2013 US Open – Possible women’s matches to watch out for

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    Serena Williams' greatest tournament win came at Melbourne Park a decade ago. (AFP PHOTO/ Martin Bernetti)

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    The draw for the US Open has been released and there are some very interesting matches that could pan out over the next fortnight.

    Once again, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska will be in the same half, with Victoria Azarenka on the opposite side with Sara Errani (who became the fourth seed after Maria Sharapova’s withdrawal).

    What’s worth noting is that a possible quarter-final between Radwanska and Li Na could decide who reaches the US Open semi-finals for the first time. Radwanska, for her part, has never gone past the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.

    Here are some of the matches that we should watch out for this fortnight:

    Serena Williams (1) vs Francesca Schiavone
    First round

    Former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone just cannot take a trick at the moment – after being drawn against (and defeated by) eventual finalists in early rounds as of recent, she gets Mission Impossible – taking on defending champion and tournament favourite Serena Williams in Round 1.

    Over the last few months, Schiavone has lost to Sabine Lisicki in the first round at Wimbledon, Agnieszka Radwanska in Stanford, Victoria Azarenka in Carlsbad and just recently Serena Williams in Toronto.

    Of this list, only Williams eventually went on to prevail.

    The American suffered only her fourth loss of the year when she lost to Victoria Azarenka in the Cincinnati final last week but should bounce back here and assert her authority at her national Grand Slam championships. Watch out everybody.

    Jamie Hampton (23) vs Sloane Stephens (15)
    Due to meet in the third round

    It’s a battle of two rising Americans who have be touted as the two players to take America forward in women’s tennis when Serena and Venus Williams retire.

    These two recently faced each other in the first round at Wimbledon, where Stephens prevailed en route to eventually reaching the quarter-finals.

    Hampton has made a name for herself in recent times, upsetting Jelena Jankovic at Indian Wells last year, whilst also taking Victoria Azarenka to three sets at the Australian Open despite being injured and upsetting Agnieszka Radwanska at Eastbourne before reaching the final there this year.

    Stephens, for her part, has defeated Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova this year, the former taking place at the Australian Open and the latter taking place at Cincinnati.

    With a potential fourth round showdown against Williams looming, expect a tough and physical tussle between the two.

    Serena Williams (1) vs Jamie Hampton or Sloane Stephens
    Due to meet in the fourth round

    For the winner of the Hampton/Stephens tie in Round 3, the reward (or punishment, as many could say) is a fourth round showdown against the American of all American tennis players, Serena Williams.

    Sloane Stephens turned the tennis world on its head when she came from behind to stun Serena Williams at the Australian Open back in January, paving the way for Victoria Azarenka, to whom she would lose in the semi-finals, to successfully retain her title.

    But since then the two have been outspoken, not exchanging a single word with each other.

    Stephens has always regarded Williams as a mentor and there’s no doubt that the young star will one day start to contend for big titles, having yet to land one in her career.

    Hampton on the other hand has never met Williams, but she can continue her rise up the rankings by at least getting to the fourth round.

    Kirsten Flipkens (12) vs Venus Williams
    First round

    Whilst Serena Williams has it easy, taking on a fallen Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams has it tough.

    The seven-time Grand Slam champion takes on recent Wimbledon semi-finalist and 12th seed Kirsten Flipkens in the first round, against whom she bagelled but was eventually beaten by in the first round in Toronto recently.

    Just when it was thought that the elder of the Williams sisters was back to her best, as shown by a title at Luxembourg at the back end of last year, suddenly things have come crashing down again.

    Williams lost in the first round of the French Open to Urszula Radwanska and was forced to miss Wimbledon through injury, those conspiring her to drop back out of the Top 50.

    Flipkens, on the other hand, is fast becoming one of the most improved players on tour. She pushed Victoria Azarenka to three sets at Indian Wells, has beaten Petra Kvitova twice and reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon, where she was taught a brutal lesson by Marion Bartoli there.

    As has already been mentioned, she came back from being bageled to beat Venus Williams in Toronto recently, before losing in the third round to the other Williams sister, Serena.

    Can Flipkens repeat the upset or could Williams potentially become a dangerous floater?

    Kaia Kanepi (25) vs Angelique Kerber (8)
    Due to meet in the third round

    This is a rematch of their second round showdown from Wimbledon where Angelique Kerber suffered a meltdown mid-match to eventually lose to Kaia Kanepi.

    Following that match, death threats were inflicted upon the German, who this year has disappointed – she is the highest ranked player still without a Grand Slam quarter-final or a title match this year, and her results on the Tour have been beyond disappointing.

