New York - Serena Williams is about to have a baby, Victoria
Azarenka will stay home with her baby and the US Open women's field is pregnant
with suspense over who might win.
A wide-open array of contenders for the world number one
ranking and the last Grand Slam title of the year promise to make the Flushing
Meadows fortnight that starts Monday a thriller even without two of the game's
Williams, who won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the
Australian Open, announced in April she was pregnant and would miss the rest of
Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka revealed she is in
a custody fight over her baby son, who cannot leave California, and thus will
stay with him.
Former world number one Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand
Slam champion, will play as a wildcard in her first major tournament since a
15-month doping ban after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian
And while the Russian's return has been hit by forearm and
thigh injuries, she remains a threat wherever she lands in the draw.
Czech world number one Karolina Pliskova, Romanian world
number two Simona Halep, Wimbledon champion and world number three Garbine
Muguruza, Ukraine's fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina, Denmark's fifth-ranked
Caroline Wozniacki and the defending champion, sixth-ranked German Angelique
Kerber, are among the trophy favourites on the New York hard-courts.
Evergeen Venus Williams, the 37-year-old American who has
won seven Grand Slam titles and was runner-up this year at Wimbledon and the
Australian Open, is ranked ninth and a dangerous foe for all.
Muguruza has made herself an oddsmaker's darling after
taking last year's French Open, last month's Wimbledon crown and last week's
Cincinnati title in the last major US Open tune-up.
But she hasn't gone past the second round in four tries at
"I'm looking forward to be there and feel I can improve
what happened the past years, because I feel like I never really found my
(rhythm)," Muguruza said.
"I want to change that. I want to find the recipe maybe
this year, maybe that I have a little bit more confidence.
"The most important part is to recover, to be fresh
because it takes a lot of energy, and then getting used to New York vibe again,
because it's special."
Pliskova has taken titles at Brisbane, Doha and Eastbourne
this year but has never won a Grand Slam, although she reached her only Grand
Slam final last year at New York.
"The energy of the city is huge. Obviously love to be
coming back there, especially after the fantastic last year."
An early Cincinnati exit tumbled Kerber down the rankings
race, but the 2016 US and Australian Open champion is feeling the same drive
she did a year ago.
"I'm thinking that my fighting spirit is back and I'm
feeling that it's getting better and better," Kerber said. "Going,
for sure, with good memories to New York."
Halep isn't after a 6-1, 6-0 drubbing by Muguruza in the
Cincinnati final, her third and by far worst loss of the year with the world
number one ranking just a win away.
But that didn't dim her hopes of claiming a first Slam title
at the US Open.
"I will go to New York and I will be with the
confidence up," Halep said. "I played really good few months. So I
don't have negatives to take."
Svitolina, the youngest in the favoured pack at 22, has won
titles this year at Toronto, Rome, Dubai, Istanbul and Taipei City and matched
her best Grand Slam showing with a French Open quarter-final run.
Wozniacki, the 2014 US Open runner-up and three times a
semi-finalist, has lost six finals this year since taking her last title in
Hong Kong last year.