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The Unseeded Semifinalist — Who Will It Be?

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This year’s US Open draw is the most intriguing in recent years. The usual favorites, Serena
Williams and Victoria Azarenka, are nowhere to be found on the draw. This means every woman is eyeing the opportunity to steal the spotlight and make a deep run.

While the top players appear to be regulars in the later stages of slams, it’s surprising to know that for the past 17 slams there has been a first-time semifinalist. In addition, there has been an unseeded player in the semifinals of the last 3 slams: Mirjana Lucic Baroni at the Australian Open, Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open, and Magdalena Rybarikova at Wimbledon.

I have selected the unseeded players from each half of the draw that can continue this year’s trend by making a surprise run to the semifinals.

 

Top Half

 


Naomi Osaka

The nineteen-year old Osaka of Japan is playing in just her second US Open. The Japanese
player is a star in the making, who possesses all the weapons to be a future grand slam
champion. Osaka came close to a breakthrough performance last year, at this very tournament during her third round encounter. Osaka led the 8th seed, Madison Keys, 5-1 in the third set before letting the match slip away along with her opportunity to make her first fourth round at a slam. While that performance showed off Osaka’s lethal game and athleticism, it also showed her lack of experience and maturity.

One year later, Osaka found herself in a similar situation: she was playing in Arthur Ashe, up a set and a double break against the defending champion, Angelique Kerber. This time Osaka
demonstrated a newfound maturity by closing out the match with an impressive 6-3, 6-1 score. With that win, Osaka single handedly broke that bottom corner of the draw wide open.

In the second round, the Japanese continued to impress backing up her big win over Kerber with a three set win over Allertova of the Czech Republic. Her next opponent will be the qualifier and former quarterfinalist here, Kaia Kanepi who is as dangerous as they come. With the raw talent and athleticism that the Japanese phenom has, she is due to make her first second-week appearance of a slam.

 

 

Jennifer Brady

The US Open draw includes 23 American women, that’s the most of any country: Russia coming in second with 11 players, and both the Czech Republic and Germany tied for third with 9 players. That means that for the American women it can be easy to go under the radar with the likes of Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe stealing most of the spotlight. The twenty-two year old American, Jennifer Brady has done exactly that by quietly finding herself in the third round of her first US Open.

Brady has had a debut year at the slams, she qualified for her first slam at the Australian Open and impressed by making it to the last 16. With that result and improved ranking, Brady made her first main draw appearance at the French Open, Wimbledon and now the US Open. Brady is ranked 91 in the world but she is currently playing top tier tennis and it was apparent by her second round beatdown of the 23rd seed Strycova with a 6-1, 6-1 score.

She next faces the winner of the Romanian battle between Niculescu and Bogdan. Look for the American to steal the spotlight and continue to rack up the wins.


Other players to watch in this section

Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic the current world number 1 in doubles and ranked 37 in singles. She’s an experienced veteran, former top 10 player and her tricky lefty game can be dangerous.

Kaia Kanepi of Estonia is returning to grand slam tennis after making her way through the
qualifiers and is former quarterfinalist here in 2010. She has battled her way into the third round.

 

Bottom Half

 

 

Sloane Stephens

In the first half of 2016, Sloane was quietly gaining momentum by winning three tournaments on two different surfaces, and she looked ready for a big breakthrough. Unfortunately, it was at the Rio Olympics where she played her last match of the season after she was sidelined due a foot injury that later required surgery. After 11 months away from competition, Sloane began her comeback at Wimbledon, but it wasn’t until the North American hard court swing where the then 957th ranked Sloane began posting significant results. Stephens roared her way back to the top 100 in the rankings after two semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati –posting impressive wins over Kerber, Makarova, and two pairs of wins against both Safarova and Kvitova.

Sloane opened up her US Open campaign with a clean 7-5, 6-1 win over a tricky opponent in
the 2015 finalist, Roberta Vinci. In the second round, Stephens continued her great form by
upsetting the 11th seed Cibulkova with a gritty three set win. The American has to be feeling
good about her chances of making a deep run in New York now that two of the top seeds in her section of the draw have been dismissed; the 7th seed Konta, and the 2nd seed Halep both lost their opening rounds. If Stephens can remain focused, continues to use her athleticism and lethal forehand, she might just find herself in the second week, where anything can happen.

 

 

Maria Sharapova

The 2006 US Open champion is making her return to grand slam tennis after a 15-month doping suspension. Because of Sharapova’s ranking of 146, the controversial Russian would have needed to play qualifiers, or depend on a wildcard for a spot in the main draw. Despite the chance of controversy, the USTA decided to grant Sharapova a wildcard. The possibility of controversy quickly turned into excitement after the draw was unveiled and Sharapova was set to face the 2nd seed, and one of the tournament favorites, Simona Halep in the opening round.

When the schedule came out, the hype surrounding this mouth-watering first round encounter grew as it was scheduled to take place on the opening night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. In front of a packed stadium, and under the lights, it was Sharapova who prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in one of the most memorable first round matches at a slam.

While there were uncertainties surrounding Sharapova’s lack of match play, it was her ferocious game and her determination that impressed all. In the second round, Timea Babos of Hungary looked to take advantage of Sharapova’s first round hangover but the Russian escaped with a three set win. If the Russian continues to strike the ball the way she did against an in form Halep and fights like she did against Babos, it might be enough to make a semifinal appearance.

 

Other unseeded players to watch in this section

Ekaterina Makarova of Russia won the warm up tournament in DC and has upset the 5th seed
Wozniacki in the second round. Makarova is a former semifinalist here and her lefty game can be dangerous when she’s confident.

Ashleigh Barty of Australia has been on fire this summer and it took top talent to dismiss her
from Cincinnati and Toronto. Barty is crafty and deceivingly powerful which is perfect for the fast courts in New York. She’s in the third round where she is set to meet Sloane Stephens.

 

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