    Kerber probably has revenge on her mind for this possible third round showdown, so Kanepi should be the one watching out.

    Williams sisters
    Due to meet in the quarter-finals

    Should Serena Williams expectedly coast through her draw, and Venus navigate through her tough draw, then the potential is there for the first Williams sisters showdown at a Grand Slam since they contested the Wimbledon final in 2009.

    Both sisters endured injury nightmares earlier in the decade, with Serena injuring her foot after stepping on broken glass shortly after winning Wimbledon in 2010, and plummeting to 175 in the world 12 months after that.

    Venus on the other hand was struck down by illness which also saw her drop to outside the Top 100, but victories over Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic in Miami and a title in Luxembourg last year suggested that she was getting back to her best.

    But it was not to be.

    And whilst Serena is dominating at will, Venus is slipping further away from the elite, and it won’t be long before either sister disappears into retirement.

    Perhaps this potential quarter-final showdown could be the final ever meeting between the two sisters. Let’s just hope that it’s not the case.

    Agnieszka Radwanska (3) vs Sabine Lisicki (16)
    Due to meet in the fourth round

    This is the rematch of last month’s epic Wimbledon semi-final which saw Sabine Lisicki play with a lion’s heart and roar her way into her first Grand Slam final, and it was Agnieszka Radwanska who was on the receiving end.

    Radwanska was seen as the favourite for not only the semi-final match, but also the title, after a tsunami of upsets claimed the likes of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Petra Kvitova in the earlier rounds.

    But she was unable to handle the favouritism well, and despite being two points away from victory many times in the match, could not close it out.

    Now they will have to face up to each other two rounds earlier – and this showdown could produce a first quarter-final for either woman, both of whom their best result at Flushing Meadows is the fourth round.

    Jelena Jankovic (9) vs Sorana Cirstea (19)
    Due to meet in the third round

    A woman who has disappointed at the US Open since reaching the final in 2008 is former Serbian world number one Jelena Jankovic.

    Since losing the summit match to Serena Williams five years ago, the Serb has not gone past the third round in four tries, and last year was beaten by Agnieszka Radwanska in the Round of 32.

    Should she get to the third round this time, then there’s another obstacle she will have to overcome – Sorana Cirstea, who defeated her en route to reaching the final in Toronto.

    Cirstea also has a victory over Jankovic at Grand Slam level, that coming at the 2009 French Open.

    For Jankovic to reach her first fourth round in New York since 2008, she will have to be on her game right from the very start.

    Laura Robson (30) vs Li Na (5)
    Due to meet in the third round

    This is a rematch of last year’s third round, which saw Laura Robson pull off a big upset by defeating Li Na in the third round, to follow her ending the career of Kim Clijsters a round earlier.

    Robson is fast becoming one of the biggest movers in tennis, though she blew a big chance to go very deep at Wimbledon when the draw was wide open.

    But to repeat her chances of another deep run in New York, she will not only have to look back at the game plan which was so successful last year, but also face up to a much improved Li Na here.

    Jelena Jankovic (9) or Sorana Cirstea vs Laura Robson (30) or Li Na (5)
    Due to meet in the fourth round

    Regardless of whoever Li Na or Laura Robson meet in the fourth round, either player will have it tough trying to reach the quarter-finals.

    Li recently lost to Cirstea in Toronto, and also lost to her at Wimbledon last year, whilst she also lost to Jankovic in the third round in Rome this year.

    But the Chinese is enjoying somewhat of a solid season, winning the title in Shenzhen and also reaching the final of the Australian Open earlier in the year.

    Her recent results have also been impressive, without being successful, as evidenced by reaching the semi-finals at both Toronto and Cincinnati, losing to the eventual runner-up on each occasion (she lost to Serena Williams at the latter tournament).

    But she could be in for her trickiest fourth round opponent yet, should she get this far.

    Robson on the other hand has never faced Cirstea, but has lost to Jankovic twice in Grand Slam level (Wimbledon 2010, Australian Open 2012).

    Should Robson get to the fourth round for the second year running, she may have to develop a new game plan which will frustrate Jankovic or Cirstea, both of whom their game plans are very inconsistent.

    This is the most interesting section of the draw, I feel.

    Svetlana Kuznetsova (27) vs Sara Errani (4)
    Due to meet in the third round

    One player is on the rebound following a serious knee injury which saw her ranking drop to number 75, whilst another is establishing herself at the top echelon of the game without being successful.

    The last time these two players met marked what was supposedly the end of Svetlana Kuznetsova and the beginning of Sara Errani.

