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Which Woman Can Rise to the Occasion? Long Lists of Contenders at the U.S. Open

This week, the U.S. Open draw was disclosed.  Caroline Wozniacki, the world number two and 2009 finalist, and Kim Clijsters, the defending champion and world number three, are the top seeds.  Yet to fully recover from foot surgery, Serena Williams, the world number one, pulled out a few days ago.  In the absence of such a fierce competitor, this presents a sweeping opportunity for Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Victoria Azarenka or Wozniacki to emerge as a first time champion at a major.  Whether one of these women realizes her potential will be contingent on the performance of those who have previously hoisted this trophy such as Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Clijsters.  Here’s a look at how the draw shapes up.

With the biggest title of her career at the Rogers Cup earlier this week, Wozniacki heads into New York with a wealth of confidence.  But, being the top seed at a major is an unfamiliar status for the Dane, how she handles the pressure will be key.  Wozniacki may need every ounce of mental fortitude to get through the round of 16 where 2007 U.S. Open winner Sharapova will be her likely adversary.  In Cincinnati, Sharapova suffered a foot injury.  If Sharapova is at full capacity, Wozniacki could find her claim to her first major postponed another year.

After a difficult few months whereby her ranking dropped outside the top 10, Kuznetsova’s game appears to be clicking again as evidenced by a recent title in San Diego.  As a potential quarterfinal opponent for Sharapova or Wozniacki, the 2004 U.S. Open champion is someone to keep an eye on in the top half of the draw.

The same applies for 2010 Australian Open semifinalist Na Li who will be searching to go one step further at the U.S. Open.  For that to happen, Li may have to knock out Kuznetsova in the round of 16 and stop either Sharapova or Wozniacki in the quarterfinals.  Also, Maria Kirilenko and Aravane Rezai are two dangerous competitors who may prevent any of these players from advancing to the quarterfinals.

In the bottom part of the top half of the draw, if the script follows the seeding, Vera Zvonareva and Jankovic will face off in the quarterfinals.  Lately though, Jankovic has been plagued by a myriad of injuries resulting in her downfall in the early rounds at the warm-up events.  Thus, the Serbian could be ousted in the primary stages by 2009 U.S. Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer or 2010 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi.

Being a Wimbledon finalist in Zvonareva’s case could be a blessing or a curse.  In light of that experience, the Russian should have the belief to foil any potential upset in the round of 16 by rivals such as Nadia Petrova or Agnieszka Radwanska. Conversely, Zvonareva’s desire to erase that disappointment could lead to additional pressure and open the door for her counterparts.

If the results of the recent tournaments are any indication, it will be a Wozniacki versus Zvonareva semifinal or an all Russian affair, Zvonareva versus Sharapova.  Since Wozniacki defeated Zvonareva in Montreal, the Dane would have the edge.  If it comes down to a test of wills between Sharapova and Zvonareva, the former would have the upper hand.

The outcome of the bottom half of the draw hinges on the health of Clijsters’ hip.  With her come from behind victory in the Cincinnati final, Clijsters demonstrated she was ready to capture consecutive U.S. Open titles.  But since Montreal, Clijsters’ dream is in doubt because of the hip issue.  If Clijsters hip is at 100%, she should sail into the quarterfinals.

Sam Stosur, the fifth seed, is a possible quarterfinal match-up for Clijsters.  Yet, the French Open finalist’s results have been poor the last few months.  Therefore, with Alisa Kleybanova, Elena Vesnina or Dementieva as potential challengers in the beginning rounds, Stosur may be sent packing sooner than later.  If she makes it through, Dementieva is equipped with the game which can trouble Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, the sixth seed, has had a tough time translating her clay success to the hardcourt.  On the other hand, with a semifinal showing at the Rogers Cup and the Stanford title under her belt, Azarenka is peaking at the right moment.  Thus, in a round of 16 meeting between these two, Azarenka would be the favorite.  Still, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is another name to ponder in that section since the Russian has the best record on hardcourt to date.  A projected third round rival for Azarenka, Pavlyuchenkova has put in the work which could get her to the quarterfinals or beyond.

Venus, the third seed, has not seen any action since July because of a knee injury.  Despite excelling on hardcourt earlier this year, Venus’ lack of play recently will be a factor.  In the third round, Venus could collide with Tsvetana Pironkova who defeated her in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon while Shahar Peer or Flavia Pennetta loom in the round of 16.   As a result, the prospect of Venus ending her nine year title drought at the U.S. Open does seem bleak.  In fact, Clijsters or Dementieva moving on to the semifinals against either Azarenka or Pavlyuchenkova rather than a Clijsters-Venus semifinal appears a better deduction on that side of the draw.

In conclusion, a back to back Wozniacki versus Clijsters final is not out of the question.  However, Sharapova, Azarenka and Dementieva also seem to have one hand on the trophy.  Consequently, it’s safe to surmise that within this lot lies the ultimate proprietor.  Although, it’s difficult to picture exactly who it may be at this point.

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