serena williams wimbledon day 8

*Flushing, New York – It’s that time of year again when the world’s best pro tennis players make their way to New York to fight for the most difficult title to win in the sport, The U.S. Open Championship.

This 2015 tournament, however, has an air of “special” surrounding it because one of our luminaries, Serena Williams, is poised to achieve possibly two of the only feats she hasn’t in the sport: win a Calendar Grand Slam and match the record number of 22 Slams won by legend Steffi Graf.

The road to this auspicious point for Serena has been both amazing and rocky. It’s been amazing because she managed to go the bulk of the 2015 season without suffering a loss – only falling short twice (Madrid to Petra Kvitova and Toronto to Belinda Bencic), at lower level events. But it’s also been tremendously rocky because she found herself at the brink of defeat numerous times along the way.

Possibly burdened by the weight of vying for definitive GOAT status by equaling Graf’s record and finally conquering the Calendar Slam, the current WTA no. 1 wasn’t able to play like the dominant Serena that’s earned her the “privilege” of staring those lofty feats in the face. Fighting through those 3-set thrillers – seemingly having access to a “win-switch” – in order to hoist the trophies that she did in 2015, most significantly the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon just last month, seemed to reveal a vulnerable side of the otherwise steely champion not often seen. Her communication with her box, specifically coach Patrick Mouratoglou, during those matches was increased and she played with a general look of distress throughout the season. But when asked about her emotional vulnerabilities and compromised play, she consistently refused to agree that anything was different or alarming.

All she would say on the matter was this:

Screenshot 2015-08-30 10.53.37

But struggles or not, the 33-year-old enters the 2015 U.S. Open as a nearly unstoppable force on a quest to emerge not only the winner, but as the undisputed GOAT of women’s professional tennis.
And you know you’re going for something special when even your peers who’ve suffered crushing defeats at your hands even want to see you cross the finish line of historical greatness.

What world no. 2, Simona Halep, said in Cincinnati sums up the general sentiment:

“I know you can do four,” she told the Cincy Open winner as she approached her at the net. She then said in her post-match press conference, “If I will not be in the finals, I want her to win … “

At the end of this US Open fortnight, the name “Serena Williams” could finally gain the gravity we’ve always known its always been headed toward, to be matchless in women’s sports.

Tournament Preview: Americans entered and who’s expected to advance

The only Slam played on U.S. soil, plenty of Americans – Serena Williams aside – find themselves in the U.S. Open draw with the opportunity to battle it out for the championship trophy. This year, of the many that are entered, the players to watch are as follows:

ATP

Steve Johnson: Steve has lifted his game in 2015, typically finding himself going as deep as round 3 in the Slams. Unfortunately, he was drawn with Fabio Fognini, a more up than down player with tremendous talent, so he’ll only get through on a prayer. Playing at home may help him, but he’ll need all he can get.

Jack Sock: Sock is a surging player with a mighty forehand who made it as far the 4th round at Roland Garros. He didn’t fair so well at Wimbledon (1st round), but he traditionally does well at the U.S. Open (3rd round ’12 and ’13, ret’d in 1st in ’14). He’s drawn against Victor Estrella Burgos in the first round this year and has a good chance of logging the win.

John Isner: Isner is the top-ranked American in the draw and has the game – a crushing serve – that makes him a consistent lock for at least the 2nd round at every Slam. He plays an 88th ranked Jaziri Malek who’s not had much luck at the Open, not even competing for the last two years, so Isner would have to lose a limb to not advance.

Sam Querrey – Querrey is another talented American, but a streaky one. Playing at home does seem to inspire him, however, and being drawn against Nicolas Mahut who hasn’t ever really found his footing in New York, makes him likely to come away with the round one win.

Honorable Mentions

Frances Tiafoe: Tiafoe, the youngest player in the draw, isn’t expected to make a deep run this year, but he received a wildcard to compete. There’s plenty of buzz surrounding this 17-year-old with promise and the experience will bode well for him in the future. He’s caught the attention of not only the tennis world, but also dynamic rap star, Jay-Z, who signed him to his sports agency. He plays Serbian Viktor Troicki (world no. 22) who hasn’t really faired well at the U.S. Open, but has the game to handily dismiss the budding youth.

