Monday, August 25, 2014

ATP time! The official On the Rise (a tennis blog) US Open 2014 preview post!

Click here for the women's draw preview.

First, to get it out of the way, my prediction of how many matches US men will win this year: 13
(they won 11 last year).

Anyway, away we go:

John Isner (13)

Character: Foghorn Leghorn (tall, Southern, doesn't wear clothes)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 15
First-round opponent: Marcos Giron
Best result: Quarterfinal (2011)
My pick: 4th Round
Fun Fact: According to the New York Times Magazine, Isner is a "journeyman."  I'm sure that endeared the "even the liberal New York Times" to the world number 15.
Overview: Well it looks like it could be the third consecutive third-round match between John Isner and Philipp Kohlschreiber.  There's really no reason Isner can't win this, as he's 4-0 all-time vs. the German outside the US Open third round.  If he does win, next up is likely Djokovic.  I can't say that it would be a slam dunk for Novak, given the post-Wimbledon letdown he's had.  But he's still at least a 51% favorite.

Donald Young

Character: Nightwing (former Boy Wonder, now a man trying to craft a new identity)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 47
First-round opponent: Blaz Kavcic
Best result: 4th Round (2011)
My pick: 3rd Round
Fun Fact: This is Young's 10th consecutive US Open main draw.
Overview: Kavcic is a should-win, while Chardy in the 2nd Round is a could-win.  I actually think Donald's form is pretty solid right now and am going to pencil him into a match vs. Wawrinka in the 3rd Round.  Their two previous match, both in 2011, each went the distance, with Donald winning that five-set thriller at the Open.  Young is better now than he was then but so is Wawrinka.  I think it could again go five but I'm not confident in The Donald's ability to close the deal.

Steve Johnson

Character: Ironman (witty - nay, cheeky; powerful; tenacious)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 51
First-round opponent: Tatsuma Ito
Best result: 3rd Round (2012)
My pick: 4th Round
Fun Fact: Johnson has played 14 tiebreaks in his 12 career Grand Slam main draw matches.  He's 8-6 in those sets.
Overview: As long as he doesn't take Ito lightly, Johnson should be through that match in straight sets.  Next would be Feliciano Lopez, whom Johnson destroyed on hard courts earlier this year.  After that: Gulbis (a Johnson victim in Cincinnati) or Thiem, who seems to be slowing down after a great middle of the year.  There's nobody in the 4th Round who I think Steve can't beat - Berdych, Hewitt, Klizan, Giraldo et al. come with significant baggage - but I don't know if I can quite yet envision Steve Johnson as a US Open quarterfinalist.  I'm sure he *can* envision it, though, and that makes much more of a difference.

Jack Sock

Character: Bamm-Bamm (young, can whallop it)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 55
First-round opponent: Pablo Andujar
Best result: 3rd Round (2012, 2013)
My pick: 2nd Round
Fun Fact: Sock is #4 in the ATP in break points saved at 71%, just ahead of Federer and Raonic.
Overview: Andujar is 2-6 on the year on hard courts, so a healthy Sock had better win that one.  After that, though, is Nishikori.  I'm not convinced yet that Sock's confidence is quite there yet.  He's awful close.  But not ... just ... yet.

Sam Querrey

Character: Goofy
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 57
First-round opponent: Maximo Gonzalez
Best result: 4th Round (2008, 2010)
My pick: 3rd Round
Fun Fact: See: Marcos Giron
Overview: Unless his confidence is completely wrecked from that travesty against Janowicz in Winston-Salem, Querrey should reach the 3rd Round (although interestingly, Lu and Garcia-Lopez each had nice runs in W-S themselves.  Then would be Djokovic.  And that would be that.

Tim Smyczek

Character: Sonic the Hedgehog (small, fast, brave, bold)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 91
First-round opponent: Filip Krajinovic
Best result: 3rd Round (2013)
My pick: 2nd Round
Fun Fact: Smee's first main draw win at the Challenger level was in Yuba City in 2006 - he beat Rajeev Ram 6-7(4) 6-4 6-0.  He lost his next match to Phillip King (aka Vania's older brother).
Overview: I think Krajinovic will be an incredibly tough match but I'm hopeful that Smee's great memories from last year will come flooding back and he'll advance.  Next would be Roberto Bautista Agut, who ... well, who quite honestly has had a forgettable couple of tournaments on the North American hard courts.  And then would be Fognini/Golubev/Riba/Mannarino - not exactly a murderer's row on hard.  If he does capture lightning in a bottle, all I can say is that it couldn't happen to a nicer hedgehog.

