Saturday, January 29, 2022

SOUL OF THE US OPEN: Serena, Sloane, Madison, Naomi Dream Semis?

*Flushing, NY – Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys … and Naomi Osaka (we’ve stolen her from Japan), all American (ish) women of color, are showing their colors at the US Open.

These ladies are on par to *almost* recreate last year’s hype of there being four American (ish) women left standing in the US Open Semifinals. They’d be minus the one full-blooded American, but if all the aforementioned tennis powerhouses make it through their next opponents, there would definitely be four beautiful shades of black representing in the semifinals for the states and the culture. That’s definitely worthy of salivation.

So, we know what these awesome women have in common, including them all being capable of winning and big hitting, but what sets them apart?

Here’s who they are … from my perspective:

serena williams - instagram
Serena Williams

Serena Williams – ferocious and wise on court with intimidating physical power and keen tennis prowess. She’s unmatched in passion for the game – and has 23 Grand Slams to prove it – and she’s also very aware of her brand when she takes the court. She’s the complete package of skill, power, wit and star power.

madison keys
Madison Keys

Madison Keys – powerful, fast, and can get it done in a hurry. Her weapons (big serve, powerful ground strokes) often give her the upper hand on court and once she gets them all firing simultaneously, she blazes thru matches like a white hot ball of fire. She can look unsteady when things start going wrong, but typically recovers with devastating winners and aces to close out matches.

Naomi Osaka - youtube
Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka – Mighty Mouse is what they call her! She’s quiet and stoic (at least on court, because off she’s super giddy), but if you play her, you may blink and open your eyes to a brutal beat down and score line shut out that you never saw coming. She’s learning to make the right shot decisions on court and is capable of taking down anyone she plays – if she’s feeling good.

sloane stephens - instagram
Sloane Stephens

Sloane Stephens – a brick wall and a steady tennis player with arguably the best defensive skills in the game. She can infuse power, but loves long rallies and hits best when she’s on the run. She’s often subdued and demure on court, but she has her first Grand Slam under her belt, which has boosted her confidence and her on-court demonstrations of ferocity.

Now, pit these four unique profiles against one another and you have yourself one helluva set up for two blockbuster US Open semifinals. To see these black women, from the queen, Serena, the new on the scene, Naomi, and the two in between, Sloane and Madison, holding “court” under the lights on one of the grandest stages in tennis would be epic. Imagine the impact on young girls of color who are struggling for validation in a misogynistic and racially biased world that doesn’t seem to value them. Seeing a spectrum of sisterhood operating in excellence and power for all the world to gawk at would be LIGHTS OUT. We can only dream.

It’s a dream, because there are no guarantees that all four will make it. There are some hungry and skilled opponents on the other side of the net who they’ll be facing.

Here’s who they’ll compete against:

Serena Williams Vs Karolina Pliskova

Pliskova dashed Serena’s hopes of winning her seventh US Open championship back in 2016 after beating both she and Venus Williams to earn a spot in the final. She lost that final against Angelique Kerber, but her confidence was at peak levels and she accomplished a great deal after that as a result. Fast forward to the 2018 season and she’s somehow lost the chutzpah she had during those days. She had a blistering serve and extraordinary movement for her height, but she’s lost the edge on both of those attributes lately. It’ll be a fight, but Serena is hungry and should be able to capitalize on the downturn and pull out the win.

Sloane Stephens vs Anastasija Sevastova

Sevastova has been known to slay a giant or two in her career, including Maria Sharapova (2017 US Open), Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova. She made the US Open quarterfinals in both 2016 and 2017 (lost to Sloane) and will be looking to top herself this year. She’ll feel she has a chance over the defending champion, but Sloane’s confidence is too high to allow her to make that dream a reality. It will be a rollercoaster, but I look for Sloane to squeak by in three sets.

Madison Keys Vs Carla Suarez Navarro

Carla is a clay court wonder, with a jaw dropping one-handed backhand. She’s great on clay, but she sometimes finds a groove on the New York hard courts and has ended up grinding her way to a couple of semifinals. The big hitters give her problems, like Serena Williams who double bageled her on her birthday in 2013, but she’s coming with a different strategy this year: better movement and a touch of aggression. She took out Maria Sharapova in a shock loss on center court last last night and will be looking to consolidate that win. She had a chance of Madison loses her way with too much power and no variety, but if Madison is on, Suarez doesn’t stand a chance.

Naomi Osaka vs Lesia Tsurenko

Tsurenko has had modest success on the WTA, winning a few titles over the course of her career. But she hasn’t had much success against the biggest hitters the WTA has to offer. This will be her first Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance, so the nerves associated with that coupled with playing a lights out ball basher like Naomi will likely be her decisive undoing. I expect Osaka to smother her out with winners and big serves in two sets.

So, on paper, the probability is high that all four women of color will succeed in setting up the semifinals we hope for. Upsets do happen, though, especially at Grand Slams. Only time will tell.

Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens play today, Tuesday, inside Arthur Ashe, Sloane at noon and Serena at 7pm. Madison and Osaka are scheduled to play on Wednesday, times tbd.

May the best women win.

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