The women’s singles event at the 2017 U.S. Open has come to an end. America has a new Grand Slam champion. Here are grades for the key players at the year’s final major.
Madison Keys– With four American women reaching the semifinals of a Grand Slam for the first time since 1985, it is only fair that the first part of this article is devoted to them.
Despite a disastrous outing in the final, Keys got healthy and got it together in New York. Like her compatriots and fellow semifinalists, she grinded through some tough matches. Everything about her game is big and powerful. This translates very well to the era in which she plays. There is not a shot she cannot hit and hit hard. It often takes players like that longer to develop, but you can see the light bulb coming on for Keys. She has arrived. As long as she stays healthy, this was her first of many Grand Slam finals. Grade: A
Sloane Stephens– I am far less convinced that Sloane Stephens has more majors in her future. Her serve is average and she plays defense better than offense. That does not usually equate to multiple major wins.
Despite all that, these two weeks belonged to her. A little over a month ago, Stephens began her comeback from a foot injury that saw the former World No. 11 miss almost a year and drop out of the top 900 in the rankings. After reaching consecutive semifinals in Canada and Cincinnati, Stephens certainly had the “dangerous floater” label leading into the U.S. Open, but even the most optimistic of optimists could not have foreseen this.
Stephens found the right mix of offense and defense and caught a few breaks with the draw. That was all she needed. It truly was the perfect storm. Stephens really struggled to back up her first major breakthrough when she beat Serena Williams to reach the semis of the 2013 Australian Open. Thus, it remains to be seen how she will back up catching lightning in a bottle in New York. However, that is another discussion for another time. Grade: A+
Venus Williams– She came up just short against Stephens in the semis, but she reached the second week of all four majors for the first time since 2003, is back in the top five, and became an aunt this week. Life is pretty good for the 37 year old at the moment. Grade: A
CoCo Vandeweghe– For the second time this year, the 25 year old native New Yorker found herself in the semis of a major. Unlike in Australia, she never really played her best here. In a way, that almost makes it more impressive. I am more than a little skeptical as to whether or not she can ever harness her wildly powerful game well enough to actually win a major. The occasion of a semifinal in New York ate her alive, but a run to the last four is certainly nothing to scoff at. Grade: A-
Maria Sharapova– Under normal circumstances, a fourth round showing for a player of Sharapova’s caliber would be disastrous. However, these circumstances were anything but normal.
The 30-year-old Russian scraped through to the second week in her first Grand Slam tournament in almost 2 years due to a drug suspension and injuries. Her opening round victory over World No. 2 Simona Halep was the best women’s match of the tournament in terms of both quality and drama.
For obvious reasons, there will always be debate surrounding Sharapova. Even so, she proved she is still very worthy of competing on the big stage, got her ranking back inside the top 100, and is apparently healthy enough to play a few tournaments in Asia this fall. Grade: B+
Caroline Wozniacki– Not only did the Dane flop out in the second round of what is usually her best major, but she did it to an opponent she had never lost to. Then, she picked the press conference after her loss to put event organizers on blast for putting Sharapova on the main court while the former World No. 1 was on a smaller court. Whatever court you are on, you have to take care of business, Wozniacki didn’t. Sour grapes. Grade: D-
Petra Kvitova– The big hitting lefty had a difficult summer. She won a title in just her second event back from stab wounds suffered in a home invasion. Since that win right before Wimbledon, she had not won back to back matches.
Something clicked in New York though. The Czech matched her best U.S. Open result by reaching the quarterfinals. This was highlighted by a breathtaking display of power that took out tournament favorite Garbiñe Muguruza in the fourth round. For someone that still does not have complete sensation in the hand that she plays with, her run was absolutely remarkable and heartwarming. Grade: A
Angelique Kerber– Seeing the defending champion get blasted off the court by Naomi Osaka in the first round was almost tough to watch. The player who won two majors and finished last year at World No. 1 has not picked up a single tournament victory this year, her ranking will now tumble outside the top ten. It cannot get much worse for her… Can it? Grade: F
Simona Halep– Was Sharapova a ridiculously tough first round draw? Of course. However, if she cannot beat a rusty Sharapova who was clearly not 100%, it is very difficult to see her fortunes changing against big hitters in big matches anytime soon. Grade: D+
Karolína Plíšková– The tour leader in aces never looked comfortable in her first major as top seed and World No. 1. However, the way she grinded through some tough matches to reach the quarterfinals was impressive and a sign of maturity. She needs more of a “B Game” to go to when her power is not working. That is not an easy thing to acquire. Still, Plíšková made a good account of herself here and did a nice job trying to back up last year’s surprise run to the final. Grade: C+
Garbiñe Muguruza– Despite losing in the round of 16, the Wimbledon champion will debut at World No.1 on Monday. Her U.S. Open followed the model her career always has, when no one expects her to do well at a big event, she tends to make a deep run. When playing with the weight of expectation, she tends to lose relatively early. Muguruza certainly has the skills to win any tournament she enters, but the mental game needs some work if she wants to be a threat on a more consistent basis. Grade: C