27 August, 2012

2012 US Open Women's Bracket Breakdown

Out of chaos, the women's tour suddenly seems amazingly orderly...ish  Three of the top four women: Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams are reigning major champions, while the fourth, Agnieszka Radwanska was the losing Wimbledon finalist.  Will the year's final major be a chance for Radwanska to get on the board; for Azarenka to burnish her bona fides as a hardcourt champion; for Serena or Sharapova to build their brands; for Kim Clijsters to ride off into the sunset in style or for some other woman to make her name?

Who will claim the year's final major prize?  Also, what are the matches worth watching in the first few days of the Open?  Well, check out our 2012 US Open women's draw preview to find out...

First Quarter

Headlined by World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka the first quarter is stacked...though yyou can't tell by her first three rounds.  We're strong believers of the fact that upsets can come from anywhere in tennis, but none of the women in her section have ever set the world...or even a small village on fire, Alexandra Panova, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Kirsten Flipkens, Su-Wei Hsieh, Magdalena Rybarikova, Virginie Razzano and Jie Zheng are fine players, no disrespect intended, but they are 1-8 combined versus the World No. 1, who did once drop a match to Zheng...as a 16 year old in Estoril in 2006.  The winner of that group, ahem Azarenka, will most likely face Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges or Lisicki's first round opponent, the always dangerous 38th ranked Sorana Cirstea.  One note, the barely unseeded Cirstea has never lost to her more heralded opponent.  Cirstea will have the mojo in her favor early, but can she carry it through to an Azarenka matchup?  Maybe...not likely further though.

The women at the bottom include defending champion Samantha Stosur who opens against 64th ranked Croat Petra Martic.  Seemingly pretty standard stuff for an opener, but their one prior match on the fast blue clay of Madrid earlier this year ended with Stosur winning 7-6 (5) in the third.  Whichever player wins that first round tussle is likely to square off against surging American Varvara Lepchenko, the 31st seed in round 3.  "That's solid, not stacked," you say?  How about 9th seeded new Carlos Rodriguez disciple Na Li/Li Na and the Kim Clijsters farewell tour on a collision course for the other third round slot in this half.  The notoriously erratic Chinese star first faces UK up-and-comer Heather Watson, while Clijsters will try to see off 16 year old American wildcard Victoria Duval.  How long can Clijsters, aka: The Girl from Exit Bree extend her tournament?  If she can get past an in-form Na Li/Li Na, the title's the limit.  That said, we haven't seen anything this year to suggest Clijsters will meet those expectations.  We'll thank the 3-time champion for the memories before the end of the first week.

First Round Five (Five Best Matches In This Quarter During Round One)

(23) Kim Clijsters vs. Victoria Duval
(16) Sabine Lisicki vs. Sorana Cirstea
(9) Na Li vs. Heather Watson
(18) Julia Goerges vs. Kristyna Pliskova
(7) Samantha Stosur vs. Petra Martic

Dark Horse: Varvara Lepchecnko

Semifinalist: Victoria Azarenka

Second Quarter

Maria Sugar---err, Sharapova headlines this second quarter as the third seed.  After opening versus Melinda Czink, Sharapova may face disgraced former teen prodigy Sesil Karatantcheva in the second round and 27th seed Anabel Medina Garrigues after that.  The opposite side features a potential couple of barnburner of first rounders between 19 seed Nadia Petrova and Jarmila Gajdosova, as well as Aleksandra Wozniak and Alexandra Cadantu respectively.  Melanie Oudin (opening vs. Lucie Safarova) also inhabits this section, looking for a reason to believe yet again.  The top section looks to belong to Sharapova, as long as she can stave off the erratic-ness that intermittently scuttles her power game.  The bottom section is wide open Safarova is the top seed, but there's not a sure bet here.  If she gets hot, Oudin could get through to the fourth round beeating say Safarova, Cadantu and Petrova on the way.  A solid trio of players, but not a murderers' row by any means.

Marion Bartoli keeps saying she's over the Olympics, having been kept off the French squad for not fulfilling her Fed Cup duties, but she's keeps playing like her mind is elsewhere. Despite being the World No. 11, in her last ten tournaments she only has notched two top thirty wins.  This could make the French woman easy pickings for a player like Andrea Petkovic, the former top 10 player returning to major duty after an injury-fraught year.  If neither she, nor American first round opponent Jamie Hampton can stop her, it will likely fall to the winner of the blockbuster first rounder pitting Daniela Hantuchova against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the triple word score...err, shot at ousting Bartoli.  On the other side of the section, New Haven champ Petra Kvitova looms large. On the plus side, Kvitova won the US Open Series with a 12-1 series record. Unfortunately for her, the last woman to win New Haven and the US  Open in the same year was Venus Williams who did it in 2000 and 2001.  If we're being blunt, the biggest obstacles to a Sharapova/Kvitova final seems to be those women themselves.  On paper, the 3rd and 5th seeds will slug it out for the semis.  Then again, the US Open isn't played on paper.

