Ranking the Top 10 Women's Players Heading into the 2016 US Open
The WTA Tour finally has what it's lacked for much of the last three years: a serious tussle for the No. 1 ranking going into a Grand Slam.
Realistically, it's more of a three-woman race between Williams, Kerber and Muguruza.
Kerber has a 460-point edge over Williams because she has so few points to defend. Williams must reach the semifinals and hope Kerber loses before then. Kerber could lose in the first round and still overtake Williams at No. 1 if the 22-time Grand Slam winner falters in the first week.
This makes for a tight race in this ranking.
Kerber's runner-up finish at Wimbledon, her silver medal at the Olympics and upset loss to Karolina Pliskova at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati mark three times this summer that the German has come up short.
Did she fall short on this list, too?
Roberta Vinci returns to Flushing Meadows ranked No. 8. Despite her history-interrupting upset against Williams in 2015 and her place on the WTA's list, Vinci is not featured here. That's because she's ranked No. 19 on the Road to Singapore.
Dominika Cibulkova is ranked No. 13 by the WTA, but she gets an honorable mention because of her run at Wimbledon, her success on hard courts and she's No. 6 on the Road to Singapore, ahead of Venus Williams and Madison Keys—two of the three Americans in the WTA Top 10.
Where do they fall on this list? Check out the top 10 women's players headed into the 2016 U.S. Open.
Honorable Mention: Dominika Cibulkova
After reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, Cibulkova got married. Her post nuptial record is 4-3. Prior to getting married, Cibulkova had gone 9-1 in her last 10 matches, including winning a title at Eastbourne.
Still, you can't dismiss the "Pocket Rocket." She is 37-15 and has won two titles. If she has a strong showing at Flushing Meadows, she has a real shot at qualifying for the WTA Championships.
10. Johanna Konta
Since becoming a British citizen in 2012, Johanna Konta has quietly risen to the rank as Great Britain's No. 1 player on the WTA tour.
She's ranked No. 14 and will be seeded No. 13 at the U.S. Open.
Last year she reached the fourth round at the U.S. Open. She backed that up with a semifinal appearance at this year's Australian Open.
She notched her biggest win earlier this summer at Stanford, where she defeated Venus Williams in the final.
The reason she is ranked No. 10 on this list is because of her success on the hard courts. Her 24-10 record on hard courts is second only to Kerber for most wins on the surface this season.
9. Karolina Pliskova
Pliskova leads all players in aces (407) served this season. That's a spot usually held down by Serena Williams.
Pliskova just pulled off the upset in Cincinnati that kept Kerber from taking over the No. 1 ranking.
Her bullet serve and newfound confidence is the reason Pliskova comes in at No. 9 on this list despite being seeded No. 10.
She's always had the easy power, what she lacked was that big win—the confidence booster. She got it against Kerber. It's a sign that she's getting better under pressure. Another sign is her 17-6 record in tiebreakers this season.
After her win, Pliskova told reporters, per ASAPSports transcripts: "I'm always learning from the tournaments and finals what I've played. This tournament I was, like I said, improving round to round. That's the main thing, that you can play the best tennis in the final."
8. Carla Suarez Navarro
Carla Suarez Navarro is one of the more consistent players on the tour. Without much fanfare, she continues to stay in the mix for a Top 10 WTA ranking.
She's ranked at No. 12 but comes in No. 8 here because of how solid she's been at the Grand Slams. She reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the fourth round at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Suarez Navarro is also ranked No. 7 in the singles race to Singapore. She's ranked ninth for most wins against Top 10 players (four) and third for most three-set match wins (14).
She's the WTA's answer to compatriot David Ferrer, the little Spanish engine that could.
7. Madison Keys
Keys withdrew from the Connecticut Open in New Haven with a neck injury. Still, she comes in at No. 7 on this list, but she'll be seeded No. 8 at the U.S. Open.