Bradley Klahn

Character: (Independent, smart, self-effacing)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 117
First-round opponent: Andrey Kuznetsov
Best result: 2nd Round (2012, 2013)
My pick: 2nd Round
Fun Fact: Brad's mom Nancy played tennis at the University of Iowa.
Overview: Kuznetsov is another tricky 1st Round match, and Brad has had a rough year, but he has more NYC experience.  Next would be Verdasco or Rola.  I think both might be too tough for Brad today.  

Wayne Odesnik

Character: Boris Badenov (everybody's favorite villain)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 176
First-round opponent: Kei Nishikori
Best result: 2nd Round (2007, 2008)
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: Odesnik is 7-2 in his career against players from Japan.
Overview: There's a chance that Nishikori isn't fully fit and if that's the case, Odesnik could absolutely win.  

Ryan Harrison

Character: Jekyl & Hyde (from mild mannered to super aggro remarkably quickly)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 184
First-round opponent: Grigor Dimitrov
Best result: 2nd Round (2010, 2012)
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: Harrison's statistical bad luck got statistically even worse this tournament.
Overview: Ryan's bad luck in major draws has been well documented.  I think he will have a nice fall (yet again, if healthy) in challengers but right now he's having a rough go and Dimitrov isn't the guy he wants to face.  It's a rematch of the Wimbledon 1st Round, in which Ryan played Grigor tough but still fell in three sets.

Jared Donaldson

Character: Raphael (swashbuckling, aggressive, able to hurt you from both wings)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 303
First-round opponent: Gael Monfils
Best result: n/a
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: Donaldson's match in Binghamton vs. Daniel Cox was the subject of a nice piece by Joey Hanf at Tennis Nerds.  You can watch the match here.
Overview: I think Jared will take the first set from Monfils, and that will be that.

Marcos Giron

Character: Ummm, Captain America as a bear? (well, he was a Bruin ... plus it's just toooooo cute not to use)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 419
First-round opponent: John Isner
Best result: n/a
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: In 2011, Giron became the first player to win the Carson International Spring Championships and the Easter Bowl since Sam Querrey in 2005.  Both players are from Thousand Oaks, CA.
Overview: Another wildcard who got no luck.  I suppose with 32 seeds there are only so many "easy" spots in the draw for a wild card, but for one's second-ever main draw ATP match one really would at least like a chance to get into points.  Then again, one's body doesn't usually get too beat up playing Isner, even if it goes 4 sets, so there's that!

Noah Rubin

Character: Kid Flash (young, fast & brash)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 585
First-round opponent: Federico Delbonis
Best result: n/a
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: Rubin has reached a tiebreak in each of his four main draw ATP matches (challenger and World Tour) but is 0-4 in those tiebreaks.
Overview: Rubin could scarcely have asked for a better draw than Sr. Of the Bonis. The Argentine's first and only tour-level hard court win of the year came last week against a struggling Martin Klizan.  I fully believe that Rubin can make a match of this and it could be a lot of fun to watch.  Winner gets Gilles Simon or Radu Albot.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

