Saturday, August 26, 2017

The pattern continues, and I like it

We're approaching the last major of the season, and--once again--it's hard to predict who will win it. I like this mystery scenario. For one thing, I can relax--my top two favorite players, Petra Kvitova and Aga Radwanska, aren't going to win the U.S. Open. And as much as I'd love for Maria Sharapova to win it, that's not likely to happen, either.

I am anxious about a couple of my other top favorites, though. Neither Angie Kerber nor Simona Halep looks like a clear pick to win. Kerber, though she's playing better (her Cincinnati match against Ekaterina Makarova featured stunning tennis from the German star, even though she lost), still isn't in champion mode. And Halep, who has been playing quite well, had a meltdown in the Cincinnati final. Kerber is, of course, the defending champion, which probably doesn't help her.

But consider who could win.

Yes, Halep--if she arrives in the right state of mind remains in it for two weeks. But did the Cincinnati loss to Garbine Muguruza do too much damage? Of course, the Romanian's first task will be to the shake off Wild Card from Hell Sharapova, who has a 6-0 record against her.

Obstacles also await in the form of Jo Konta (if she can get past pesky Serb Aleks Krunic, in the first round), suddenly on-fire Julia Goerges, comeback wonder Sloane Stephens, and ever-dangerous Dominika Cibulkova, who just barely missed winning New Haven. There are some potentially difficult tasks ahead for the tense Romanian, who is seeded number 2 in the draw. Also, Konta is a contender in her own right.

And speaking of Muguruza--she now has a chance to add a third major to her short (but I expect to get longer) list of huge victories. The Cincinnati champion, seeded 3rd, has an interesting draw in that her quarter is filled with players who don't win majors, but who delight in preventing others from winning them. Ekaterina Makarova (who probably could win one if she really put her mind to it), Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, Alize Cornet, Caroline Garcia, and the hard-hitting Camila Giorgi are all there, waiting to make Mugu's life miserable.

And then there are the more serious contenders in the Spaniard's quarter: Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams. Muguruza can overcome all of them, provided she stays in her recent mode.

World number 1 and top seed Karolina Pliskova, 2016's runner-up, is definitely a contender, though some of her 2016 shine has faded. But the Tall Cool One may like it like that. She has a pretty good draw, but it isn't without its dangers.

One of those dangers is 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who--on a given day--can still beat anybody, and there have been more "given days" lately. Kiki Mladenovic is in Pliskova's quarter, and--a few months ago--I would have cried "Danger!" but the Frenchwoman has been in a decline lately ("Instant karma's gonna get you..."). Also dwelling in the Czech's quarter is CoCo Vandeweghe, who has the ability to win the U.S. Open--or go out in the first round. And finally, I never underestimate Lucie Safarova.

Another strong contender is 4th seed Elina Svitolina. The Ukrainian star has risen steadily, and she recently won the Rogers Cup. Svitolina now sports a fine serve to go with that wicked movement, and could very well win her first major in Flushing Meadows. But who might be in her way? That would be New Haven champion Daria Gavrilova, Madison Keys, Alona Ostapenko (yes, she's come down from her Parisian cloud, but she could strike again at any moment), and former world number 1 Kerber. I should also add Shelby Rogers, who has a real flare for bringing down the mighty in majors.

An argument can be made that Keys will come out of that quarter and not Svitolina, and it's a valid argument. Not quite as strong an argument can be made for Kerber, but it, too, is valid. One never knows.

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