By Blair Henley | Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Despite the early US Open exits of several seeded WTA players, on-court drama has been at its peak. Perhaps we should be discussing what's right in women's tennis.
(Photo Credit: AP)
With only two of the top 10 women’s seeds surviving the first four rounds of play at the US Open, fans have been wondering: What’s wrong with the WTA Tour? Though it may be easy to consider the early exits of the game’s big names as a sign of weakness, the depth of competition and the rise of some unfamiliar (but highly entertaining) personalities have created peak US Open drama.
Perhaps the most significant US Open highlight on the women’s side was the breakthrough performance of Aleksandra Krunic. The 21-year-old qualifier toppled seeded Madison Keys and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in just her second Grand Slam main draw appearance. By the time she reached her fourth-round match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the pint-sized Serb had the crowd firmly in her corner.
The refreshingly candid and humorous manner in which Krunic spoke to the media, even after her loss to Victoria Azarenka Monday night, only added to her allure. When asked if she knew how much money she would be taking home from New York, Krunic admitted she wasn’t sure. “I know it's 30% tax,” she said with a smile. “That makes me very sad. But the rest, I have no idea.”
More than Krunic’s conquerer, Azarenka has provided a compelling US Open storyline of her own. After spending most of the 2014 season sidelined with foot and knee injuries, the Belarusian is fighting to regain her position as a top-10 player. We're just thankful that her ability to grind out a win is better than her singing ability.
When Li Na announced she would sit out the US Open due to a nagging knee injury, you could almost hear the collective sigh from her sports-crazed home country of China. But 39th-ranked Peng Shuai made sure to give Chinese fans something to cheer about. Her run to the semifinals, which included a decisive win over world No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska, makes her one of just three Chinese women to have reached the milestone in a Grand Slam. Despite her doubles success (she held the top ranking earlier in 2014), Peng’s teary on-court interview after dismantling Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals shows just how much the individual accolades mean to her.
Though she’s just 17, Bencic is already a familiar name to most tennis insiders. The Swiss is a former junior No. 1 who just happens to share a birthplace with two of the greatest players of all time: Martina Hingis and Roger Federer. Hingis believes Bencic has top 5 potential, and if the confidence and poise she showed during her quarterfinal run at the US Open is any indicator, it’s a safe prediction. After losing to Peng in straight sets, she held her head high in her post-match press conference, donning no less than eight sponsor patches on her warm-up jacket. We're clearly not the only ones on the Belinda Bandwagon.
And who could forget American CiCi Bellis? Just 15 years old, she joined the youth movement with her first-round win over 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova. She would lose in the second round, but not before summing up the current state of the women’s game: “Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. I think definitely ranking has no bearing on the match. Whoever comes out and plays better that day is going to win, for sure.”
Caroline Wozniacki has dominated the sports and gossip headlines over the past several months thanks to her broken engagement with golf No. 1 Rory McIlroy. But with her overall play in New York, including a gutsy fourth-round win over Maria Sharapova, she has shifted the media focus to her tennis game -- where it should have been all along. As the highest seed remaining in the bottom half of the draw, we could be witnessing a long overdue resurgence for the former world No. 1. If only we could say the same for her brown(ish) adidas by Stella McCartney dress.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Serena Williams in the second week of a Grand Slam. But her performance in Flushing Meadows marks the first time she’s reached that point in a major this year. “I never thought it would be so exciting,” she said of the feat. “It feels good. Obviously, I don't want this to end. But I'm just happy that I'm able to be performing a little better at the end of the year.” It seems fitting that after three uncharacteristic Grand Slam losses this season, Williams has much of the US Open spotlight to herself.
Though the women’s draw may not have unfolded as planned, the anarchy has made for one of the most exciting Grand Slams in recent memory. With several new stars on the horizon, it’s clear there is absolutely nothing wrong with the women’s game. On the contrary, things are very, very right.