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The 2022 US Open: 5 Unseeded Women to Watch

There are plenty of dangers lurking around the early stages of the women’s tournament, including muliple unseeded players who have previously won Grand Slam titles.

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September 10, 2020 - Serena Williams in action against Victoria Azarenka during a women's singles match at the 2020 US Open. (Photo by Simon Bruty/USTA)

By Russell Miller

The US Open is fast approaching, with the women’s singles draw coming out on Thursday. Following big wins for Simona Halep and Caroline Garcia of late, it is hard to predict who will triumph in the Big Apple. 

While many of the big hitters can’t face off until the third round, there are several stellar names who the big seeds will want to avoid early in the tournament.

Naomi Osaka

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2022 has been a roller coaster of a year for Naomi Osaka. Since reaching the Miami Open final, the two-time US Open champion has struggled with injury problems and has a losing record since playing in Madrid back in late April. However, there is no doubt that a fully fit Osaka is one of the most fearsome opponents on a hard court and considering that she has not gone a calendar year without winning a Major since 2017, all eyes will be on where she lands in Thursday’s draw.

Bianca Andreescu

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Many people will be looking elsewhere for dangerous floaters in the draw, but Bianca Andreescu has shown glimpses of her Major winning form in 2022. After taking a break from tennis early in the season to protect her mental health, there was much concern about whether Andreescu would even return to tennis.

However, her results have been promising over the last few months and she certainly has the self-belief to back herself in matches against the very best players in the world.

Qinwen Zheng

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It comes as no surprise that Qinwen Zheng is not the most talked about teenager in women’s tennis, considering the breakthroughs of Emma Raducanu and Coco Gauff. However, the 19-year-old Chinese player has scored some exceptional wins this year over the likes of Simona Halep, Ons Jabeur and Bianca Andreescu. Zheng is currently at a career-high ranking of 40 and is projected to rise even further by the end of the season. The big names will be hoping to avoid Zheng early in the tournament, whose form on tour is accelerating at a rapid rate.

Angelique Kerber

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Angelique Kerber may be approaching the twilight of her career, but the German remains a huge threat on a hard court. The 2016 US Open champion has not played a match during the US Open build-up, but her leftiness can still cause havoc to anyone. The last time Kerber was unseeded at a Grand Slam was in New York back in 2011, where she reached the semi-finals. If that statistic is anything to go by, the 3-time Major champion will be one to watch out for at this year’s event.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since the publication of this article Kerber has announced her withdrawal from the tournament due to pregnancy.

Serena Williams

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This year’s US Open’s headlines will be dominated by one player in particular: Serena Williams. The American has hinted that the tournament will be the very last of her career and may have one last magical fortnight left in her. Despite a slightly concerning performance in Cincinnati where an ailing Williams lost handily to Emma Raducanu, the American will be ramped up by a boisterous New York crowd and should benefit from having a few matches under her belt. Once again, very few players will want to see the name S. Williams next to theirs in the US Open draw.

Sloane Stephens

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Sloane Stephens is one of the five unseeded players who have triumphed before at the US Open. 2022 has been another topsy turvy year for the American, with a poor record besides her Guadalajara victory and Roland Garros quarter-final showing. Considering the shock she provided in 2017, where she won the US Open after recovering from foot surgery, Stephens will prove a tricky customer in the early stages in the final Slam of the season.

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Maria Sakkari Appoints Witt As Coach For American Swing

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Maria Sakkari - WTA Washington 2023 (foto Twitter @mubadalacitidc)

Maria Sakkari has enlisted the help of Jessica Pegula’s former long-time coach in a bid to regain her form on the Tour. 

Greek media has confirmed that the world No.9 has begun a partnership with David Witt, who has also previously coached Venus Williams. Witt had worked with Pegula since 2019 before the tennis star decided to end their collaboration earlier this year. During their time together he oversaw the American win two WTA 1000 events, reached the quarter-final of a grand Slam on six occasions and peaked at a ranking high of No.3. 

Sakkari’s appointment comes after she ended her six-year working relationship with Tom Hill. Highlights of their partnership include winning two Tour titles, reaching a Grand Slam semi-final twice and spending more than two years in the top 10. 

“Tom, thank you for all the emotions, the support on and off the court, and the belief you had in me since day one,” Sakkari wrote on Instagram last month. “We grew together, and you helped me realize that everything is possible.

“Not only did you make me a better tennis player, but you also made me a better person. Thank you for always wanting the best for me and for always having my back! Good luck on the next chapter in your career.”

Sakkari is looking to get back on track after what has been a disappointing start to 2024. She had won just two matches in her first four singles tournaments played and is yet to face an opponent ranked in the world’s top 20. However, she faired better at the United Cup, where she won three matches in the team event, including victories over Lelylah Fernandez and Angelique Kerber. 