    That came at last year’s French Open, where Errani upset the two-time Grand Slam champion en route to reaching the final. After that, Errani would reach new heights, whilst Kuznetsova would not play again that year.

    The Italian, whose run to the semi-finals at the French Open this year were sandwiched in between two disappointing first round exits at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, reached a career high ranking of five and is still a chance of cracking the top four later this year.

    And whilst Kuznetsova has recaptured some of her best form, as evidenced by a pair of quarter-finals at the Australian and French Opens (losing to the eventual champions at both tournaments), she has yet to really impress in her comeback.

    Kuznetsova has now gone more than three years without winning a title and hasn’t reached a championship match since February 2011.

    How times have changed since then, but Kuznetsova can turn back the clock with a victory over Errani here….

    Sara Errani (4) vs Roberta Vinci (10)
    Due to meet in the quarter-finals

    Should both Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci navigate their way through the early rounds, it’s possible that the good friends and doubles partners may have to settle their differences in the quarter-finals, as they had to do last year.

    Reaching the quarter-finals last year marked a huge breakthrough for Vinci, whose career had spanned more than a decade without that big of a breakthrough.

    And whilst she lost her first (and so far only) Grand Slam singles quarter-final to her good friend and doubles partner Errani, she lost no respect in defeat.

    But can she do it again? We’ll just have to wait and see. But to get there she’ll have to face Elena Vesnina in the third round, against whom Vinci lost in three sets after holding a match point in the second set at the Australian Open in January.

    Petra Kvitova (7) vs Samantha Stosur (11)
    Due to meet in the fourth round

    Two players who have had contrastingly disappointing seasons are Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur.

    Kvitova has dropped to her lowest ranking in two years after failing to defend her title at the Rogers Cup, and apart from a run to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, has not impressed at Grand Slam level this year.

    She could face a woman who has not only reached the quarter-finals, but also won the title in 2011, in the fourth round, in the form of Samantha Stosur, who appears to be turning a corner following an injury-ravaged first half of the year.

    Stosur ended a two-year title drought by defeating Victoria Azarenka to win in Carlsbad, but in recent tournaments have fallen short of the quarter-finals, losing to Kvitova in Toronto and to Simona Halep at Cincinnati.

    The battle of the one-slam wonders could decide whose disappointing season continues.

    Ana Ivanovic (13) vs Victoria Azarenka (2)
    Due to meet in the fourth round

    One player who is desperate to recapture her former glory is Serbian former Grand Slam champion Ana Ivanovic.

    The Serb has endured a frustrating season so far, not being able to reach a final but being able to reach two semi-finals and one quarter-final in the interim. She also sacked her coach, Nigel Sears, after Wimbledon.

    One of those came in Madrid, where she crushed Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals before losing a battle against Maria Sharapova, and the other came recently in Carlsbad, where she lost to Victoria Azarenka in three sets.

    She could have avoided having to draw Azarenka here in the fourth round had she been able to close out her matches against Li Na and Alize Cornet in Toronto and Cincinnati respectively.

    Against Li in Toronto, Ivanovic led 5-2 in the final set and served for the match at 5-3 in the third round, whilst at Cincinnati she let slip five match points against Cornet in the first round to lose in three sets.

    Against Azarenka, the Serb can expect no mercy.

    Their previous meeting prior to the Carlsbad semi-final delivered a crushing victory for Azarenka, as she inflicted upon what was then Ivanovic’s worst professional career defeat.

    The Serb has also failed to win a set against a top ten opponent since winning the French Open five years ago, never even coming close (5-7 against Petra Kvitova at last year’s Australian Open is her best set since then).

    But one of their most significant meetings came at Cincinnati three years ago, where Ivanovic came back from the dead to beat Azarenka, reach the semi-finals and get her career back on track.

    Both players have so many points to defend – defeat could mean disaster, especially for Ivanovic, who for the first time since 2008 will have more than 280 points to defend at a Grand Slam.

    And now onto the potential quarter-finals:

    Serena Williams vs Angelique Kerber or Venus Williams
    Agnieszka Radwanska/Sabine Lisicki vs Jankovic/Li
    Wozniacki/Vinci vs Errani
    Kvitova/Stosur vs Azarenka

    Potential semi-finals:
    Serena Williams vs Agnieszka Radwanska or Li Na
    Sara Errani or Caroline Wozniacki vs Victoria Azarenka

    Serena Williams vs Victoria Azarenka

    A repeat of last year’s thrilling final is my prediction for this year’s edition. Can Azarenka reverse the result and capture her first US Open title, or will Williams reign again?

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