By Jane Voigt
August 26, 2014 — Casting a net around a couple women players who could make waves in the women’s singles draw at this U.S. Open is about as easy as herding cats.
Take, for example, the ways things fell out at Roland Garros in May. Every round a new face popped up. It was mayhem.
It all started with Serena Williams’ loss to Garbine Muguruza in the second round. The Spaniard had had some success, but to have defeated Serena, the 2-time defending French Open champion, at such an early stage of the tournament did more than just turn heads. Muguruza backed up her upset, making it through to the quarterfinals.
In that same section of the draw sat Venus Williams, seeded No. 29. She lost the same day, as little sister Serena, to another unknown teen, Anna Schmiedlova. Roberta Vinci, seeded No. 17, was a couple brackets from Venus. Vinci bowed out as well, on the same day.
Wimbledon was not as wiggy as the Paris fortnight, but Zarina Diyas of Kazikstan and Tereza Smitkova of the Czech Republic made noise with their racquets through to the second week. Smitkova at her very first slam; and Diyas at her first Wimbledon and only her third slam.
Pop-up players that shove around big names at a major is not an anomaly. It happens at each slam. But when Serena Williams is displaced and the round of sixteen looks more like a challenger event, then all bets are off.
Both Serena-slayer Muguruza and Schmiedlova lost in the first round of Wimbledon and today in the first round of the U.S. Open. Smitkova’s out as of today to Monica Puig, not a household name but nonetheless a young woman with some bite to her results. Diyas plays later this afternoon.
So the undeniable lynchpin in women’s tennis remains to be Serena Williams. Without her, and sister Venus, draws are deflated, viewership falls, and journalists of all kind interject subjunctive clauses in their commentary. If Serena were here … Serena should have been the one to play … Who could ever have figured Serena out so early …
Serena debuts on Arthur Ashe this evening and will give all she’s got to move closer to an 18th Grand Slam. She’ll play American teen, Taylor Townsend. Williams should take care of business — should. Her record this year at majors makes an absolute outcome impossible to foresee, which is good for the game.
Two other American women sit near Serena in the draw — Varvara Lepchenko and Coco Vandeweghe . They could cause trouble.
Lepchenko is ranked No. 52 in the world. In Sydney she scored a win over Svetlana Kuznetsova, this year’s Citi Open champion. In Miami, Lepchenko defeated Jelena Jankovic who was seeded number six there. Sloane Stephens lost to the lefty in Rome. And last month in Stanford, Lepchenko defeated Agnieszka Radwanska the number five player in the world.
Varvara has no career titles and is 0-2 head-to-head with Serena. The two would meet in the 3rd round, if all goes as planned. If that happens, Lepchenko’s competitive spirit learned from living away from home at an early age plus scrambling through multiple qualification and lower-level tournaments until she broke into the top 100 at a later age will bolster the chances of an upset. She is 28.
Six-foot-one Coco Vandeweghe is a hard-court lover. She won her first WTA career title this year at 22. She has a weapon … her serve. She’s hit 233 aces this season. Not quite up there with Serena’s 360, but commendable nonetheless. However, Vandeweghe has won 75.8% of points off her first serve compared to Serena’s 75.1%. That’s close. A serve does not win a match, but certainly levels the playing field.
Vandeweghe brings a tough-girl attitude to court. She doesn’t care who she’s up against, can throw F-bombs along with the best, and walks around a tennis court as if it is her territory. She dares opponents.
Vandeweghe would only meet Serena next week in the fourth round. The chances are slim, but not out of the question of course. Vandeweghe entered her first U.S. Open in 2008 and never surpassed round 2. In fact, she has never surpassed the second round of any major tournament since. There’s always that first time, though.