Donald Young: the deepest run Young (68th ranked) has ever made at a Slam, 4th round in ’11, was at the U.S. Open and he’s had plenty of experience here surrounding that surge. He’s up against talented Frenchman Giles Simon (11) whose also achieved 4th round results at the final Slam of the season and has the goods to triumph, but possibly not the heart or recent success to pull off the upset. Maybe an advance to round to here, but likely not.

Other ATP Americans entered:

Tommy Paul
Tim Smyczek
Mardy Fish
Ryan Shane
Rajeev Ram
Ryan Harrison
Austin Kraijicek
Bjorn Fratangelo
Denis Kudla
Jared Donaldson
WTA
Bethanie Mattek-Sands: this quirky American has the game to compete well, but sometimes lacks the focus. She’s up against an unknown round 1 opponent and can win if she shows up. She made round 3 in 2014 and should be confident enough to make an early push this year.

Coco Vandeweghe: Coco is having a good year (Wimbledon qtrs), and has one of the most dangerous serves on tour, but she plays Sloane Stephens who just won her first title in DC and has some momentum (albeit flagging, since she subsequently lost in Totonto and Cincinnati). This is anybody’s match but I expect Stephens to pull out the win, as she’s done well here over the last 4 years.

Sloane Stephens: see Coco Vandeweghe

Madison Keys – keys is a formidable contender in every tournament she enters, possessing a gigantic serve and powerful groundstrokes, but she’s still a quite erratic player. She’s had an unprecedented 2015, under Lindsay Davenport’s tutelage, and is drawn against Czech Koukalova, who hasn’t ever advanced past the 1st round at the U.S. Open. Keys will easily pull out the win.
Venus Williams: Venus is a 2-time US Open champion with the game to beat even her dominant sister Serena Williams when she’s on. She has never lost in the first round of the the tournament and isn’t expected to do so this year. She’s up against Monica Puig of Puerto Rico who has a little buzz, but the veteran should log the easy win … provided her health is intact; she recently pulled out of Cincy due to fatigue.
Alison Riske: Alison earned a 2013 4th round berth at the Open which could give her a glimmer of hope in advancing at least past this year’s first round – especially if you throw in that she’s up against the devastatingly slumping Canadian, Eugenie Bouchard. Bouchard has been a mess the entire 2015 season and isn’t expected to emerge from it at the US Open. This could be an upset – at least on paper – but would be far from a surprising win.
Nicole Gibbs: Nicole is an under-the-radar player, but could advance past the 1st round this year as she’s quite evenly matched against her opponent, Lourdes Dominguez Lino, and had a 4th round surge here in 2014.
Christina Mchale: McHale is an up and down performer at the Open, going as high as round 3, but suffering 1st round defeats an equal number of tries. She plays a much lower ranked Czech, Petra Cetkovska, in this year’s first round and should win provided she employs her signature consistency.
Varvara Lepchenko: Varvara is a consistent player at her level and has moderate success at the U.S. Open. She’s twice made it to round 3 at the tournament and could have the upper hand over her tricky but beatable 1st round opponent, Kirsten Flipkens.

Other WTA Americans entered:

Samantha Crawford
Jessica Pegula
Louisa Chirico
Jamie Loeb
Madison Brengle
Anna Tatishvili
Lauren Davis
Vania King
Sofia Kenin
Shelby Rogers
Sachia Vickery

1st  Round, Day 1 matches to catch:

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) vs. Ana Ivanovic (SRB)
Venus Williams (USA) vs. Monica Puig (PUR)
Serena Williams (USA) vs. Vitalia Diatchenko (RUS)
Borna Coric (CRO) vs. Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Fernando Verdasco (ESP) vs. Tommy Haas (GER)
Coco Vandeweghe (USA) vs. Sloane Stephens (USA)
Maria Sharapova (RUS) vs. Daria Gavrilova (AUS)
Fabio Fognini (ITA) vs. Steve Johnson (USA)