Muguruza, Pliskova and Halep among contenders: US Open predictions

There may be no Serena Williams but there is still plenty of action to look forward to at the US Open next week.

epa06150670 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in action against Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during the quartfinal round of the Western and Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason Ohio, USA on 18 August 2017.  EPA/MARK LYONS
Powered by automated translation

In the absence of Serena Williams, the women's field at the US Open may lack a stand-out pre-tournament favourite, but that only serves to make the tournament that bit more unpredictable and exciting.

The strength in depth displayed on the WTA Tour this season means a host of players will feel they have a fair shout of claiming the final grand slam title of the season.

The National's sports desk offer up their predictions for who will excel, surprise and struggle over the next two weeks. Do you agree with their picks? Or do you have some of your own? Be sure to let us know.

For the men's predictions

Graham Caygill, sports editor

Winner: Karolina Pliskova

The world No 1 will always remember 2017 as the year she went to the top of the rankings. The only thing missing is a first major title and she can achieve that here. She has the power and the groundstrokes from the back of the court to dominate, and she plays well at Flushing Meadows as her run to the final last year, where she lost to Angelique Kerber, demonstrated. It is an open field again with no Serena Williams, and the Czech player really should expect to prevail this time around.

Surprise package: Madison Keys

Madison Keys reacts during a round of 16 match against Garbine Muguruza, of Spain, at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Mason, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo / AP Photo

The 15th seed showed she can be a force on the hard courts by winning in Stanford earlier this month, beating Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza along the way. She has never been beyond the fourth round at her home grand slam, but the 22-year-old American has the game to be a threat to those seeded above her when the business end of the tournament comes around.

Disappointment: Caroline Wozniacki

Aug 16, 2017; Mason, OH, USA; Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) reacts against Elena Vesnina (RUS) during the Western and Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster / Reuters

The Dane has had a strong year without actually winning anything, losing in six tournament finals. She started the year at No 19 in the WTA rankings and is now up to fifth. On paper this could be her best chance at a major win, given the openness of the field, and the fact she is twice a losing finalist in New York in the past, but a fourth round, or even a quarter-final, exit feels more likely this year.

Chitrabhanu Kadalayil, assistant sports editor

Winner: Garbine Muguruza

Aug 20, 2017; Mason, OH, USA; Garbine Muguruza (ESP) reacts after defeating Simona Halep (ROU) in the finals during the Western and Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster / Reuters

After struggling with her game for more than a year since her 2016 French Open win, Muguruza has made a strong comeback. Success was a matter of time judging by the way she played at Roland Garros this year. Far from being at her best, she still reached the fourth round where she was beaten by Kristina Mladenovic and a partisan Parisian crowd. That experience probably toughened her up, because she has since displayed a ruthlessness on court. Muguruza dominated Venus Williams to win Wimbledon. The Spaniard then destroyed world No 1 Karolina Pliskova and world No 2 Simona Halep in back-to-back matches to lift the Cincinnati Open trophy. If she continues to play the way she does in New York, it is hard to see anyone being able to stop her from a first US Open title, a third major crown and, possibly, the top ranking.

Surprise: Elina Svitolina

epa06150418 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in action against Julia Goerges of Germany during their match in the Western & Southern Open at the Linder Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, USA, 18 August 2017.  EPA/TANNEN MAURY
Tannen Maury / EPA

On form Svitolina has been among the top three players in the women's game this year. But her performance at the majors has been less than stellar. After winning in Dubai, she had a foot injury and struggled at the French Open and Wimbledon, losing in the quarter-finals and fourth round respectively. But hard court tennis is up her street, which she has amply demonstrated by winning four of her five titles in 2017 on the surface. Her most recent win, at the Canadian Open, makes her a reasonable contender for the title in New York. But Pliskova, Halep and Muguruza are all in good form and, with the Ukrainian yet to prove her mettle at grand slam tournaments - she has not made it beyond the third round at the US Open - a title win would come as a big surprise. Just don't rule her out.

Disappointment: Simona Halep

Halep is fast becoming one of the great bridesmaids in women's tennis. She lost consecutive French Open finals in 2016 and 2017, got beaten in the last-eight stage at Wimbledon this year and finished second best at the Cincinnati Open last week. The top ranking has also proved to be so close, yet so far for the Romanian. She is more resilient today than she was a few months ago when coach Darren Cahill walked out on her for not trying hard enough on court. Yet there is still a mental fragility - especially at the business end of tournaments - that continues to hold her back. Still only 25, Halep has a few good years ahead of her. Unfortunately scars take a while to heal, and it doesn't look like she can recover from recent heartaches in time for the US Open. Likely expect another missed opportunity.

Jon Turner, assistant sports editor

Winner: Simona Halep

Aug 19, 2017; Mason, OH, USA; Simona Halep (ROU) returns a shot against Sloane Stephens (USA) during the Western and Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster / Reuters

It's been a strange few weeks on the North American hard courts for world No 2 Halep. Seemingly cruising through tournaments, swatting aside opponents at ease before getting thrashed herself. First she picked up just two games in her semi-final defeat to Svitolina in Toronto, before crossing south of the border for an even more comprehensive loss in the Cincinnati final to Muguruza. What is encouraging for Halep is that there is little wrong with her game at present. She has always been one of the fastest and most defensively sound players on tour. However, there appears to be something more fragile on the psychological side. If she can use these recent losses as constructive experiences, learn how to handle the high pressure moments, then everything is in place to end her grand slam drought.

Surprise: Sloane Stephens

Aug 19, 2017; Mason, OH, USA; Sloane Stephens (USA) returns a shot against Simona Halep (ROU) during the Western and Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster / Reuters

Once billed as the next American hope in women's tennis, Stephens is making her way back up the rankings after a year off to rehabilitate a foot injury. She has fared well on the American hard courts, reaching the semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati before losing to much higher ranked players. No shame there, considering she'd only played two matches all year. Her power, particularly on the forehand side, holds up against the best, and on the evidence of her two most recent outings, she appears to be finding greater composure in her game. Stephens is certainly a player the top seeds will want to avoid in the early rounds.

Disappointment: Karolina Pliskova

The world No 1 is the woman to beat in New York and her run to last year's final proved she knows how to flourish at the US Open. However, her form has hardly been dominant. Since winning at Eastbourne, Pliskova has played three tournaments and failed to reach the final - second round (Wimbledon), quarter-finals (Toronto), semi-finals (Cincinnati). Not an awful record but for a world No 1 it's hardly scintillating heading into a major. While she possesses great power and serve, opponents who get enough balls back and hang tough are able to trouble Pliskova, who is not the most mobile player on the tour. She won't be able to blast her way though the US Open and could come unstuck against a solid returner who keeps her moving.