With the US Open signaling the final quarter of the tennis season, many women on the WTA Tour are looking to reclaim the success they found earlier in the year, and prove that early season success was no fluke or over-achievement. The likes of Lauren Davis, Kiki Mladenovic, and Daria Kasatkina are all limping into the US Open, but hoping to find a spark to charge them on to late season victory.
Lauren Davis started the year as one of the hottest women on tour. In early 2017 Davis won Auckland, made the quarterfinals of Doha and Dubai, and reached the round of 16 at Indian Wells. Her ranking rose to a career high of 26. She seemed to have found the power and confidence that her small stature seemed to deprive her of sometimes. Her coaching change to Mark Schanerman and an extended break from the game to focus on family and faith seemed to trigger a joyful exuberance on the court that was translating into great play. However, from Miami on, Davis has a mere record of 7 wins and 16 losses, including 4 straight first round defeats heading into the US Open. In her first round loss to Genie Bouchard, Davis looked bewildered at times; her game never settling into any consistent strategy or performance. One point she would be content to try and simply counter-punch Bouchard into an error; the next point she would be swinging heavy and aggressive from defensive positions in the court; another point would find her coming into the net behind a low slice. This lack of decision making typically signals a lack of confidence. Davis needs to remember that stellar run at the beginning of 2017 and play those points over and over in her head if she hopes to rebound and save her ranking through the last quarter of the season.
The French woman had a fantastic post Aussie Open run. Winning St. Petersburg, making the finals of both Alcapolco, Stuttgart, and Madrid, while making the semis of Indian Wells, and the quarters of Roland Garros. However, since the end of the clay court season, Mladenovic hasn’t advanced past the quarters of any tournament, and has lost in the 1st or 2nd round in her last 4 tournaments. Over the past few months, Mladenovic’s first serve percentage has dropped significantly, along with her rate of return winners. A game based upon power and precision, has looked sloppy and unorganized. Mladenovic was visibly shook after her heartbreaking loss at the French, and was open to the press about what a disappointment that loss was. One must wonder if that loss is still having a nagging impact on her confidence and motivation on the court this second half of 2017. With the combination of a big serve and big forehand, Mladenovic has all the tools to rebound and make up rankings ground during the European indoor and Asian outdoor swing of the season.
Kasatkina delivered on the promise of her crafty game by winning the Family Circle Cup in Charleston this spring. Many thought that this would spring board the hard nosed competitor onto a strong clay court season and a huge rankings boost; however, after her great week in the resort town, Kasatkina followed up that win with a string of disappointing first round losses, and limped into the French Open where she lost in the round of 32 to finalist Simona Halep. Her post clay court run hasn’t been much better. Injuries have kept the young Russian from playing much tennis this summer. Having sprained her ankle severely at Rome, Kasatkina rushed back to play the French Open. Since then she has only played three tournaments (Wimbledon, Toronto, and Cincy) With a game that relies so heavily on movement– the ability to take the ball early and turn defense into offense, Kasatkina is severely limited when she can’t get to the ball the way she wants. She doesn’t have the fire power off either wing to simply hit her way out of a match. The return of a healthy body will be so critical as she enters the European indoor season (after the US Open) where the fast carpet courts will not afford her much room for error.
With the US Open fast approaching, all three of these talented young players are seeking to reclaim the form, health, and confidence that made them three of the early season success stories on tour; and at a slam that is missing Serena and Azarenka; with a Sharapova that seems to have her own health issues; and with a field of untested tour leaders; it may the time to reassert their names into the conversation.