Sunday, August 30, 2015

Players to watch in the U.S. Open

   The U.S. Open begins Monday (10 a.m. PDT on ESPN) and continues through Sept. 13. Here are players to watch (seedings in parentheses):
WOMEN
Serena Williams, shown in March, will try to achieve
the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf
in 1988. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Serena Williams (1) -- Seeks fourth straight U.S. Open title and record seventh overall, first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988 and 22nd major singles titles (tying Graf for second on all-time list behind Margaret Court's 24). NorCal connection: Three-time Bank of the West Classic champion at Stanford (2011, 2012, 2014).
   Simona Halep (2) -- Last year's French Open runner-up has never reached U.S. Open quarterfinals in five attempts. NorCal connection: Lost in first round of 2011 Bank of the West Classic in only appearance at Stanford.
   Maria Sharapova (3) -- U.S. Open champion in 2006 has been sidelined since Wimbledon with muscle strain in right leg. NorCal connection: Runner-up to Victoria Azarenka in 2010 Bank of the West Classic.
   Caroline Wozniacki (4) -- Two-time U.S. Open runner-up (2009, 2014) and former world No. 1 hasn't beaten top-35 player on this summer's hardcourt circuit. NorCal connection: In Bank of the West Classic debut this month, lost to No. 60 Varvara Lepchenko in second round after receiving bye.
   Petra Kvitova (5) -- Two-time Wimbledon champion (2011, 2014), who has never reached U.S. Open quarterfinals in seven attempts, has been suffering from mononucleosis but won third New Haven title on Saturday. NorCal connection: None.
   Garbine Muguruza (9) -- This year's Wimbledon runner-up withdrew from Stanford with abdominal strain, then lost early in Toronto and Cincinnati. NorCal connection: Won doubles title in 2014 Bank of the West Classic with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.
   Belinda Bencic (12) -- Eighteen-year-old Swiss handed Williams second loss of year en route to Toronto title two weeks ago. NorCal connection: None.
   Victoria Azarenka (20) -- Two-time Australian Open champion and former world No. 1 gradually rebounding from foot and knee injuries last year. NorCal connection: Won Bank of the West Classic in 2010.
Prediction
   Williams will overcome her biggest obstacle, pressure, and earn a calendar-year Grand Slam.
MEN
Novak Djokovic, also shown in March, seeks
his first U.S. Open title in four years.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Novak Djokovic (1) -- Hasn't won U.S. Open since 2011; 1-4 in finals at Flushing Meadows. Northern California connection: None.
   Roger Federer (2) -- Five-time U.S. Open champion (2004-08) turned 34 this month. NorCal connection: None.
   Andy Murray (3) -- U.S. Open champion in 2012 beat Djokovic two weeks ago in Montreal final. NorCal connection: Went 10-0 in now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, winning title in 2006 at 18 years old and in 2007. Also won Aptos Challenger in 2005.
   Kei Nishikori (4) -- U.S. Open runner-up last year withdrew from Cincinnati last week with hip injury. NorCal connection: Played in SAP Open three times, losing in second round in 2008, 2009, 2011. Brad Gilbert of San Rafael coached Nishikori in 2011.
   Stan Wawrinka (5) -- Added this year's French Open title to 2014 Australian Open crown. NorCal connection: None.
   Tomas Berdych (6) -- Wimbledon runner-up in 2010 lost to qualifiers in Montreal (Donald Young in second round) and Cincinnati (Alexandr Dolgopolov in quarterfinals) this month. NorCal connection: Reached quarterfinals of 2009 SAP Open as fifth seed in only San Jose appearance.
   Rafael Nadal (8) -- Two-time U.S. Open champion (2010, 2013) has slumped after missing three months last summer with right wrist injury and undergoing appendectomy in November. NorCal connection: None.  
   Marin Cilic (9) -- U.S. Open defending champion played only one tournament in first three months of year because of right (serving) shoulder injury. NorCal connection: None.
Prediction
   Sorry, folks. I'm going to keep riding the Williams-Djokovic train until it goes off the tracks. Djokovic has a favorable draw given Nadal's loss of confidence and Cilic's struggles, but Murray and possibly Federer loom as big threats.

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