The diminished draw could be Serena's last, best chance to win another major but there will be plenty of top-tier competition. The U.S. Open begins Monday, Aug. 31.
Like the companion Men’s draw at this year’s U.S. Open, the Women’s tournament looks totally up for grabs. Although there are currently thirteen different former Grand Slam Champions entered in the event, how many of them will actually compete is a mystery, as is what kind of shape and form they will be in coming in. Top ranked Ash Barty, #5 Elina Svitolina and #7 Kiki Bertens have opted out, and #2 ranked Simona Halep, although entered, has indicated that she really hasn’t made up her mind about showing up. But defending champion Bianca Andreescu, #3 Karolina Pliskova, #4 Sofi Kenin, and #9 Serena Williams will be there all looking to raise the championship trophy. Also expected to play are 2018 Champion Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Gabby Muguruza, Angie Kerber, Sloane Stephens, Vika Azarenka, and Venus Williams.
Bertens pulled out after the Prime Minister of The Netherlands told her she would have to quarantine for two weeks after returning from America, and that would put a crimp in her plans to play Rome and Roland Garros. But American favorites Amanda Anisimova, Maddie Keys, Alison Riske, Coco Gauf and Caty McNally will be in New York, and the tournament welcomes back 21-year old Cici Bellis after too many surgeries have left a visible cut on the inside of her right forearm stretching from her elbow down to her wrist. Former Champion 37-year-old Kim Clijsters has entered the event after having retired twice to have three children, but she pulled an abdominal muscle playing World Team Tennis in West Virginia two weeks ago, and her form will be suspect.
One unknown player who I’d watch is 23-year-old Frenchwoman Fiona Ferro, who won’t win the tournament but will provide excitement and a new personality to follow. She hits a sledge-hammer forehand and is as athletic as anyone on the WTA Tour.
Since the tournament will be played sans spectators, the Open has been forced to reduce prize money, but there’s still plenty of coin for the players to compete for. Interestingly, the powers that be have actually increased first round prize money from $58,000 to $61,000, which should please the players greatly after having almost six months of little or no income. Win a match? Smile and take home $100,000.
The USTA has also put aside $6,600,000 in additional funds to compensate those who would normally have played the qualies but won’t this year, due to their cancellation. This money also should compensate those who would have normally played doubles, but won’t be in this year’s draws because of their reduced size. Still, the champion will take home $3 Million, with the runner-ups taking home half of that. For perspective, in 1979 when John McEnroe and Tracy Austin lofted their championship trophies high, they walked away with $39,000 apiece—just enough to cover the $35,000 price tag on a new Mercedes-Benz 450SL Roadster.
What level of play should we expect? It’s hard to predict, but from the little professional tennis that I have seen over the past two weeks, I’d expect it to be spotty. Most of the players are not match tough, some are not in competitive shape, and others are just rusty. But that won’t stop the competition from being ferocious. I’d expect aging Serena Williams to make a run, but I think she’s so past her prime that even with a thin field the chances that she wins this tournament are not great. I’d go with defending champion Bianca Andreescu, as I think she’s the best player in the world today. But frankly, to me all bets are off.