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Osaka, Ash, Pliskova or Serena; no clear favourite for US Open
THE rise and fall of women's tennis players continue, and this has resulted in no player being a firm favourite for the United States Open at Flushing Meadows in New York.
After American icon Serena Williams bounced back from her 2011 defeat by Australia's Samantha Stosur in the 2011 final with a hat-trick of title victories in the following three years, no one player has dominated the women's game. Her 23 Grand Slam victories is a sure endorsement of her greatness.
So while sponsors enjoyed marketing mileage with Flavia Pennetta (2015), Rolex Testimonees Angelique Kerber (2016) and Sloane Stephens (2017), and Naomi Osaka (2018) emerging as subsequent winners, the unpredictability of outcomes at the events also ignited fresh interest among fans.
Of the list, Osaka who has had a sweet-sour run after her 6-2, 6-4 demolition of Serena last year, with the Australian Open triumph and early exits in the subsequent two Majors (French Open and Wimbledon), she seems to have found her feet (and mind) for the oncoming challenge in New York. Back as world No. 1 now, the 21-year-old has some wind at her back and is focused on defending her prestigious title at the US Open.
No doubt, she slumped to a 6-3, 6-4 defeat against Serena Williams at the recent Montreal Masters, but she will take more than consolation from her victories over two fancied opponents, Ashleigh Barty and Karolina Pliskova. As much as her successes have vaulted her into strong reckoning, Osaka has also admitted to struggling with the pressure that comes with being in the spotlight. She said: "I can honestly reflect and say I probably haven't had fun playing since Australia", tweeting that the past few months have been some of the worst of her life.
However, the top seed added: "I'm finally coming to terms with that while relearning that fun feeling."
Barty, has had a good run this year, winning the Miami Open and the French Open, and she will be banking on her consistent form and her relishing of hard court surfaces to propel her to another Grand Slam triumph. The 23-year-old Aussie has been on quite a run. Barty rocketed up the rankings in 2017, which saw her begin the year at No. 271 and finish it at No. 17.
Then, after a consistent campaign in 2018 spent hovering around that 17th spot, an impressive run of success this season - which included back-to-back victories in the French Open followed by the Birmingham Classic - brought her up to No. 1, before Osaka took over.
She's been hailed as a great role model in the game and the media enjoys her press conferences because of her injection of refreshingly honest assessments and a little humour.
One teenager has thrown herself into the fight, and Cori "Coco" Gauff, only 15, has received rave reports after her defeat of Venus Williams at Wimbledon. She is a wild card entry for the US event.
At the other extreme is battle-hardened Serena, 22 years older than Cori and now world No. 8, who should be eyeing revenge after her shock defeat at last year's US Open final. But it hinges on Serena's physical condition as back spasms forced her to concede her WTA final in Toronto after just four games to Canadian Bianca Andreescu. She also withdrew from last week's Cincinnati event to rest for the US Open.
Others to watch are Pliskova, of Czechoslovakia, Romania's Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands (the Cincinnati Masters winner this month) and the precocious Andreescu who has a strong relationship with Halep because of her Romanian descent.