Open. In the absense of Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters for so much of 2011, that one word sums up to a tee the first 7 months of the year. With the greatest players momentarily out of the picture, new players have risen to prominence, both confirming and exceeding expectations, going further on the road to greatness than ever before.
This batch of players is, of course, led by the two brand spanking new Grand Slam champions of 2011. Madame Li, who shocked none by storming to the finals of the Australian Open before shocking all by going one further on the dirty red clay of Paris, and Queen Petra who simply validated the buzz surrounding her for the best part of a year by coronating herself as Queen of Wimbledon for both 2011 and undoubtedly many more years to come.
But are there indications that the door is closing and real order is slowly being restored? She has only been back for four and a half events, and itâ€™s almost as if Serena never left, picking up from where she left off in July of 2011. She needed just two tournaments to find her game and fitness, and already she is back to overpowering, outserving, outgutting and outhinking the rest of the tour to two titles and an unbeaten record on the US hardcourts, clinching the US Open Series for the first time in her career. She goes into the US Open the heavy favourite to add one more to her current tally of 13 slams and 3 US Open titles.
And then thereâ€™s Maria Sharapova, the bookies second favourite, also by a considerable distance. Her serve is still shaky and unreliable, her groundstrokes and footwork still prone to inexplicably falling apart, but sheâ€™s still winning and that speaks volumes. She is winning so much that though she has played only 11 tournaments to Wozniackiâ€™s 17, this week (Wozniacki will pass her again after her finals showing at New Haven) she sits at the very top of the race for the first time in over 3 years. The recovery of her game and form since her return 2 years ago has been such a long and treacherous process, but her recent form indicates that the curve of improvement continues to move steadily upward..
Outside of the two warriors, there are many worth more than a mention; The aforementioned Li and Kvitova, though out of form since their big victories, have proven that they are deadly any day, on any surface and at any time. We also have yet another ‘comebackâ€™ from Venus Williams who has seemingly picked up every injury and illness there is to pick up over the last year. But you count her out at your own peril, and looking at her draw, itâ€™s certainly not all bad for the unseeded 2-time US Open Champion. And then there are the others who will be looking to bite and scratch their ways up the pecking order - Zvonareva, Stosur, Azarenka, Bartoli, Petkovic, Lisicki, Jankovic, Ivanovic, and of course that number one girl… (you know the one dating that Golfer dude? Yeah, that one), to name but a few.
So here begins a fortnight of the insanity that has come to epitomize the US Open. Weâ€™ll see parts of draws falling to pieces while other parts hold together like superglue, epic classic matches right next to complete and utter crapfests, in addition to more drama than every current New York Broadway production combined. And, as usual, we will love every minute of it.
Predictions, predictions, predictions
Serena Williams def. Li Na
Maria Sharapova def. Venus Williams
Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova