Ranking the Top 10 Women's Players After the 2015 US Open
Flavia Pennetta shocked the tennis world by capturing the 2015 U.S. Open title, becoming one of the more unlikely major champions in recent years. For the veteran Italian, her fortnight ended with a career-defining victory.
That underdog story was only one of the many surprises unleashed upon New York during the tournament. Scintillating battles and a wave of upsets in the sweltering heat made this journey an unforgettable one.
But not everyone was as fortunate as Pennetta, who took down unseeded countrywoman Roberta Vinci for the crown. Serena Williams' quest for a historic calendar Grand Slam imploded in the semifinals, leaving the world No. 1 in a state of disbelief.
Elsewhere, stars like Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova went further than they ever had in Flushing Meadows, but they each left after tough losses to the Italian finalists. Other top-ranked players such as Caroline Wozniacki, Lucie Safarova and Ana Ivanovic were among the many who flamed out early.
Now that the chaos is over, it's time to reassess where the biggest names in tennis stand. Based on current rankings, their recent results and a forecast for the fall, here is a refreshed look at the Top 10 after this unpredictable U.S. Open.
It's only fitting Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic be grouped together because they each have a penchant for constantly underwhelming us.
How they remain in the official top-10 rankings, despite repeated shortcomings at Grand Slams is a mystery. But they just missed out on our list because of their early exits in New York.
Wozniacki failed to replicate her run to last year's final, falling in a second-round upset to Petra Cetkovska. And Ivanovic? She couldn't even make it that far, crashing out in her first match to Dominika Cibulkova. Oy vey.
Success at smaller events is cool, but middling results at a prestigious tournament like the U.S. Open penalize them here.
10. Madison Keys
Why did we put Madison Keys above other contenders like Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic? Because she's turning herself into more of a consistent threat at majors.
While the 20-year-old American isn't ready yet to call herself a Grand Slam champion, Keys showed us in 2015 that she's not that far away. Her power is spectacular, but more work is needed in terms of her movement and tactical expertise. With Lindsay Davenport in her coaching corner, odds are she'll eventually clean up those parts of her game.
Keys played some good tennis in New York. Unfortunately for her, she ran into a juggernaut named Serena Williams. Had her luck been a little better in terms of the draw, Keys might've gone much further.
For now, her focus should be on getting closer to the actual top 10. Some good results in the coming weeks may even net her a spot in the WTA Finals.
9. Angelique Kerber
Angelique Kerber just quietly goes about her business, content to fly under the radar.
Well, a third-round exit from the U.S. Open ensured her continued relative anonymity. She pushed Victoria Azarenka hard, but the German lefty couldn't seal the deal and lost a 5-7, 6-2, 4-6 heartbreaker. That early loss won't drop her out of the top 10, and she snuck onto our list as well.
She deserves praise for winning four titles (Charleston, Stuttgart, Birmingham, Stanford) so far in 2015. That Kerber conquered all three surfaces is even more impressive. What holds her back, however, is her failure to reach a single fourth round at a major this year.
Kerber will have to wait a while longer to vindicate herself there.
8. Garbine Muguruza
Garbine Muguruza cracked our list, but her stock has taken a hit since her thrilling run to the Wimbledon final.
She had a summer to forget on the hard courts, dropping her opening matches in Toronto and Cincinnati and losing in the second round of the U.S. Open to Johanna Konta. The faster surfaces just didn't seem to accentuate her game well. At all.
But there's still plenty of hope for the young Spaniard. She has enough talent to possibly win a few majors, and her dry spell recently is just another learning curve. Give her more time to work out the kinks.
Beyond her runner-up finish at Wimbledon, Muguruza reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and the fourth round at the French Open. She's becoming a mainstay at the latter end of those events.
Watch for her to start taking the next steps soon.
7. Lucie Safarova
Let's be blunt: Lucie Safarova bombed at the U.S. Open.
The soon-to-be No. 5 player in the world hardly played up to that billing in New York, where she lost her first round match 6-4, 6-1 to Lesia Tsurenko. That performance was an unmitigated disaster.
It'll be tough to forget that match, but Safarova will rest a little easier knowing she's currently fourth in the year-to-date points race. Thanks to her finals appearances at the French Open and New Haven, title in Doha and quarterfinal runs in Dubai, Madrid and Toronto, her season as a whole has been solid.
6. Belinda Bencic
This summer, Bencic won titles on the grass in Eastbourne and the hard courts in Toronto. Her run in Canada was especially impressive as she took out the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Simona Halep and (most notably) Serena Williams. What a dream week for the rising star.
