2022 US Open Contenders – WTA

Iga Swiatek French Open

The US Open is upon us and we are set for a profoundly interesting tournament.

The late great commentator Bill Threllfall once said “only the best players win the US Open.”  Bill made this statement during an era of dominant players jockeying for top spot. Including players the caliber of Martina Navratilova to Steffi Graf to Monica Seles and Serena Williams. However, we have the most open field I can remember, thus making any prediction completely hazardous.  Anyone is capable of winning the US Open this year, regardless of ranking or form going in.

2022 US Open Contenders – WTA

Iga Swiatek

The way things were going between March and June, Swiatek would be red hot favurite to win this title. However, things have changed since then.

With Ash Barty’s sudden retirement in March, Swiatek ascended to #1 and was beating everyone in sight. This included wins in Miami and at the French Open, culminating in a 37 match win streak. This streak ended dramatically in the 3rd round of Wimbledon, when “veteran” French player Alize Cornet outplayed her in two sets. Since that defeat, Swiatek has found it difficult to get back her rhythm and confidence.

During the hard court season Swiatek lost in the Round of 16 in both Canada and Cincinnati. In Cincinnati she lost to Madison Keys, a dangerous player on hard courts. In fact, not only is Swiatek losing early in big tournaments, her team are raising the issue of the balls used at the US Open. I feel deja vu here because Ash Barty and her coach did the same thing last year at the US Open. Both Barty and Swiatek want to play the diagonal game and use their forehand to dictate play. But the US Open use a lighter duty tennis ball for the women, allowing players who hit with a little less topspin, i.e. “flatter,” to excel. This is slightly concerning as it shows Swiatek is not 100 percent concentrated on winning.

As for the tournament itself, despite not having a great summer, I see no reason why Swiatek cannot get to the final at least. She has the pedigree and is accumulating experience.  If Swiatek wants to join the truly great players, she will have to win major tournaments outside of clay.  The US Open is as good as it gets, so why not have a go.

Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka had a tremendous 2021 but so far has not backed that up in 2022. In 2021 Sabalenka made the semifinal of both Wimbledon and US Open, and won two titles including Madrid. 2022 has not gone the way she would like but she is still number 6 in the WTA rankings.

This year Sabalenka has made two finals to date, losing to Swiatek in Stuttgart and the Rosmalen Open to Ekaterina Alexandrova.  Sabalenka was barred from Wimbledon so had more time than usual to prepare for the hardcourt season. In Canada Sabalenka lost to Gauff in round 16 but did make the semifinal of Cincinnati, going down to Caroline Garcia. In Cincinnati, Garcia remarkably came through qualifying to win the tournament. All the same, Sabalenka should use the good run of matches to her advantage.  Sabalenka is the archetypal modern player. Tall, strong, powerful ground strokes and a big serve but not the best volleyer.

Last year Sabalenka had two great opportunities to make grand slam finals. Unfortunately, bad decisions during those semifinal matches and a slightly suspect temperament scuppered her chances. You will think if Sabalenka can get into a semifinal situation this time, she will react better to the occasion.

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Ons Jabeur

Jabeur had a great first half to her tennis season, culminating with reaching the Wimbledon final in early July. She lost the final to Rybakina but wowed the crowd with her exciting brand of tennis, the antidote to the typical power game we see today. Jabeur reminds me of Sanchez Vicario back in the 1990s in appearance and game style but with a bit more inventiveness.

Jabuer reached five finals so far in 2022, winning two and losing three.  Jabeur lost the Charleston final to Bencic and the Italian Open final to Swiatek. But had great wins in Madrid, beating Jessica Pegula and gaining revenge at the German Open on Bencic, albeit via 2nd set retirement.  As for the hardcourt season Jabeur hasn’t pulled up too many trees (as the saying goes). Early round losses in Canada to Zheng and Cincinnati to Kvitova means she is slightly undercooked for the US Open.

This will be an interesting US Open for Jabeur. She has never got past the 3rd round of the event and has a tough first round opponent to negotiate.  Her game style may also mean she is vulnerable to “big hitters” on the American hardcourts where they use lighter duty tennis balls. At the same time, Jabeur should use her new found status as a consistent top 10 player to make a good run at the tournament, and show everyone again, what she can do. If Jabeur can get far, the New York crowd will enjoy her brand of tennis and personality.

Coco Gauff

Still only 18 years of age, Gauff feels like a player we have known some time.

Mainly due to the fact she broke through at the young age of 15 when she beat Venus Williams in Wimbledon. That was 2019 and now Gauff is improving all of the time and raising her ranking.  We have seen some reward for her efforts this year, when she reached the French Open final. She was given a lesson that day by Swiatek, and her forehand took a pummeling, something her coaches need to work on.

Gauff lost in Wimbledon to Amanda Anisimova in the third round. Since then, Gauff had an underwhelming hard court season, losing to Simona Halep in the quarterfinal of the Canadian Open. Gauff then retired in the 1st round of Cincinnati, bowing out against Marie Bouzkova. Therefore, Gauff has no real form going into the US Open. Then again, this is what makes this particular US Open so interesting, no player is ahead of the pack.

As for her game, Gauff is probably at the stage of development her parents, coaches and management could have hoped for. She is just outside of the Top 10 in the rankings and has the experience of playing a major final. To become US Open champion will not be easy, Gauff has many attributes including athleticism and a great backhand. But Gauff will be working on her serve and forehand to make the next step; I think the temperament is there.
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Other Players to Watch:

Serena Williams

This will be Serena’s final tournament before retirement. We can’t expect too much, other than a big send off by the USTA as a way of thanks.

Emma Raducanu

One to watch, in the sense of how many rounds can Raducanu win. It was such a shock last year of her winning; I think the shock is still there. In Raducanu’s case, she needs to get as far as possible in the draw, as she can go tumbling down the rankings. I cannot say for now whether that will be a good or bad thing to happen.

Simona Halep

A perennial contender and winner in Canada earlier this month. Not sure the fans really see her as a potential champion despite her pedigree.

Madison Keys

The conditions, courts and lighter balls suit her game. However, her game has not evolved since I saw her down in Eastbourne in 2014 when she took that title. That is bit of an indictment of a player where big things were expected.

Leylah Fernandez

Finalist last year with that amazing run; taking out so many great players. Repeating that feat this year will be a big ask.

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