Women's Tennis Power Rankings: Maria Sharapova Leads the Way to New York
The green lawns of the All England Club and the red dirt of Roland Garros have faded into the background and the U.S. summer hard court season is quickly accelerating to its final and ultimate destination: the US Open.
After back-to-back Premier Mandatory events in Toronto and Cincinnati, only the top two in the last women's power rankings managed to stay in the top 10 this time.
Many top players took a break after Wimbledon to recuperate. And most of them chose the mandatory event at Stanford as their first tournament back. Serena Williams was unquestionably the player of the US Open Series, taking two big titles in Stanford and Toronto, while the last two Grand Slam winners Petra Kvitova and Li Na struggled to find their top form. The biggest surprise, though, was the poor performance of the world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who suffered back-to-back first-round losses in Toronto and Cincinnati.
The "Power Rankings" is a season-long series written by JA Allen, Marianne Bevis and myself. In each installment, we make a list of the top 10 players who have performed the best in the four events they played prior to the rankings. The ranking is aimed to reflect the current form of the players rather than their overall abilities. For a detailed explanation of how the rankings work, please see The Power Ranking System.
No. 10 Peng Shuai (China)
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 14
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (Quarterfinalist), Toronto (R32), Carlsbad (Quarterfinalist), Wimbledon (R16)
Power Ranking Points: 335
Peng Shuai reached two quarterfinals in the summer hard court season so far. She withdrew from her second-round match against Li Na in Toronto and her quarterfinal match against Jelena Jankovic in Cincinnati with a left hip injury. Surprisingly, she entered this week's tournament in Dallas as the No. 1 seed.
Peng has compiled a 48-17 match record so far this year. She is enjoying her career-high ranking of No. 14 this week, but she is yet to win her first career title.
US Open Forecast: Peng has been playing solid tennis so far this season. Look for her to top her third-round effort at the US Open from last year, her best result in New York so far.
No. 9 Nadia Petrova (Russia)
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 25
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (Quarterfinalist), Toronto (R32), Washington D.C. (Winner), Wimbledon (R16)
Power Ranking Points: 365
Nadia Petrova's summer hard court campaign got off to a great start, winning her first title of the year in Washington D.C. She lost to Vera Zvonareva in the second round at Toronto and to Andrea Petkovic in the quarterfinals at Cincinnati.
The first half of 2011 was not good for Petrova, who only compiled a 9-13 match record prior to Wimbledon. She won three matches in a row for the first time at Wimbledon and that seemed to give her some confidence. She is yet to beat a top 10 player this year.
US Open Forecast: Petrova lost to Petkovic in the first round at the US Open last year. She made to the quarterfinals in 2004 and 2005, her best result in New York. It is very unlikely that she will be able to match that record this year.
No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland)
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 13
Last Four Tournaments: Toronto (Semifinalist), Carlsbad (Winner), Stanford (Quarterfinalist), Wimbledon (R64)
Power Ranking Points: 397
A recurring right shoulder injury forced Agnieszka Radwanska to withdraw from Cincinnati. But her summer hard court campaign was still very successful so far. She won the title in Carlsbad over Vera Zvonareva and reached the semifinal in Toronto. Her injury does not seem to be very severe, since she entered this week's New Haven event as the No. 5 seed. She is scheduled to play against Ekaterina Makarova in the first round.
Radwanska reached a career-high ranking of No. 8 earlier this year. But her performance in Grand Slams needs much improvement, as she has yet to advance beyond the quarterfinals.
US Open Forecast: Radwanska made to the fourth round in 2007 and 2008 at the US Open, her best results in New York so far. She lost in the second round in 2009 and 2010. With her lingering shoulder injury, it is unlikely that she can reach the quarterfinals this year.
No. 7 Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)
Last Power Ranking: 1; WTA Ranking: 6
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (R16), Toronto (R16), Wimbledon (Winner), Eastbourne (Finalist)
Power Ranking Points: 470
Petra Kvitova had a hugely successful grass court campaign, reaching the final at Eastbourne and winning the coveted Wimbledon crown. In back-to-back tournaments at Toronto and Cincinnati, she lost to Andrea Petkovic both times in the second round.
2011 has been a breakthrough year for Kvitova. She opened the season with a title run in Brisbane, beating Petkovic in the final. She won two more titles in Paris and Madrid before her grass court heroics. She is currently at a career-high ranking of No. 6.
US Open Forecast: Kvitova has been quite solid in three Grand Slams this year, reaching at least the fourth round in each of them. He lost to the eventual champion Kim Clijsters in the third round at the US Open last year. Though her performance in the last two tournaments is not very good, her maturity and quality should carry her to the second week.
No. 6 Samantha Stosur (Australia)
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 10
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (Quarterfinalist), Toronto (Finalist), Stanford (R32), Wimbledon (R128)
Power Ranking Points: 536
Samantha Stosur lost to Melinda Czink, ranked No. 262, in the first round at Wimbledon. She made another hasty exit at Stanford, losing to Sabine Lisicki in her opening match. But she made a quick turn-around in Toronto, making it all the way to the final, where she was beaten by a solid Serena Williams in straight sets. She reached the quarterfinals in Cincinnati, losing to the eventual champion Maria Sharapova.
Stosur is yet to win a title this year, losing to Sharapova in the Rome final earlier in the year. She reached a career-high ranking of No. 4 in February, but dropped out of top 10 after Stanford. She is now back to the top 10 again.
US Open Forecast: Stosur struggled mightily at the US Open prior to last season, compiling a 3-7 match record in New York. She was finally able to win back-to-back matches last year, reaching the quarterfinals before losing to the eventual champion Clijsters. With more consistency, she is likely to match her performance from last year.
