By Jane Voigt
The last four women in this year’s U. S. Open singles competition will step on Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight to battle for a spot in Saturday’s final.
The top two seeds — Serena Williams (No. 1) and Angelique Kerber (No. 2) — are the favorites based on their Grand Slam records.
Kerber is the reigning Australian Open champion, having upset Serena in that final. Garbine Muguruza won Roland Garros, also upsetting Serena. At Wimbledon, Serena and Kerber faced off once again. By that point, Williams seemed to have had enough of losing. She triumphed and, because of that, now stands alongside Steffi Graf each with 22 singles Grand Slam titles.
The plot thickens when we mix in the chase for the number-one ranking.
- Serena will retain the top spot if she reaches the final and Kerber loses in her semifinal
- If Serena and Kerber reach the final, then Serena will have to win the Open. Otherwise, the crown with change hands and Kerber will reign.
But let’s not get too far ahead. Predicting winners and losers at any major is a serious roll of the dice as far as Down The Tee thinks.
Take the resurgence of Caroline Wozniacki. She began her campaign in New York ranked No. 74 with questions about her health. She did, though, have her beliefs. “If I’m not in the top five, then I don’t care. The main thing is that when I’m on court I have to believe in myself.”
Wozniacki’s belief and own excitement about her level of performance has advanced her to the semifinals where she’ll meet Kerber. Of the four, Caroline is the only one who has not won 2 titles this year; however, she was the runner-up at the Open in 2009 and 2014. Her win/loss record is 34-9 (80% success rate). Kerber’s is 21-8 (72% success rate). Wozniacki has played in 6 Grand Slam semifinals while Kerber has played in 5. These two simple stats, taken alone, show how evenly their match could be. Neither one should be nervous, although the first three games can be a time of settling in.
Wozniacki’s year, though, has to come in to any discussion about the impending outcome. Although she’s riding a pink cloud, her record at majors in 2016 is poor. She lost in the first round of the Australian Open to Yulia Putintseva, withdrew from Roland Garros, and lost in the first round of Wimbledon to Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Kerber forfeited her chance to take over the number-one ranking in Cincinnati where she lost in the final to Karolina Pliskova. Because of that she could press in the semifinal, no matter what she professed after her runner-up win in the mid-west.
“It’s really an incredible year for me,” she said before the final in Cincinnati, ESPN reported. “I won my first Grand Slam. I reached the final of Wimbledon. And, I won a [silver] medal [in Rio.] Of course, everybody’s talking about No. 1, so a lot of things change.”
Kerber has the edge in their head-to-head record, 7-5. That also means they know each others games.
“She’s had a great year so she will be tough to beat,” Wozniacki said, the usopen.org site reported. “I feel like I have a bit of a home-court advantage. The crowd is always supporting me and is sweet to me.”
Wozniacki owns living space in New York City. “I sleep at home in my own bed, have home-cooked food, and have my friends and family here.”
Look for this match to go three sets with Kerber’s consistency proving the ingredient to eventual victory. She should aim for a high percentage of first service points and should keep Wozniacki on the run, although movement is one of the Dane’s biggest assets. However, running and hitting on the run produce more errors.
Serena Williams will have the advantage when she faces first-time major semifinalist Karolina Pliskova (No. 10). The Czech Republic native recognizes that although she got over on big-sister Venus Williams, she will have her hands full with Serena.
“She’s a big hitter, and she can have 50 winners and you cannot do much about it,” Pliskova said, as reported by The New York Times. “But I still am going to hope that there is going to be some chance in the match where I can get my chance and be the one who is playing aggressive.”
Both Serena and Pliskova are know for their serving. Pliskova has hit more aces than any other player on the WTA Tour this year and over the last five years. As of August 29, that total was 407 for the year.
Matches are not won by aces alone, but no one will argue that the 18 Serena hit against Simona Halep last night meant any less than 4 1/4 ‘free’ games. For the tournament, Williams leads all other women with 60 aces and Pliskova is third with 32.
Tennis has watched Pliskova throughout her young career — she is 24 — waiting for her to improve in Grand Slam results. The farthest she has ever advanced at a major, until this tournament, is the third round: 2015, 2016 at the Australian Open; and 2014 at the U.S. Open.
Serena knows that every woman across the net wants to beat her. Pliskova will bring the same attitude and game. She hits big, flat shots that travel faster than ones with spin. However, Williams moves better.
Without a doubt, Williams’ experience will prevail tonight. The disappointment of her loss to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals last year will be vindicated, as well. Williams should start strong. If she breaks early in the second, she’ll relax, just as she did last night against Halep in the final set. Once it got underway and Serena broke, the outcome was predestined.
So … what about the money?
The two women who lose tonight will earn $875,000 and 780 ranking points. The winner on Saturday will pocket $3,500,000 and 2000 ranking points. The runner-up gets $1,750,000 and 1300 ranking points. It’s the biggest payout in Grand Slam history.