Last year’s US Open final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams was one of the most controversial women’s tennis games of all-time. From Williams’ tirades at the umpire to the crowd booing Osaka’s trophy presentation, it was an emotional rollercoaster.
The 2019 US Open begins on 26 August, and all eyes will be on Naomi Osaka as she bids to shake off recent injuries and prove why she deserves to be at the top of the WTA rankings. But it’s going to be no easy task. With players like Simona Halep, Ashleigh Barty and of course, Serena Williams in the running, Osaka will have to play the best tennis of her life.
2018 was the breakthrough year for Osaka with her first WTA title at the Indian Wells Open being followed up by that straight sets win over Serena Williams in the US Open final. This marked the first time that a Japanese player had won a Grand Slam singles tournament. So does the 21-year old star have what it takes to continue her remarkable run of form?
Knee injury threatening Osaka’s US Open ambitions
Naomi Osaka suffered a nasty knee injury and was forced to retire from the Cincinnati Masters on Friday. The Japanese star quit her quarter-final match against Sofia Kenin in the third set just days before the start of the 2019 US Open.
However, Osaka has stated that she is willing to defy doctor’s orders in order to defend her US Open title. She also revealed that her high pain tolerance enables her to play through injuries that might ordinarily rule other players out.
Osaka has struggled with a few injuries already in 2019. Despite reaching the semi-final of the Stuttgart Open, she was forced to retire due to an abdominal injury, and there were also issues with her right hand that required the Japanese player to withdraw early from her quarter-final match against Kiki Bertens in the Italian Open.
Thankfully, Osaka seems to have the fitness necessary to overcome such injuries. Although her knee complaint could give Osaka’s US Open rivals some room for optimism, she seems hungry for the challenge and will be the player to beat.
The Japanese player has just regained her world number one status on the WTA Tour. Although Osaka tends to struggle on the clay and grass courts, her game is notably better suited to hard surfaces. All of which points to the 2019 US Open being a great opportunity for Osaka to pick up another Grand Slam title.
Naomi Osaka’s year so far
Osaka started 2019 in fine style by claiming her first Australian Open title. Although Petra Kvitova pushed her hard in the final, the Japanese star held her nerve to become the first women since Serena Williams in 2015 to win back to back Grand Slam titles.
Despite this triumph, Osaka shocked the tennis world shortly afterwards by announcing her surprise split from her coach, Sascha Bajin. Osaka claimed that Bajin had asked her to put ‘success over happiness’. Although these might be admirable reasons, it’s clear that she has had a dip in form since making this decision.
Osaka failed to defend her Indian Wells title after being defeated in the fourth round by Belinda Bencic. From here she struggled through the French Open and was knocked out in straight sets in the third round by Katerina Siniakova.
But worst was to come in the grass court season. A second round exit in the Birmingham Classic was followed up by a shocking Wimbledon first round exit at the hands of Yulia Putintseva. Osaka took to Twitter to reflect on her disappointing run of form and noted that she had endured ‘the worse months’ of her life since her success at the Australian Open.
Jermaine Jenkins has been Osaka’s coach since the split from Sascha Bajin. Although Jenkins worked well to get Venus Williams back into the finals of Grand Slams like Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2017, it remains to be seen whether he can help Osaka succeed in the 2019 US Open.
Serena Williams looking for one more Grand Slam triumph
Although Serena Williams was crushed by Simona Halep in the 2019 Wimbledon final, the fact that she reached another major final should not be underestimated. Many people had written off Williams after her problems with pregnancy in 2017, but the 37-year old still has plenty of hunger for the game.
Williams will be keen to avenge her defeat by Osaka in the 2018 US Open final. Not only did Williams lose in straight sets, but she was penalised as a result of breaking her racket and abusing the umpire. Although Osaka wasn’t to blame for this meltdown, the prospect of another US Open match between Williams and the Japanese ace is very exciting.
The pair met up in the 2019 Rogers Cup in August with Williams beating Osaka in straight sets. Although Serena Williams is just eighth in the WTA rankings, she has already proven to be the bookie’s favourite to win the 2019 US Open. But whether her age and temperament could be her undoing remains to be seen.
Who else could stop Osaka winning the 2019 US Open?
Naomi Osaka has come unstuck at the hands of many lowly ranked players in 2019. With defeats from the likes of Belinda Bencic, Katerina Siniakova and Yulia Putintseva, the Japanese star will be looking to avoid an early exit in this year’s US Open. If Osaka manages to reach the final rounds, then there is a good chance that she will have to beat one of the following players.
Simona Halep – Looking for her first US open title
Anybody who saw Halep’s comprehensive victory over Serena Williams in the 2019 Wimbledon final will know that this Romanian player is looking very strong at the moment. Although Halep lost to Madison Keys in the third round of the Cincinnati Masters, she’s already stated that she doesn’t ‘want days off anymore’ and will be very hungry for her third Grand Slam triumph.
The 27-year old has only managed to make a semi-final appearance in the US Open in 2015. She suffered a defeat in her opening match of the 2018 US Open at the hands of the then world number 44, Kaia Kanepi. Although Halep struggled with a foot injury earlier this summer, hopes are high that she could be back to her best when the 2019 US Open kicks off next week.
Ashleigh Barty – Hoping to follow up her French Open triumph
Barty burst on the scene with her astonishing 2019 French Open win over Marketa Vondrousova. Although the Australian star couldn’t repeat her success on the grass courts of Wimbledon, she’s still amongst the front runners to do well at this year’s US Open.
This is because she managed to pick up the 2018 Doubles US Open title with CoCo Vandeweghe. Whilst her US Open singles campaign was cut short by a fourth round defeat by Karolina Pliskova, Barty seems to play well on hard courts.
The Australian was just one win away from claiming the top seed spot for the US Open after losing in the semi-finals of the Cincinnati Masters. But with reports that Barty is ‘more hungry and driven than ever’ for success at the US Open, it’s going to be interesting to watch her progress.
Karolina Pliskova – Aiming to win her first Grand Slam
The Czech star came achingly close to winning the US Open in 2016, but was defeated in the final by Angelique Kerber. Since then the 27-year old has managed to claim semi-final appearances in the Australian Open and the French Open, but a Grand Slam title remains elusive.
Pliskova is currently third in the women’s tennis rankings. She will have been disappointed to have been beaten in the semi-finals of the Cincinnati Masters by wildcard Svetlana Kuznetsova. But with Pliskova continuing to display her big-serving game, she looks good to produce a decent result at the US Open.
Madison Keys – Important Cincinnati Masters victory
Madison Keys managed to reach the 2017 US Open final, but she was dispatched with ruthless efficiency by Sloane Stephens. Although this was a setback, Keys managed to make the French and US Open semi-finals in 2018.
2019 has been another good year for the US star with her first clay court title at the Charleston Open. But it was Keys’ triumph at the Cincinnati Masters that will make her one to watch at this year’s US Open. Her victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova saw Keys return to the world top 10, and it illustrated exactly why the 24-year is such a formidable hard court opponent.
Petra Kvitova – Chance to shine at the US Open
Whilst Petra Kvitova has managed to win Wimbledon twice, the Czech star hasn’t had such an easy time at the US Open. Kvitova only managed to make quarter-final appearances in 2015 and 2017, and she was dumped out of the third round of the 2018 US Open by Aryna Sabalenka.
But Kvitova is known for being a fighter. She bounced back after a horrific knife attack to claim a top five ranking in 2018, and made the final of the Australian Open earlier this year. The 29-year old has been struggling with injuries that affected her preparations for Wimbledon, but hopes are high that Kvitova could be back to her best for this year’s US Open.