The U.S. Open of 2011 began with a hurricane—well, almost—and was due to end on the 10th anniversary of 9/11; dramatic bookends at either end of the biggest annual sports event in the world.
Not content with an earthquake in New York during qualifying week, Flushing Meadows had to batten down the hatches on its opening weekend as Hurricane Irene blew her way across Queens. First casualty: the huge opening jamboree, Arthur Ashe Kids Day.
By the end of the first week, the tournament had released another press release to announce a new Grand Slam Open era record for the greatest number of players lost to illness or injury. Amongst the 11 men, five women and five doubles teams who had dropped out was former U.S. champion Venus Williams, who revealed she was suffering from the autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s Syndrome.
The women’s draw, however, had the potential for upsets right from the start. With defending champion Kim Clijsters unable to compete this year, the talk was about who could challenge the mighty Serena.
The question hung in the air, unanswered, as she rose to the tour's surface during the three short months since her return to competition like bubbles in a champagne glass. She lost just two matches out of 18, took back-to-back titles in the U.S. Open Series at Stanford and Toronto, and the Olympus Open Series.
Apart from Williams, however, the U.S. Open draw included seven other Grand Slam winners, though it soon became clear that the title would not go to any of this year's titlists. Along with Clijsters, they were Na Li in Paris and Petra Kvitova in Wimbledon—both lost in the first round.
Two other major winners did rather better, though they were both champions on the clay of Paris.
Ana Ivanovic won the French title in 2008 as a teenager, but she fell in the fourth round, a victim of Serena’s disproportionately low seeding of 28.
Francesca Schiavone, winner in Paris in 2010, was also a quarter-finalist here last year, but she too lost in the fourth round.
So what about the remaining former U.S. champions in the draw?
Maria Sharapova won in New York in 2006, but come her third-round match against Flavia Pennetta, she hit 12 double faults in a total of 60 unforced errors. The favorite to reach the final against Williams was gone.
Svetlana Kuznetsova came to Flushing as an 18-year-old in 2004 to take the tournament by storm and won the French Open as recently as 2009. In the fourth round, she met—and seemed to have beaten—top seed Caroline Wozniacki, winning the first-set tiebreak and rushing to a 4-1 lead in the second set.
But the Dane fought back to a three-hour win.
By the middle of the second week, then, Williams was the only remaining Grand Slam winner and an even hotter favorite than when she swept her way through her two opening matches for the loss of just three games.
Cue Tropical Storm Lee, which brought Flushing Meadows to a standstill.
A waterlogged Louis Armstrong court was taken out of commission, as blisters and cracks broke up the surface, forcing Wozniacki and Andrea Petkovic to play their quarterfinal in the outer reaches of Court 13.
The No.1’s reward was a pasting by Williams in the semis.
There were more raised eyebrows when one of the women’s semifinals was scheduled on Grandstand while the other, along with the men’s semifinals, all featured on Arthur Ashe.
The contenders in the relegated semifinal comprised one of the biggest outsiders of the tournament, the 92nd-ranked German Angelique Kerber, and the woman who was looking more impressive with every day.
Sam Stosur had beaten Nadia Petrova, Maria Kirilenko and then-No. 2 seed Vera Zvonareva in the quarters.
Stosur had also set two records along the way: the longest U.S. Open women’s match and the longest tiebreak in a major. This was her sixth match without a sniff of the biggest stage in tennis, and yet she would soon become the new champion.
By claiming the biggest scalp, along with her biggest title, Stosur rightly takes the Power Ranking trophy, too.
First though, a look at who else made hay while the sun tried to shine in New York.
The "Power Rankings" is a season-long series written by JA Allen, Ronger Fengerer and Marianne Bevis, and aims to reflect the current form of the players.
For a detailed explanation of how the rankings work, see The Power Ranking System.