On the Rise (a tennis blog) is pleased to present this guest post by FOB* Patrick Rourke.
If you go to James McGee’s website, you see the headline: Life as an Irish Professional Tennis Player. At first glimpse, this might seem like a glamorous life, but for anyone who knows McGee’s story, they would know that it’s anything but. For those who are unfamiliar with James’ remarkable story, I recommend you visit his site:, before you continue reading this article.
First off, I should start with how I got to know James McGee the player, then the person, and now to the point where I am honored to call him a friend. I first came across James’ blog in late 2012, as I was watching one of his matches in the Toyota Challenger. At first, I was merely looking through his biography with simple curiosity, as I do with most players I have never come across. However, as I read his blog posts, I was struck by his passion, his work ethic and the effervescent personality that came through his blog. What started as an interest in a fellow Irishman grew into an interest in James McGee the person, so I sent him an email. To be honest, I didn’t expect him to respond, and I thought if he did it would read something like this:
“Dear Patrick,
Thanks for the support. 
Regards, James.”
However, the response I received was completely different; in fact, James’ reply was longer than my initial email. On top of that, he went so far as to apologize for the lack of content in his email (there was plenty), and mentioned he would follow up even further once he was off the road (he did). And just like that, a new fan was born.
Over the next couple of years, I followed James’ results as he trekked across the globe, interacting with him frequently on Twitter and to a lesser extent, email. Korea, Egypt, Syria, and Gabon are not the glamourous destinations that you see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal traveling to, but that’s where McGee went. He didn’t go for the money; he went in spite of it. He went because he loves tennis. He went because he had to: if you’re going to climb the tennis ladder, you have to pay your dues. Well let me tell you this, James paid his dues a long, long, long time ago. But he kept paying them, hoping, praying that one day it would pay off.
At the end of 2012, James McGee was ranked #242 in the world. He had yet to appear in the main draw of an ATP World Tour event, or even make an appearance in the final of a Challenger. His career earnings were less than $100,000. To put that into perspective, the current world #244, Amir Weintraub, someone the same age as McGee, had made over triple that, nearly $300,000. Not to mention the support (or lack thereof) that McGee received. While almost every player accepts a wild card into at least some tournaments, McGee has never received one. Journeymen, young guns and everyone in between receive wild cards, in fact, it’s hard not to. With over 100 Challenger and nearly 50 ATP events a year and 4 WC’s available in most, the odds are you’re going to receive one…eventually. But with only one professional event in Ireland, McGee’s chances of receiving the tennis equivalent of a “free lunch” were nearly impossible. To compound his difficulties, he received next to no funding from the Irish Sports Council or Tennis Ireland. Yes, he was the Irish #1, yes, he proudly represented his country for years in Davis Cup (something else which he was failed to be adequately compensated for), and the funding would’ve been vital in his career development. Yet none came. In his entire junior and senior career, he received one bit of funding from Tennis Ireland, “a small payment in 2010 that would’ve lasted me less than one week on the tour.” The Irish Sports Council provided him with two grants in 2009 and 2010. That’s it.
With all these factors working against them, many players would’ve chucked in the proverbial towel. Some due to a lack of desire, but most due to a lack of options: it was a losing proposition, there’s no two ways around that. But not James McGee: he doubled down and worked even harder, knowing that he could do it. It would be on his own, but nobody could stop him from working towards his dream. Thanks in part to a humbling blog post he wrote in 2013, McGee picked up a number of sponsors as the New Year rolled around. Ezetop, Tutti Frutti, and The Irish Sports Council (FINALLY!) stepped up to the plate. But perhaps most importantly, a private benefactor in Ireland stepped up, allowing James to travel with a coach at least some of the time, a crucial piece in his development this year. As James said “it’s amazing what can happen in your life when someone believes in you.” I say it’s amazing what can happen in your life when you believe in yourself as much as James McGee believes in himself.
2014 started off remarkably well for McGee, beating 3 top 240 players on his way to the semifinals in New Caledonia. Up a set and a break, he served for a spot in the finals, but ended up falling in three to Canada's Steven Diez. The pressure undoubtedly got to him. But McGee cannot be blamed for this, as he had more pressure on him than any other player out there. When you’re playing with no sponsors, no funding, you’re playing for a lot more than the points, you’re playing for your livelihood. In his first round of qualifying for the Australian Open he fell in two tight sets 6&5, to eventual qualifier Jimmy Wang. It was a promising sign though, a sign of things to come later on. Another Challenger semifinal came in late April in Tallahassee, and McGee was sitting close to a career high ranking heading into the French Open. 
At Roland Garros, McGee scored two huge scalps, beating Norbert Gombos and Guido Pella. In fact, the Pella match can’t be accurately described by saying he “beat” Pella: he destroyed him. Formerly ranked as high as #75 in the world and boasting a 248-140 lifetime record on clay, Pella was the heavy favorite. But McGee didn’t let the long odds stop him from fighting, he never has. Although he fell to Andrea Arnaboldi in the FQR, McGee once again proved himself on the big stage, he was coming. He just needed his breakthrough.
That breakthrough almost came in London at Queen’s Club, as he made another run to the final round of qualifying, knocking off former world junior #1 Borna Coric and former world #33 Alex Bogomolov Jr. However, in the final qualifying round, McGee fell to Daniel Brands 7-5 in the third. Still no breakthrough.  
After Wimbledon qualifying, I had the pleasure of meeting James at my home tournament in Winnetka. I was initially planning on housing James, but he decided that I would probably spend too much time bugging him so he opted for different housing (only kidding, his coach had sorted housing long before I came along). After he completed a practice set with Evgeny Donskoy I had the pleasure of meeting James, who was even nicer than I anticipated. He recalled topics of our Twitter and email conversations from long ago, and took a genuine interest in getting to know me. If I had any doubts about James McGee the person, they were eliminated there. The gracious competitor I saw on court, the friendly person I saw on Twitter, that wasn’t an act; that was James McGee. McGee bowed out in the Round of 16 in two tight sets against Tim Smyczek, but he continued his fine form throughout the summer, reaching the semifinal in Granby and putting on one of the most impressive Challenger performances I’ve ever seen in Lexington, in a 0&1 demolition of Austin Krajicek, who, believe it or not, did not play poorly. 

