2014 Series Players to Watch: Women

January 27, 2014 09:04 AM
Serena Williams won her third Rogers Cup title in 2013, 12 years after her first.

By E.J. Crawford

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Emirates Airline US Open Series, and in the middle of a cold winter and with 2014 now upon us, here is a look at how this year’s summer season could play out for the women:

Click here for a recap of the men's players to watch in 2014.

The Favorites

The two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka has been perhaps the most consistent hard-court performer in women’s tennis over the last three years, but she has yet to win the Series championship. She boasts three Top 5 Series finishes in all, including as runner-up in 2013, when she won the title in Cincinnati.

Li Na has established herself as a legitimate threat to the Serena Williams/Victoria Azarenka hard-court dominance, cementing that standing with her second Grand Slam title at this year's Australian Open. She also reached the semifinals at the 2013 US Open, and in 2012 she took the title in Cincinnati en route to a second-place finish in the Series standings, her best Series showing.

After not cracking the Top 5 during the first seven years of the Series, Serena Williams has become a force over the last three seasons, winning Series titles in 2011 and 2013 and finishing third in 2012. Her hard-court bona fides are also among the best in the history of women’s tennis, with five Australian Open and five US Open women’s singles titles.

The Contenders

Agnieszka Radwanksa has quietly become one of the best hard-court players in the world, with eight titles on the surface in the last three years and a Top 3 Series finish in 2011 and 2013. She is also a frequent participant in Series events, having played in four of the five tournaments in 2013 (highlighted by a runner-up showing in Stanford).

Maria Sharapova missed the majority of the 2013 summer hard-court season due to injury, but she is a strong contender to be back in the mix in 2014. A former Australian Open and US Open champion, the Russian won the Series title in 2007 and finished in the Top 5 of the Series standings in five of six years between 2006 and 2011.

With another year of success under her belt, Sloane Stephens could be the player best positioned for a breakout performance during the 2014 Series. In 2013, the American No. 2 reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and the fourth round at the US Open, and she won two matches each in Series events in Cincinnati, New Haven and Toronto.

The Sleepers

One of the rising stars in women’s tennis, 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard improved her ranking from No. 144 at year-end 2012 to No. 32 in 2013, and then took the next step early this year by reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open. In 2013, her best results came on hard courts, including a semifinal run in Quebec City and a runner-up showing in Osaka, Japan.

Dominika Cibulkova put herself in the conversation of hard-court standouts with her stunning run to the 2014 Australian Open final. She is also a consistent performer in the Series, having won two of her three career titles in Series events (in Carlsbad in 2012 and Stanford in 2013).

Simona Halep may very well rise to contender status by the dawn of the 2014 Series. In 2013, she knocked off former Series champions Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki to win the title in New Haven, and her six tournament titles last year (three on hard courts) were second only to Serena Williams.

2006 Series champion Ana Ivanovic has moved back into contention the last few years. The former world No. 1 has reached the round of 16 or better at each of the last six hard-court Slams, beating Serena Williams at this year's Ausrtalian Open to reach the quarterfinals, and nine of her 11 career titles have come on hard courts.

The youngest player in the world’s Top 50, 18-year-old Madison Keys could soon establish herself as a contender for major titles. The big-serving American is most at home on hard courts, having reached the third round at the 2013 Australian Open.




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