First Round Five (Five Best Matches In This Quarter During Round One)

(17) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Daniela Hantuchova

(11) Marion Bartoli vs. Jamie Hampton
Andrea Petkovic vs. Romina Oprandi
Aleksandra Wozniak vs. Alexandra Cadantu
(19) Nadia Petrova vs. Jarmila Gadjosova

Dark Horse: Andrea Petkovic

Semifinalist: Petra Kvitova

Third Quarter

Serena Williams takes a lot of stick when she says to the press that she beat herself or that she lost versus her opponent won.  Remember the Serena Williams we saw a few weeks ago in London, dispatching Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 at the Olympics?  The question is will that Serena make it to New York's karaoke bars or will the listless, off-kilter version that kept throwing her hands up in Cincinnati haunt her here in New York?  She has a potential grudge match versus Ekaterina Makarova in the cards for round three, and just maybe Maria Kirilenko in round four.  Barring physical injury, we see Serena moving on.

Francesca Schiavone, seeded 22nd opens with the popcorn match of the section against talented young American Sloane Stephens.  Ana Ivanovic is also here, but she remains to erratic to pen in as a favorite.  Otherwise, in this section you've got powder-puff serving Monica Niculescu and a less than 100% Caroline Wozniacki on the opposite side.  Really, especially given the Wozniacki injury, anyone can emerge here to reach the fourth round.  So why not Stephens, taking out Ivanovic, whoever takes Wozniacki's seed line (assuming the Almost Great Dane is injured) and staring down Serena in the quarters in a battle between the present and future of American tennis?

First Round Five (Five Best Matches In This Quarter During Round One)

(22) Francesca Schiavone vs. Sloane Stephens

(4) Serena Williams vs. Coco Vandeweghe
(8) Caroline Wozniacki vs. Irina-Camelia Begu
Camila Giorgi vs. Tsvetana Pironkova
(12) Ana Ivanovic vs. Elina Svitolina

Dark Horse: Sloane Stephens

Semifinalist: Serena Williams

Fourth Quarter

Has there ever been a quieter World No. 2 than Agnieszka Rawanska?  Not just vocally, but keep in mind that before her breakthrough at Wimbledon in July, her best performance at a major had been a handful of quarterfinal appearances.  In other words, her ranking hasn't quite translated into favorite status; add to that a shoulder injury that forced her out of New Haven and you have the conditions for an upset in the bottom section.  But where?  Even at 80% Radwanska should have enough to get past Nina Bratchikova but not so sure about Ksenia Pervak, her likely second round opposition.  Jelena Jankovic, the 30th seed is scheduled to meet Radwanska in the third round, but it's just as (read: even more) likely that neither woman makes that date.  Could younger sister Urszula Radwanska pull a Serena Williams and push beyond her big sister?  It's possible, Radwanska the younger, has more than halved her ranking from No. 102 in January to No. 43 in late August.  The winner between the first round tussle between former doubles partners Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova could figure largely here in how this plays out, but don't forget 13th seeded Slovak Dominika Cibulkova at the top of the section or her second round opponent Mona Barthel who could both figure in the final result of this quarter.

The top half of the quarter features more star power, but only a slightly more predictable path to the semifinals.  The bottom section is headlined by Roland Garros finalist and 10th seed Sara Errani who shouldn't face a serious threat until/unless she meets 21st seeded American Christina McHale in round three in a section that should play out about according to form.  The top section houses rising 6th seeded German Angelique Kerber.  She should get through her first rounder easily to face the winner of an all-American first round between two players not quite at optimal health in two-time champion Venus Williams and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.  29th seeded Austrian Tamira Paszek should be the last woman standing in her section, setting her up to play for a spot in the fourth round.

First Round Five (Five Best Matches In This Quarter During Round One)

Venus Williams vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Yaroslava Shvedova vs. Vania King
(20) Roberta Vinci vs. Urszula Radwanska
Shahar Peer vs. Lara Arruabarena Vecino
Irina Falconi vs. Olga Puchkova

Dark Horse: Urszula Radwanska

Semifinalist: Angelique Kerber

Semifinals: Kvitova d. Azarenka; S. Williams d. Kerber

The WTA Tour used to be the province of ingenues.  Pixie dusted, pigtailed champions who were barely out of braces by the time they took their place atop the tennis world.  Since the Capriati Rule, the top of the tour has become the province of grown women.  Still though, Serena Williams is seven years older than every other woman we're predicting to reach the semifinals.  Is this the new face of the WTA youth movement?  Players in their early 20s finally pressing past the tour's establishment?

Angelique Kerber will return to the scene of her breakout last year and certainly her draw gives her ample room to duplicate the feat of reaching the semifinals.  Victoria Azarenka, after a rocketship start to 2012 sputtered to Earth in the ensuing months, but a semifinal in the US Open will be more than enough inertia to keep her on track to having another career year in 2013.

Petra Kvitova's asthma had been said to have kept her from playing her best tennis in North America, but her 12-1 summer seems to have put those issues to bed.  After an unimpressive year since she won the Wimbledon title last year, the erratic competitor that is Kvitova seems to have found her best ball again.  The kind that can make great players look rather ordinary.  Serena Williams does the same thing when she's playing her best tennis; she makes other greats look pretty ordinary.  After a shock loss in Paris, Serena won pretty much everything else this summer.  Will her oft-acrimonious relationship with the US Open turn sweet again, perhaps with a title?

Champion: Petra Kvitova

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