Lexington brought McGee to a new career high, 188, but still, his big breakthrough had not come.
At US Open Qualifying, McGee could not have been handed a better draw. Norbert Gombos, Austin Krajicek, Ze Zhang, Mate Delic, Gonzalo Lama, Laurynas Grigelis and Yuki Bhambri were the other seven competitors in his section. It wouldn’t be easy, but McGee had avoided the big names. This was his chance.
I saw James practicing Wednesday morning, and my interaction with him, for me, summed up who he is as a person. I was standing outside the gate with close to 100 fans under the age of 14 (all waiting for Dimitrov's and Wawrinka’s autographs). Despite the crowd, he looked in my direction and immediately looked up “Patrick!” he exclaimed. Having only met me in person once, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least if McGee didn’t remember my face. But he did, and not only that, he remembered our entire conversation. Right off the bat, he asked me about my wisdom teeth (I had mentioned to him in Winnetka that I was getting them removed later that week), and enquired about a number of other things. We must have talked for 15 minutes - right after his grueling practice on the day of his first round qualifying match. We talked about his chances against Lama and the draw in general, and James was incredibly upbeat. He knew it would be tough, but he also liked his chances: “if I play the way I have been playing I know I’ve got a shot,” he said with a grin. Finally, as the conversation wound down, McGee told me that if he qualified he’d sort me out with tickets for the following week. Here I am, someone who he has met twice, and his first concern is doing something special for me. I can’t think of many people that kind.
His first round match against Gonzalo Lama of Chile was, being completely blunt, a demolition. Winning by a score of 6-1, 6-1 in under an hour, it was the most lopsided match I watched all week. McGee’s powerful groundstrokes and aggressive baseline style proved too much for Lama, more comfortable on clay, and he was quickly into the second round.
His match against Yuki Bhambri, the 30th seed, proved to be a much sterner test. He dropped the first set, but got off to a quick start in the second and managed to hold serve throughout, sending the match to a third set. However McGee, nerves showing, got off to a shaky start, getting broken early in the set. Although he kept pushing Bhambri on his service games, McGee couldn’t get the vital break. Up 5-4, Bhambri served for the match, and that was when the Irishman began to work his magic. He did what he’s done his whole life: he dug in, he fought, and he broke Bhambri. 5-5. A hold and suddenly it was the Indian who was serving to stay in it. McGee played three stellar points to give himself triple match point, and then Bhambri did something that McGee would never do: he seemingly gave up. Maybe it was a reoccurrence of the injury that had kept him out for months, maybe it was sheer exhaustion, but for the last two points, he was gone, he threw in the towel before the match was over.
This moment highlighted just how remarkable McGee is, no matter what the score, no matter the conditions, no matter his health; he has never tanked as much as a point. He has never thrown in the towel. Those who follow tennis (particularly Challengers and Futures) closely, see this all too often, but not from James McGee. It was this mentality that took him to this point, and it would be that mentality that would help him make his breakthrough. If he ever got there.
Friday. Not before 1:00 EST on Court 8. This was McGee’s chance. As I watched him practice with Konstantin Kravchuk just hours before his match, I was impressed, he was ready. But when he walked out on the court, things changed. It might’ve been the pressure, it might’ve been his opponent, but something got to McGee, and he lost the first set to Ze Zhang in a flash. 6-0, just like that. But just as he has always done when the chips are down, he fought harder than before. A break to love and suddenly we had a match on our hands. Helped by the crowd, McGee raced out to a 3-1 lead. On Twitter, I knocked the fans all week, for the most part, they were terrible. But they rallied behind the Irishman, cheering and chanting “let’s go James,” on changeovers. A British woman sitting next to me who knew her stuff (I never caught her name, so if you’re reading this I apologize!), queried me as to why he had such strong support. It was the loudest she’d heard all week, and I would be inclined to agree. Maybe it was simply because he was an Irishman in New York, but I’m sure if those in the stands knew his story they’d be cheering even louder. McGee fought off 2 break points in the 8th game of the set, and served it out to love. 6-4. We’re going three. Again.

