NEW YORK: Serena Williams earns the nod as a favorite heading into the US Open by virtue of her Olympic and Wimbledon titles, but the field of contenders is wide open entering the year’s last Grand Slam event.
The Flushing Meadows fortnight begins on Monday with Williams having had her 19-match win streak halted at Cincinnati, in her final Open hardcourt tuneup, by Angelique Kerber, the German who ousted Venus Williams at the Olympics.
“I embrace being that,” Serena Williams said of the favorite’s role. “Like at Wimbledon I wasn’t the favorite and I was shocked. I actually got angry. So I don’t know if it’s better not to be a favorite or for me to be a favorite.”
The World No. 4, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, was a shock loser to Australian Samantha Stosur in last year’s US Open final, and is a favorite despite her 2008 triumph being her only US Open singles crown since 2002.
Instead, there’s quite a hefty title hunt including top seed and World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, the reigning Australian Open champion, and Poland’s World No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, the Wimbledon runner-up to Serena Williams.
Russian Maria Sharapova, who completed a career Grand Slam with her fourth major title at this year’s French Open, won the 2006 US Open and should contend as well.
In all, the past seven Grand Slam women’s singles crowns have gone to seven different players, a run that’s one shy of the Open Era record from the 2004 French Open through 2006 Australian Open and two shy of the all-time run of different winners from the 1937-1939 Australian Opens.
China’s ninth-ranked Li Na, who started the latest run with her landmark 2011 French Open triumph, is a contender again after a Cincinnati title and a runner-up effort in Montreal.
“After the French I didn’t do well on the tennis court,” Li said. “I’ve tried to stand up and be hungry again for the tennis. So now I think I it’s a very good beginning to start to try and fight again.
“I was happy I could win a title again. I missed the feeling.”
Li has replaced her husband as coach with Carlos Rodriguez, a former coach of Justine Henin.
“It’s working pretty good. He never gives me the pressure. He never says negative things,” Li said.
“It’s changing. Before I never got one point in the whole of America. This time I’ve got a lot of points so should be good start.”
Defending champion Stosur, ousted by Venus Williams in a Cincinnati quarter-final, is excited as she tries to win her first title since last year at Flushing Meadows by defending her first Grand Slam crown.
“I’m looking forward to going back there,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to be going into the tournament now I think with a little bit more confidence. I think it will be a little bit different. It’s something to look forward to.”
Venus Williams, an unseeded danger in the women’s field, is 8-1 in three-set matches this year and has fought Sjogren’s Syndrome, a rare auto-immune disorder, with medication and determination.
“The first few months were rough but I feel a lot better now. It’s a gradual process,” she said. “I’m learning every day. Some days you won’t feel your best but you can’t let it get to you. You can’t show it.
“For me it’s about proving to myself that I can conquer this. I don’t want anything to conquer me.”
That makes the US Open very much about seeing how she feels each day and making the best of what she has for each opponent as they come.
“It’s one match at a time. It’s dealing with the circumstances at that very moment,” she said. “That’s what I’m going to go into the Open thinking, not necessarily good form or bad form, but going into that one match and executing.”
And as for dark-horse contenders to stretch the different winners streak to eight, Kerber might give Venus Williams a run in that department after dispatching her at London and snuffing Serena’s win streak.
“I did beat both of them, and it’s a great feeling because they are both such great players and won so many Grand Slams and they’re still playing so well,” Kerber said.”