The draws for the 2018 U.S. Open are out. Simona Halep will enter and leave the event as World No. 1. However, as has been the case for what feels like forever, the ladies’ field is wide open. Here are some first round matches to watch.
(22) Maria Sharapova vs. Patty Schnyder- Sharapova has spent most of 2018 searching for health and consistency. She has been handed her best draw at a major since she returned to the game, but her beginning is very intriguing. Schnyder is a former top 10 player who retired in 2011.
She returned to the lower levels of the game in 2015. This is her first Grand Slam main draw appearance since 2011. She won three matches in qualifying. The Swiss woman reached the quarterfinals in New York an astounding 20 years ago. It is highly doubtful that the crafty lefty can make Sharapova sweat. The Russian won seven of eight meetings prior to Schnyder’s initial retirement. Still, it will be fun to see a fairly well-known face challenge Sharapova early on. Schnyder is closing in on her 40th birthday.
(16) Venus Williams vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova- This is a battle between two established veterans and former U.S. Open champions. They have split 10 career meetings evenly. Kuznetsova’s comeback from wrist issues gained some steam as she picked up a title in Washington D.C. this summer. Williams has not reached a quarterfinal since March. This is a very tough opener for her.
(6) Caroline Garcia vs. Johanna Konta- Garcia has had a fairly vanilla summer. Her groundstrokes are somewhat long and loopy. She is very streaky. This is a tricky opener. Konta takes the ball early and hits big. The Brit has shown signs of a resurgence picking up recent wins over Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka.
(10) Jelena Ostapenko vs Andrea Petkovic- Ostapenko is streaky, much like Garcia. The former French Open champion has not won a match since reaching the semis of Wimbledon. Petkovic is a veteran who has been in the top ten before. She is steady enough to ride out the ups and downs that come with playing Ostapenko. It is easy to forget that the 10th seed is still pretty new to big stages. This is a great test for her.
Top half: World No. 1 Simona Halep leads this half. She has played a ton of tennis this summer and was certainly feeling the effects the last time we saw her on court in Cincinnati. The good news for her is many of the seeds in this half are either dealing with injuries or are just playing poorly at the moment.
The Williams sisters fall in that group, but they are the Williams sisters. Halep’s round of 16 match with either one of them is her toughest possible early test. She has the defensive skills to handle the Williams power, but that is never an easy task.
Finding a semifinal opponent for whoever comes out of the Halep/Williams section is also difficult. It comes down to three names, (3) defending champion Sloane Stephens, unseeded former two time U.S. Open finalist Victoria Azarenka, and (15) Elise Mertens. Those first two names are far more famous than the third, but would have to play each other in the third round. Also, Mertens reached the semis in Australia to start the year and beat Stephens in Cincinnati just last week. The Belgian’s game is solid in all aspects.
Semifinal prediction: Halep d. Mertens
Bottom half: (2) Caroline Wozniacki has not won a match since the first round of Wimbledon and only played one event to completion this summer. She is a two-time finalist in New York, but no one really knows if her body is ready to go.
One of the hottest players in this half is surprise Cincinnati winner (13) Kiki Bertens who is a possible round of 16 opponent for the Dane. Bertens has two wins over Wozniacki this year.
Beyond Wozniacki, Garcia and Ostapenko are also here, but in danger right from the start. (4) Angelique Kerber has had a hard time since winning Wimbledon, but is always a threat. (14) Madison Keys has had her usual up and down year, the big-hitting that got the American through to the final last year just doesn’t seem to be as reliable in 2018.
(5) Petra Kvitová has one thing missing from a year that has brought her five titles, a deep run at a major. Assuming the shoulder issue that popped up in New Haven this week is minor, the lefty has played just the right amount of tennis this summer. We know she is at least in decent form, but there should be plenty of fuel in the tank. She has the weaponry to overwhelm anybody on the other side of the net.
That last sentence can also be applied to (22) Maria Sharapova. The Russian has not been awful this year, but certainly has not played like a five time major winner. However, a drastically reduced playing schedule appears to finally have her healthy. This is also the best draw she has had at a major in a very long time.
Kvitová and Sharapova are risky picks to make deep runs at majors, but they are still capable of beating anyone. Sharapova, in particular, is well positioned to take advantage of some possible early upsets.
Semifinal prediction: Kvitová d Sharapova
Championship match: Kvitová d Halep
Coverage of the 2018 U.S. Open begins Monday at Noon ET on ESPN and all of its digital platforms. You can tune in to Tennis Channel every morning to get ready for each day’s play as well. Be sure to follow me on Twitter below for all kinds of content relating to the grandest spectacle in tennis.