A U.S. Open runner-up last year, Justine Henin is my favorite to win the hardcourt major this time around, which would give her a second Grand Slam title in 2007.
Earlier this year Henin won the French Open. She missed the Australian Open while going through a divorce, and was upset in the Wimbledon semifinals by Marion Bartoli.
But Henin is not an overwhelming favorite, and this major is wide open. Henin is one of six players with a solid shot to take the title, the others being Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Ana Ivanovic. With the exception of Sharapova, all of these players are in the top half of the draw.
Let's take a look at Henin and the other top women to watch.
Belgian looks the best
Henin has had a solid year, winning six of 10 tournaments. Her confidence could very well have been shaken after the stunning loss to Bartoli in London, but she has rebounded nicely, winning the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Aug. 19 to restore any confidence that she might have lost.
Henin had inflammation in her right shoulder and considered withdrawing from that final, but she decided to play and beat Jelena Jankovic in straight sets. The Belgian appeared physically fine during the match, and having the week off before the U.S. Open can only work to her advantage.
If it is Henin and Sharapova in the final, the Belgian should come into that clash confident. She has beaten the Russian in three of their last four matches, all of which have come on hardcourts over the last two years.
A left thumb injury has sidelined her since Wimbledon, where she lost in the quarterfinals to Henin. The American doesn't want that to become a recurring theme as she also fell to the Belgian in the quarterfinals of the French Open, and if the seeds play to form in Flushing it will be eighth-seeded Serena vs. the top-seeded Henin in the quarters once again.
Serena has proven in the past she does not need a lot of preparation in order to win a major. She surprised just about everyone by winning the Australian Open after playing just 16 matches in 2006, and she did beat Henin in Miami in April. If she does face and beat Henin in the quarterfinals, her semifinal opponent could be sister Venus, or Jankovic, or Ivanovic.
Since Wimbledon Venus has only played two Federation Cup matches in mid July, and four matches at a WTA Tour event in San Diego early this month. Even though Venus has played little this summer, her coming off a title at Wimbledon will work in her favor in Flushing. Whenever a player wins a major there's a great boost of self confidence. Raising the championship trophy at a major has a carry-over effect.
Venus, who is seeded 12th, can shake off match rust pretty quickly. The game Venus was playing at the end of Wimbledon is a game good enough to win the U.S. Open. If she shows that Wimbledon form on the hardcourts she's an opponent no one will want to go up against, and she's certainly a top contender for the title. Her draw though could put her to the test in a succession of matches, potentially Ivanovic in the fourth round, Jankovic in the quarterfinals, either sister Serena or Henin in the semifinals, and Sharapova in the final.
The second-seeded Russian will be looking to win her second consecutive U.S. Open title and the third major of her career. In prevailing at Flushing last summer she did so in impressive fashion, capped off be a semifinal win over Amelie Mauresmo and a final triumph over Henin.
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The biggest question surrounding Sharapova is how well she will serve since for a number of months she's had an issue with her right shoulder. She won on hardcourts this summer at San Diego, but the following week pulled out of a tournament in Los Angeles before the semifinals with a lower leg injury and hasn't played since. But she says her leg will be fine for the U.S. Open.
Sharapova loves hardcourts. Last year she was off the charts as far as desire and drive to win the U.S. Open and I don't expect her to be any less hungry to take the title this fortnight. And with such a favorable draw, she has an excellent chance at making the final.
The 22-year-old rising star made a strong run at last year's U.S. Open, where as the No. 19 seed she made it to the semifinals before losing in three sets for Henin. Hardcourts are a great surface for the No. 3 seed.
Jankovic is very impressive. The only thing she is missing in her game is a big serve. Jankovic displays a lot of emotion on the court and that's good. She has the best backhand down the line in the game. It's lethal.
Also, her defensive skills are second to none. She's very quick around the court and has great anticipation. That combination makes it very tough for opponents to get balls past her. That's the thing that stands out most about her. She's a lot like the retired Kim Clijsters in that opponents just don't have much confidence they can get a ball past her. On defense, she can hit an offensive shot extremely well.
Jankovic just doesn't give up. She hits big when she needs to, but also seems to know when to pull back to stay in a point. She gets how to construct a point. There's a lot to love about her game. Her first real test shouldn't come until the quarterfinals where she could go up against Venus or Ivanovic.
Rafa Nadal made short work of his great rival Roger Federer to win the Italian Open, while Serena Williams took down Victoria Azarenka in the women's final.
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