“The women’s side of this tournament has taken so many hits already, it would have been catastrophic for the gravity of the draw if Serena didn’t win in terms of keeping the level of interest high,” said Pam Shriver, 21 times major. . two-time champion and ESPN analyst. “Obviously all of those players who stay have some great stories and talent, but when it comes to just the draw for women in the news, she’s still the star. “
After a fairly routine first lap, the second lap was anything but planned. Karolina Pliskova, the tournament’s first seed, was eliminated in straight sets by Caroline Garcia on Wednesday afternoon. The next 36 hours were filled with more upheaval. Aryna Sabalenka, Johanna Konta, Garbine Muguruza, Elena Rybakina, Marketa Vondrousova, Alison Riske and Dayana Yastremska – all ranked in the top 20 – have joined Pliskova.
Only 19 of the 32 seeds remain with three second-round matches to be completed on Friday after being suspended by the rain.
With six of the top 10 players in the world having chosen not to play this year due to various concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the draw was perhaps more open than ever. And with 11 different big champions since the start of the 2017 season, that’s definitely saying something. Now, with so many contenders out of the picture, the US Open could really be anyone to win.
“It’s an era of unpredictable times for women’s tennis, and now because of COVID-19 and the long layoff, you bring a whole new level of unpredictability,” Shriver said. “So you have an unpredictable tournament at an unpredictable point in history, and who knows how an athlete is going to come out to play. So you put it all together and, you know, God bless anyone who can fix it or predict what happens next. ”
Sofia Kenin, the defending Australian Open champion and No.2 seed, dominated her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez on Thursday. Sloane Stephens, the 2017 champion who will face Williams on Saturday, took her 6-2, 6-2 victory over Olga Govortsova. Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka made a statement in New York with a Western and Southern Open title and a surprise against fifth-seeded Sabalenka on Thursday. Multi-time Grand Slam winners Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber remain, and several Americans, including Madison Keys, Amanda Anisimova and Jennifer Brady, are all on the hunt for their first major victory.
Even those who were previously counted stand a chance. Unranked Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, who beat former Wimbledon and Roland Garros champion and 2020 Australian Open finalist Muguruza, before this week, had not appeared in a competitive match since Wimbledon in 2017.
“I always knew that I had it in me because it is not the first time that I [won against] a top player, ”said Pironkova. ” I [have] has been on the tour for almost 15 years, and I have had many occasions where I have played against the best of the best players.
“I guess I was mentally prepared. It’s not something super new. [At] at the same time, I felt good, I moved well, I hit the ball well. Why not win? ”
Even with more than a dozen women capable of winning their next five games, Williams, who continues her quest to tie Margaret Court with 24 Slam titles, remains the tournament favorite alongside Naomi Osaka. The two could meet again in the US Open final, as they did in a memorable 2018 championship that Osaka won.
Osaka, who has struggled after winning back-to-back majors at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open, said she was not going beyond her next match, against Marta Kostyuk, 18, Friday.
“I stopped thinking about winning,” she says. “I feel like I’m putting too much pressure on myself. I just think about getting in a good position to win. But I play game by game. “
Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are in action, as well as a United States v Canada showdown on Day 5 of the US Open.
In a year fraught with uncertainty, there was speculation that players accustomed to feeding off the energy of a crowd might struggle. Pliskova didn’t seem to think that all of this was factored into her loss.
“I think there are just a few girls who play good tennis,” Pliskova said after her loss on Wednesday. “I think Garcia is one of them. ”
For his part, Williams said there was something calming about the environment during his field interview on Thursday. All of this begs the question: Could the lack of fans actually give him the extra edge he lacked in his last four appearances since returning to have a child? She lost in the 2018 and 2019 Wimbledon and US Open finals.
“We all know how hard Serena can play and how mentally tough she is,” said Alexandra Stevenson, former Wimbledon semi-finalist and ESPN analyst. “I think not having a crowd helps because something happens when she comes into the final with the crowd and she just isn’t playing her game. She can bring the fire inside, so that could really be an interesting race for her.
“I wouldn’t exactly say it will be easy, and she will have a lot of landmines along the way because everyone is going for her. If she can pull it together and serve how I know she can serve and lead the fight all the time and not back down, and if she can just stay calm and focus for [five] more matches, so I think she’s going to tie the record. But she won’t face any girls at any point where she can just walk through them. These young players just aren’t as intimidated by her or anyone else as the others were, and everyone believes they can win. ”
Williams has not spoken about what she would need to do to solidify her place in history following her game on Thursday, but she seemed optimistic about still playing in the draw.
“I feel like every day I’m on a new journey, and in this particular tournament and this year, it’s just a new journey,” she said. “So I feel really good. I feel like I’m on this journey and I’m going in the right direction. “