- Sloane Stephens (+975) will begin her U.S. Open title defense Monday afternoon.
- In a pretty top-heavy quarter, Elise Mertens might hold the most betting value to win the quarter.
- Other primary questions in this section involve Victoria Azarenka's fitness and Elina Svitolina's belief.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens (+975) is looking to continue her stellar run by reaching her third final in the past five Grand Slams. The American has the benefit of a favorable draw and should be well-rested after losing in Cincinnati earlier this month.
I don’t see much longshot value in this quarter. The favorites are in top form and shouldn’t have to exert too much energy early in the tournament.
Let’s take a closer look at this top-heavy quarter to help us make more informed investments in the futures market and throughout the tourney.
Seed Form Check
(2018 summer hard-court record)
#3 Sloane Stephens (6-3) — After winning the U.S. Open last year, Stephens lost eight consecutive matches. She then recovered to make two Premier finals and the French Open final.
The key for Stephens in any tournament is to get ahead early and win her first few matches, as she’s tough to beat once in rhythm. She has confidence from the summer, and defending her title should supply her with enough motivation to come out firing.
#7 Elina Svitolina (5-2) —Svitolina has repeatedly disappointed in Grand Slams, which has to be on her mind at this point. She has never made a major semifinal — and has never advanced past the fourth round at the U.S. Open. She does come to New York in good form and with a favorable path, but it’s all about the mental aspect with the Ukrainian. The game and fitness are there.
#9 Julia Goerges (5-3) — Goerges is generally one of the tour’s better servers, but enters the U.S. Open with a very shaky serve. Her first-serve percentage this summer sits at 53.7%, but that needs to be closer to 60% if she wants to make a run here. Her double-fault percentage (7.3%) also needs to come down. If she can find a consistent first serve, she’s as dangerous as anyone on this surface.
#15 Elise Mertens (8-3) — She has displayed exceptional defense all summer. While Mertens is far from the most powerful player, her defense and conditioning allow her to compete with the best.
Her only defeats this summer came against Svitolina, Petra Kvitova and Mihaela Buzarnescu. Very respectable losses for the steady Belgian, who has a real shot at backing up her Australian Open semifinal appearance earlier this year.
#19 Anastasija Sevastova (3-2) — Despite playing only five hard-court matches since Wimbledon, Sevastova had a busy summer by playing two additional clay-court events. The Latvian didn’t look fully fit in two hard-court losses against Stephens and Camila Giorgi, but she’s had two weeks off. Sevastova is seeking a third straight U.S. Open quarterfinal appearance.
#23 Barbora Strycova (0-3) — It has been an incredibly disappointing summer for Strycova, who has lost her past six matches on hard courts. I’m not sure if she has lost a step, but her form cannot be trusted.
#25 Daria Gavrilova (1-3) — Hasn’t been as bad as her record shows. She got blasted by Serena Williams, but lost competitive three-set matches to Aryna Sabalenka and Lucie Safarova. Her defense and moon balls allow her to hang around in a lot of matches. The Aussie’s emotional style can also frustrate opponents, but she ultimately doesn’t have enough weapons.
#31 Magdalena Rybarikova (2-3) — Rybarikova is a grass-court specialist who has never excelled on hard courts. Her only hard-court summer wins came against Strycova and via a retirement from Coco Vandeweghe. She’s simply not a real threat.
Unseeded Player Watch
Victoria Azarenka, who finished the summer hard-court swing with a 4-3 record, is one to watch here. Vika came into the summer with high expectations, but that all changed when she suffered a leg injury in the San Jose quarterfinals.
Since that setback, Azarenka is 2-2 and has looked OK. The injury definitely put a damper on her summer, but the two-time U.S. Open finalist (2012, 2013) has as much experience and Grand Slam pedigree as anybody in this quarter.
Key H2H Records
- Sevastova 3-0 (3-0) vs. Donna Vekic — first round
Sevastova (4-1 in U.S. Open first round) has won six of seven sets over Vekic, including five straight. All three matches came within the past three years.
- Ekaterina Makarova 2-1 (2-1) vs. Goerges — potential second round
Makarova has won two of three, but Goerges beat her in straight sets last week at New Haven.
- Azarenka 3-2 (3-2) vs. Stephens — potential third round
Azarenka leads the head-to-head vs. Stephens, but Sloane won both 2018 meetings. Vika’s three wins came in three consecutive Australian Opens (2013-15).
- Stephens 2-1 (2-0) vs. Svitolina — potential quarterfinal
They split their first two matches in 2014, but Stephens cruised in straight sets a few weeks back in Montreal.
Moneyline Parlay Potential
- Azarenka (-330) vs Viktoria Kuzmova (+270)
- Vera Lapko (-200) vs Kateryna Bondarenko (+170)
I believe Azarenka has spent her entire year prepping for the U.S. Open. She still hasn’t fully returned to form, but her experience and defense should prevail against the powerful but wild Kuzmova.
Bondarenko has not been seen since retiring in qualifying after Carla Suarez Navarro bageled her in the first set. Lapko is only 19, but she has a lot of potential. I think she can play within herself to beat a fading Bondarenko.
- Strycova (-280) vs Danielle Lao (+240)
As mentioned above, Strycova enters New York with zero form. Lao mainly competes in ITF events, but had a strong summer that included an ITF semifinal in a rather strong Honolulu field. The 27-year-old American also didn’t drop a set in qualifying and played some decent players in Jana Fett and Magdalena Frech. Lao will play steady and can compete with a reeling Strycova.
- Goerges (-350) vs Anna Kalinskaya (+290)
Kalinskaya is a talented young Russian who played well in qualifying, notably beating Madison Brengle in straight sets to clinch her spot in the main draw. Her serve is an issue, but Goerges isn’t one to attack on return points. If Kalinskaya can get deep in points with the German, she can pull off the upset.
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One player stands out as great value to win this quarter: Mertens (+1200), who should be favored in her first three matches. If Mertens avoids an upset, she would have a likely fourth-round matchup with Stephens, whom she beat in straight sets in Cincinnati a few weeks ago.
I don’t think she can string together enough wins against the WTA elite to win the U.S. Open, but she can go deep. The draw is too good to pass up at 12-1.
First-Round Best Bets
- Azarenka/Lapko -105 (moneyline parlay)
- Lao +240 (.5 unit)
- Kalinskaya +290 (.5 unit)
- Claire Liu -125
American Claire Liu, the only player to win a set off Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon this year, will face clay-court specialist Polona Hercog, who I don’t think is properly prepared for this event.
Liu has not had great results, but recently played competitively in three-set losses to an in-form Heather Watson and Camila Giorgi. The 18-year-old should advance with the help of the home crowd.
*All odds referenced are from 5dimes and are current as of noon Saturday, Aug. 25. Please check back for added plays as the tourney approaches.