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US Open preview: Serena Slam likely
28 Aug 2015 14:02
The women’s tournament is attracting as much interest as the men’s with the big question being whether Serena Williams can become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win the calendar Grand Slam.
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At present, it appears that no one can end her continued dominance of the sport.
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Since the beginning of 2012, she has lost just 15 competitive matches and has only suffered two defeats this year.
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She has won the US Open six times - her first victory in 1999 as a 17-year-old - while she has won at Flushing Meadows for the last three years.
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The hardcourt surface suits her style of play allowing her to maximise her powerful game and she will have a patriotic American crowd behind her as she closes in on history.
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Williams has a vastly superior head-to-head record against her main opponents and if she plays anywhere close to her best she will win the tournament.
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So what hope is there for her fellow contenders?
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Williams, just a month short of her 34th birthday, suffered a shock defeat in the semi-final of the Toronto Open two weeks ago to Belinda Bencic.
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Although she won in Cincinnati last week, her serve was unusually off form and she dropped a set to Ana Ivanovic in the quarter-finals.
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Her dominance in winning three Grand Slams this year was not overwhelming. Five of her seven wins en route to triumphing in Paris were three-set matches and she has had to come from a set down seven times this year in Slams.
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She almost lost to Heather Watson in Wimbledon when she seemed to feel the pressure as she closed in on the ‘Serena Slam’.
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Is there a chance she could choke under the expectation at Flushing Meadows?
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It is doubtful and we will likely see her complete the Grand Slam to cement her place as the greatest female player in the history of the sport.
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Should the world number one slip up, other potential champions are Simona Halep, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.
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Halep had a poor opening six months of the year including losing in the first round at Wimbledon but has bounced back in recent weeks reaching the finals in Toronto and Cincinnati.
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She defeated consecutive top-25 opponents on her way to the Toronto decider where she retired due to illness against Bencic and reached the final in Cincinnati only to lose to Williams.
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Halep did beat the American on hard court last year in the WTA Finals. Her recent improvement in form also guarantees her the position of second seed. She has great groundstrokes, is very athletic and aggressive, and has excellent court coverage. The Romanian however has never reached the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows
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Perhaps Williams’ biggest challenger is Victoria Azarenka. The pair played in the 2012 and 2013 finals with Williams needing three sets on both occasions to prevail, while the American also had to come from a set down in their Wimbledon quarter-final last month.
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The former world number one is one of the few players who, on her day, can match Williams for consistency and power. Her return somewhat neutralises the Williams serve, as does her ability to hit winners from anywhere on the court.
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Against that, she has not won a tournament this year. And as a result of her injury problems over the last couple of years, she will have a low seeding, but could be a real contender.
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The 2006 champion Maria Sharapova has been a consistent feature in the later stages of Grand Slams over the last two years and will have a chance of success should she avoid a meeting with Serena Williams.
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Sharapova has not beaten the American since 2004 and has lost their last 17 encounters. If they clash, there will only be one winner.
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Petra Kvitova, along with Belinda Bencic, is the only person to beat Williams in a singles match this year. That victory was on clay in Madrid and the Czech player hasn’t advanced past the fourth round at the US Open in seven attempts and has struggled previously in the New York humidity. She does however, like Azarenka, have the power to match the world number one on her day.
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Last year’s runner-up Caroline Wozniacki has always performed well in New York reaching the semi-finals or better in four of the last six years but again lacks the consistency to win the seven matches required to claim the trophy. She has also failed to win a match since Wimbledon.
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Surprise Wimbledon runner-up Garbine Muguruza was defeated by qualifiers in her two matches since Wimbledon so cannot be considered a serious contender.
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Ana Ivanovic took a set off Serena Williams last week and can at times rise to the occasion for Grand Slams but does not have the consistency to win the tournament.
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Agnieszka Radwanska, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, consistently reaches the latter stages of tournaments but struggles against the very top players in Slams.
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Belinda Bencic, aged just 18, is a rising star of the game having come into form in the last month.
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As mentioned above, she beat Halep to win in Toronto two weeks ago just a day after beating Serena in the semi-finals.
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All six players she beat en route to winning the competition were either past Grand Slam winners or finalists.
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She withdrew in Cincinnati against Safarova but it is thought to have been as a precautionary measure and is fit for the Open.
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Another up and coming player, Madison Keys, has a game suited for hard courts. She reached the semi-final of the Australian Open and the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
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The American, coached by Lindsey Davenport, has stumbled in the last couple of weeks but could be a threat were she to gain momentum.
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However, despite her rivals’ respective claims, Serena Williams is set to become just the fourth woman to complete the calendar Grand Slam.
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