Another unpredictable WTA season has so far seen three different Grand Slam winners, with Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep finally fulfilling their potential by winning their first Grand Slams in Melbourne and Paris, respectively. That was followed by Angelique Kerber winning her third Major and first Wimbledon title by defeating a resurgent Serena Williams in the final in straight sets.
Now with the final Slam of the year approaching in New York, but plenty of tennis still to play before the stars converge on Flushing Meadows, RealSport look at three storylines to get excited about during this year’s US Open Series.
1. Super Serena
Serena Williams comeback from a difficult pregnancy has been nothing short of phenomenal. Despite her poor performances in Indian Wells and Miami, Williams returned to form at Roland Garros, until injury forced her to retire ahead of a mouth-watering fourth round match with her old rival Maria Sharapova. At Wimbledon she played even better, cutting a swathe through the draw to reach the final only to fall short against an inspired Angelique Kerber.
Although she has not won the US Open since 2014, the fast hard courts of Flushing Meadows suit Williams, and she will surely be desperate to win in front of her home crowd. However, the draw was more than kind to Williams in SW19 with all the top ten seeds knocked out before the quarterfinals. And the great American was outclassed by Kerber in that final, illustrating the gap between her and the game’s best. But with more matches under her belt, it could be another September to remember for Serena.
2. Another first-time winner
But, just as happened in Melbourne and Paris, the title in New York could well be claimed by a first-time winner, such is the depth and quality in the women's game. Three players look to be in prime position to do just that: Elina Svitolina, Madison Keys and Karolina Pliskova. For Pliskova and Keys, the fast courts at the US Open provide the perfect conditions for both player’s big serves to do damage, and they should have a chance to play themselves into form in Montreal and Cincinnati.
Both are former Flushing Meadows finalists and it is surely only a matter of time before one, if not both, join the Grand Slam winners circle. Keys, in particular, has been good form of late and would be a popular champion after her heartbreak in the final last year. Svitolina, meanwhile, may lack the power of Pliskova and Keys, but her talent is not in question, as her dismantling of Simona Halep in the final of Rome to defend her title illustrates. But she continues to underachieve at the Slams
A disappointing Roland Garros was followed by a disastrous first round loss at Wimbledon to Germany's Tatjana Maria on No. Two Court, otherwise known as the ‘Graveyard of Champions’. However, the US Open Series provides the perfect opportunity for the Ukrainian to make amends. She has all the attributes to succeed on hard courts, as shown by her win in Dubai, and it will be a real disappointment if she doesn't make it to at least the second week at the US Open.
3. The next generation rising
Two young players have made a really notable mark on the WTA Tour this season: Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina. Both reached the final in Indian Wells, with Osaka hammering the Russian to win the title. But Kasatkina rebounded to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the All England Club earlier this month, acquitting herself well there in a defeat to eventual champion Angelique Kerber that did much to showcase her potential.
The sky may well be the limit for both and, given the increasingly unpredictable nature of the WTA Tour, both players may view themselves as having a real shot of going all the way in New York. Osaka and Kasatkina may be young, but they have good enough weapons to beat any player on the WTA Tour. Although the pressure of delivering at a Slam may ultimately prove too much too soon this year, expect both to make the mark throughout the North American hard court swing.
But whatever happens, the US Open Series promises another thrilling summer of tennis, even if it is almost impossible to say who will end up lifting the biggest prize of them all under the lights in New York.