Sloane Stephens won her first Grand Slam title last year. Can she repeat?
Bless Your Heart and the USA
Grand Slam season is coming to a close in 2018. The U.S. Open will take place from August 29 to September 11. But to understand this season, you have to understand last season.
2017 was quite the year for women’s tennis. It was without Maria Sharapova due to a steroid scandal. Serena Williams was pregnant. And Sloane Stephens had foot surgery. She was in a boot until April.
It’s not that those who won in 2017 wouldn’t have won, it’s just that the field was what we expect to see in maybe a decade when Serena Williams is in the broadcast booth instead of the returner’s box.
But none of that stopped the comebacks that we’ve seen in the last year in women’s tennis, starting with Stephens. The American won her first Grand Slam, defeating fellow American Madison Keys in the final at Flushing Meadows.
It was the underdog story of 2017. Outside of a Williams sister winning a major, Stephens was the first American woman to win a major title since Jennifer Capriati won the Aussie Open in 2002.
But to prove our point, all you need to know is this: Stephens was the lowest-ranked U.S. Open champion ever. So while a repeat on American soil sounds truly Cinderella, don’t bet on Stephens to win it all just because she did last year. Bet on her to make the finals because she’s playing against a better field this year and holding her own.
Shine Bright Like Serena Williams on a Comeback Streak
Serena Williams has 72 career singles titles. This year? She has zero.
Then again, she’s only played five tournaments in 2018.
1. Indian Wells, where she lost to sister Venus, 6-3, 6-4 in the round of 32
2. Miami where she was upset by Japan’s Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-2 in the opening round
3. Roland Garros where she pulled out of her highly-anticipated quarterfinal match against Maria Sharapova due to an injury
4. Wimbledon where she lost in the finals to 11-seed Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-3
5. San Jose where she lost her opening round match 6-1, 6-0 to Great Britain’s Johanna Konta
Let’s break this down. Non-major tournaments? Not so great of showings. Grand Slams? More like the Serena we’re used too. Despite the poor results at Indian Wells, Miami and San Jose, that’s pretty incredible for having her first child just a year ago. (Yes, we realize that’s two of the three tournaments, but Williams became more focused and went after her tennis training even harder after Miami.)
She’s currently ranked No. 26. And while she could clearly have an early exit, Serena shines brightest in her most competitive moments.
The Rest of the Draw to Watch
So beyond the two Americans, who else should you keep an eye on in the fight for the finals:
Simona Halep – The Romanian is the top-ranked female in the world. She has made two of the three previous Grand Slam finals in 2018. She won her first Slam title this year when she defeated Sloane Stephens, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 at Roland Garros. (She lost in the finals at the Aussie Open to Wozniacki.) In the 16 tournaments she’s played this year, she’s won three titles, including recently defeating Sloane Stephens in a three-set thriller, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4 in Montreal. Halep also took down Venus Williams, France’s Carolina Garcia and Australia’s Ashleigh Barty en route to the trophy in Canada.
Angelique Kerber – The German is the last of any player on the tournament to win a Slam title. She took down Serena Williams in July at the All-England Club to win her third Grand Slam. In a rematch of the 2016 final, Kerber defeated Williams 6-3, 6-3. Kerber is ranked No. 4 on the WTA rankings. But she’s been running a little hot-and-cold outside of the majors, losing in early rounds like the Round of 32 in Montreal.
Petra Kvitova – The fifth-ranked female may not have a major to her name in 2018, but she has won five singles titles this season. But she lost in the opening round (round of 128) at Wimbledon and the round of 32 at Roland Garros.
Caroline Wozniacki – Currently ranked No. 2. She’s been to the finals at Flushing Meadows twice, but has never won it all. Wozniacki won the 2018 Australian Open when she defeated Halep 7-6, 3-6, 6-4, but she is not a Vegas favorite. Maybe because she lost in the opening round in her last tournament in Montreal in three sets to Bulgaria’s Aryna Sabalenka, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (4)
Will History Repeat Itself?
Stephens was the lowest-ranked U.S. Open champion ever. So while a repeat on American soil sounds truly Cinderella, don’t bet on Stephens to win it all just because she did last year.
This year, Halep defeated Stephens on clay and then later in the season on hard court. But Halep lost to Wozniacki Down Under on hard court.
Williams hasn’t played any of the major names above in a Slam this season besides Kerber. That was on grass, but shouldn’t matter since Serena has won a slam on all four surfaces.
Williams, Kerber and Kvitova have had highs and lows this season.
After winning her first Slam, Stephens didn’t win another match the rest of 2017. She’s recovered in 2018, but it’s hard to give her the nod for a repeat.
So what do we lean on? The greatest female tennis player of the Open Era leaving us all speechless to end the 2018 Grand Slams. Show us what you’ve got, Serena.