Six-time former champion Serena Williams will begin her US Open campaign against Poland’s Magda Linette. For Williams, it is the 17th time she has made the trip to New York, but the first time that she has done so as a mother. She is also at her lowest seeding in some time, 17th, on account of her lengthy maternity leave. Linette has only once won a match at the US Open, but will be eager to claim surely the biggest win of her career against Williams. Who will come out on top?
This will be the first meeting between Williams and Linette, but the American unsurprisingly has a huge advantage in terms of experience. She has won 72 titles, including 23 Slams, and has a record of 795-135. She is also playing her 101st match in Flushing Meadows and she has won 89 of the previous 100. Linette, in contrast, has won just one match at the US Open, and only five in total at the Grand Slams. She has also only ever one won match against a player formerly ranked inside the top ten.
Last time out
Williams put together one of the most inspiring and thrilling runs at Wimbledon in recent memory, reaching the final in what was just her second Grand Slam since returning from maternity leave. She had only dropped one set en route to the final, but she was outclassed there by Kerber in straight sets. That raised high hopes for her summer, but due to a combination of difficult draws and off-court issues, Williams has won only one of her three matches since Wimbledon.
Linette lost a heart-breaker in the first round at the Championships to Yulia Putintseva 10-8 in the decider. But she has been busy since. She reached the semifinals in Jiangxi, before playing in Washington where she made the quarterfinals, losing to Donna Vekic. She had been due to compete in the qualifying in Montreal, but withdrew before losing in the first round of qualifying in Cincinnati. She then failed to qualify in Connecticut, falling to Dayana Yamstremka in the final round.
How do they match up?
Williams is the most dominant power-player of her era, possibly of all time. She hits her groundstrokes with greater force than almost anyone else on Tour, both backhand and forehand, and if given time on the ball she can hit anyone off the court. She also boasts a formidable serve and often finds herself near the top of the ace race at the end of the year. Linette will need to find some way to contain Williams’ power if she wants to win the match.
Unfortunately for Linette, how she will do that is altogether unclear. She does not have the power to match Williams in a straight baseline battle as Kvitova did successfully in Cincinnati. Linette does have commendable accuracy off the ground and can maintain good depth, but will need more than that to keep Williams out of stride. She also does not have much power behind her serve, which could cause her problems if Williams is able to regularly get on top of it.
There are likely to be some stern examinations of Williams in the first week of the US Open. But with all due respect to Linette, this does not look like being one of them. These are the sort of matches that Williams used to win without breaking sweat, and whilst she may not now be at that level, it still seems extremely unlikely that she will lose it. She has the power to hit through Linette, the reverse is not true. Expect Williams to advance in straight sets.