Picking the winner of the women’s event at the US Open effectively comes down to one conundrum. Will Serena Williams be able to keep her cool or will she lose it once again and therefore miss out on the title?
On paper, this is Serena’s to lose. Paddy Power make her one of the biggest favourites in recent memory, at even money, with second favourite Maria Sharapova at 13-2, an enormous gap in tennis betting terms. Serena showed at Wimbledon and especially in the Olympics that when she is fit and even more importantly, when she is fully motivated (as she has been for several years now), she is virtually unbeatable.
I say virtually for while Serena is definitely the best player in the world, whatever the rankings say at the moment, the US Open has produced two horror shows in the last three years – first when she threatened to shove a ball down a lineswoman’s throat and then last year when she threw a fit when a call of hindrance went against her.
Kim Clijsters and Sam Stosur were the beneficiaries on those occasions as they won the titles and it was fascinating to read in the New York Times this week that Serena feels that things tend to go wrong here, for some reason. That tells everyone that it’s in her head and whether she can cut out whatever stress is causing it is a tough one to call.
Sharapova has won in New York before and has enjoyed perhaps the most consistent 18 months of her career. World No 1 Victoria Azarenka is third favourite at 7-1 and has got almost no credit for actually playing pretty well in recent months. A semi-finalist at Wimbledon and the Olympics, where she got hammered by Serena, she is in good form, has the confidence of a grand slam title under her belt and knows she can do it.
Li Na and Petra Kvitova (each 10-1) have both won grand slam titles but both are in the stacked top half – with Azarenka, defending champion Sam Stosur (25-1) and Sharapova. But all of them will be delighted to be in the other half to Serena, who really only has Agnieszka Radwanksa (25-1) and Angelique Kerber (16-1) to worry about. Venus Williams is also in the bottom half but it’s asking an awful lot for her to threaten the final when she is still figuring out how to deal with Sjogren’s syndrome, even if recent weeks have been very positive.
Kvitova struggles with her asthma in the humidity of New York and Li Na has never really done it here. Radwanksa is not playing that well after her run to the Wimbledon final and Kerber is still an outsider. I would not be surprised to see Stosur come through the top half, even though she has had an up and down season and 25-1 may prove to be a good value bet.
But this time perhaps Serena will indeed keep her cool and justify those short odds. If she blows up again, it will doubtless make entertaining viewing and open the door for another surprise champion.