She may only be seeded 28th, but many expect Serena Williams to blow through the US Open field like a force of nature.
Serena Williams expected to reign at US Open
Hurricane Irene did little damage to the tennis complex in Flushing Meadows. It is not expected that Serena Williams, another force of nature, will be as benign.
Never before has a No 28 seed been so widely expected to win a grand slam as Williams is at the US Open, which began Monday.
An ESPN survey of 10 tennis personalities and journalists, including John McEnroe and Cliff Drysdale, yielded a unanimous set of predictions of a Williams victory in the women's singles.
The only real debate, so far, is whether the US Open should have taken her pedigree and recent results into account before seeding her No 28, which reflects her world ranking. At Wimbledon, for example, she was seeded No 7 despite having played only one event in nearly a year.
"It really doesn't hurt Serena as much as it does the other players," said Chris Evert, the winner of 18 grand slam championships. "One of the top seeds will get her in the third round. I think they could have made a much better judgement call."
The expectation that Williams is poised to win her 14th major is a tribute to her performances since her June return from what she termed a "near-deathbed experience" with blood clots on her lungs. She has won at Stanford and at Toronto in the past six weeks, and has been working hard on her fitness, conceding to ESPN that "I've never really been fit, you know?"
The expectations surrounding her also are a result of the lack of a dominant player among the top 10 seeds, and that includes the world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki, the Dane who has yet to win a slam.
Kim Clijsters, the most experienced of the current top 10, is not in New York to defend her title, having withdrawn with an abdominal strain.
Maria Sharapova, the popular Russian, who has regained her form, rates a puncher's chance at winning her second US Open, but the next most likely player to block Serena from victory may well be her sister, Venus, who is unseeded but has seven grand slam championships to her name.
If Serena falls, it may be traced to age (she turns 30 next month) or injury. She pulled out of the event in Cincinnati with a toe injury, which she attributed in part to having played too many matches in a short span of time. To secure her fourth US Open championship, however, she will have to win seven matches in 12 days.
Samantha Stosur, the German, who lost to Williams in the Toronto final, perhaps expressed what all those Serena-smitten pundits must have been thinking.
"She makes it look very easy."