US Open 2018 Preview: Halep and Kerber the form picks for women’s title

The Williams sisters may stand in the path of world no. 1 Simona Halep at the US Open, but she still has a great chance of adding to her Grand Slam haul...

Lately, grand slam women’s draws have had the predictability of Kanye West, but we may just have found a group of three consistent contenders.

World no.1 Simona Halep has featured in three of the last six major finals and lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in Paris.

Angie Kerber, who reached three grand slam finals in 2016, has returned to the main stage this year with deep runs in Melbourne and Paris before that third major triumph at Wimbledon.

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And then there’s Sloane Stephens, who is defending champion in New York and was runner-up to Halep at Roland Garros.

While pundits are right to throw Australian Open champ Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and possibly Serena Williams into the mix, I think that the US Open title will fall the way of Halep, Kerber or Stephens this fortnight.

What’s that? I’ve been proven wrong before the intro’s finished! Ah, let’s just break down the draw…

Top Half

Simona Halep is searching for her second major and fourth title of 2018 after capturing the Montréal Premier 5 earlier this month. The Romanian should zip through the first three rounds before a titanic clash beckons. It’s very likely that one of the Williams sisters will stand in Halep’s way in the fourth round.

While the 26-year-old comfortably defeated Venus recently, she has only one win against Serena from nine attempts. Serena has been named US Open favourite in some parts but I think that’s optimistic given her shortage of wins lately.

That section could yield some upsets with Camila Giorgi and Washington winner Svetlana Kuznetsova the likely culprits.

Garbine Muguruza and 2016 finalist Karolina Pliskova lead the other side of the quarter and would be substantial threats at Flushing Meadows under normal conditions. However, Pliskova has struggled for form this year while the Spaniard withdrew from San José and Montréal with an arm injury. Both players are vulnerable, particularly to rising stars Ashleigh Barty and Maria Sakkari.

Defending champion Sloane Stephens spearheads the second quarter with her form as streaky as ever.

Aug 16, 2018; Mason, OH, USA; Sloane Stephens USA) returns a shot against Elise Mertens (BEL) in the Western and Southern tennis open at Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After her impressive showing at Miami, the 25-year-old meandered through the clay court swing until that surge to the final in Paris. Disappointment returned as Stephens exited Wimbledon and Washington early before another solid run to the final of Montréal.

Despite this inconsistency, I expect Stephens to find the right approach for her title defence. Victoria Azarenka and Elise Mertens are the best players in her section but the American should have enough to progress to the second week.

Julia Goerges and Elina Svitolina will likely duke it out for the last quarter-final spot in the top half. There may be surprises though. Donna Vekic just made the final in the US capital while Ekaterina Makarova is a former semi-finalist that tends to run hot at the majors.

Bottom Half

Angelique Kerber, the reigning Wimbledon champion and 2016 US Open winner, is the standout name in the third quarter. If the German desires a long stay in Queens, she’ll need to fire from the start.

Alizé Cornet looks set to be Kerber’s opposition in the second round and the tricky Frenchwoman just defeated her in Montréal. Su-Wei Hsieh or Dominika Cibulkova could be third round opponents before a meeting with Madison Keys in the fourth.

The other side of this quarter is tough to call although two first round matches could shape proceedings. The winners of Caroline Garcia v Jo Konta and Jelena Ostapenko v Andrea Petkovic will probably make their way to the fourth round unless Maria Sharapova intervenes.

The final quarter is absolutely loaded with talent as Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, Naomi Osaka, Daria Kasatkina, Kiki Bertens, Belinda Bencic and Anett Kontaveit find themselves together.

Australian Open champion Wozniacki is low on confidence with only one match win since Eastbourne.

The Dane is in a tricky section with Kontaveit, Alison van Uytvanck, Katerina Siniakova, Mihaela Buzarnescu and most dangerous of all, Bertens.

Bertens just had the week of her life in Cincinnati, as she notched victories over Wozniacki (ret.), Kontaveit, Svitolina, Kvitova and Halep to take the title. Expect big things from the 26-year-old this fortnight.

Aug 19, 2018; Mason, OH, USA; Kiki Bertens (NED) holds the Rookwood Cup after defeating Simona Halep (ROU) during the finals in the Western and Southern tennis open at Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

As for the rest of the fourth quarter, Petra Kvitova will be fancied to progress but the Czech may come unstuck. The opening rounds should be comfortable enough for her but watch out for Aryna Sabalenka in the third round.

The 20-year-old Belarusian, who boasts a devastating backhand, has leapt into the spotlight in recent months. The world no.25 broke out at Eastbourne where she made the final thanks to wins over Goerges, Mertens, Pliskova and Agnieszka Radwanska.

More high-profile victims have been added to her CV since then, including Wozniacki, Konta, Garcia and Keys. Sabalenka has just grabbed a spot in the New Haven final and will firmly challenge Naomi Osaka, Daria Kasatkina and Belinda Bencic in that section.

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