As the match went deeper, the crowd grew. As the crowd grew, the crowd got louder. As the crowd got louder, James McGee got more confidence. First game of the third: just like that, a break! “Five holds, that’s all I’m asking for,” I thought, but I knew it wouldn’t be so simple. McGee managed to consolidate the break, but not before staving off two break points. 2-0. Four more holds. An easy hold for Zhang and it was 2-1. In his next service game McGee had to fight off another two break points, but once again, he survived. 3-1. Three more holds. Another easy hold for Zhang and it was 3-2. By this point, McGee tightened up and Zhang, with nothing to lose, started hitting flat and free. His flat forehand was one of the best shots I’d seen all week. He had nothing to lose, McGee had everything to lose.
Finally, a hold for McGee without facing any break points! 4-2. And then, in a flash, 5-2! Where’d that come from? A break to love and James McGee was going to serve for a spot in the main draw of not just his first grand slam, but his first ATP tournament! As he walked to the baseline, he grabbed his right quad. Oh no. Cramps. He dropped the first point and then grabbed his left leg. Double oh no. Break point for Zhang. 5-3. Suddenly, his comfortable cushion was gone. An easy hold and it is 5-4. Here we go again.
As McGee walked to serve right in front of me, he almost fell over. He was cramping, big time. He had to hold here, there was no way he could stay on the court more than a couple minutes. Three big serves and it was triple match point. But it wasn’t over; I knew it wasn’t that easy. It wasn’t that easy in Noumea, it wasn’t that easy at 5-2, and it certainly wasn’t going to be easy now. As I stood up to give James encouragement, I looked to my right and there was Coach Jeff Salzenstein, iPhone in hand, prepared to film the moment of glory. “Oh no Jeff,” I thought, “Please no. You’re going to jinx him.” 40-15. 40-30. A double fault and suddenly the phone goes away. An ace and it’s a fourth match point. Back comes the phone. “STOP IT JEFF, STOP IT RIGHT NOW YOU’RE GOING TO JINX HIM.” Naturally, I didn’t say that, I sat there and prayed. Back to deuce. Yet another ace from McGee and it was a fifth match point. And there was Jeff with the phone again! At this point I was ready to run over to Jeff, take his phone and throw it as far as I could. Instead, I shouted out encouragement to James. “Your terms,” I said. His entire life he had operated on his terms, not always by choice, but now it was his choice. Close it out…your terms…bounce, bounce, bounce, WHAM! An ace! “Game set and match McGee, 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.” I would try to describe the following two minutes to you, but thankfully I didn’t throw Jeff’s phone, and he got it all on video. I’ll let that speak for itself.
After the match, the crowd swarmed James, begging for autographs and pictures. He could barely walk, but he did it all, and with a smile. I hung back, off to the side of the court with Lisa Stone, who I had the pleasure of meeting. We discussed a number of things, but most notably, our admiration for James. His perseverance, his attitude, and most of all: James McGee the person. After he finished up with his new-found fans, James made his way over to us. We exchanged hugs and snapped pictures, and all smiled as he reveled in the moment. A career defining moment. No, a life changing moment. The cramps were gone, perhaps the stress caused them, but James conquered them, just like he conquered the numerous other seemingly insurmountable obstacles he faced in his life.
As I walked back to the locker room with James (who was stopping every couple feet to accept congratulations from someone), he asked me an incredible question: “Which way to the locker room?” Perhaps he was caught up in the moment, maybe that caused him to forget. Or maybe he didn’t know. After all, it was his first time at the tournament, and it was there it hit me; this was totally foreign to him. This was a far cry from Gabon, where he was just a year ago. He wasn’t accustomed to player passes and fancy locker rooms.
Rain began falling, and while waiting it out I eavesdropped on the conversations around me. They were all centered on the humble man from Dublin. The reaction I received on Twitter to the pictures I tweeted was staggering, I had no idea how many people James had impacted, and I’m not sure he did either. For the next 24 hours, my timeline was filled with players congratulating James, everyone from Denis Kudla to Sergiy Stakhovsky.
As I reflected on the match, I found it difficult to explain my emotions. It was undoubtedly the most emotional I’ve ever been at a sporting event. I’ve seen my beloved Blackhawks win Stanley Cups; I’ve seen my beloved Cubs collapse right before my eyes. I’ve been overjoyed, I’ve been crushed, but I’ve never quite felt what I felt on Court 8 on Friday. And now, 48 hours later, I still don’t know how to describe it. The closest I can come is to say I saw a person achieve their dreams in front of my eyes. But I don’t think that describes it. Nothing can describe the struggles that James McGee has gone through, the matches in far-flung reaches of the globe; the hotels that make the Motel 6 look like the Four Seasons. And maybe that’s what made it so special, that it was something completely beyond words. Something that I have never seen before and never will see again. But I don’t know.
As James sealed the match, I will not lie to you, I teared up. As I said above, I’m not entirely sure I can explain why, but I did. And I’m not a crier. As I was walking to the locker room with James I told him this, and as I did, he stopped in his place and looked at me if I had three eyes “Why the heck would you cry?” he said with a laugh and a good-natured punch on the arm. That jovial, not too serious, and downright likable attitude is what drew me to McGee in the first place, and it’s what’s attracted so many to his story this week. His reward for his efforts? Seeing his name in the draw alongside Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, with the opportunity to showcase his talents to the world on a TV Court at the US Open.
What a time to break through.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of Mr. Rourke alone. Except for the really brilliant ones.
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The official On the Rise (a tennis blog) US Open 2014 WTA preview post!