Her record at the U.S. Open is 5-4. She made it to the fourth round or better at six of the last seven Grand Slams.
Keys is No. 8 on the Road to Singapore and sixth in most aces (187) served. She is also ranked No. 2, behind Konta, in second-serve points-won percentage and fifth in matches won (34).
So what about the neck injury? Keys told the Associated Press (h/t USA Today) that it was just precautionary. The 21-year-old said: "Coming off a good Montreal (tournament) and having a good Olympics, I wanted to have another good week before the Open."
6. Venus Williams
Venus Williams is ranked No. 6 and will be seeded the same at the U.S. Open. She is the only active player on the tour—other than her younger sister—who has more than one U.S. Open title.
She lost in the first round of the Olympics in singles and doubles. She got a third chance at a medal in mixed doubles and had to settle for silver after losing a tiebreaker.
Last year, Venus was seeded No. 23. With the higher ranking, she should be able to avoid an early run in with little sis.
5. Agnieszka Radwanska
Radwanska took a wild-card berth to play in New Haven to strengthen her points position heading into the U.S. Open.
While all the talk is about Kerber and Serena, Radwanska has an outside chance to take the top spot. That decision to take the wild card has paid off. The 27-year-old made it to the semifinals after a 6-1, 6-4 win over Kirsten Flipkens in the quarterfinals.
She lost in the third round at the U.S. Open and has only 130 points to defend. In search of her first Grand Slam title, Radwanska could be a sleeper.
4. Garbine Muguruza
When Muguruza won the French Open, it appeared her time had arrived. It marked her second Grand Slam final appearance in less than a year.
However, her results have been mixed since then. She lost her No. 2 ranking to Kerber and comes in at No. 4 in our list despite her No. 3 ranking on the tour. That's because Muguruza is 1-3 at the U.S. Open.
Last year's second-round exit was her best appearance at Flushing Meadows. She's also ranked No. 4 on the Road to Singapore.
3. Simona Halep
Like Radwanska, Simona Halep is still searching for her first Grand Slam title. Both have reached a Slam final and have reached career-high No. 2. However, they find themselves on the outside of the power struggle for No. 1.
Halep lost to Kerber in the semifinals at Cincinnati. She's ranked No. 5 but comes in at No. 3 here based on her history at Flushing Meadows.
Halep reached the semifinals last year but fell short to Flavia Pennetta, the eventual winner. Had she been able to produce the type of performance she had against Azarenka in the quarterfinals, Halep would have been the player facing Vinci in the final.
Instead, she melted under the red-hot pressure of high expectations. She's 12-6 at Flushing Meadows.
2. Angelique Kerber
Kerber goes into the U.S. Open with another chance to overtake Serena Williams at No. 1. She knows she missed a golden opportunity last Sunday.
The German credits her rise in the rankings to her increased fitness. She told CNN.com's Open Court: "Right now I'm one of the fittest players in the world. It's strange, but it helps you really to reach your goals at the end."
She reached the semifinal of the U.S. Open in 2011. However, the past two years, she's been knocked out of the tournament in the third round.
Still, with a Grand Slam win and final appearances at Wimbledon, the Olympics and in Cincinnati, Kerber is clearly the No. 2 player on the tour.
1. Serena Williams
Serena Williams' hasn't dominated the tour this year as she has in the past. She's playing fewer matches and the rest of the field is catching up.
However, Williams still leads in most games won this season. She's the only player to reach the final in all three Grand Slams. Her record at Flushing Meadows is a mind-boggling 84-10.
Her serve is more vulnerable. Pliskova doesn't just lead in total aces, she is serving about four more aces per match than Williams.
Yet Williams leads Pliskova in first-serve points-won percentage. That's what separates her from the rest—the ability to consistently produce high-percentage play.
So even though her serve has come down to earth, she still hovers above the field. She will remain No. 1 here until someone takes the No. 1 WTA ranking away from her, not by default, but by beating her in a Slam.
Kerber may get that chance.