WILL EVANS serves up tennis tips as he casts his eye over the women’s section of the 2022 US Open draw. Serena Williams’ farewell foray will dominate the headlines, but there’s no obvious overwhelming favourite in what shapes as a fascinating tournament.
THE TOP CONTENDERS
World No.1 Swiatek won her second French Open title in June, but nonpareil of women’s clay-court players will be desperate to add a grand slam on another surface to her résumé. The 21-year-old has reached the Australian Open semis and won the Qatar, Indian Wells and Miami Opens in 2022, so her hard-court credentials can’t be questioned. But she was eliminated earlier in Montreal and Cincinnati, while difficult American opponents Sloane Stephens and Amanda Anisimova loom in her quarter of the draw. Ability-wise, a great option for punters…but Swiatek needs to rediscover the rhythm and confidence that carried her to a 37-match winning streak earlier this year.
A perennial grand slam contender, Halep has every reason to be confident of hoisting her third major trophy. The 2018 French Open and 2019 Wimbledon champ emerged from an injury-interrupted period to reach the Wimbledon semis last month, before winning the Canadian Open a couple of weeks ago. Seventh seed Halep has a soft early draw before potentially facing seeded players Jil Teichmann and Coco Gauff – both of whom she beat in Montreal. A five-time slam finalist and nine-time semi-finalist (including at the 2015 US Open), the tenacious Romanian is always a sound bet to go deep on the big stage.
On the back of her breakout run to the French Open final, 18-year-old Gauff went down to Anisimova in the third round at Wimbledon. Her hard-court form had been solid: Gauff beat Naomi Osaka at the Silicon Valley Classic and Wimbledon champ Elena Rybakina and world No.6 Aryna Sabalenka in Montreal. But an ankle injury forced her mid-match withdrawal against Marie Bouzkova in Cincinnati last week. The home crowd support will be a significant advantage for Gauff, but she is yet to make it past the third round at the US Open and will feel the weight of expectation as the best – male or female – of breaking the recent American champion drought at the tournament.
Rybakina pulled off a superb, unexpected triumph at Wimbledon, leaving a slew of big names in her wake to lift the silverware. But the history-making Kazakhstan product is looking to become only the second woman after Serena Williams (who did it in 2002 and 2012) in the past 25 years to win the US Open after taking out Wimbledon. Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka (2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open) is the only player in the past 20 years to win a maiden slam and back it up by winning the following major. Rybakina, the 25th seed, earned some impressive wins on her way to the Cincinnati Masters quarters last week but will face some well-credentialled opponents early on at the US Open.
Taking out last year’s title as an unseeded 18-year-old, Raducanu is looking to become the first player to successfully defend the US Open crown since Williams in 2014. While she has climbed to 11th in the WTA rankings, the British phenom is yet to reach another tournament final since and has bombed out in the second round of all three majors so far in 2022. Dominant victories over Williams and three-time US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati were a timely boost for Raducanu, however. She’ll need every bit of confidence she can get, too, as she prepares for a tough first-round match against Alize Cornet, while Osaka, Danielle Collins, Rybakina and Sabalenka all lurk in her section.
BEST AUSSIE CHANCE
Coming off her second straight Wimbledon quarter-final run, Tomljanovic looks very well placed to improve on her best previous US Open performance – a third-round appearance last year. Highlights of the 29-year-old’s hard-court build-up include a commanding win over Stephens in Washington and victories against Paula Badosa and Veronika Kudermetova in Cincinnati. The polished Tomljanovic has a very winnable match against Karolina Muchova first up and a very feasible path through to the quarters if she plays her best tennis – including the opportunity to end Williams’ career in the third round.
Unlike team sports, tennis is not geared towards providing fairytale farewells for ageing legends. Meanwhile, the G.O.A.T. has played just four singles matches since her injury-enforced exit from Wimbledon last year. The 40-year-old lost in straight sets to Belinda Bencic in Montreal and Raducanu in Cincinnati. But the retiring Williams will have a tsunami of crowd support behind her as she attempts to exit with a seventh US Open title and a record-equalling 24th grand slam. Getting world No.80 Danka Kovinic first up is a piece of good fortune for Williams, while second seed Anett Kontaveit, Tomljanovic, French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova and 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez are in her section and certainly beatable. A chance of at least making the quarters if she can garner some early momentum. .