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By Erik Gudris | Friday, August 22, 2014

Serena Williams

Top seed and defending champion Serena Williams has had a rough year at the Grand Slams. Will that all change at the US Open?

Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty

Serena Williams enters this year US Open as the favorite yet again. Not only to defend her title, but also possibly to lose early in the first week given her troubles this year at the Grand Slams. Williams showed off equal signs of brilliance and raggedness winning two lead up events in Stanford and Cincinnati. If Serena isn't at her best, who could take advantage? Which Serena will ultimately show up in New York? Once again, the final answer lies with her.

Serena's Section:

Williams kicks things off with an intriguing first round versus young American Taylor Townsend. Who will be more nervous in this expected night match? Williams should move on, but that doesn't mean the first week will be easy for her.

While No. 32 seed Shuai Zhang of China is her projected third round opponent, the often streaky Mona Barthel of Germany could be there instead. Barthel, who can get hot in stretches, might catch Williams off guard if the top seed isn't ready. As in her losses at the other majors, Williams often looked like she lacked answers against players willing to take it to her and keep it up all match.

Barthel might not be able to pull that off, but what about No. 24 seed Sam Stosur? The Aussie recently lost to Williams in two tough tiebreaks at Cincinnati and continues showing good form this week in New Haven. A rematch of the 2011 US Open final that Stosur won could prove final worthy as far as the tennis goes. But will Stosur be able to rise to the occaision again?

No. 8 seed Ana Ivanovic looms as a potential quarterfinal foe. Ivanovic beat Williams in Melbourne but lost to her in straight sets in the Cincinnati final. If this were a third round meeting, as was their match earlier this year down under, Ivanovic might have had a shot. But if Williams survives the first week, her "A" game will be dialed in, and that's when Williams is almost always impossible to beat.

Pick: Williams

First Round to Watch: Townsend v. Williams

Kvitova's Section

The Wimbledon champion displayed a command performance on the London lawns. But once again, Kvitova has struggled on the North American hard courts. That's why this section could be the most wide open in the draw.

If Kvitova, who's never gone past the fourth round in New York, gets dragged into one or more three set matches that is her M.O. of late, who could take advantage?

Many are waiting for No. 27 seed Madison Keys of the U.S. to have her Grand Slam breakthrough. Victoria Azarenka, last year's finalist, is seeded No. 16 this year due to missing most of the first half of the season due to injury. Azarenka, who thrives on hard courts, still doesn't look 100% and may exit early.

The same could be said for No. 7 seed Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. After reaching the Wimbledon final, Bouchard has just won one match and recently picked up a thigh issue herself. She could get going with a few early round wins, but how much will the added attention and expectation of being the next "it girl" weigh on her?

If all these names falter, consider Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova. The No. 20 seed won the title a decade ago and is looking in top form after winning her first event in over four years in D.C. She also has wins over Bouchard and Kvitova this season.

All of these factors make this section a complete toss up. Perhaps the one who flies under the radar here will survive to reach the final four. Every Grand Slam usually gets one surprise semifinalist.

Pick: Kuznetsova

First Round to Watch: Kvitova v. Mladenovic

Radwanska's Section:

No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska survived a dramatic week in Montreal to win her first title of the year there. Radwanska wasn't much talked about during the hard court swing. But that win proves that when others fall early, the crafty Pole can certainly take advantage.

Several names jump out in this section. No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber will play qualifiers until the third round. She then might run into No. 21 seed Sloane Stephens who again perplexes many as to how much she really wants to be out on a tennis court.

Someone known for letting us know exactly how she feels is No. 9 seed Jelena Jankovic. She played a contentious match against Stephens in Cincinnati and that certainly could prove to be a must-see should they meet.

Between Kerber, Jankovic or Stephens, whoever gets out of their tier would likely face Radwanska in the quarters. Radwanska leads the head to head versus all three women and probably would find a way to edge any of them yet again.

Pick: Radwanska

First Round to Watch: Jankovic v. Jovanovski

Halep's Section

No. 2 seed Halep proved she has what it takes to reach a Grand Slam final in Paris earlier in the year. Yet Romania's best hasn't looked sharp of late. She's 2-2 heading into New York, but if Halep can just get through her opening rounds, she should find herself in the second week.

This section find itself packed with several former No. 1 players. Venus Williams, who enjoyed a fine run to the Montreal final, meets up again with Kimiko Date-Krumm. The elder Williams will be a sentimental favorite, especially if she can find a way into the second week. Also here is No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki who since putting behind her recent personal issues, is back playing the kind of the tennis that took her to the top spot.

No. 5 seed Maria Sharapova, who didn't play in New York last year, will be looking to make up for lost time. She gets a potentially tough opener against fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko who did beat Sharapova in the Australian Open first round a few years ago.

Sharapova could face Wozniacki in the fourth round, a potential tough match, and then get Halep in the quarters. Their meetings this year, including their instant classic in the Roland Garros final, have been grinding yet enthralling duels.

While Sharapova hasn't played her best this summer, her ability to grit out wins from near-defeat just might give her the edge in a very tough section.

Pick: Sharapova

First Round to Watch: Date-Krumm v. Venus Williams

Semis: S. Williams d. Kuznetsova; Sharapova d. Radwanska
Final: S. Williams d. Sharapova


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