After months of doubts and speculation, the US Open is finally taking place. The organizers of the tournament and the USTA deserve huge plaudits for making the seemingly impossible happen, despite the hardcourt Slam looking doomed at one point due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both sections of the draw this year will be without their 2019 champions. Bianca Andreescu and Rafael Nadal have withdrawn due to injury and COVID-19 fears respectively, consequently weakening the field a little.
The women's tournament will also be missing a few other big names including Simona Halep, Ash Barty, Elina Svitolina, Belinda Bencic, Jelena Ostapenko, 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and 2011 champion Sam Stosur. But despite the withdrawals, the tournament still has its fair share of star players - which is commendable given the circumstances.
Six-time champion and home favorite Serena Williams will take on the young talents Naomi Osaka, Sofia Kenin, Aryna Sabalenka, Madison Keys and Coco Gauff in her desperate bid for a record 24th Grand Slam crown. The tournament also has one other big attraction: it would mark the return of three-time former champion and tennis' 'Super Mom' Kim Clijsters to Grand Slam tennis.
On that note, let's dive into the women's singles draw at the 2020 US Open and try and determine the likely winners.
Top half: Naomi Osaka leads the way alongside Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova
Top Seeds:  Karolina Pliskova,  Naomi Osaka,  Petra Kvitova,  Petra Martic
Expected semifinal: Karolina Pliskova vs Naomi Osaka
Player to watch out for: Marketa Vondrousova
Analysis: Top seed Karolina Pliskova is on the hunt for her maiden Grand Slam title. And the US Open should ideally be her best opportunity to realize that dream considering she the final here in 2016.
The Czech seems to have gotten exactly the kind of quarter she would have wished for. Expected to breeze through her first two matches, the World No. 3's biggest obstacle on the way to the semifinals should come in the Round of 16 - against three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber.
Kerber had defeated Pliskova in the final to win the 2016 US Open, but hasn't been able to back up her success in the Big Apple. She has won only two matches in the three years since, falling in the opening round twice.
The German has a tricky path in the early rounds if she is to even reach the second week. She plays Ajla Tomljanovic in her opening match and probably 13th seeded American Alison Riske in the third round, both of which could be potential banana peels.
The second section of the top half looks pretty open with Kateryna Bondarenko being the only player to have previously reached a US Open quarterfinal - and that was way back in 2009. Eighth seed Petra Martic would have a good opportunity to better her Round of 16 result from last year and reach a second career Slam quarterfinal. However, the favorite to come out of this section should be 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova.
Vondrousova reached the Round of 16 at the US Open back in 2018. An injury-hit spell post her dream run at Roland Garros has caused her to go winless in the two Slams she has played since, but she would be hoping to arrest the slide in New York.
The third section of the top half is led by 2018 champion and fourth seed Naomi Osaka, who would be the firm favorite to reach the semifinals ahead of sixth seed Petra Kvitova. That said, Osaka's draw has the potential to be quite tricky.
The Japanese could face a couple of unseeded but talented players in the early rounds, with Camila Giorgi, Daria Kasatkina and Coco Gauff all lurking around her. Gauff, still only 16 years old, would be hoping to set up a rematch of her 2019 US Open clash with Osaka at the same stage.
The teenager would, however, have to overcome No. 31 seed Anastasija Sevastova in her opening round and either Kasatkina or the 18-year-Marta Kostyuk in the second round before that.
The first round match between Danielle Collins and 14th seed Anett Kontaveit looks to be another tasty affair. The Estonian has a rather quiet path in the next two rounds before a potential Round of 16 clash with Naomi Osaka.
In the last quarter of the top half, Petra Kvitova faces a challenge from rising stars Dayana Yastremska and Elena Rybakina. Both Yastremska and Rybakina are having their career best seasons on tour, and are expected to battle it out in the third round for the chance to face Kvitova in the Round of 16.
If both Kvitova and Osaka come through, we could have a spicy encounter in the quarterfinal between the Australian Open 2019 finalist duo - who had tight three-setters in both their 2019 meetings.
Semifinal prediction: Karolina Pliskova vs Naomi Osaka
Bottom half: Serena looks for #24; Azarenka, Muguruza and others in the hunt
Top Seeds:  Sofia Kenin,  Serena Williams,  Aryna Sabalenka,  Madison Keys.
Expected semifinal: Serena Williams vs Sofia Kenin
Player to watch out for: Victoria Azarenka
Analysis: Serena Williams finds herself in the trickier half of the draw. She begins her campaign for a record 24th Grand Slam title against fellow American Kristie Ahn, after which she would possibly face Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig. A potential third round clash against 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens wouldn't be easy either.
Serena has had a forgettable year so far, to say the least. She has struggled to find form since her return after the COVID-19 break, and is expected to have a difficult opening week.
If the 38-year-old does come through the first week, she will probably face her conqueror this week Maria Sakkari or the teenage sensation Amanda Anisimova in the Round of 16. Given her vast experience, Serena should be expected to reach the quarterfinals - where she is slated to face seventh seed Madison Keys or two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza.
Madison Keys on her part would need to be wary of an upset should Zhang Shuai reach the third round. The American has lost her previous two meetings against her Chinese competitor, and currently trails in the head-to-head.
Keys' likely Round of 16 opponent Garbine Muguruza has had quite a resurgence in 2020, and would love to have a Grand Slam title to show for it. But she will likely have to go through Crotian Donna Vekic in a tough third round match, and might need a second career win over 2017 finalist Madison Keys to get a shot at Serena Williams in the quarterfinal.
This section also has the 'giant-killer' Alize Cornet, who would be hoping to live up to her moniker and cause some upsets in the early rounds.
But the trickiest section to predict is the one at the bottom of the draw. Sofia Kenin, who is the only Grand Slam champion so far this year, faces a hell of a task if she is to repeat her Australian Open feat.
The 21-year-old takes on 2009 semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer in her opening round match, and then would have either 2010 runner-up Vera Zvonareva or the the up-and-coming teenager Leylah Fernandez in the second round.
In the third round she could potentially face Ons Jabeur, who is in the form of her life and a very tricky opponent. Should Kenin survive that clash, Elise Mertens - coming on the back of her excellent week at the Western & Southern Open - would likely await her in the Round of 16.
Things are just as tricky for fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka, who has so far failed to live up to the expectations at the Slams. Sabalenka faces a possible second round clash against a rejuvenated Victoria Azarenka, in an early contender for the Match of the Tournament.
Azarenka is looking to make the Round of 16 at a Slam for the first time in three years, but would likely have to beat Veronika Kudermetova in Round 3. If the 2012 and 2013 finalist manages to do that, she could set up a Round of 16 clash with Jo Konta - in a rematch of their Western & Southern Open semifinal from this week.
The winner of the last quarter is very difficult to predict, given the large variety of players in contention. But purely based on form, the expected quarterfinal should be Elise Mertens vs Victoria Azarenka.
Semifinal prediction: Serena Williams vs Victoria Azarenka.
Prediction for the final
Serena Williams vs Karolina Pliskova
Serena WilliamsPublished 28 Aug 2020, 04:55 IST