If the men’s singles at the US Open looks likely to be dominated by the usual faces, the women’s event appears much more open. World No1 and defending champion Naomi Osaka hasn’t been at the top of her game since the start of the year, when she claimed her second consecutive grand-slam title by winning the Australian Open. Could a return to the scene of her unexpected but delightful maiden triumph re-energise her?
French Open champion Ash Barty has also been in indifferent form since her maiden grand-slam title. The unassuming Aussie perhaps found it harder to come to terms with her achievement than we appreciated at the time, with all the attendant demands on her time.
And what of Simona Halep, who produced the performance of the year in routing Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final? Those familiar with Halep’s game and her never-say-die attitude cannot have been wholly surprised that she was a bad match-up for the heavy-hitting but slow-moving Williams, but the Romanian’s retrieving was phenomenal and her game plan was executed with a rare brilliance. If it looks like Halep has been enjoying her second grand slam victory rather more than dedicating herself to training over the past few weeks, well, who can blame her?
What of outsiders? Twenty-year-old Sofia Kenin reached the semi-finals of the Premier 5 events in both Toronto and Cincinnati this month, recording victories over Osaka, Barty and Elina Svitolina (twice). It’s hard not to warm to Kenin’s bustling, business-like style, her let’s-get-on-with-it demeanour, even her occasional rather girlish strops. Kenin is now inside the world’s top 20 for the first time, and seems destined to go considerably higher.
Even more prodigiously talented is the 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu. Watching Andreescu in the flesh at Indian Wells in March, I was struck by not just her ability but her attitude. Her 6-0, 6-1 beating of two-time grand-slam champion Garbine Muguruza brought frequent gasps of admiration, even disbelief, from the crowd as she mixed power with the deftest of touches. Subsequent three-set wins over Svitolina and Angelique Kerber showed grit as well as genius. A week later, Andreescu pulled out of Miami, and after an abortive attempt to play at Roland Garros, she missed Wimbledon and wasn’t seen again until Toronto.
In Canada, Andreescu again impressed, beating three top-10 players to lift the title. Effectively, then, omitting the five months out with injury, Andreescu has won her past two tournaments, both Prime 5 events. Forget her age and lack of experience, she is a clear and present danger.
And then there’s Serena. Fortunate not to be more heavily sanctioned for her behaviour in last year’s final, the American still searches for that record-equalling 24th Grand Slam. With three final defeats since her last title, could the chance be slipping away? The new generation of players are not afraid of her in the same way that so many of her contemporaries were…