Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters both had excellent summers, but they aren't the only ones with a shot at the 2010 U.S. Open title.
A plethora of questions regarding the women's field for the 2010 U.S. Open will start to be answered when the first balls are put in play tomorrow at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y.
With Serena Williams unable to play, and Justine Henin out for the year, tennis pundits are turning their affections to a couple of tried and true former Grand Slam Champions (Sharapova and Clijsters) as favorites to walk away with one of the most coveted prizes in all of tennis.
But there are hopefuls all over the draw, many of whom have yet to prove themselves on the Grand Slam stage (Azarenka, Rezai, Radwanska) and others who have proven themselves in the past, but don't appear to be quite ready to do it again (Jankovic, Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Dinara Safina, Sam Stosur).
Without Serena - who would have been the heavy favorite even if she hadn't played a match all summer - in the draw, there is a sense of optimism permeating the entire field. The thirteen-time Grand Slam would have provided an imposing barrier to many of the WTA's top players, but without her formidable presence in the draw, there is the underlying feeling that anything can happen this year in New York.
Here's a look at the form of some of the top contenders for the title on the final Sunday before the Open begins:
- Kim Clijsters - Last year's champion proved once again that she can be an exceptional player on the hard courts. Strong serve, strong groundies, and strong sense of belief. She's been to the finals of the last three U.S. Open's she's played and she's at a post-retirement high ranking of No. 3.
- Caroline Wozniacki - The Great Dane gets so much criticism for not having an aggressive enough game to hit her opponents off the court. Winning a Grand Slam might silence the critics once and for all. But losing before the semis might justify their vitriol.
- Maria Sharapova - She's been a true godsend for the tour since her return. In the long and painful process of returning from shoulder surgery, she's proven to the world that she has the heart of a champion. If she can dial in her ballistic groundies and cruise through a few matches, she should be able to stay fresh with a day off between each match.
- Vera Zvonareva - Fresh off her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, the 26-year-old turned in a final performance in Montreal a few weeks back, proving that she's still in good form with wins over Clijsters and Azarenka.
- Victoria Azarenka - Sellers of the Belarusian's stock became buyers when she absolutely trampled the star-studded field at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford. But she lost to Ana Ivanovic in her first match at Cincinnati, then retired with blisters after a set and a game in the Montreal semis, so buyer beware.
- Svetlana Kuznetsova - the former champion rebounded from an icy cold 14-month title drought with a much needed win in San Diego. She also played well in Montreal before bowing out to Wozniacki in straight sets in the semis. Don't count her out.
- Venus Williams - Well, she's playing, so that gives her a chance to win. Why not?
- Sam Stosur - Not the same on hard courts, as she's never been past the 2nd round in New York. After a thrilling run to the French Open finals, she's come down to earth with a first round loss at Wimbledon and a troubling right arm injury that hampered her performance this summer. If she can get her serve working, she could erase a lot of bad New York memories, if not, it'll be a long winter for the Aussie.
- Marion Bartoli - Tough as a pack of wild heyenas and ready to pounce on anybody who dares to take her lightly.
- Elena Dementieva - Miraculously made the French Open semis in very poor health. Skipped Wimbledon for the first time in her career due to injury, but seems to be playing herself into form, as she beat Bartoli in New Haven and barely lost to Wozniacki in in a third set tiebreaker in the semis.
- Jelena Jankovic - Loves the hardcourts and the big stage, but has been 2-4 since Wimbledon. Can she flick the switch in New York? Maybe, if she's healthy.
- Kaia Kanepi - She was ranked No. 124 in April, before winning a couple of challengers, then storming to the Wimbledon quarterfinals. She'll enter New York as the No. 31 seed, with her sights set on a return to the top-20.
- Agnieszka Radwanska - Another solid summer for Aga - semis in Stanford, finals in San Diego, before tough draws did her in in Cincinnati (Sharapova) and Montreal (Kuznetsova).
- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - A title in Istanbul followed by a Premier 5 semi in Cincy has people very excited about the 19-year-old.
- Maria Kirilenko - She's a tough out, and she's gone QF, 4R, 3R in her last three Slams.
- Na Li - Rearrange the four letters of her name and you get 'Nail.' That's how tough she is. And she was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open last year.
- Aravane Rezai, Yaroslava Shvedova, Alexandra Dulgheru - Maybe?
- Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta - Never count the Italians out!
- Melanie Oudin - Believe, part deux?
- Shahar Peer - Always solid, and gets a lot of love in New York.
- Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic - Both have shown signs of life since their much publicized friendship has begun.
- Nadia Petrova - Can be deadly on a good day, can be awful on a bad one.