We are super pleased to bring you the first-ever On the Rise (a tennis blog) US Open WTA preview!! This time we're going to change things up a bit and compare each player to the cartoon/comic book character she or he most resembles, in the opinion of this blog, starting with the women.

First I will predict the total number of matches US women will win.  Overall I will note that the draw is extremely uneven, with 13 of the 17 women on top with only 4 on the bottom.  Draws are the worst. Anyway, I'm going with 26 wins over the fortnight.  (They won 22 last year.)

Here's how I see it unfolding:

Serena Williams (1)

Character: Wonder Woman (the pre-eminent super heroine)
Rank (as of 8/25/2014): 1
First-round opponent: Taylor Townsend
Best result: Champion (1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013)
My pick: Champion
Fun Fact: Serena has reached at least one final in every year in which she's played three majors since 2000.
Overview: It's been a rough year for the best player in the world, by her standards.  She has yet to reach the quarterfinal of a major, and has lost prior to the semis in several other premier events.  Her road isn't easy - assuming she gets to the fourth round it could be Stosur then Ivanovic then Kvitova/Azarenka - but as she showed in Cincinnati, she's still the player to beat when she's rested and focused.  And if she gets to the final, well, she's 11-2 in those in the last decade.

Venus Williams (19)

Character: Storm (A force of nature, regal, a true leader)
Rank: 20
First-round opponent: Kimiko Date-Krum
Best result: Champion (2000, 2001)
My pick: Quarterfinal
Fun Fact: Date-Krumm had already retired by the time Venus made her US Open debut in 1997.
Overview: CBS (and a lot of the rest of us) desperately hope Ms. Williams makes the first weekend, where a match-up with her and French Open finalist Simona Halep would be must-watch viewing.  Montreal showed that Venus is still a major force on hardcourts.  And Simona is struggling.  If she survives that, Sharapova or Wozniacki or Petkovic or Lisicki is a very tough quarterfinal.   I'm gonna go with the upset to reach her first QF since 2010.

Sloane Stephens (21)

Character: Catwoman (alluring, agile, and kind of naughty but also kind of nice)
Rank: 24
First-round opponent: Annika Beck
Best result: 4th Round (2013)
My pick: 4th Round
Fun Fact: Although not thought of as a "fighter," Stephens is 22-12 in the past two years in third sets.
Overview: Sloane has a decent path (Annika Beck, then Razzano/Larsson) to the 3rd Round, where she would meet her bete noir, Jankovic.  I'm going to say this is the tournament where, with new coach Thomas H√∂gstedt, she turns the corner against Jelena.  But then I think she'll get upset by my foolish, foolish pick to reach the quarters, Belinda Bencic.