No. 5 Andrea Petkovic (Germany)
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 11
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (Semifinalist), Toronto (Quarterfinalist), Carlsbad (Semifinalist), Wimbledon (R32)
Power Ranking Points: 594
Andrea Petkovic played solid tennis during the clay court season but faded quickly during the grass court campaign. After a short break, she seems ready to make some noise during the second hard court season. She played three tournaments in a row, starting with Carlsbad, and made to two semifinals and one quarterfinal. During the last three weeks, she beat Petra Kvitova twice, but lost to Agnieszka Radwanska twice.
Once known for her "Petko-dance," she is now a solid top player, making her top 10 debut last week. Hard court is her favorite surface, so it is likely that she will be able to top her career-high ranking of No. 10 by the end of this season.
US Open Forecast: Petkovic has only participated in the US Open three times, making to the fourth round last year, her best performance so far. She was a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open. Look for her to reach the fourth round in New York this year.
No. 4 Vera Zvonareva (Russia)
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 2
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (Semifinalist), Toronto (R16), Carlsbad (Finalist), Baku (Winner)
Power Ranking Points: 620
Unlike many top players, Vera Zvonareva chose the inaugural event at Baku in Azerbauan as her first tournament after Wimbledon. As expected, she did not face much challenge to her second title of the year. She then entered the tournament at Carlsbad as the top seed. She made to another final, overcoming Sabine Lisicki and Ana Ivanovic along the way, but she lost to Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets.
Zvonareva has been playing solid tennis this year, though she is yet to win a big title. She has managed to be quite consistent, never losing to a player outside of the top 35 in the world. But she needs to improve her performance against the top players, only holding a 4-7 win-loss record against the top 15 so far.
US Open Forecast: Zvonareva made her US Open breakthrough last year, reaching the final without dropping a set. But she was soundly beaten by the defending champion Kim Clijsters, winning only three games in the championship match. With her consistency, she should be able to make it to the quarterfinals this year.
No. 3 Jelena Jankovic (Serbia)
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 12
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (Finalist), Toronto (R64), Wimbledon (R128), Roland Garros (R16)
Power Ranking Points: 644
Jelena Jankovic suffered a first-round loss at Wimbledon, causing her to drop out of the top 10 in the world. She did not fare better in her first tournament back from a break, losing her opening match in Toronto to Julia Goerges in straight sets. But with an easy win over Iveta Benesova in Cincinnati, Jankovic got more confident and made her way into the title match after several tough contests. However, she failed to capture her first title of the year, losing to Maria Sharapova in three sets.
Jankovic took a wild card into the Premier event at New Haven this week. She is the No. 7 seed and will face Elena Vesnina in the first round.
US Open Forecast: Jankovic made to the final of US Open in 2008, losing to Serena Williams in straight sets. She struggled in New York since then, failing to advance beyond the third round. Her final showing in Cincinnati should give her enough confidence to break that record.
No. 2 Serena Williams (USA)
Last Power Ranking: NR; WTA Ranking: 29
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (R32), Toronto (Winner), Stanford (Winner), Wimbledon (R16)
Power Ranking Points: 673
After two mediocre performances in her first two tournaments back from a year-long layoff due to injuries and illness, Serena Williams showed no more signs of rust in her next two tournaments, winning back-to-back titles in Stanford and Toronto. Her final win at Stanford must be the most sweet, as she revenged her fourth-round loss to Marion Bartoli, winning in straight sets. She withdrew prior to her second-round match against Samantha Stosur in Cincinnati, citing a toe injury. She just beat Stosur in the title match at Toronto days ago.
After failing to defend her Wimbledon title, Williams dropped outside of the top 100 in the world. With two big titles under her belt, she has now quickly moved back to No. 29. This means she will be seeded in the upcoming US Open, definitely good news for all the top ranked players.
US Open Forecast: Though her toe injury puts some doubt on her US Open campaign, it is quite clear Serena Williams is the player to beat at the last Grand Slam of the year based on her performance in the US Open Series so far. She is a three-time US Open champion, last winning it in 2008. Due to injuries and illness, she was unable to compete in last year's US Open. She lost to Kim Clijsters in a memorable semifinal in 2009.
No. 1 Maria Sharapova (Russia)
Last Power Ranking: 2; WTA Ranking: 4
Last Four Tournaments: Cincinnati (Winner), Toronto (R16), Stanford (Quarterfinalist), Wimbledon (Finalist)
Power Ranking Points: 1168
Maria Sharapova suffered a disappointing loss to Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final, where she was the hot favorite to win her second Wimbledon crown. In her first tournament back in Stanford, she took a beating from Serena Williams in their much anticipated quarterfinal clash, winning only four games in two sets. More disappointment followed in Toronto, when she lost to world No. 135 Galina Voskoboeva in the second round in straight sets.
But Sharapova has always been known for her toughness. She hit back strongly in Cincinnati, winning her second Premier Mandatory title of the season. Sharapova made smooth progress prior to the semifinals, losing no more than five games in each of her three matches, her one-sided win over Samantha Stosur being the most impressive. In both the semifinal and the final, she needed to come back from a set down to win the match, beating Vera Zvonareva and Jelena Jankovic respectively. The win prompted her to move to No. 4 in the new world rankings, only trailing No. 2 Zvonareva fewer than 500 points.
US Open Forecast: After winning the US Open in 2006, Sharapova has yet to reach the quarterfinals again in New York. She lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round last year. But with her shoulder injury fully healed, two-time defending champion Kim Clijsters withdrawing due to injuries and the world top two (Wozniacki and Zvonareva) not in their best form, Sharapova should be able to make a deep run this year, unless she runs into Williams early.