Sloane Stephens leads outsiders at the 2013 U.S. Open.
The first weekend of the 2013 U.S. Open is here, and it's never too early to pick a dark horse to reach the finals.
Especially since it could be too late at any moment for outsiders' chances.
The Grand Slams this year on both the men's and women's tours have yielded champions fairly consistent with expectations. Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic secured Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open, respectively.
Will there be a true shocker in the final round at the 2013 U.S. Open?
Not only could there be, there will be. John Isner and Tommy Haas have made strong opening statements in the first week. Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanonic, too, are compelling players to watch.
One of them will vie for the trophy.
John Isner won Atlanta 2013 and is ready to take that result to the 2013 U.S. Open final.
John Isner is already a champion.
He has won seven titles in his career, with two of those coming in 2013. That is enough hardware to show he is ready to make a late run.
Coming into the U.S. Open, the 17th-ranked player reached the final in three of his last four tournaments, all of which were on hard courts.
He won the Atlanta event over No. 7 Juan Martin Del Potro 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. That is a particularly strong scoreline when considering Del Potro is a past champion of the U.S. Open. What better preparation could there be?
However, he remains a dark horse when it comes to Grand Slam events.
His only visit to the quarterfinals came in 2011 at the U.S. Open. Isner took a set off of Andy Murray in that match, but he noticeably struggled earlier in the tournament against lesser players. He is much stronger now.
According to Wade Rupard of NewsObserver.com, "John Isner thinks he’s ready to break through in a big way."
A first-round crushing defeat of Filippo Volandri 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 indicates that Isner is still riding this summer's momentum and is ready to pounce.
Second-round opponent Gael Monfils played a very good opening match. He won't have enough game to stop the American, though. Isner just has too much momentum coming into New York, and he will tilt the balance of their current 3-3 head-to-head record.
Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber would likely be next. Isner has dominated their meetings 3-1, and this one should be no different.
That's where things get tricky.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer stand in his way. The good news is that Isner, despite having never beaten Nadal, played him to a near stand-still recently in Cincinnati, Ohio. That should help him. Federer has also had his way with Isner.
Federer is not the same player he has been, though, if TennisWorld USA's report is to be believed. If Isner beats Nadal, that should be more than enough to convince him he can beat the Swiss player.
At that point, Isner is in the semifinal and should be ready to win one more match and spoil his half of the men's draws' expectations.
Tommy Haas has never made it to the final of a Grand Slam event.
This year, that could change.
Paul-Henri Mathieu certainly believes that. He was on the losing end of a beating—6-4, 6-4, 6-1—in the first round of this year's U.S. Open. Despite Andrew Friedman's rather cynical take on the match for Tennis.com, it truly was a fine performance for the German.
Yen-Hsun Lu will be the next player to lose to him.
That brings Haas to the third round, where he will probably meet Mikhail Youzhny. In past clashes, the two have played to a draw, 4-4. Three of the four matches on hard courts have gone to Haas. This one will, too.
For being the No. 21 seed, Youzhny just didn't convince against Nicolas Mahut. He will still get to the third round, but that will be it, as Haas will dismiss him.
Juan Martin Del Potro will await Haas in the fourth round, but again, he is a struggling opponent, as Fox News Latino reports. His movement looked sluggish, and his attitude is not convincing so far. He is a solid player on all surfaces and remains dangerous, especially in New York. But by then, Haas will be on the upswing and catch him on the downswing.
Game, set, match, Haas.
Undoubtedly, Novak Djokovic will be next. Haas will hope that one thing stands out in the world No. 1's mind: this year's Masters 1000 in Miami, Florida. The German won, 6-4, 6-2, and controlled the match from the outset. If it happened once, it most certainly could happen again.
Haas hasn't played Andy Murray since 2008, and a semifinal at the U.S. Open should be full of incredible fireworks.
It's a great chance for Tommy Haas to be the dark-horse finalist.
Sloane Stephens was all smiles after beating Serena Williams in Australia, 2013. Look for more smiles at the 2013 U.S. Open, where she may meet Williams again.
Sloane Stephens is on a roll.
That roll is only going to continue.
Stephens looked a bit nervous in her opener at the 2013 U.S. Open, beating Mandy Minella 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. After having the word "hairy" described to her in her post-match interview, she agreed, saying, "Yes, it was hairy" (via USOpen.org). Once the jitters were over, though, she showed why she is one of the hottest dark horses in the field.
She absolutely dominated Urszula Radwanska 6-1, 6-1.
She will do the same to American Jamie Hampton, as she did in the opening round of Wimbledon earlier this year, 6-3, 6-3. Hampton has looked good thus far, but Stephens has looked better than good.
The highlight of this year's Open will be Stephens' win over Serena Williams in the fourth round. She knows how to beat the world No. 1 on the big stage, as she did in this year's Australian Open. Stephens also knows how to overcome adversity with positivity. She had to learn that after losing to Williams just before their Melbourne match.
The experience will help her win.
It will also help her go all the way.
Defeating Serena Williams will give her the confidence to use her vast array of weapons in wins over likely opponents Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska. Nothing is a stretch for Stephens then.
The dark horse will find herself in her first Grand Slam final.
Ana Ivanovic has her eyes focused on victory at the U.S. Open 2013.
Ana Ivanovic remembers what it was like to be the best player in the world.
She's reliving that memory this year at the U.S. Open.
According to Larry Fine of Reuters, Ivanovic is ready to "maximize [her] potential" and return to the top of the game.
Her first two matches looked like vintage Ivanovic from 2008. She raced through Anna Tatishvili 6-2, 6-0. Then she blitzed Alexandra Dulgheru 6-2, 6-1. She is ready to do the same to Christina McHale in the third round. The two met twice in 2012, and McHale has yet to enjoy success.
McHale still won't know that feeling after their latest meeting.
Ivanovic hasn't had much fun playing Victoria Azarenka, but expect that to change. In their last clash, a 0-6, 6-4, 3-6, loss in Carlsbad, California, Azarenka looked rattled. She really hasn't looked much better in New York.
Despite a 6-0, 6-0, opener, Azarenka's win wasn't convincing. Dinah Pfizenmaier had every chance to break her numerous times and only came up a point short here and there. The lopsided result does not reflect the effort or the quality of the Azarenka's play.
Ivanovic will take advantage of those lapses.
Petra Kvitova, the No. 7 seed, will await Ivanovic in the quarters. The Serbian has already beaten her this year on hard courts in the Federation Cup final. Kvitova is not playing nearly so well as Ivanovic this week, losing a set in the first round to unheralded Misaki Doi. That doesn't bode well for her, and she won't be able to defeat Ivanovic.
Consider Kvitova's state of mind on opening day, via the BBC:
"I like big matches on the big stadium, but the people - it's too much crowds for myself, I think."
In the semifinals, against Caroline Wozniacki or whomever advances to meet her, former No. 1 Ivanovic will recall her earlier glory and advance to the final.