Madison Keys (27)

Character: Starfire (tall, extremely powerful, friendly & popular)
Rank: 27
First-round opponent: Jarmila Gajdosova
Best result: 2nd Round (2011)
My pick: 3rd Round
Fun Fact: Keys once had to take an earthquake break during a match at the Coffee Bowl in Costa Rica.
Overview: Gajdosova (who is 16-3 since the start of the grass court season) will not be a pushover but if Keys gets past her, and she should, the stage is set for a 3rd Round encounter with Petra Kvitova.  If, of course, Petra gets past Mladenovic.  Given Petra's form it's foolhardy to pick Madison to get past her, and I won't, but let's just say upsets happen and if MK makes into next week I wouldn't be all that shocked.

CoCo Vandeweghe

Character: She-Ra (Princess of Power)
Rank: 38
First-round opponent: Donna Vekic
Best result: 2nd Round (2011, 2013)
My pick: 3rd Round
Fun Fact: CoCo's grandmother was Miss America in 1952.
Overview: CoCo just needs to hold serve vs. Vekic, who is certain to donate at least one game per set via double faults.  Assuming she does that she'll set up a rematch of last year's 2nd Round encounter with Carla Suarez Navarro.  The thing is, CoCo is a better player than she was a year ago, by a fair piece.  That could set up a 3rd Round with Samantha Stosur, which to me is nearly a toss-up, with the slight edge going to the Aussie.  (4th Round would be Serena.)

Christina McHale

Character: Cheetara (fast & bold)
Rank: 44
First-round opponent: Chanelle Scheepers
Best result: 3rd Round (2011, 2013)
My pick: 2nd Round
Fun Fact: McHale's coach speaks in Spanish to her during changeovers (McHale's mother is Cuban).
Overview: Tuesday will provide us with a rematch of Christina's 1st Round at Wimbledon, where she lost 3 & 3 to the 30-year-old Scheepers.  Scheepers then went on to a final (on clay) in Bastad.  It's really a toss-up but these are McHale's home courts and I think she'll be very much up for this match.  The 2nd Round would be Azarenka (or Doi) and if Vika is truly playing without pain, I think it will be the end of the road for McHale.

Alison Riske
Character: Bubbles (Powerpuff Girls: super nice but also capable of taking down monsters singlehandedly)
Rank: 45
First-round opponent: Ana Ivanovic
Best result: 4th Round (2013)
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: Riske had 0 main draw wins in her first 13 majors, but has had 10 in her past 5, including at least one in each.
Overview: Seriously? Ivanovic? Bah.

Lauren Davis

Character: Buttercup (Powerpuff Girls: small but a no-nonsense battler)
Rank: 49
First-round opponent: Samantha Stosur
Best result: 1st Round (2011, 2013)
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: My first-round win at Gay Games took place at the indoor club in suburban Cleveland where Davis started playing tennis.
Overview: We all know that Stosur can get upset. But I was  concerned about Lauren's form from what I saw in Cincinnati against Svitolina.  And Stosur seems to have found something of a groove again.  I'm just not seeing this one, but I'd be happy to be wrong.

Varvara Lepchenko

Character: Invisible Woman (great fighter who is invisible to most casual tennis fans)
Rank: 52
First-round opponent: Alison Van Uytvanck
Best result: 3rd Round (2012)
My pick: 3rd Round
Fun Fact: Lepchenko is 8-1 against players from Belgium & the Netherlands, but 0-2 against Luxembourgians.
Overview: Varvara and Alison have played twice this year and Varvara has only lost 4 games each match.  I think she'll get this one and will have a better-than-even chance against Barthel or #32 seed Shaui Zhang.  But then comes Serena.

Vania King

Character: Jessica Rabbit (Glamorous and a *great* singer. Plus her over-the-shoulder WTA profile picture reminds me of Roger's wife.)
Rank: 81
First-round opponent: Francesca Schiavone
Best result: 3rd Round (2009, 2011)
My pick: 2nd Round
Fun Fact: I was there in person when Vania won her final round of qualies, 64 67(1) 64 over Edina Gallovits-Hall, at the US Open in 2005 to reach her first WTA main draw.  I remember her mom, next to whom I was standing, just being soooooo happy.
Overview: This will be the first meeting between the two veterans. A healthy King should get past Schiavone on hard courts.  But then comes Serena.

