatively easy second round against either qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito or journeywoman Eleni Daniilidou. She’ll face a much more formidable threat in the third round from New Haven champion Simona Halep, the only player in this entire eighth who is indisputably in top form. Having never won a WTA title before this year, Halep now has four, more than any other player has won this year except Serena Williams. Halep has always been a quick defender, and has long had the ability to hit with surprising aggression. But over the last few months, she has found the confidence and timing to hit those shots at the right moments, and more reliably inside the lines.

Halep’s own path to the third round isn’t entirely easy. In the first round she faces Heather Watson, who at her best plays a similar style. But while Watson says her fitness has returned after a bout of mononucleosis early this year, her confidence has not, and it shows in her tentative play. Halep should beat Watson, and also up-and-coming 17-year-old Donna Vekic, her most likely second-round opponent.

Halep has never played Kirilenko. She has an 0-3 record against Wickmayer, and lost her only match against Errani, 6-1 6-0, this year in Miami. But all those matches came before Halep’s scintillating summer, and if she maintains her form she might start evening up those records.

Predicted fourth round: Halep d. Errani
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Kirilenko
Not to be counted out: Peng

Kvitova’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Kvitova 7 10 7.0
Stosur 11 11 5.1
Petrova 20 23 0.3
Barthel 28 34 4.4
Petkovic 46 10.0
Hantuchova 48 3.0
Riske 81 7.9
Glushko 128 7.4

Petra Kvitova’s mixed form continues, in which she reminds fans why she was marked two years ago as the next number-one, but only for a set or a match or two at a time. Her season took a positive turn when she reached the New Haven final last week—and then ran into the Halep juggernaut. Kvitova continues to struggle off and on with her asthma in humid conditions like those that dominate in New York.

Petra should have little trouble in the first round against Misaki Doi. She’s likely to have a much more difficult second-round match against Andrea Petkovic, a versatile and athletic fighter who has been steadily working her way back up the rankings since spring after a long series of injuries. Petkovic actually has a 4-3 record against Kvitova, but two of her victories came before Petra emerged as a star. The other two came in Toronto and Cincinnati in 2011—Kvitova’s first two tournaments after winning Wimbledon, when she was struggling to deal with her new notoriety as well as the American climate—so it’s difficult to know what the head-to-head means. Kvitova’s form isn’t spectacular this year, but she has superior firepower, and Petkovic has yet to beat a top-10 player in her latest comeback.

The winner of that match is most likely to face Mona Barthel in the third round. Barthel had a good victory over Kirilenko in Cincinnati, suggesting she may be finding some of the stellar form she started the year with, but it’s rather soon to tell for this streaky player. If Barthel can’t keep her aggressive groundstrokes inside the court, she could fall to counterpuncher Johanna Larsson in the first round, or grass-court-specialist Tsvetana Pironkova in the second. Or she could fall in the second round to perhaps the most dangerous of the three, the strong-serving all-court player Alison Riske. Riske is known mostly for her grass-court exploits, but this year has started stringing wins together on outdoor hard courts as well.

Sam Stosur should have an easy opening match against counterpunching 17-year-old qualifier Victoria Duval, who has been mentioned as a possible rising star but has yet to beat a top-60 player. Arguably she could be seriously tested in the second round by the skilled but inconsistent Daniela Hantuchova. But Stosur has won her last six matches against Hantuchova, who is just 2-6 since winning the Birmingham title early this summer.

By seeding, Stosur should meet Nadia Petrova in the third round. But Petrova has been off the tour since Wimbledon with a hip injury, and was already on a five-match losing streak before that. I have a sneaking suspicion Petrova could lose in the first round to aggressive Israeli qualifier Julia Glushko. Glushko has been steadily improving over the past year or so, had a strong run through qualifying (beating Zheng Saisai, Stephanie Dubois, and Anastasia Rodionova), and took a set from Stosur in Toronto. Another qualifier, experienced and powerful but inconsistent shotmaker Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, could also pose a danger to Petrova in the second round.