In New York, she couldn't quite handle Venus Williams' veteran wisdom and experience. It was definitely a learning experience for the prodigy. Yet expect her to rebound from it and make a push this fall.
At age 18, she's already within striking distance of the official top 10 and has a legitimate shot to qualify for the WTA Finals.
5. Flavia Pennetta
Flavia Pennetta picked the ultimate way to walk off into the sunset, earning the biggest prize of her career before dropping a bombshell and announcing her retirement.
She later specified her intention to finish out this season, but what a perfect closing statement for the oldest first-time major winner in the Open era. And to think Pennetta began the tournament seeded 26th.
The 33-year-old Italian put together an absolutely stunning run, taking out quality players such as Samantha Stosur, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep to reach the final. There, she defeated her good friend Roberta Vinci in a 7-6 (4), 6-2 triumph. Her cool demeanor and gorgeous backhand proved the perfect tools throughout the two weeks.
When the official rankings come out, Pennetta will land at No. 8—a personal best. Even if she never wins another match, Pennetta can always call herself a Grand Slam champion. That distinction merits her inclusion high on this list.
4. Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova's inconsistent campaign saw more highs and lows in the last few weeks.
The highs? Beating Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and Lucie Safarova in succession for the New Haven title. Her first-ever quarterfinal appearance at the U.S. Open also counts as a positive development.
But a battle with mononucleosis this summer kept her from peak fitness. At times, she looked so sluggish. Take her opening-match losses in Toronto and Cincinnati as examples, as well as her failure to close out Flavia Pennetta in New York.
A trendy pick entering 2015 to win a major, here's how she ultimately fared at those events: third round, fourth round, third round and quarterfinals. Talk about a letdown.
While she boasts three titles (Sydney, Madrid, New Haven), her inability to perform better on the big stages dilutes her season.
3. Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova is clinging to this spot, but none of her peers have really made a compelling case for why they should jump her.
Sidelined since Wimbledon because of a right leg injury, Sharapova pulled out of the U.S. Open after previously skipping Toronto and Cincinnati. She expects to return for the upcoming indoor swing, but what level will Sharapova be able to muster after such a long layoff?
The good news is that she already qualified for the WTA Finals, thanks to some strong results earlier this year. Besides reaching the Australian Open final and Wimbledon semifinals (both losses to Serena Williams), Sharapova clinched a title on the red clay in Rome and another in Brisbane. Though her level dipped briefly in the spring, she sports a solid 34-7 record in 2015.
To get back to No. 2 in the rankings and fend off her rivals, Sharapova needs to quickly shake off any rust and make her fall campaign a memorable one.
2. Simona Halep
When she crashed out in the second round at the French Open and lost her opening match at Wimbledon, doubts started to intensify about Simona Halep. Had she already peaked? Was her time as a top contender slipping away?
Well this summer, she answered both those questions with a definitive "no."
Halep hasn't won an event in six months, but she came awfully close during the U.S. Open series. In Toronto and Cincinnati, the world No. 2 made both finals. Only a leg injury and an in-form Serena Williams kept her from those titles.
In New York, she advanced past the fourth round for the first time and seemed destined to reach her second Grand Slam final. But Flavia Pennetta had other ideas and dealt her a decisive semifinal loss. With hindsight, that loss must be excruciating knowing she wouldn't have had to face Williams in the championship. So close to glory.
On the bright side, she has to be encouraged with how her level of play is rising. Maybe a fourth title of the year is in the works.
1. Serena Williams
Her loss in the U.S. Open semifinals to unseeded Roberta Vinci ranks as one of the biggest upsets in the modern era of tennis. It might even be at the top of that list.
Williams had a rare and historic calendar Grand Slam within her grasp...and she squandered it. Unsure of what to do against Vinci's tricky style of play, the world No. 1 couldn't find enough solutions. Sloppy, uncharacteristic errors were the final nail in the coffin.
Despite that bitter defeat, Williams is still the undisputed queen of the game. Winning the first three Grand Slams and capturing titles in Miami and Cincinnati, her season qualifies as a tremendous success. That we consider a loss in the semifinals of a major so disappointing just underscores her level of dominance.
When she steps back on the court this fall, you can bet Williams will be extremely motivated to make amends for that loss in New York.
All statistics are courtesy of WTATennis.com unless otherwise noted.
Joe Kennard is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.