US Open 2014: Burning Questions for the Final Rounds at Flushing Meadows

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2014

US Open 2014: Burning Questions for the Final Rounds at Flushing Meadows

0 of 7

    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Now that Labor Day has passed and most of the field—men's and women's—has been eliminated. it's time to get real.

    On the women's side, only one top-eight seed remains (Serena Williams), while the men's side is still loaded with the game's top stars (with the exception of David Ferrer).

    Going forward, there are some serious questions worth asking about the remaining seeds. Is Williams ready to win her 18th Grand Slam? Can Victoria Azarenka snap her losing streak against Williams? And will the winner of the men's tournament come out of the top quarterfinal? 

    Those questions and more as we enter the final week of the U.S. Open.

Serena Williams Reached Week 2; Now What?

1 of 7

    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Serena Williams saved her best tennis for the U.S. Open in 2014. Her run through the Grand Slams has been disappointing by any standard, let alone hers. Her best finish to date was a fourth-round exit in Melbourne.

    With her 6-3, 6-3, win over Kaia Kanepi on Labor Day, Williams at last reached a quarterfinal in 2014.

    “I finally made a quarterfinal this year!" Williams said. "I think I felt it in my serving game...Can I please get to a Grand Slam quarterfinal?”

    Indeed she did, but in order to reach the semifinals and keep her bid to win 18 career Grand Slams alive, she’ll need to get by a 2013 U.S. Open semifinalist in Flavia Pennetta.

    Dating back to 2005, Italy’s Pennetta is 0-5 against Williams. Williams hasn’t even dropped a set against Pennetta, so it appears likely Williams will reach the semis and be one step closer to No. 18.

Is Roger Federer a Lock to Reach the Final?

2 of 7

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Roger Federer, for a time, looked vulnerable in his third-round match against Spain’s Marcel Granollers. Federer found himself down 5-2 when Mother Nature intervened. Rain suspended the first set (that Federer would lose 4-6), and that allowed him to regroup and win the following three sets 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.

    Federer said in The New York Post:

    The sky totally changed so you figure something was going to come. I didn’t think they’d take us off at 5-2. It almost never happened to me that they’d take me off before it started raining; but it was the right decision. They said we had an hour to play, 1 ½ maybe, when we went on the second time, which has an effect on you mentally. You’re like “Where is it?” It feels like a shadow over you.

    Federer’s biggest challenges may be No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals, a player over which Federer has the advantage, 1-0. Federer could then face Tomas Berdych in the semifinals.

    Berdych defeated Federer in the 2012 U.S. Open quarterfinals, but Federer has the 12-6 lifetime edge.

    It was no secret that Federer benefited most from the withdrawal of Rafael Nadal. Federer may not have an express ticket to the final, but his road is as easy as it has ever been, and he’ll be there against the No. 1 player in the world.

Will Caroline Wozniacki Return to Her Form from a Few Years Ago in Week 2?

3 of 7

    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    For a time, ESPN.com had the best headline for Caroline Wozniacki’s win over No. 5 Maria Sharapova in the fourth round: Wozniacki silences Sharapova.

    In obvious reference to Sharapova’s obnoxious grunting, screaming, howling and baying, Wozniacki moved into the quarterfinals for the first time since the 2012 Australian Open and the 2011 U.S. Open.

    Wozniacki is a former U.S. Open runner-up and two-time semifinalist. Now it’s time to see if she’s ready to return to the semifinals against either Belinda Bencic or Shuai Peng—both unseeded players.

    First, Wozniacki needs to get by the fleet-footed No. 13 Sara Errani. Woz has the 2-1 edge over Errani, but they haven’t played in four years.

    Greg Garber of ESPN wrote:

    I will state the obvious and say that Wozniacki has the best chance of getting through to a date with Serena. She played fantastic tennis in beating Sharapova—even if her groundstrokes were, what, 15 or 20 mph slower. Since reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in 2012, Wozniacki has gone 0-for-10 trying to return to the final eight. She was emotional in her on-court interview, and I think that will carry her forward.

Will an Unseeded Woman Reach the Finals?

4 of 7

    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Two unseeded women remain in the tournament: Belinda Bencic and Shuai Peng.

    Bencic took down No. 9 Jelena Jankovic in the fourth round 7-6(6), 6-3 while Peng ousted No. 14. Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-4. These two battle for a spot in the semifinals against the resurgent No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki or No. 13 Sara Errani.