Predicted fourth round: Kvitova d. Stosur
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Petkovic
Not to be counted out: Barthel, Riske

Azarenka’s Eighth

Player Seeding Ranking Form Score
Azarenka 2 2 5.5
Ivanovic 13 15 3.2
Cibulkova 17 21 4.9
Cornet 26 28 5.6
Lepchenko 35 4.6
Svitolina 46 8.6
Goerges 45 1.9

Cincinnati champion Victoria Azarenka is back in form after her summer was interrupted by knee and back injuries, and should face little threat from Dinah Pfizenmaier in the first round. Pfizenmaier is a promising player, but her long strokes work best on clay. Vika could be tested more strenuously in the second round by former top-30 player Aleksandra Wozniak, who has already shown flashes of form in the two matches she has played this year, attempting to return from a shoulder injury. But it’s very early to expect Wozniak to be consistent enough to seriously threaten a player as complete as Vika.

Azarenka’s most likely third-round opponent is Alizé Cornet, who combines a fundamentally defensive game with significant power and touch. Cornet hasn’t stopped the on-court histrionics she has become known for in difficult matches, but this year she has done a better job keeping her emotions from affecting the outcome of matches. Still, Cornet can’t quite match Azarenka’s power, repertoire, or big-match toughness, and will have to play the match of her life or hope Vika has an off day in order to pull off an upset.

For most of this season Ana Ivanovic has shown improved confidence, added more variety to her game, and beaten players she is expected to beat. Still, her first-round loss to Cornet in Cincinnati could shake that confidence, and she could be tested by the streaky Anna Tatishvili in the first round. Tatishvili had good runs to qualify in both Toronto and Cincinnati, where seeds Jankovic and Kirilenko needed close three-set first-round matches to defeat her.

Most likely Ivanovic will prevail, and move on to the second round where she will face either Varvara Lepchenko or Alexandra Dulgheru. Dulgheru is a former top-30 player who is just beginning to find her way back to competitiveness at the tour level after knee surgery. Lepchenko has had decent but unremarkable results this season, shown a tendency toward erratic groundstrokes, and is at her best on clay. Either player is likely to make Ana work but ultimately unlikely to pose a serious threat.

Ivanovic’s most likely third-round opponent is Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova, whose form has been patchy this season. Domi leads the head-to-head 2-1, but Ana won their most recent match in three sets, last month in Carlsbad.

If Cibulkova has an off-week, she could have her hands full in the first round against 18-year-old Elina Svitolina, who has burst into the top 50 with an incredible 16-2 streak over the last two months, winning a WTA title in Baku and a $75k ITF title in Donetsk. If Domi passes that test, she’s unlikely to have much trouble in the second round against one or two well-known but slumping players, Julia Goerges or Christina McHale. Goerges is 2-8 over her last ten matches; Mchale is 1-9.

Predicted fourth round: Azarenka d. Cibulkova
Third most likely to reach the fourth round: Ivanovic
Not to be counted out: Svitolina

Quarterfinal Predictions

S. Williams d. Flipkens
A. Radwanska d. Li
Halep d. Wozniacki
Azarenka d. Kvitova

Semifinal Predictions

S. Williams d. A. Radwanska
Azarenka d. Halep

Final Prediction

Both Williams and Azarenka have had physiological niggles and shown glimpses of vulnerability off and on in recent weeks, and neither looks like a sure bet to win the tournament, or even to stay fit for seven matches. But uneven matchups and opponents’ weaknesses make it seem pretty clear they’re the most likely finalists. And my gut tells me Serena is due for another upset. So I predict that, as she did in the Cincinnati final, Victoria Azarenka will defeat Serena Williams for the 2013 US Open title.

Roster of the Missing

Maria Sharapova withdrew with bursitis in her right shoulder.

Marion Bartoli abruptly retired from the sport after losing her opening-round match to Simona Halep two weeks ago in Cincinnati.

Romina Oprandi has been off the tour since Wimbledon with a shoulder injury.

Ayumi Morita withdrew yesterday, presumably due to the same lower back injury that caused her to retire from her first-round match last week in New Haven.

Garbiñe Muguruza is out for the rest of the year, after having surgery last month to correct an ankle disorder.

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