All eyes will be on Serena Williams' pursuit of a calendar-year Grand Slam at the U.S. Open, which was also the stage for the first of her 21 Grand Slam titles, when she was 17. Who will break out this time? Geoff Macdonald, the women's tennis coach at Vanderbilt, analyzes which players have made strong impressions during the summer hardcourt season.
Bencic, an 18-year-old from Switzerland, won the Rogers Cup in Toronto this month by beating Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki, Ana Ivanovic, Serena Williams and Simona Halep and became the youngest player in the top 15. Coached by her father, Ivan, Bencic also receives advice from a fellow Swiss player, Martina Hingis, and Melanie Molitor, Hingis' mother and coach. Bencic pulled out of her round of 16 match at the Western & Southern Open near Cincinnati this month because of an arm injury, but it is not expected to slow her at the U.S. Open. She reached the quarterfinals of last year's Open, her best result in a major in her young career. Bencic wins with superior court vision, an uncanny sense of tactics and exceptional ball control. Her accuracy and feel for the ball are reminiscent of Hingis', and her astonishing level of play in recent weeks signals the imminent arrival of a star.
A 20-year-old Ukrainian, Svitolina reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal this year at Roland Garros, and she has continued to climb in the rankings after a superb showing on the North American hardcourt circuit. After reaching the semifinals in Stanford, California, Svitolina won four matches at the Cincinnati event, including a three-set victory over Lucie Safarova in the quarterfinals, before losing to the eventual champion, Serena Williams. Svitolina serves with accuracy and authority and can take over a point with punishing groundstrokes on both wings. She can play aggressive first-strike tennis, but she is versatile enough to neutralize and defend against more powerful ball strikers. Now ranked 17th, Svitolina has ascended with a rock-solid backcourt game, a fine serve and the ability to keep a cool head when the match is on the line.
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
Last month, Schmiedlova, a 20-year-old from Slovakia, earned her second WTA singles title of the year, winning the clay-court event in Bucharest, Romania. She battled through the qualifying rounds at the Cincinnati event and reached the quarterfinals. Her efforts vaulted her to No. 32 in the rankings, and she is seeded at a Grand Slam event for the first time. Schmiedlova covers the court with speed and athleticism, forcing her opponent to hit another ball with her improbable recoveries. She bases her game around heavy, consistent groundstrokes, especially her two-handed crosscourtÂ backhand, which is her go-to shot on big points. She is rapidly gaining confidence and is a threat to topple a higher seed or two.
Karlovic, who is from Croatia, reached a major milestone this month when he hit his 10,000th ace during a victory over Milos Raonic in Montreal. Like John Isner, the 6-foot-11 Karlovic serves from a great height and puts enormous pressure on any opponent. Resurgent at 36, Karlovic has improved his net play, his return of serve and his agility to remain a threat, despite being the oldest seeded player, at No. 21. With his career winding down, Karlovic is playing with a sense of urgency. At Wimbledon, he reached the round of 16, where he lost in four close sets to Andy Murray. With his ability to hold serve and his improved all-around play, Karlovic, a possible fourth-round opponent for Roger Federer, can make the match about a few pivotal points.
A 22-year-old right-hander born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sock has stormed up the rankings with his unbridled, high rpm style. His kick serve and his forehand leap off the court like Rafael Nadal's. Sock reached the round of 16 at the French Open this year, surprising many observers by beating Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and Borna Coric before losing in four sets to Nadal. The brash Sock can lose his temper, but he could also ride a wave of support in New York from a crowd hungry for an American man to succeed. This summer on hardcourts, Sock has played brilliantly at times, scoring victories over Dimitrov in Montreal and Richard Gasquet in Washington. But he is still learning how to play well consistently against top players and has fifth-seeded Stan Wawrinka in his quarter of the draw. If he contains his frustration and uses his serve and his forehand as weapons, Sock, seeded 28th, is a threat to make a run.
Dolgopolov, nicknamed the Dog, plays the most original brand of tennis on the ATP Tour. With his quick windup serve and his ability to slap winners off both wings, Dolgopolov has the verve and the audacity of a true shot maker. A Ukrainian ranked 39th, he made it through qualifying at the Cincinnati event and went on a tear before narrowly losing to Novak Djokovic in an entertaining semifinal. Dolgopolov, 26, has the best backhand drop shot in the game, a slashing but deft touch shot that lands and jumps sideways with extreme side spin. He is a master at keeping his opponent guessing. In his quarterfinal victory over sixth-ranked Tomas Berdych at the Cincinnati tournament, Dolgopolov neutralized Berdych's serve and confounded him with a stream of unpredictable backcourt winners. Dolgopolov, who is unseeded, has the game to play with anyone and poses a real threat to the seeded players.
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