US Open women’s preview: Can Coco Gauff or Jessica Pegula crack the WTA’s Big 3 in the Big Apple?

US Open women's preview: Can Coco Gauff or Jessica Pegula crack the WTA’s Big 3 in the Big Apple?

The doubles partners have given America hope this summer, but now is when things matter most. The Americans are coming: Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff were the winners of the two biggest women’s US Open tune-up events, in Montreal and Cincinnati. Can these doubles partners take the next step and make it to the final weekend at the Open itself? Or will the three Europeans at the top of the rankings—Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, and Elena Rybakina—prove too difficult to knock off?

At Wimbledon, Gauff took a first-round loss, while Pegula squandered an opportunity to reach a Slam semi. Both have turned things around since. It’s tempting to think Swiatek’s two semifinal losses in August—to Pegula in Montreal and Gauff in Cincy—make her vulnerable in New York. But her results were worse last year, and she still ended up winning the Open. So Swiatek is the favorite again until proven otherwise.

Is anyone in her quarter ready to prove it? The seeds near her are Elisabeth Cocciaretto, Jelena Ostapenko and Veronika Kudermetova. Of those, Ostapenko stands out as someone who can trade bombs with Swiatek. On the other side of this section, Gauff and Petra Kvitova are the top contenders to make the quarters. Players who could potentially knock them off include Mirra Andreeva, Danielle Collins and…Caroline Wozniacki? The two-time Open finalist might play Kvitova in the second round.

As for Gauff, despite her improvements, I still think she’s vulnerable to an off day, and if she does get to play Swiatek in the quarters, I don’t see the Pole being as generous in the big moments as she was in their semifinal in Cincy. First-round match to watch: Ostapenko vs. Jasmine Paolini Potential second-round matches to watch: Gauff vs. M. Andreeva, Kvitova vs. Wozniacki
Rybakina may still be trying to recover from the match she won in Montreal over Daria Kasatkina at 3:00 AM two weeks ago. The next day, she said she was “destroyed,” and she had to retire from her second-round match in Cincinnati a few days later. If she’s healthy and at her best, though, she’ll be the favorite in this quarter. The No. 4 seed will start against Marta Kostyuk and could play Belinda Bencic in the fourth round. Her most likely quarterfinal opponents would be Maria Sakkari or Karolina Muchova, who is certainly in form at the moment.

Returning: Ajla Tomljanovic. The 2022 Open quarterfinalist, and last player to defeat Serena Williams, will play her first match of 2023, against Panna Udvardy of Hungary. The winner probably gets Rybakina. First-round match to watch: Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Sloane Stephens
Pegula has been to six Grand Slam quarterfinals since 2021, including one at the Open last year, but has never advanced to a semi. Can the New York state native finally go farther, or is this steadiest of competitors destined not to have enough firepower to compete at the business end of a Slam? As the Montreal champ, and the No. 3 seed, expectations at home are high.

It won’t be easy for a player who has to work for every point she wins. Pegula will start against a streaky hitter in Camila Giorgi. She could play Wimbledon semifinalist Elina Svitolina in the third round. In the fourth, she might face either fellow American and former Open finalist Madison Keys, or a rising Liudmila Samsonova. Waiting in the quarterfinals might be Wimbledon champ Marketa Vondrousova. Dark Horse: Samsonova. At 24, she’s won four titles and reached the Top 15. A trip to her first major quarterfinal, or beyond, would seem to be in order. First-round match to watch: Pegula vs. Giorgi

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