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With Serena and Venus Williams clearly on the downside of their careers, no one is waiting in the wings besides a select group, and Sharapova is among the list of candidates.
Kim Clijsters is aging and has a kid making it tough to focus on competition. She also did not have a good showing at Wimbledon, in part because of an injury and also because she has lost a step.
Na Li is probably one of the biggest favorites other than Sharapova heading into the US Open. Unfortunately for Li, she has never made it past the quarterfinals at the US Open, which has tied Wimbledon for providing a stage for her worst Grand Slam appearance. Sharapova is also 3-0 against Li on hard courts, never losing a set on any occasion.
There are only two players that can give Sharapova a run for her money. One is Petra Kvitova, the person who handled Sharapova in the Wimbledon finals this year. If Sharapova wants to beat Kvitova, she can’t go for unnecessary winners and her serve needs to improve.
Next is Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka matches up very well with Sharapova because they both are two of the best service returners and baseline players in women’s tennis. The matchup is spilt between Azarenka and Sharapova (3-3).
The only flaw Azarenka has is her performance in Grand Slams. Nerves seem to get the best of Azarenka. Her best US Open appearance was in 2007, losing in the fourth round to Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Caroline Wozniacki doesn’t even deserve to be in the conversation, and that’s all I’m going to say about the No. 1 player in the world.