Are you ready to say goodbye to Serena Williams on the court? (Answer: no. We’re not ready.)
All eyes are on Flushing as the U.S. Open … er, “opens” its first round on Monday. As usual for a Grand Slam, there’s a lot to get excited about in regards to the ladies singles’ division––and its potential for chaos. However, since such excitement could become overwhelming rather quickly, we at She Plays decided to narrow all of the areas of intrigue down to just three … including the promise of a scarily-even field and the question mark surrounding the tournament’s defending champion. Here are three things to look forward to at the U.S. Open.
The Evolution of a Star
We all knew that this day would come … and yet, it still hurts. As we’ve covered on this site before, Serena Williams will be imminently evolving away from tennis; this means that the U.S. Open could be the last time that spectators get to see her on the court.
To be honest, fans and journalists alike might be tuning into the Open unsure of what to even expect from the 23-time major champion. She’s a talented player with a wonky win-loss rate heading into a Grand Slam––anything from a first-round defeat to a grab at No. 24 is possible. “The question is whether Williams’ body will hold up well enough to put consecutive matches together — something she hasn’t had much success with since returning to tournament tennis at Wimbledon [this year],” writes Dan Wolken for USA TODAY. She may not have needed a wild card to qualify for the Open, but she’ll surely be one on the court given those circumstances––rendering her nigh-impossible to pin down in bets or preview pieces.
So in that spirit, maybe it’s wisest to hold off on making predictions or constructing theories around Williams’ chances for now. What we currently know is that she’s playing Danka Kovinić in the first round in front of a supportive crowd––and frankly, doesn’t that sound fun enough on its own? The narrative regarding Serena Williams in this tournament is that there is no narrative. Instead, let’s just enjoy what will likely be a bittersweet yet well-earned farewell to a tennis titan.
Serena Williams is set to face Danka Kovinic in Round 1 of the US Open 🎾— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 25, 2022
She plans to retire after her run at Flushing Meadows pic.twitter.com/ANzOIMIkLn
The Possibly Impossible Title Defense
Just when we thought she was out … she pulls us back in!
To put it bluntly, Emma Raducanu has had a relatively tough year on the court. She doesn’t have a 2022 tournament win to her name, suffered first-round exits in five different competitions, and went through a couple of coaching changes with largely mixed results. But that’s no matter––shaky form is expected from a young talent during her first full year on Tour. Her winning the U.S. Open as a qualifier doesn’t mean that she’s reached her full potential as a player just yet; she should be allowed time to work on her game and find a coaching environment that fits her strengths. How about we just give her a year to adjust and check back in when––
Wait, what’s this about a bageling of Serena Williams? And another bagel against Victória Azárenka? AND a deep tournament run at the Cincinnati Masters? She did all of that in less than a week?
Of course, one great tournament doesn’t mean that Raducanu is done growing as a player; few athletes are, even after they win multiple Slams. But let’s look at the “now.” If she’s getting into great form right before the Open, could she possibly … defend her title?
No, no, no, that’s insane. Pulling a Grand Slam win from out of nowhere after the rocky year she’s had? Yeah, right.
The Chaos of It All
Ash Barty, Elena Rybakina, and Iga Świątek … could one more name be added to that list of 2022 Slam champions? If so, then it wouldn’t be a shock; this year’s field of athletes in the U.S. Open’s ladies singles’ division is ridiculously even.
“There are no favorites—except fan favorite Serena Williams—in this year’s women’s draw,” writes Steve Tignor for tennis.com. And frankly, he’s 100% correct. Iga Świątek––who needs no introduction as the World No. 1––has zero trophy wins since Wimbledon. The first-round draw is packed with tough matchups, making early upsets seem incredibly likely. Oh, and the qualifier pool features names like French Open star Leolia Jeanjean and British No. 5 Heather Watson. Absolutely no one is safe from elimination––a quality befitting a league as high-profile as the WTA Tour.
But at this point, fans almost certainly know that this unpredictability is what makes the Tour so great. For one, it provides great entertainment, even when winners are predicted correctly. But it also helps push the athletes at the Tour’s center to the limit––and make them better players and leaders in the sport. “Every match, every day was a new day, new challenge,” U.S. Open contender Caroline Garcia said after her Cincinnati Masters win. “Every time I had to be focused on myself, on my game, what can I do, how I can be more aggressive, how can I improve.”
When the U.S. Open begins in earnest on Monday, expect the opening day matches to be chaotic, well-fought, and nigh-unpredictable. Frankly, one can’t ask for more from an afternoon of tennis.
The U.S. Open draw for the first round of the ladies’ singles division can be found here.