Shelby Rogers

Character: Clobbergirl (super strong!)
Rank: 86
First-round opponent: Maryna Zanevska
Best result: 1st Round (2010, 2013)
My pick: 4th Round
Fun Fact: Rogers' first-ever professional match was a three-tiebreak win over Malika Rose.
Overview: Yes, I think this will be Shelby's breakout tournament.  Yes, her last two matches have been blow-out losses, but she showed in Bad Gastein and Montreal that when she's at her best she can blow you off court.  Her 2nd Round match is likely Flavia Pennetta, who is the favorite and who has had some of her best success at the Open (two QFs plus last year's SF).  But Flavia has had so many questionable losses since her title at Indian Wells that I think Shelby can pull it off and go one further by beating Pavs or Garcia in the 3rd Round.  I think Ivanovic in the 4th is where it comes to a halt.

Taylor Townsend

Character: Tiana (smart, gorgeous, hard working, left-handed)
Rank: 103
First-round opponent: Serena Williams
Best result: n/a
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: I just can't. Not with that draw. I can't!!
Overview: We all wanted Taylor's US Open debut to be memorable, but not for this reason: literally the world possible draw.  "At least she'll get the spotlight for this match," you say.  "Hopefully she'll make it competitive," you say.  Well to all that I say "BLERG!"  Taylor was primed for something big here in New York, and I suppose we'll just have to wait another year for that to happen.  Blerg.

Grace Min

Character: Rogue (she's from the South, and can sap opponents of their strength)
Rank: 105
First-round opponent: Ekaterina Makarova
Best result: 1st Round (2013)
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: Grace Min's opponents in the 2011 US Open Girls' Semi and Final were Nicole Gibbs and Caroline Garcia, respectively, who will face each other in the women's 1st Round this year.
Overview: Makarova is just playing really well these days, and is my pick for the Quarterfinalist in that section.  I could see Grace taking a set but tough to see her winning the last point.

Madison Brengle

Character: Batgirl (Without any obvious weapons she perseveres and often triumphs using her guile)
Rank: 123
First-round opponent: Julia Glushko
Best result: 1st Round (2007)
My pick: 2nd Round
Fun Fact: Madison's Pinterest page is suuuuuper girly.
Overview: Glushko is a winnable match for Brengle, which is a wonderful gift given how long she's worked to make a major main draw.  She would then face the winner of Lisicki and Abanda (who straight-up tore through the qualies).  Also winnable, but I'm not gonna put my money on it.  Third round would be Sharapova.

Nicole Gibbs

Character: Belle (smart girl from a provincial town (in her case, Cincinnati) who wanted to see the world)
Rank: 135
First-round opponent: Caroline Garcia
Best result: 1st Round (2012, 2013)
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: Nicole's major at Stanford was Economics.
Overview: It's entirely possible she can beat Caroline Garcia - a lot depends on which Caroline shows up.  We know which Nicole will show up: a very determined, competitive player who will fight until the end.  If Gibbs does come out on top, her 2nd Round could be much of the same: big-hitting Pavs, who can also hit her way out of any match.

CiCi Bellis

Character: Hit-Girl (Young, small, and ruthless)
Rank: 1208
First-round opponent: Dominika Cibulkova
Best result: n/a
Best case scenario: 3rd Round
1st Round: 1st Round
Fun Fact: At 15 years old, Bellis is the youngest winner of the USTA Girls 18s National Championships since Lindsay Davenport in 1991.
Overview: Bellis has gone 49-7 in ITF juniors events since last year's US Open but Cibulkova will be another kettle of fish entirely.  Still, it will be fun to see her compete.  The winner faces Diyas or Tsurenko.

Danielle Collins

Character: Firebrand/Danette Reilly (She's pretty obscure, and clearly has the ability to catch fire!)
Rank: n/a
First-round opponent: Simona Halep
Best result: n/a
My pick: 1st Round
Fun Fact: Collins had wrist surgery three days after winning the NCAAs. I know that's not actually very fun.
Overview: I mean ... I hope she gets a couple of games.  She'll the first match on Ashe on Monday morning.  At least she'll get some airtime :)