    Bencic and Peng have been underdogs in every match they’ve played. Bencic defeated No. 6 Angelique Kerber in the third round and Peng beat No. 28 Roberta Vinci. They don’t seem to know (or care) how low they are in the pecking order.

    Bencic was born in 1997 and is playing in her first U.S. Open. After losing in the third round at Wimbledon, Bencic could be one of the youngest semifinalists ever.

    As for Peng, she’s played in every U.S. Open since 2005 with her best finish being a fourth-round exit in 2011. Peng is 1-5 in her career against Wozniacki and 3-3 against Errani (with three straight wins on hard court).

    This could be a year where an unseeded woman reaches the final, and why not? But have mercy on their souls should they run into Williams.

Will We See a Rematch of the Wimbledon Final?

5 of 7

    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Yes, we will, but Novak Djokovic will suffer a few battle scars on his way to Arthur Ashe Stadium.

    He got past Philipp Kohlschreiber (who, in the third round of the 2009 French Open, was the last player to knock Djokovic out prior to a Grand Slam quarterfinal) 6-1, 7-5, 6-4, but that only means he faces the 2012 U.S. Open champion, No. 8 Andy Murray.

    It’s a rematch of the 2012 U.S. Open final that Murray won in five sets. And, as Bill Dwyer of The Los Angeles Times wrote after Djokovic’s third-round match, Djokovic is playing as sharp as they come:

    Worse, Djokovic didn't just beat [American Sam] Querrey, he toyed with him. He hid it well enough so it wouldn't be easily apparent to fans, but he actually worked on things like drop shots and chipping-and-charging. For him, this was more a practice session than a Grand Slam third-rounder.

    Djokovic needs to get by a possible matchup against No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in the semifinal, and that should have Djokovic nice and warmed up for maybe the greatest ever to play: the easy-swinging and smooth-sliding Federer.

Will the Men’s Champion Come out of the Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic Match?

6 of 7

    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    In the oppressive heat on Labor Day at the U.S. Open, Andy Murray won a grueling three-setter against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to advance to the quarterfinals against Djokovic.

    This is a rematch of the 2012 U.S. Open final, a match won by Murray in five sets. Murray said in The Guardian:

    I don’t feel like I’m that far away from playing my best tennis,” he said. “It’s still a long way from trying to win the tournament: nine sets now, three matches, and just try and take it one set at a time. I’m maybe five, six days away from potentially winning another grand slam. I know there is a lot of work to be done between now and then.

    Like taking on Djokovic, the man who did a little dance after beating Kohlschreiber.

    “It’s great that I have been playing some really good tennis, really high quality so far,” he said in The Guardian. “But it’s normal to expect that I’m going to have tougher opponents as the tournament goes on. A quarterfinal against Murray, it’s a very tough draw.”

    Both are playing tennis on a high level. But this side of the men’s draw is brutal compared to the half Federer lives in.

    Will whoever comes out of the Murray-Djoker match be too fatigued come the final? Perhaps, but it appears whoever comes out of this match will win the battle and lose the war.

Is This the Year Victoria Azarenka Beats Williams?

7 of 7

    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Victoria Azarenka stood a head taller than Aleksandra Krunic and won by a millimeter in the third set of a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win to advance to the quarterfinals.

    Krunic’s shot missed and Azarenka survived (40 unforced errors!) a tough, grind-it-out match against a fiery upstart in Krunic.

    “I want to play my first point to the last point with the same attitude. I put my heart out on the court,” Azarenka said during the ESPN broadcast. “She [Ekaterina Makarova] is a tough player. She’s very consistent and beat so many good players. I’ll focus on my game and take my chances.”

    Azarenka has two, big, fat, curvy runner-ups on her U.S. Open history sheet. She registered those in 2012 and 2013, both times coming at the hands of Williams.

    Williams has found her groove after a lackluster run through the Grand Slams this year.

    Azarenka’s road has been rough in its own way. She reached the quarterfinals in the Australian Open, skipped the French Open and lost in the second round at Wimbledon.

    If Azarenka gets by Makarova she could face Williams for the third straight year at Flushing Meadows. Williams has the edge, but discounting Azarenka in a power-on-power match is done at your risk.