The women’s singles draw has been depleted by many absences; six of the top 10 women will not be playing in this year’s U.S. Open.
Still, with Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and several other big stars, there are plenty of reasons to watch.
Here are just a few of the reasons nobody should dismiss the strength of this year’s women’s field:
Pliskova, the top-seeded woman at this year’s U.S. Open, is a remarkably powerful player. For all her strengths, she has yet to secure a Grand Slam title, having lost in her only Grand Slam final at Flushing Meadows in 2016. But anyone who dismisses her for her lack of major success must consider the larger picture. Pliskova has led the Czech Republic to three Fed Cup titles, and in the last four years, she has not lost at the U.S. Open before the round of 16. After defending her title at the Brisbane International earlier this year, Pliskova appears to be poised to build on her hardcourt success in pursuit of her first Grand Slam title.
At the Australian Open in February, Kenin, 21, became the youngest American to win a Grand Slam title since Serena Williams won the 2002 U.S. Open at 20. Kenin, the second seed at this year’s U.S. Open, has displayed a remarkable amount of craftiness in her game. That is especially true of her backhand, as she seems entirely comfortable with delaying her shotmaking decisions, making it difficult for her opponents to position themselves. Paired with her impressive drop shots, Kenin’s backhand can be one of the most effective on the WTA Tour. In Australia, she defeated two Grand Slam champions on her way to the title, and now that she has a major under her belt as well, she is likely to feel even fewer nerves on her way through this year’s U.S. Open.
Williams, the third seed at this year’s U.S. Open, is tennis royalty. She continues to chase the 24th Grand Slam title to tie Margaret Court’s record. Although her last major title came at the 2017 Australian Open, she has reached four Grand Slam finals since then, including those at the last two U.S. Opens. At 38, Williams is viewed by some as past her peak, with even one more title unlikely. But with the power she can still deliver on her groundstrokes and the intelligence with which she constructs points and targets her opponents’ weaknesses, there’s always the possibility of another championship.
Osaka, the fourth seed, was the U.S. Open champion in 2018 and followed that up by winning the Australian Open five months later. She has struggled to replicate her form at Grand Slams since then, but after her father returned as her coach after the 2019 U.S. Open, she won titles in Osaka and Beijing. Her performances there were a glimmer of the Osaka fans had become used to and pointed to something critical: While the physical aspects of her game seem unimpeachable, Osaka has spoken about the need to work on her mental game. Unforced errors can sink her on bad days, especially as her style often leads her into long rallies. On Saturday, Osaka pulled out of the Western & Southern Open final, citing a pulled hamstring. This is a cause for some concern heading into the U.S. Open, but Osaka’s high level of play should shine through.
Sabalenka’s best performance at a Grand Slam was a round of 16 finish at the U.S. Open in 2018, but the 22-year-old Belarusian has shown strengths and consistency elsewhere. She won three tournaments in 2019 and won the championship at the Doha Open early in 2020. With her U.S. Open doubles title last year, she is a young player who appears to be primed for further victories. Her aggressive style of play allows her to dictate points but can also lead to unforced errors. While that generally works in her favor on fast-paced hardcourts, it can hurt her chances in the long, grinding two-week format of a Grand Slam.
Kvitova, the world No. 12, has won Wimbledon twice, along with six Fed Cup titles, a feat bested only by Chris Evert and Billie Jean King. An attack during a home invasion at the end of 2016 left her dominant left hand severely injured. That did not stop Kvitova, who returned five months later to play at the 2017 French Open. She was a 2019 Australian Open finalist, losing to Naomi Osaka in three very close sets. Aside from the natural advantages ascribed to left-handers, Kvitova has serving power and placement that make it difficult to break her service game. She has also been focusing on her court movement, a perennial weakness in her game. With those improvements, she is a considerable threat on the fast-paced hardcourts of Flushing Meadows.
Keys, the world No. 13, has reached just one Grand Slam final, at the U.S. Open in 2017, which she lost to a fellow American, Sloane Stephens. However, in the last five years, she has not been knocked out of the U.S. Open before the round of 16. Keys’s powerful serve and forehand are her main weapons, with the pace she generates often compared to Serena Williams’s. After she reached the finals in Brisbane, it would not be a surprise if Keys kept her streak going and had another deep run at this year’s U.S. Open.
At 29, Martic, the world No. 14, is at the peak of her career. She won her first WTA title in 2019 at the Istanbul Cup and reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2019 French Open. Her well-rounded game is generally better suited to clay, but she reached the round of 16 at last year’s U.S. Open, losing to Serena Williams. It would not be a surprise to see her there again.
Konta, a quarterfinalist at last year’s U.S. Open, has challenged for a number of titles and has fallen just a bit short. She has been a semifinalist at the three other Grand Slams, including the 2019 French Open. The main criticism she has faced is that she does not have a coherent Plan B. But hitting angled, flat shots from the baseline the way she can, she might not need one. It seems just a matter of time before she has a chance to play in a Grand Slam final.
Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion, has a history of struggling at the U.S. Open. Until this year, the same thing could have been said for her performance at the Australian Open. But she stormed to the final, past highly ranked players including Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina, before losing to Kenin in the final. Aside from the strengths in her game, the mental boost of success on a similar surface could help her overcome her struggles in Flushing.
Notable women’s absences:
Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, Bianca Andreescu, Kiki Bertens, Belinda Bencic, Qiang Wang, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Barbora Strycova, and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
A few more players to watch:
In January, Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament. Jabeur’s varied, entertaining style of tennis will be just one of the reasons to keep an eye on her as the tournament progresses.
Kim Clijsters will be playing in her first major tournament since the 2012 U.S. Open. While many would doubt her ability to make an impact after coming back from a second retirement, Clijsters has looked very impressive since the beginning of 2020, both in tour events and exhibition matches.
Maria Sakkari, the world No. 21, reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open this year. Sakkari won her first WTA title in 2019, and has steadily been improving over the last few years. Last week, she beat Serena Williams at the Western & Southern Open, and is always capable of pulling out an upset or two.