Another former winner, Justine Henin, is sitting out the tournament as well with injuries after making her comeback to the sport earlier this year. But despite the lack of two former champions, there is an eager and all-too-talented field ready to pounce if Clijsters can’t navigate her way to the championship match and claim her defense. Top seed Caroline Wozniacki is hungry for her first Grand Slam title after reaching the finals here last year against Clijsters. #3 seed Venus Williams, a decade removed from her back-to-back victories in Queens, would love nothing more than to find her old form and capture her eighth career Slam. Only two other former champions aside from Venus and Clijsters, though, will be in attendance at this year’s U.S. Open — Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004 winner) and Maria Sharapova (2006) — and both lay just outside the top ten seedings at #11 and #14 respectively.
That goes without mentioning the other various former winners of other Grand Slam titles, the other up-and coming women on the WTA Tour, those that have been on the cusp of greatness and those looking for lightning in a bottle one last time. So let’s dive right in and get down to analyzing each of the 32 women’s seeds for this year’s U.S Open, as released by the USTA on Tuesday. (All odds from sportsbook.com)
THE TOP FIVE SEEDS
1. Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) – The 20-year-old Dane has been nothing short of phenomenal as of late, winning in Montreal in a tournament where she lost only one set (to Flavia Pennetta in the third round) in five matches. She lost the 7-5 6-3 decision to Clijsters last hear in the final in a tournament where she was much less on fire (quarters in Cincinnati her best result on hard courts in 2009 prior to U.S. Open), so expect Wozniacki to be right there in the hunt in the second week. She earned the top seed mainly for three reasons, though — her win in Canada, sure, but also last year’s success here as well as the absence of Serena. Does she leapfrog Clijsters if Williams is here to take the top spot? She may have the most recent victory on the WTA Tour, but Wozniacki’s history in the Grand Slams has yet to blossom. ODDS OF VICTORY: 8/1
2. Kim Clijsters (Belgium) – The defending champ is back after her inspirational run last season. Having taken away two years from the sport — originally retiring due to injuries in 2007 but making her comeback after marriage and motherhood had settled in and the competitive fire returned in 2009 — she returned with a vengeance, reaching the quarterfinals in her first tournament back in Cincinnati and the third round in Toronto in her only competitive play since leaving the sport. But in her first trip to Flushing Meadows since winning the whole thing in 2005, Clijsters dominated the field throughout and Wozniacki in the final to claim her second U.S. Open title in as many tries. She won the tournament this year in Cincinnati and reached the quarterfinals in Montreal, so her form is even higher than it was before the Open last year. A third Grand Slam title could very well be in her future in a few weeks’ time. ODDS OF VICTORY: 3/1
3. Venus Williams (U.S.) — The elder Williams sister won this tournament in 2000 and 2001 and returned to the final in 2002, where she was runner-up to her sister for the third of four straight Grand Slam tournaments. Venus, though, hasn’t returned to even the semifinals in Flushing Meadows since 2007, she hasn’t reached a Grand Slam final in over a year (2009 Wimbledon) and she just hit the big three-oh this summer. Age could be a factor, but Venus knows how to win here despite having last achieved the end result nine years ago. Her sister isn’t here this time, so she has the motivation to uphold the Williams name in the last Grand Slam of 2010. With Serena out she also won’t be defending her doubles crown, which should help her reserve some of her energy into the second week and prevent the fade-outs we’ve seen in Slams in recent years. There are challengers in the seedings below her who are probably more dangerous, but discount Venus at your own peril. ODDS OF VICTORY: 8/1
Can Jankovic or Stosur, seen here in the semifinals at this year's French Open, reach the same level or beyond in Flushing Meadows?
4. Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) — The former world number-one has returned to the form that saw her reach three of the four Grand Slam semifinals, including a losing effort against Serena Williams in the 2008 U.S. Open final. After 2009 served up a healthy dose of reality, Jankovic came back fitter in 2010 and recommitted to contention. The 25-year-old Serb knows what it takes to navigate the minefield of the U.S. Open draw in the heat of New York’s summer, and her win earlier this year at Indian Wells shows that she can still bring her A-game to the hard courts. She reached the Rome final and went as far as the semifinals at Roland Garros in Paris, but her Wimbledon performance — where she was forced to withdraw while down 6-1 3-0 against Russia’s Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round with a nagging back injury — could raise some red flags about her true fitness ahead of the Open. Her failure to defend her title in Cincinnati and her second-round exit in Montreal are more signs that this is probably not the year for Jankovic to claim her first Grand Slam title. ODDS OF VICTORY: 25/1
5. Samantha Stosur (Australia) — The 26-year-old Australian hopeful played in her first Grand Slam final this season, losing to Francesca Schiavone in the French Open championship 6-4 7-6(2). But Stosur, one of the hardest hitters on the women’s tour and a burgeoning hopeful to step in the Aussie shoes vacated by women like Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong, has never been past the second round at the U.S. Open in six tries. It is the site of her worst career record of any Grand Slam event, Stosur having gone just 2-6 in her history in Queens. New York has been unkind to the lady from Brisbane to this point, and it’s hard to imagine the tables turning this year. She’s likely to get beyond at least the second round for the first time ever… but even that isn’t a guarantee, after Stosur was upset in the opening round of Wimbledon in July after earning the #6 seed by qualifier Kaia Kanepi 6-4 6-4. Nothing is going to come easy for Stosur in her quest for an elusive Grand Slam title. ODDS OF VICTORY: 20/1
THE REST OF THE TOP 16 SEEDS
6. Francesca Schiavone (Italy) — The first Italian woman ever to win a Grand Slam final when she beat Stosur in May, Schiavone has been largely off the radar ever since that seeming breakthrough. The 30-year-old followed up her clay-court season with a first-round elimination at Wimbledon, though reaching the quarterfinals in Montreal put the Italian back on the radar. Schiavone plays an unconventional game according to today’s standards which always has the potential to throw off an opponent. Not the hardest hitter, Schiavone must depend on outsmarting her opponents to advance through the round. Her array of shots are strong enough to vault her into the quarterfinals in New York for the first time since 2003 — if all her cards fall correctly in the draw. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
7. Vera Zvonareva (Russia) — The 25-year-old Russian made her first-ever Grand Slam final in July when she lost to Serena Williams 6-2 6-3. Without Serena here this time around, Zvonareva has to be counting her blessings that any voyage late into the tournament will be free of the speed bump that has been the younger Williams sister since joining the tour. Zvonareva lost in the Cincinnati final to Wozniacki, showing that her form hasn’t slipped irrevocably away from the gal who returned to the top ten this season. She was in the fourth round here last year, so improvement at least to the quarterfinals is imminently possible following the most recent breakthrough performance of the Russian’s career in London. ODDS OF VICTORY: 20/1
Vera Zvonareva has vaulted up the list of contenders after her appearance in the final opposite Serena Williams at Wimbledon...
8. Li Na (China) – A semifinalist in a Grand Slam for the first time when she reached the final four in Australia, Li has been having a banner year so far. Her victory in the Birmingham warm-up for Wimbledon presaged her quarterfinal appearance at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club, another steppingstone navigated in the Chinese veteran’s career history. Li consistently reached the third round at both Cincinnati and Montreal, warming up ahead of the Open slowly. She’s had some knee problems already this season, so her fitness will definitely be something to continue following as the 28-year-old tries to put more miles on the joints in a deep Grand Slam run. Li has had the season of her career so far, rising into the top ten in the rankings for the first time in her career. Much more than that might be too great a leap to ask of the Chinese star. ODDS OF VICTORY: 50/1
9. Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) – The Polish youngster reached the final of the WTA event in San Diego earlier this month, forcing a third set in a tiebreak before ultimately losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova for the championship. She also made semifinals appearances in both Dubai and Indian Wells and the quarters in Key Biscayne. Radwanska has made it as far as the fourth round in the U.S. Open (in 2007 and 2008), but has yet to move into the final eight. She’s managed to reach the quarters at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon in the past, but the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows has vexed the 21-year-old from Krakow in all of her four previous tries. This one is likely to be little different, though Radwanska does present one hell of a danger to the sleeping giant that unluckily draws her. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
The 21-year-old has reached at least the third round at every one of the four U.S. Opens she’s played so far in her career. Azarenka also reached the quarterfinals at this year’s Australian Open, lost in the finals at both Dubai and Eastbourne (on the grass prior to Wimbledon), won the second-tier event on the Stanford campus and made the semifinals up in Montreal. Azarenka is one of those dangerous players, young enough to discount at one’s peril yet veteran enough to skewer the unlucky player that slips one iota. Her hard-court play has also included a fourth-round showing at Key Biscayne and the third round of Indian Wells. The right combination of matches could very well have Azarenka in contention once the field has been whittled down to single digits. ODDS OF VICTORY: 11/2
Azarenka has been one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour as of late, and her winning ways have her listed amongst the favorites...
10. Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) –
11. Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) – 2004 U.S. Open champion Kuznetsova returned to the final again in 2007, where she lost to Justine Henin. But while Henin soon started her self-imposed exile from the sport, Kuznetsova quietly went along her way. A streaky performer, the Russian veteran managed to capture herself a second career Grand Slam title when she defeated compatriot Dinara Safina at the 2009 French Open. Having been as high as #2 in the world rankings, the 25-year-old sits just outside the top ten currently at #12. Her recent semifinal showing in Montreal might just be the catalyst she needs to spark another long run in a Slam, a push to get her back toward renewed relevance. Or, having been bounced from Wimbledon in the second round, it could just be a blip on her radar in an otherwise underwhelming 2010 season. We’ll know soon enough… ODDS OF VICTORY: 12/1
12. Elena Dementieva (Russia) — Unlike her younger countrywoman Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva is still vainly searching for her first Grand Slam title. The 28-year-old veteran has been ranked as high as #3 in the world during her career, but in that 12-year span she’s reached just two major finals — the French Open and U.S. Open, both in 2004. Since then the Russian reached the semifinals twice more at Flushing Meadows, most recently in 2008, yet in all that time she’s never played another Grand Slam final. She reached the semis at the French Open earlier this year, but a torn calf muscle stifled her momentum once again and kept her from playing at Wimbledon (where she had reached the semis each of the past two years in 2007 and 2008). Her Grand Slam return comes in New York, and time is ticking for the longtime hopeful and not-yet champion. ODDS OF VICTORY: 20/1
13. Marion Bartoli (France) – Bartoli is on a roll after quarterfinals appearances at both Cincinnati and Montreal ahead of this year’s U.S. Open. The Frenchwoman was knocked out of New York in the second round last year, but coming off a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon Bartoli should be good for at least two or three wins this time around. She also managed a semifinal slot in Key Biscayne in the spring, apparently feeling right at home on American soil in 2010. That confidence across the Atlantic might just serve the 25-year-old well in this tournament, though at the same time expecting more than the fourth round or an outside shot at the quarters might be too much of a stretch for Bartoli given her track record in Queens, the overall depth of the field and her own ups and downs. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
The lowest-seeded of the four former champions in attendance at this year’s U.S. Open, Sharapova has returned from the shoulder injury that has plagued her the past couple seasons and looks to be rounding back into her best form. The 23-year-old reached the fourth round at Wimbledon this year, but it is New York that is the Russian’s favorite stop amongst the Grand Slams. She won here in 2006 and always seems to feel at ease in the stadiums of the National Tennis Center complex. The former world number-one might never return to the most dominant form of her career prior to the injury, but Sharapova seems to have healed enough to be amongst the favorites to capture the crown in Queens this year — in fact, only the defending champ is rated more likely to win by the bookmakers, a strong endorsement from the guys who are all about leverage. ODDS OF WINNING: 7/2
Former U.S. Open champion Sharapova is in much better shape this year, her shoulder feeling more normal and her game rounding back into form at a dangerous time of year...
