The US Open is upon us, and this Grand Slam is filled with interesting storylines as always, including a teenager with legitimate title aspirations and Serena Williams' quest to equal Margaret Court's Grand Slam record. Read on to see which players are primed for success on the hard courts at Flushing Meadows and which ones could be heading home early, as well as my pick for the title winner.
Bianca Andreescu - It's been the year of the teenager on the WTA tour, and Andreescu has been the most successful of the bunch when healthy. She won the Premier Mandatory in Indian Wells, then suffered a shoulder injury in her next tournament, only to win the Premier 5 in Toronto in what was her first tournament back to full health. In other words, the 19-year-old Canadian has been a nearly unstoppable force on North American hard courts. Seeded 15th here, Andreescu should be considered one of the top contenders for the title in a wide open field.
Naomi Osaka - Osaka has gone just 2-2 in her last two Grand Slams, but those were on clay and grass, where her pedestrian movement and inability to slide were exposed. Back on hard courts where she feels comfortable, the No. 1 seed should be viewed as one of the favorites for the title despite picking up a knee injury in Cincinnati. Osaka has a 14-match winning streak at hard-court Grand Slams and reached the quarterfinals in both Toronto and Cincinnati to gain some much-needed confidence heading into this tournament.
Madison Keys - Keys usually steps up at her home Grand Slam – she reached the final at the 2017 US Open and backed it up with a semifinal run in 2018. She's also brimming with confidence right now after winning the Premier 5 in Cincinnati earlier this month. Keys beat potential third-round opponent Sofia Kenin in straight sets during that Cincy run, and the No. 10 seed is 2-1 in her career against potential fourth-round opponent Elina Svitolina, including a win at the 2017 US Open.
Serena Williams - All eyes will be on Serena as she goes for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title, and with Father Time catching up to her, this could potentially be her best chance to equal Margaret Court's total. We've certainly seen her overcome long odds before, but Serena lacks that air of near invincibility she carried even at her lower points in years past. Her body's starting to break down at nearly 38 years of age – she had to retire in Toronto earlier this month due to back spasms and then missed Cincinnati with the same injury – and Williams hasn't been able to successfully navigate the seven-match grind necessary to take home a Grand Slam title since picking up No. 23 at the 2017 Australian Open, losing each of her three major finals since then in straight sets. Navigating the early rounds shouldn't be an issue for Serena if her back is feeling better; her first-round match with Maria Sharapova will earn plenty of media hype but the American has an 18-match head-to-head winning streak. The No. 8 seed's biggest challenge will be getting through the latter stages of the second week, and anything short of a title should and would be viewed as a disappointment in Williams' world.
Angelique Kerber - Kerber has seen her ranking drop to 14th, and she comes into this tournament on a three-match losing streak dating back to the second round of Wimbledon. Her early draw doesn't look especially challenging, but the same could be said at Wimbledon, where she was still bounced early by Lauren Davis. First-round opponent Kristina Mladenovic will be eyeing an upset against the three-time Grand Slam champion.
Svetlana Kuznetsova - Just when Kuznetsova's career looked dead in the water, the 34-year-old Russian showed that she still has something left in the tank by making a run to the finals in Cincinnati earlier this month. During that terrific performance, she defeated four players seeded in the top 12 here: Anastasija Sevastova, Sloane Stephens, Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty. As luck would have it, Stephens and Kuznetsova are slated for a potential second-round rematch, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the 2004 US Open champ come out on top once again.
Coco Gauff - Gauff enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom at Wimbledon, and the 15-year-old American is back to capture more hearts and minds in her home country. If she can get through 76th-ranked Anastasia Potapova and then likely No. 28 seed Carla Suarez Navarro, Gauff would be slated to face Osaka in Round 3. While she would be a heavy underdog at that point, Gauff would have a better chance at pulling the upset than she did against the much more consistent Simona Halep in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Barty beat teenager Marketa Vondrousova in the French Open final, so history would be repeating itself here if the Australian's second career Grand Slam title also came against a teenager. Andreescu has been playing outstanding tennis, but young players tend to struggle in maiden Grand Slam finals. Meanwhile, Barty has been arguably the most consistent player on the tour this season, displaying an excellent combination of skill and mental toughness.
FIRST ROUND UPSET WATCH
This battle between Belarus' former top-ranked player and the country's current best could well go Azarenka's way. Sabalenka hasn't lived up to her high ranking in Grand Slams, with a 7-8 career record and a 3-3 mark this year. While Amanda Anisimova (personal) isn't participating after accounting for two of Sabalenka's three Grand Slam losses in 2019, the world No. 9 can still be expected to underperform on the biggest stage until she proves otherwise.