With the North American hard court season rapidly building towards its denouement in New York City, the stage is almost set for a shootout under the lights. But a lot of tennis has already been played, with champions crowned in San Jose, Washington, Montreal and Cincinnati. With that in mind, RealSport look back at who has enjoyed a summer of success and who will be welcoming the autumn chill.
The Romanian had already scaled the heights at a Slam, finally breaking her duck in Paris in May after three heart-breaking losses in Major finals. She was also already the world #1, ascending to the position by making the final in Wuhan last year. She’s held onto it since, barring a brief stint for Caroline Wozniacki at the top of the rankings after the Dane’s Australian Open win. And so far the summer hard court swing has largely been all about Halep.
She stormed to the title in Montreal, defeating Sloane Stephens in a thrilling rematch of the French Open final. She also played superbly in Cincinnati, but ran out of steam in the final where despite holding match point she lost out to Kiki Bertens 6-2 6-7 2-6. Her impressive tennis has secured her world #1 status until at least after the US Open, the first-time the top ranking hasn’t been up for grabs at a Slam since Wimbledon in 2016 and she is surely the woman to beat right now.
If Halep is the woman to beat going in to New York, then Bertens can take great satisfaction from her efforts in Cincinnati where she did just that to win the biggest title of her career. It was the culmination of an excellent few weeks for the 26-year-old which have seen her reach her first Wimbledon quarterfinal and score six top ten wins on a hard court. Before this year her record against the elite ten on a hard court was 0-11.
Her victory over Halep during which, as mentioned above, she saved a match point was a testament not only to her fighting spirit but also her commendable belief in her ability to win matches even in the most difficult circumstances. And now at a career-high ranking of world #13, Bertens looks in good position to break into the top ten for the first time in her career. Indeed, a good run at the US Open where she lost first round last year should be enough to take her there.
It has been an astonishing year for Mihaela Buzarnescu. She started the year without a win at Grand Slam level and no titles. But at the French Open she reached the fourth round, upsetting pre-tournament favourite Elina Svitolina en route. Then she began her hard court summer with a bang by winning the title in San Jose, despite a stacked draw. That run saw her break into the top 20 for the first-time and she looked to be ready to continue her impressive progress in Canada.
But disaster struck in the second round when she took a nasty fall that resulted in ligament damage. It could have been worse, she was lucky to escape without any broken bones. But the Romanian was understandably devastated and left the court in tears, hardly surprising after her terrible luck with injuries throughout her career. But hopefully she should be back on court before the end of the season and has every chance of achieving even more.
Barely 11 months ago, Spain’s Muguruza was at the top of the rankings and was the reigning Wimbledon champion. Now she’s outside the top ten and exited Wimbledon in the second round, which was the earliest a defending champion had lost at the All England Club in 24 years. That early exit may well have been the result of the arm injury that forced her out of San Jose and Montreal and still looked to be bothering her in Cincinnati.
She lost there in the second round to Lesia Tsurenko despite winning the first set. But what was most concerning was not the defeat itself, but rather the manner of it. Muguruza looked short of both inspiration and fight, and her challenge faded badly in the second and third sets. Muguruza has never been amongst the most consistent players and slumps like the one she is in now have always been a feature of her career. But she will need to sharpen up mentally if she wants to end this one.
Whilst Svitolina’s troubles on the court have been less serious than Muguruza’s, and she isn’t carrying any injury problems, it has nonetheless been a summer of disappointment for the Ukrainian. Indeed, it has arguably been a disappointing year for her, although there have been highlights, notably her quarterfinal run in Melbourne and her successful defence of her Italian Open title. But since her aforementioned third round loss to Mihaela Buzarnescu in Paris, she has struggled to deliver.
Her loss in the first round at Wimbledon to Tatjana Maria must have been a blow, and she has not yet played the sort of tennis she is capable of in North America. At the Canadian Open, where she was the defending champion, she played passably, but was well-beaten in the semifinals by Sloane Stephens. She then lost in the quarterfinals in Cincinnati to Bertens. Not terrible losses by any means, but they are the sort of matches Svitolina needs to win if she wants to take the next step.
Who have been your winners and losers so far in North America? Let us know in the comments below!