14. Maria Sharapova (Russia) –
15. Yanina Wickmayer (Belgium) – The 20-year-old Belgian is the heir apparent to Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters as the next great female tennis star from her country. Wickmayer burst onto the scene last year with her semifinal run at the 2009 U.S. Open, picking off Kateryna Bondarenko and Petra Kvitova before Caroline Wozniacki kept her from facing her compatriot Clijsters in an all-Belgium final. So far this year Wickmayer has managed to reach at least the third round of every Grand Slam so far, and has been at her best on hard courts. Her only win of the year came back in January, beating Flavia Pennetta in Auckland ahead of her fourth-round run in Melbourne at the season’s first Slam. She’s also reached the quarters in both Key Biscayne and more recently in Cincinnati. This youngster is definitely one to watch out for over the fortnight of the Open. ODDS OF VICTORY: 50/1
16. Shahar Peer (Israel) – Earlier this year, following the controversy borne from the fact that UAE was prohibiting the Jewish tennis star from entering their country, Peer finally played the tournament in Dubai for the first time and made it all the way to the semifinals. The Israeli has reached the quarterfinals before at Flushing Meadows, in 2007, and was ousted in the third round last season. Her lone final of the 2010 season came on hard courts in Hobart, Australia back in January. There Peer lost to Alona Bondarenko for the title. Since then she’s reached the fourth round of the French Open, made the semifinals on the clay in Madrid and then was largely unexceptional afterward on the return to hard courts. Peer must rediscover that Dubai/Hobart form if she’ll have any chance of equaling her previous best in Queens. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
17. Nadia Petrova (Russia) — After having reached the quarterfinals on both the hard courts of Melbourne and the clay of Roland Garros, Petrova has been enjoying a resurgent 2010 that has the former world #3 back into the Top 20 and looking to continue her progression back up the ranks. The Russian veteran was in the fourth round here last year and reached the quarterfinals in both 2004 and 2005. If Petrova doesn’t hit too many big names in the draw, there is a real potential for her to return to her third Grand Slam quarterfinal of the 2010 season. ODDS OF VICTORY: 50/1
18. Aravane Rezai (France) — The Frenchwoman is naturally at her strongest on the clay, where she reached the third round in Paris this year and took tournaments in both Madrid (over Venus Williams 6-2 7-5) and Bastad (Gilsela Dulko in three sets). She reached the fourth round in her first visit to Queens in 2006, but since then the 23-year-old of Iranian parentage has won just two matches out of five in the past two years of U.S. Open competition. Rezai will probably not shake her confidence issues on the hard court, and thus an early ouster is more likely than a long run. Yet Vegas inexplicably still likes her chances — to merely be listed as an individual candidate bet is saying something strong about your expectations. ODDS OF VICTORY: 40/1
19. Flavia Pennetta (Italy) – Like clockwork each of the past two years, Pennetta has managed to worm her way through the U.S. Open draw all the way to the elite eight in the quarterfinals. The Italian also reached the quarterfinals recently in Cincinnati, which could very well be the preface to a deep run at Flushing Meadows. She was in the final here in 2005 with her doubles partner Elena Dementieva, so Pennetta knows how to better handle the clutch situations having gained the valuable experience of championship play. But she’s at this point well in the shadow of compatriot Francesca Schiavone in terms of an Italian’s chances… ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
20. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) — The 19-year-old has been rising up the ranks, on the cusp of the Top 20 for the first time in her career as the U.S. Open looms. Pavlyuchenkova reached the third round at both the French Open and Wimbledon earlier this year, and the Russian will be looking to secure another couple of Grand Slam matches under her belt. Especially after reaching the semifinals in Cincinnati, all the other women above Pavlyuchenkova in the ranks will need to be alert when playing her. The Muscovite could be a dangerous out for favorites this year. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
Zheng could conceivably reach the semifinals at a Grand Slam for the second time in 2010, and the third time in the career of the only Chinese pro to ever pull off the feat...
21. Zheng Jie (China) – Zheng, the first Chinese player in history to reach a Grand Slam semifinal when she was in the final four at Wimbledon in 2008, did it again earlier this year in Melbourne at the Australian Open. The 27-year-old also made the quarterfinals at Indian Wells in the spring and Montreal right before this year’s U.S. Open, so she seems to be getting hot at just the right time for another deep run into a Grand Slam tournament. Pencil her in for at least the third round… she’s won two matches each of the past two years in Queens. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
22. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (Spain) – The Spanish clay-court specialist knocked off Jelena Jankovic in the final of the Italian Open for her first Premier-level championship back in May, but after having opted out of both WTA events in Cincinnati and Montreal this seed is based more on her present ranking than her present form. She has effectively remained on the sidelines since her surprise first-round loss at the French Open, and the DecoTurf of Flushing Meadows is hardly the most inviting place for a return. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
