How "open" is the Open?

Today, Rennae Stubbs said she thought the women's U.S. Open draw was more "open" than experts were predicting. I agree. Though Serena Williams is an obvious favorite, other players--namely, Petra Kvitova and Li Na--have peaked recently, and shown their readiness to compete in Flushing Meadows. Add to this reality the fact that the U.S. Open has become something of an issue for Williams in the past few years--the famous "foot fault" incident of 2009 and the "hindrance" issue of 2011.

Can Williams win another U.S. Open? Of course. But she does have some competition.

There are other players who could step in and win. Maria Sharapova isn't being talked about much, but she's nevertheless a contender, as is world number 1 Victoria Azarenka. Defending champion Sam Stosur doesn't seem like a contender, but last year, she very quietly went about the business of breaking all kinds of records and then going home with the trophy.

Azarenka, Li and Stosur are all in the same quarter, but there's more--three-time U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters is in that quarter, too, as are some potentially dangerous players--Julia Goerges, Sorana Cirstea, Sabine Lisicki (those two play each other in the opening round), and Varvara Lepchenko. Clijsters could run into trouble as early as the second round, in which she is most likely to meet Laura Robson. This is a tricky quarter, filled with top players and upset specialists, and anything can happen.

The second quarter has Sharapova and Kvitova headed toward each other, yet again. Nadia Petrova, Lucie Safarova and Marion Bartoli (not much of a threat lately, but you never know) stand in the way. Perhaps most significant, however, is the presence of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in that quarter. Seeded 17th, the Russian has been on a comeback journey lately--and though she has a potentially tough first round against Daniela Hantuchova--her chances of advancing are good. Pavlyuchenkova is deceptively proficient, and is perhaps finally coming into her own.

The third quarter is anchored by Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams, and--while we all know how we think this is going to go--danger does lurk, in the form of Sloane Stephens and clever New Haven runner-up Maria Kirlenko.

Cincinnati runner-up Angelique Kerber shares the fourth quarter with a recently-ailing (recurring shoulder injury) Agnieszka Radwanska. Venus Williams and Tamira Paszek (you never know) are also in that quarter, as are Christina McHale, Sara Errani and Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova. Former big-time doubles partners Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova play each other in the first round. Either is capable of pulling of an upset later in the tournament, but one has to look especially at Shvedova as a dangerous opponent.

First round matches of interest:

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova vs. Kirsten Flipkens: They are both so much fun to watch.

Sorana Cirstea vs. Sabine Lisicki: Drama potential!

Nadia Petrova vs. Jarmila Gajdasova: Meltdown potential (both ways)

Melanie Oudin vs. Lucie Safarova: Can Oudin do it?

Marion Bartoli vs. Jamie Hampton: Bartoli had better be ready.

Daniela Hantuchova vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Already noted

Peng Shuai vs. Elena Vesnina: Always fun

Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Venus Williams: Potential high-quality entertainment (or not)

Vania King vs. Yaroslava Shvedova: Already noted

Urszula Radwanska vs. Roberta Vinci: Just because (note: Vinci just won her first outdoor hard court title)

There are so many questions involving this Open. Will Serena Williams be able to keep her focus away from the umpires? Will the weather turn more humid and cause Petra Kvitova's asthma to do her in? Will Kvitova be too exhausted to compete at her top level? Will Kim Clijsters, who is about to retire, suddenly go on a big tear and take out top players? Will a rested Victoria Azarenka pull out her earphones, remove her hoodie, and run over the rest of the field?

We'll know the answers soon!