It is understood that Sakkari will be working with Witt at both Indian Wells and Miami. If their partnership is successful, it could be extended further into the clay swing. The other members of her team will remain in the same roles. 

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Karolina Pliskova Finding Her Footing With The Help Of New Coach Krajan

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Karolina Pliskova (CZE) playing against Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) in the semi-final of the Ladies' Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 10 Thursday 08/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

Karolina Pliskova’s resurgence on the Tour comes at a time when she has formed a new partnership with a well-known coach. 

After her first round loss at the Australian Open to Elena Rybakina, the Czech won nine consecutive matches on the Tour. In Romania, she claimed her 17th WTA title at the Winners Open before reaching the semi-finals of a WTA 1000 event in Doha. However, she was unable to play her semi-final clash against Iga Swiatek due to a lower back injury. During this period she has improved her ranking from 77th to 36th. 

Pliskova began the season without a coach at her side but is now working with Croatia’s Zeljko Krajan. A partnership she believes is showing promising signs already. 

“Personality-wise, I think he’s kind of similar to me,” Pliskova told WTA Insider. “Not really high or low. Relaxed and very like calm. 
“We didn’t really plan yet anything because now the schedule was difficult. I might be in qualifying in Indian Wells. Maybe I enter San Diego. So I don’t really know what’s gonna be. I’m just living day by day at the moment.” 

Krajan has worked with a series of players on both the WTA and ATP Tour’s. He guided Dinara Safina to three Grand Slam finals between 2008 and 2010. He has also worked with Borna Coric, Laura Robson, Marcos Baghdatis, Jelena Jankovic and Dominika cibulkova.

Pliskova, who is a former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, has endured a roller-coaster journey on the Tour in recent months with mixed results. Last season she failed to win back-to-back matches at 11 consecutive tournaments. 

So how has she managed to regain her form on the Tour?

“Motivation was never really a problem for me,” Pliskova said. “If I go on the court no matter how bad or good I feel, I always want to win. I always want to compete. 
“But my game is based on confidence and I need to feel that. Even if I’m not playing well or winning many matches, I just need to find that confidence in that moment or in that game because it’s just so risky. My shots are so flat, so I go for mostly lines. If something is not going well or you start to doubt, then of course you miss a little bit. Everything is about this.”

Unseeded at this week’s Dubai Tennis Championships, Pliskova beat China’s Zhang Shuai in the first round. She will next play Ashlyn Krueger in the second round on Tuesday.

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Elena Rybakina Eases Past Kasatkina To Win Abu Dhabi Open

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Elena Rybakina has captured her second title of the season after beating an erratic Daria Kasatkina in straight sets at the Abu Dhabi Open. 

The world No.5 stormed to a 6-1, 6-4, win over the Russian in just over an hour. It is the third time in Rybakina’s career that she has beaten Kasatkina on the Tour and she now leads their head-to-head 3-2. The triumph comes a month after she won the Brisbane International, which is also a WTA 500 event. 

Rybakina’s latest match saw her capitalise on her opponent’s costly mistakes. Kasatkina struggled with her serve throughout the majority of the final and only managed to hold twice in eight attempts. Opening the door for the former Wimbledon champion who hit 17 winners against 12 unforced errors en route to victory. 

“I want to thank the fans who came this week,” said the new champion. “It has been an amazing atmosphere, especially to see flags from Kazakhstan. It means a lot, thank you so much.”

A one-sided 25-minute opening set saw Rybakina claim four straight games to clinch an early lead. During to the opener, Kasatkina only managed to win 26% of her service points. It was the fourth time in the tournament that the Kazakh had won a set by conceding two or fewer games. 

Fortunately for world No.14 Kasatkina and the crowd, there was more of a battle in the second frame. Twice in a row Rybakina worked her way to a break advantage before losing it in the following game. Then at 4-4, she dealt the decisive blow by hitting a clean forehand winner to break yet against and this time had a chance to serve for the title. With the rain starting to fall, she converted her first championship point with the help of another error from across the net. 

The defeat for Kasatkina comes a day after she came through a marathon three-hour semi-final match before criticising the WTA over their tournament scheduling. She is currently set to play in the Qatar Open with her opening match taking place tomorrow. It is the sixth time in a row she has been beaten by a top-five player on the Tour. 

“Congratulations to Elena, you’ve had a great week,” she said.
“Thanks to my team who has always been next to me. I am really proud of the job we’ve done and how we are doing. Thanks for always believing in me.”

Rybakina also referred to the demanding calendar during the trophy presentation. 

“Tough week (for Kasatkina), especially the last matches. Tomorrow there is already a match in Doha but hopefully, we will both recover and do well there. Maybe also play (against each other) in the final there,” she said. 

Unlike Kasatkina, Rybakina has a first round bye in Doha. She has now won seven WTA trophies so far in her career. 

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