US Open spotlights new faces of women’s game

The 2021 US Open will kick off on Monday, and for the first time in a good long while, it’ll do so without either Serena Williams or Venus Williams in the field. Both withdrew due to injuries, but women’s singles has so many stars or bourgeoning stars that there will be no problem filling the void they’re leaving. 

Who are the top contenders?

There’s Ashleigh Barty, who is trying to win her second straight Grand Slam title. No women’s tennis player has won more than one Grand Slam in a year since 2016, but Barty, who won Wimbledon, is in the perfect position to end that. There’s Naomi Osaka, who has stolen the spotlight with her public honesty and comes to the Open ready to defend her 2020 title (and could also win her second Grand Slam of the year). There’s Aryna Sabalenka, who is six feet tall and plays an aggressive style of tennis that’s both high risk and highly entertaining. And that’s just a short list. There’s Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari, Bianca Andreescu, Elina Svitolina, and more. 

Since Serena took a full year off in 2017 to recover from giving birth to her daughter Olympia, women’s tennis has become highly competitive. No one woman has taken control like Williams did for nearly a decade. In the past five years, Naomi Osaka is the only WTA player to win more than two Grand Slams (she’s won one per year since 2018). Simona Halep and Barty are the only players to win even two. 

While it can be fun when one player dominates, women’s tennis has been a continual surprise over the last five years. Any player can go on a run at any time and dominate, and any player can be shocked in an early round and exit. It’s always compelling, and this year’s US Open should be no different. 

US Open top seeds

MASON, OHIO - AUGUST 22: Ashleigh Barty of Australia celebrates match point against Jil Teichmann of Switzerland during the final of the Western & Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 22, 2021 in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Ashleigh Barty is coming into the US Open on a roll. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Ashleigh Barty (1) 

After struggling in the early part of the season, Barty has reasserted herself since an ankle injury forced her to retire from the French Open. She looked confident and self-assured at Wimbledon, where she won her second-ever Grand Slam title. Then, a month later, she went to the Olympics and lost her very first match in straight sets. She’s entering the final Grand Slam of the year on a high note, though. At the Western & Southern Open, the last tournament before the US Open, Barty won her fifth singles title of the year. Her best finish at the US Open came in 2019 when she made it to the Round of 16, but this year she looks more than capable of improving that significantly.

Aryna Sabalenka (2)

After a disappointing showing at the French Open, Sabalenka bounced back by making it all the way to the semifinals at Wimbledon. She’s had a few early exits this year, but those have been dwarfed by her progress. And the WTA rankings bear that out. On Aug. 23, Sabalenka moved up to No. 2 in the world for the very first time, moving Osaka down to No. 3. If she can focus on her winners and eliminate the high number of unforced errors she racks up due to her aggressive play, she could make it far. 

Naomi Osaka (3)

Osaka has had an important yet tough year. She’s brought much-needed attention to athlete mental health, but she hasn’t had much success on the court. It looked like it was going to be her year when she won the Australian Open, but the conversation she started about mental health led her to withdraw from Roland Garros and Wimbledon. She went to the Olympics, and even lit the torch to cap off the opening ceremony in Tokyo, but was beaten in straight sets in the Round of 16. She also lost early in the Western & Southern Open. However, Osaka is the reigning US Open champion. This is her chance to end the Grand Slam season on her own terms. 

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 19: Naomi Osaka of Japan waits for the serve during the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 19, 2021 in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Naomi Osaka could win her second Grand Slam of the year at the US Open. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Karolina Pliskova (4)

Pliskova has looked great in 2021, especially in the second half. After a shocking Round 2 exit at the French Open, she had a few more stumbles before making it all the way to the finals at Wimbledon for the very first time. She played her way into the finals at the Canadian Open, then at Western & Southern got shocked in the semifinals, losing to a 76th ranked player. That’s probably not how Pliskova wants to come into the US Open, but she’s had plenty of success to build on in 2021.

Elina Svitolina (5)

Svitolina, fresh off her wedding to fellow tennis player Gael Monfils, has been stuck in a rut lately. Starting with the French Open, she’s been bounced in the first or second round of every tournament she’s played in. Her warmup for the US Open is the Chicago Women’s Open, where she finally broke that streak by making it to the third round. 

Other competitors

Bianca Andreescu (6)

Andreescu hasn’t been able to recreate the magic that led to her first Grand Slam title at the 2019 US Open — partially due to injury — and 2021 in particular hasn’t been great. She hasn’t won a singles title all year, and didn’t make it past the first round at the French Open or Wimbledon. But she still has great potential. She remains in the WTA Top 10 and she’s still a threat

Coco Gauff (21)

It’s easy to forget sometimes that Gauff is just 17 years old. She’s barely old enough to see an R-rated movie without her parents. Her 2019 breakout was exciting, but since then she’s done exactly what she should be doing: playing a lot and improving her game. That’s what makes it exciting to see her take the court at Grand Slams. Sometimes you get a glimpse at the full player she’ll hopefully become, but the rest of the time you get to watch a young tennis player actually improve her game in front of your eyes.

Betting odds

Courtesy of Bet MGM and Yahoo Sportsbook, here are the odds for the top five seeds.

  1. Ash Barty +350

  2. Aryna Sabalenka +1400

  3. Naomi Osaka +550

  4. Karolina Pliskova +1800

  5. Elina Svitolina +3300