Opportunity knocks at the US Open as the final Grand Slam of the year rolls into New York after a season full of surprises on the women’s side of the game.
The year began with world number one Ash Barty’s stunning decision to retire after winning her home Australian Open in January and will end with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams joining her on the sidelines. Barty’s exit from the sport created a vacuum that was quickly filled by Iga Swiatek as the 21-year-old Pole rose to number one in March and dropped just one set en route to her second French Open title in June.
Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak was finally snapped in the third round of Wimbledon and she has struggled to regain momentum since, going 4-4 in her last eight matches. Despite that she will still be the favourite in New York. Swiatek also recently made headlines for sharply criticising the Wilson U.S. Open tennis ball, which is lighter than the ball the men use at the hardcourt major and its big tune-up events, calling it “horrible.”
With Swiatek finally looking human, players like hard-hitting American Madison Keys, who notched her first win over a world number one when she defeated the Pole at the Cincinnati Open, look poised for a breakthrough. Playing with a confidence that has at times eluded her, the tournament’s 2017 finalist also beat reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in Cincinnati and has an excellent shot at going deep again this year.
Twice US Open champion Naomi Osaka might be the hardest player to pin down at the moment. The former world number one withdrew ahead of Wimbledon with an Achilles injury and has suffered first round exits at her last two U.S. Open tune-up events, falling to 44 in the world. Osaka’s mix of power and experience make her dangerous, however, and no one will be eager to see the Japanese player on the other side of the net in New York.
Britain’s defending champion Emma Raducanu last year became the first tournament qualifier ever to win a major but has only managed a disappointing 13-15 record and no titles this season. The teenager is gaining in confidence of late and will look to build on her dominant back-to-back wins over Williams and Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati.
Surprise Cincinnati Open champion Caroline Garcia of France, resurgent Romanian Simona Halep and big-serving Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka also present a threat in any given match. But it is the player with some of the longest odds to win the title who will be the one people are most focused on at Flushing Meadows.
While few believe Serena still has the all-court game to make a real push, her final tournament will be a major story as she drops the curtain on her historic career on home soil. The US Open main draw starts on August 29.