Women’s US Open Update and Final Week Preview

By David Arkow

With 120 singles matches completed on the women’s side of the US Open, that provides a great opportunity to look back at some of the best matches so far as well as look forward to the exciting matchups to come in the final weekend. At the start of the tournament, we simulated the original draw to give all players a probability not only to win the whole tournament but also to reach a specific round. For example, at the start of the tournament, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka had a 41% chance of reaching the quarterfinals given that she had to win four matches to get there. Now that Sabalenka has reached the quarters, along with 7 other players, we can run a new simulation to give updated probabilities for each of the remaining players to advance. Obviously, all of their current probabilities to win the title will be greater than their original as there are only 8 players remaining (3 rounds) as opposed to the initial 128 players (7 rounds). 

Big Upsets

Having a draw with 128 players, there is pretty much guaranteed to be some big upsets. Using the initial simulation, we can quantify exactly how rare certain upsets are rather than just looking at the ranking differential between the players. In contrast to the men’s side which saw 12 seeds fall in the first round, the women saw far fewer upsets, yet the magnitude of some were pretty large. In searching for ten upsets by seeding, some of them were not even that surprising when looking at the underlying probabilities. After the first four rounds of the tournament, here are some of the most surprising upsets.

Remarkably, only one seed, No. 31 Yulia Putintseva, fell in the opening round and that match was basically a 50-50 tossup. And then only three more seeds fell in the second round all outside the Top 20. But then there was a lot of carnage in the third round as the two original favorites by simulation at the outset of the tournament, No. 1 Ash Barty and No. 3 Naomi Osaka, were both knocked out. Barty fell to Shelby Rogers in a third set tiebreak after leading 5-2 in the final set. Barty had won all five of their career matchups making Roger’s upset of the No. 1 seed even more shocking. Roger’s advanced the farthest of any American (fourth round) despite not being seeded and also made the quarterfinals last year. 

Osaka also lost a tight three-set battle to 19 year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez. In Osaka’s post-match press conference, she made clear her mental struggles and “does not know when she will play again.” It seems plausible that Osaka will be done for the year and tennis fans will be greatly anticipating her return hopefully in 2022. 

Coco Gauff’s US Open struggles continued as she was ousted by fellow American Sloane Stephens in two quick sets, 6-4, 6-2. The former 2017 Champion also defeated countrywoman Madison Keys in her opening round match in an intense third-set tiebreak.

Previewing the Rest of The US Open

Emma Raducanu has pulled off her second consecutive Grand Slam cinderella run. The 18 year-old Brit made it to the fourth round in front of a home crowd at Wimbledon in her Slam debut. Ranked No. 150, Raducanu had to qualify for the US Open but hasn’t dropped a set in seven matches and has won 73% of games. She now faces No. 11 seed and reigning Tokyo gold medalist, Belinda Bencic, who also hasn’t lost a game. Bencic had a similar breakout run to Raducanu when she made the quarters of the 2014 US Open at 17 years old. Experience favors Bencic as she looks to advance to the semis (which she did in 2019) and potentially further.

It is no surprise to see No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals as she has probably been the most consistent WTA player since the start of the summer. Pliskova lost in a tight three sets to Barty in the Wimbledon final, lost in the finals of the Canadian Masters 1000, and reached the semis at Cincinnati. The US Open is historically her best Slam (71% winning percentage) and she made the finals back in 2016. She’s the favorite to emerge from the top half of the draw with a 16% championship probability. Nevertheless, she faces a tough quarterfinal opponent in No. 17 Maria Sakkari as it is nearly a 50-50 tossup. Sakkari has had a stellar season making the semis of Roland Garros and has had solid matches in New York knocking out two higher seeds (No. 6 Bianca Andreescu and No. 10 Petra Kvitova). Her powerful baseline strokes favor the fast hard courts and she could upset Pliskova’s pursuit of her first Slam. 

After Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez is the second youngest player remaining and has arguably had the more impressive path to the quarters knocking out defending champion Osaka and 2016 champion and No. 16 seed Angelique Kerber. Fernandez faces another tough matchup against No. 5 Elina Svitolina who hasn’t dropped a set, got the bronze in Tokyo, and just won the Chicago Open. Svitolina is engaged to ATP player Gael Monfils, who has also had his share of success at the US Open (2016 semifinalist). Svitolina also made the semis in 2019 and will look to build on her momentum and make an even deeper run. A potential semifinal matchup against Sabalenka would be intriguing as the pair have split their two career meetings, both in three sets. 

While the two headliners - Barty and Osaka - were ousted earlier on, No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka has quietly been dominating her side of the draw only dropping a single set. But likewise has her opponent and the surprise French Open champion from earlier this year, No. 8 seed Barbora Krejcikova. These are two of the strongest players remaining by seeding and is one of the tighter quarterfinal matchup as Sabalenka is the 57% favorite. Expect this to be one of the most intriguing matches as these two are both playing the best tennis of their careers. Sabalenka has the highest odds of the field left at 24% showing how the competitive the field is (if everyone were equal favorites they would each have a 12.5% at the title). 

While there aren’t the traditional names we are used to seeing in the late rounds of the US Open like Serena, Barty, or Osaka and an absence of Americans, plenty of others have stepped up on the biggest stage whether it is teenagers like Raducanu or Fernandez or others who have been on the rise for a while like Sabalenka, Krejcikova, or Svitolina. All of them have a probable shot at the title and it’s pretty likely that there will be a first time Grand Slam champion.

David Arkow '24 is an economics major and member of the Harvard Varsity Men's Tennis Team. He also serves on the board of HSAC. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach out to him darkow@college.harvard.edu. You can check out his original preview of the women's draw along with his updated preview of the men's draw.

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