The 2017 US Open has earned a reputation as the tournament of upsets. Top seeds in both the men’s and women’s game fell in early rounds. Looking at the women’s quarterfinal line up, it could just as easily be remembered as the tournament of American women. Every women’s quarterfinal match features an American competitor. Whether or not they make it to the semifinals, this is a great sign for where the women’s game is headed in the United States.
The women in these quarterfinals, regardless of nationality, are extraordinary. The injury and illness struggles they have faced and overcome are almost unbelievable. Venus Williams, at age 37, battles through Sjogren’s syndrome to compete. Anastasija Sevastova was so badly hampered that she retired from tennis in 2013. Petra Kvitova is perhaps the most impressive. After a knife-wielding attacker broke into her apartment, threatened her life, and slashed her playing hand, she has returned to the tour and, while still without full feeling in her hand, has beaten top players. Whoever wins in these quarterfinal matches, the group of competitors should he acknowledged as among the most tenacious and dedicated in all of sport.
September 5th Matches:
A. Sevastova (16) v. S. Stephens
Sloane Stephens has not carved her way through the draw. She has, however, dispatched talented players like Roberta Vinci with seeming ease, and taken down the 11th seed Dominika Cibulkova. Powerful clean hitting has gotten her to her first grand slam quarterfinal in over four years. Since reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2013, she has failed to find any success at the majors. Injury struggles and lack of form have hampered her bright career. This run at the US Open, even if it ends at the quarterfinals, will give her confidence.
It is likely that Stephens’ run will end, because she is facing Anastasija Sevastova who displayed, in addition to stellar shotmaking, incredible mental toughness against Maria Sharapova. After losing the first set, Sevastova regrouped and proceeded to take control of the match. Closing out 6-2 in the third against a fighter like Sharapova is a feat few players could have achieved. She may only have one grand slam quarterfinal to her name, but it was last year’s US Open. Expect a good fight from both, but for Stephens to come up a little short in the big moments.
V. Williams (9) v. P. Kvitova (13)
This match is a pitched battle between two of the toughest women in the world. Williams at 37 is enjoying one of her most consistent and successful seasons in years. Her runs to the finals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon were near-miraculous. Kvitova’s own successes – playing matches at the French Open and Wimbledon mere months after her attack – are equally commendable. As the two former grand slam champions left in the women’s draw, and with grit and talent to spare, these women are set to have one of the matches of the tournamet. Williams will have to find her best game to overcome Kvitova. If Kvitova plays with the focused intensity and ruthless power she used to subdue Garbine Muguruza, Williams could find herself blown off the court. Expect Williams’ level of play and aggressive style to keep Kvitova from attaining the heights she reached in the Muguruza match and for Kvitova’s own firepower to prevent Williams from running away with the contest. If there is any justice, this match will be decided in a tight third set.
September 6th Matches:
M. Keys (15) v. K. Kanepi
On paper, and likely in reality, this is the most straightforward of the four quarterfinals. Kaia Kanepi is a talented player whose career high ranking is the same as Keys’ current one: 15th in the world. In recent years, however, Kanepi has not been successful. She is currently ranked 446th in the world. At the age of 32, she has rediscovered the game that took her to five previous grand slam quarterfinals. Keys may have only reached that stage of a grand slam twice before – both in 2015 – but her form at the US Open this year has been strong and her game has only looked better and better as the tournament has progressed. Her three set victory over Elina Svitolina, the 4th seed, in the fourth round cemented her as a contender for the title. Expect Keys to take this one comfortably in two sets.
K. Pliskova (1) v. C. Vandeweghe (20)
Karolina Pliskova went from saving match points in the third round, to breezing through her fourth round match against Jennifer Brady in 45 minutes. Her game is clicking and she is showing why she deserves the world number one title. Vandeweghe, for her part, prevailed in a blockbuster third round match against Agnieszka Radwanska, staying strong and winning in three hotly contested sets. That victory more than any other displayed why Vandeweghe is a threat at this year’s US Open. For most of her career her power and skill have been evident, but when she started misfiring it was clear that she did not have 1) an alternate plan on how to win other than hitting through her opponent and 2) because of the lack of a plan B, her mental game would often collapse. Since working with Pat Cash, she has added more consistency and mental toughness to her game. Pliskova is still the favorite and if she plays the way she did against Brady, Vandeweghe has little hope of winning. But Vandeweghe’s raw power could keep Pliskova from dominating, and if the young American can make the match competitive, the energy of a home crowd could inspire her to victory. Expect Pliskova to make it in two tight sets, or possibly three. Don’t rule out a Vandeweghe miracle though.