By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – As many as 10 women competing at this year’s U.S. Open have a realistic shot at raising the trophy including all-time great Serena Williams and big-hitting teenager Bianca Andreescu.
That is the view of former world number one Chris Evert who said on Friday that without a dominant force it is the depth of the women’s game that should be celebrated.
While the men’s side looks to be a three-horse race between veterans Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the women’s tournament is a relative toss up.
“There are probably eight to 10 women who could win (the title), which is something we’ve said the past two years,” Evert told reporters on a call.
“Women’s tennis is not dominated by anybody. The story is the depth of the game and you have to admire that and celebrate it.”
Pressed to pick a favourite, Evert said Williams, who is chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title, tops the list.
The six-time U.S. Open champion reached the Wimbledon final in July but her hard court season has been limited to one tournament, the Rogers Cup in Toronto where she was forced to retire from the final against Andreescu with back spasms.
Evert said the New York crowd could give the American the boost she needs to avenge her defeat by Japan’s Naomi Osaka in a controversial final at Flushing Meadows last year.
“Serena always comes to mind first because I always feel that a healthy Serena is still going to beat everybody,” said the winner of 18 majors, including six U.S. Open titles.
“She’s going to get that 24 somehow. I really have faith in her,” added Evert, while acknowledging the window of opportunity could be closing soon for the 37-year-old as newcomers like Andreescu continue to improve.
The biggest question surrounding the 19-year-old Canadian Andreescu is her health as she has battled back, leg and shoulder issues.
She won Indian Wells in March behind her bruising groundstrokes but bowed out of the last 16 of the Miami Open with a shoulder injury.
She did not play again until the French Open, where she won one match before withdrawing with shoulder problems and went on to miss the entire grass court season including Wimbledon.
She won the Rogers Cup earlier this month but withdrew ahead of the Cincinnati Open, citing fatigue.
“I am a little worried about her fitness if she’s going to keep getting injured but I love her game,” said Evert.
“She plays in-your-face tennis and I love that aggressiveness.”
Big-serving 24-year-old American Madison Keys, who reached the U.S. Open final in 2017 and won the Cincinnati Open on Sunday, is playing with more maturity, which makes her even more dangerous, Evert said.
“Madison Keys is a dark horse. She won the tournament in Cincinnati playing with a little more patience and moving much better.”
Wimbledon champion and fourth seed Simona Halep of Romania is the most dependable player in the draw and her speedy, defensive style will be a tough test for anyone.
World number one Osaka, who has struggled since winning the Australian Open in January and had a quiet hard court season, could like Williams benefit from the energetic backing of the New York crowd as she looks to retain her title, Evert said.
The U.S. Open begins on Monday.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)