23. Maria Kirilenko (Russia) — The 23-year-old from Moscow is enjoying her best season yet, having advanced to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and coming off doubles victories in San Diego (with Zheng Jie) and Cincinnati (with Victoria Azarenka). Whether Kirilenko has another long Grand Slam run in her on the hard court remains to be seen; her most promising recent result was a quarterfinals run at Stanford. The Russian can beat any of the world’s best on her best days, and the hard courts seem to be her favorite surface, so watch out. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
24. Daniela Hantuchova (Slovakia) — Hantuchova has one U.S. Open title to her name already… of course, that title came as part of the winning mixed doubles pair with Mahesh Bhupathi in 2005. The Slovak veteran was in the fourth round last year in New York, breaking a streak of futility at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that had seen her lose both her opening round matches the past two years. Hantuchova hasn’t been the most on-fire player this year, but the 27-year-old still has some fight left in her. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
25. Alexandra Dulgheru (Romania) — The Romanian played Flushing Meadows for the first time last year and couldn’t even get past the first round in what proved to be her first full season on the top tier of the WTA Tour. Since then she got bumped in the first round again at the Australian Open before going 4-2 in Paris and London in third-round appearances at the two most recent Grand Slams. First-round ousters in both Cincinnati and Montreal are pretty solid indicators that she’s probably not due for that sort of breakthrough on the DecoTurf. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
26. Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic) — The 23-year-old Czech hasn’t quite been the same player since 2007, when she made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and won at least two matches at every Grand Slam tournament that year. Since then Safarova has won just one tournament, the 2008 U.S. Open warm-up at Forest Hills. She reached the Paris Indoors final earlier this year, taking the first-set tiebreak from Elena Dementieva before ultimately losing 6-7(5) 6-1 6-4. She has wins against Flavia Pennetta, Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Nadia Petrova this year already, so an upset or two for Safarova wouldn’t be out of line. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
27. Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) – The much-more heralded Czech slots in one spot after her compatriot but enters this year’s U.S. Open a much more dangerous darkhorse. Kvitova reached the fourth round in Flushing Meadows last season, a fine performance and the equal of her previous best in a Grand Slam tournament. But this season she outshined Zheng Jie, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Kaia Kanepi before losing to Serena Williams in the semifinals at Wimbledon. Kvitova could really be the woman to put in a dangerous run amongst those grouped in the last eight seeds. ODDS OF VICTORY: 60/1
28. Alisa Kleybanova (Russia) — The 21-year-old Russian has had her most consistent season to date, reaching the third round at every Grand Slam event so far this year and beating Elena Dementieva for the title in Kuala Lumpur back in February. She also reached the quarterfinals at Indian Wells and has played at least break-even tennis all year long from tournament to tournament. Kleybanova is just 1-2 lifetime in Queens, though, and her youth and inexperience could cost her beyond the first two rounds. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
29. Alona Bondarenko (Ukraine) — The middle of the three tennis-playing Bondarenko sisters reached the third round of the U.S. Open in 2007 and 2008 and made it to the fourth round at a Grand Slam for the first time in her career this January at the Australian Open. Bondarenko has gone 7-3 at the Slams so far this year and should at least make it past her first two matches as the seeded favorite. And depending on who she would pair up against in the third round, a second straight fourth-round appearance in a hard-court Slam is imminently possible. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
30. Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan) — Bursting onto the scene with her third-round appearance at Roland Garros last year, the Kazakh then upset #5 Jelena Jankovic here in the second round last year before her ouster by Gisela Dulko. She won the Wimbledon women’s doubles title with Vania King, though, which has boosted her confidence ahead of the year’s last Slam. And having reached the quarterfinals at the French Open earlier this year, the 22-year-old could be dangerous for higher seeds in the tournament. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
Pironkova, the last seeded player entering the draw, has been enjoying a fine 2010 and is hungry for more blood...
31. Kaia Kanepi (Estonia) — Kanepi was the qualifier who burst onto the scene at this year’s Wimbledon with her first-round ouster of #6 Samantha Stosur in the opening round. Kanepi would ride that surge of momentum all the way to her first Grand Slam quarterfinals, beating Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania (then seeded #31) in the third round before succumbing to Petra Kvitova. She had a strong spring overall and reached the third round at last week’s event in Montreal before getting bumped by Clijsters. Higher seeds must be wary against the Estonian. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A
32. Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria) — Pironkova also made a name for herself at Wimbledon this season with a string of upsets that sent her all the way to the semifinals. She knocked out everyone from Vera Dushevina (2nd round) to Marion Bartoli (4th round) to Venus Williams (quarterfinals) before dropping her first two sets of the tournament in a semis loss to Vera Zvonareva. The 22-year-old Bulgarian from Plovdiv has a lot of upside to her game, having turned pro five years ago and only starting to come into her prime years. She’s not scared of anyone, which augurs well for her darkhorse hopes. ODDS OF VICTORY: N/A