A certain former champ won't be in Flushing Meadow, but Madison Keys and everyone else will—and more than a few of them have the chance to win
BEFORE JUNE'S French Open, Chris Evert jokingly suggested that the women's contender list was "any of the 32 seeded players." Naturally, the title was won by Jelena Ostapenko, a 20-year-old Latvian ranked 47th and unseeded. At Wimbledon, Garbiñe Muguruza, who hadn't won an event of any size in more than a year, took the title.
Some of the chaos is attributable to the absence of Serena Williams, due to have her first baby any day now. But there are other factors that have nothing to do with her. The 2006 U.S. Open champ, Maria Sharapova, who returned from a 15-month doping ban in April, injured her thigh and then her arm after coming back; she arrives in New York having played just five matches since 2015. Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka, a two-time major winner who is particularly dangerous on hard courts, will miss the Open on account of a custody battle with her son's father. The defending champ, Angelique Kerber, has spent 2017 in tennis's sub-zero fridge, winning (sub) zero titles so far. She lost her No. 1 ranking in July.
Who does that leave? Start with Madison Keys, a 22-year-old basher from the Quad Cities who won the Stanford tune-up event, betraying no ill effects of multiple recent wrist surgeries. Keys (left) will try to become the first American woman since 1998 not named Williams to win the Open. (That player was Lindsay Davenport, Keys's coach.) Top seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic reached the final last year and—at least until Serena returns from maternity leave—hits the hardest serve in the women's game. Simona Halep of Romania, age 25, does everything well, except close out close matches. When she develops that skill, she'll win her first major.
Venus Williams, who has reached the finals of two majors this season, remains a contender, 20—yes, 20—years since her smashing U.S. Open debut.
Then, there's Muguruza, Ostapenko and, you know, the rest of the players in the draw. The salon can—and does—argue about what this gapingly open field says about the women's game. Does it speak to weakness or strength, shallowness or depth? Some fans like predictable excellence. Others prefer any-given-Sunday parity. These days in tennis, you get both.