Thursday, October 6, 2022

Serena and Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens Headline 2018 US Open

*Serena Williams (37) and Venus Williams (38) – along with defending champion Sloane Stephens – will once again be on deck to help represent American tennis at a Grand Slam. All three will compete for repeat glory on home soil at the 2018 US Open.

The gates have officially opened for the final slam of the year. And there is plenty of drama to make it an interesting two weeks at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing New York. On top of it being the tournament’s 50th anniversary, launching of the new, covered Louis Armstrong stadium, and opening night performances by R&B superstar Maxwell (National Anthem) and Kelly Clarkson (concert), this year’s open is sure to deliver many must-watch moments.

Here are the American players of interests:

Serena Williams

Serena Williams (no. 17 seed) is on a comeback after giving birth and has much to prove. But her results to date have been spotty, at best. She did make the Wimbledon final, but she’s been knocked out early in other tournaments she’s entered. She fell to Naomi Osaka in Miami, Petra Kvitova knocked her out in Cincinnati and she withdrew in Paris (French Open) just before facing Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.

Serena has also had to contend with postpartum issues, being drug tested more than most players on tour, as well as – the latest – her choice of attire for the French Open being subsequently banned. She said she wore the Wakanda inspired Nike catsuit for health reasons but that didn’t stop the French Federation from singling her out. Her game has taken a back seat to peripheral controversies such as these.

Will she be able to overcome the forces that seem to be against her to jump the final hurdle to being the undisputed GOAT of women’s tennis and win no. 24? She certainly has a  tough draw standing in her way in trying to do so (Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep, Sloane Stephens and more). The 6-time champion opens against Magda Linette (POL) on Monday.

Venus Williams

Venus Williams (no. 16 seed) hasn’t won a Grand Slam since winning Wimbledon in 2008, her seventh, though she had found consistent “finals” form last season while her greatest rival, Serena, was out on maternity leave. Her 2018 season hasn’t been quite as promising, which would make a deep run – and certainly a win – somewhat redemptive for the 38-year-old champion. The hitch is, however, Serena was drawn on the same side as she and the two could face each other as early as the third round in New York. But before she can get there, she has to face off against the surging (just won the DC title) and capable Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) in the first round. Despite what happens there, one thing is for sure: there can only be one Williams sister to survive the first week of the 2018 US Open.

sloane stephens - hands up
Sloane Stephens

Sloane Stephens (no. 3 seed) at last lived up to the hype surrounding her game by coming out of nowhere last year and winning the title in New York.  After a long injury layoff, she mowed down her competition, including Venus Williams and Madison Keys, and established herself as a first-time Grand Slam winner … big $3.7 million dollar check and all. But will she be able to defend her title? That’s the burning question? She almost immediately returned to the bizarre first round losses in tournaments subsequent to the US Open win, likely due to the pressure to live up to all the heightened attention, but she recently ended up pulling herself together. She reached three finals (Miami, French Open, Rogers Cup) and  and a few semis leading up to this week, which be just the momentum she needs for a repeat. Her first round opponent is Evginya Rodina (RUS).

Madison Keys

Madison Keys made it all the way to last year’s US Open final, being part of a historic all-American semi lead up, but folded under the big-stage pressure. Her friend and compatriot, Sloane Stephens, took advantage of her nerves and took Keys to the woodshed, beating her in the final 6-3, 6-0. Beyond that, she’s had a decent season leading up to the final Slam of the year and she’ll be looking for redemption with a good showing here in New York.

Then there are those consistently who make modest noise on home soil, but fail to deliver the goods to reach the business end of the US Open.

Frances Tiafoe

Frances Tiafoe has a back story fit for a sentimental favorite and eventual champion. Tiafoe has the skill set that promises to find him holding the trophy one day … but he first has top overcome his draw bad luck to even begin to make a run for it. The 20-year-old Maryland native has consistently found himself facing off against the sport’s top tier in round one at the US Open (Victor Troicki 2015; John Isner 2016; Roger Federer 2017), not getting the chance to play his way into peaking during the slams. He has demonstrated some serious mettle during those first round losses, most notably against the great Roger Federer, pushing the match to five thrilling sets, but he needed more experience and belief to get over the hump. He’ll be looking to break the first round barrier this week in New York as he faces off against Adrian Mannarino (FRA).

Donald Young

Donald Young hasn’t consistently been able to meet the rigors of ATP play since he went pro. He was a juniors phenom, but the translation to play with the “big boys” has been a consistent struggle. He managed to get a win over one of the “big four,” a weary Andy Murray at Indian Wells in 2014, but the win proved to be a blip on the radar of his career as opposed to a catalyst for potential realization. But, on home soil at the US Open, he’s made the most promising showing of all the Slams. He reached the 4th round in 2015 and after qualifying for this year’s main draw will be looking to go deep again. Young will kick off the his US Open bid against Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG)

Taylor Townsend

Taylor Townsend, ironically coached by the same team as Young, was a juniors sensation, but she’s not quite made a name for herself as a pro player. To be fair, and much like Frances Tiafoe, at the Open she’s had to face off against first round opponents such as Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, but she didn’t demonstrate anything in those losses that would say had she played lesser opponents she would’ve made a deeper run. Nevertheless, she’s still growing and has another opportunity to evolve by making this year’s main draw. She’ll face compatriot Amanda Anisimova, fresh off juniors glory, in the first round on Monday.

Sachia Vickery

Sachia Vickery has trod a somewhat similar path as Serena Williams – at least the coaches she’s worked with. She was trained during part of her career by Richard Williams and she spent time at the Mouratoglou tennis academy in France. Her name is not one you’d likely recognize when discussing the tennis elite, but she’s managed to make the second round at the US Open in both 2013 and 2017. She’s found the intestinal fortitude to take out household names like Garbine Muguruza and Agniezska Radwanska, but the jury is still out on whether those results are extreme exceptions or eventual rules. She meets with the formidable Elena Svitolina (UKR) in US Open first round play this Monday and will be looking to stay in the competition to at least repeat her best result.

Honorable Mention:

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka (no. 20 seed) is a citizen of Japan by birth, but currently resides in the US and has since the age of three. Naomi is coached by Serena Williams’ former hitting partner, Sascha Bajin, and though her power game has earned her wins over champions like Venus Williams, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova, her most notable win – an emphatic one – was over Serena Williams herself in Miami (2018). Osaka reached the third round in both 2016 and 2017 at the US Open and will be looking to match and best those achievements over these next two weeks. She’ll begin her bid on Tuesday against Laura Siegmund (RUS).

Match play begins Monday (08-27-18) at 11:00 a.m. EST. Check you local listings.

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