By E.J. Crawford
Throughout the year, EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com will be taking a look at players who could contend or surprise during this year's Series. Up now: Czech Lucie Safarova, the breakout star of the 2015 French Open.
The Lucie Safarova File
Residence: Brno, Czech Republic
Current Rank: 13
Career-High Rank: 11 (February 2015)
Best 2014 Series Finish: Round of 16 (Cincinnati, Montreal)
Lucie Safarova has long been one of the best servers on the women’s tour. Now, at age 28, she is establishing herself as one of its best players as well.
Safarova staged her international breakthrough in 2007, reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the fourth round at the French Open. But in the ensuing years, she struggled to deliver on her early promise. The big-hitting left-hander has been a perennial seed at the Grand Slam events, but she did not again advance to the round of 16 at a major until last year’s French Open.
That result seems to have flipped a switch for Safarova, who since that time has been one of the most consistent players in the women’s game, quickly forging a reputation as a big-time performer. She has teamed with her countrywoman, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, to lead the Czech Republic to three of the last four Fed Cup titles (the Czechs are in the final again in 2015). And in the past two years she has reached the semifinals at 2014 Wimbledon, the fourth round at the 2014 US Open and, most recently, the final at the French Open, where she beat defending champion Maria Sharapova, former champion Ana Ivanovic, 2014 quarterfinalist Garbine Muguruza and former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki en route. (Safarova also won the French Open doubles this year with American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.)
Whether the Czech can bring that same game to the U.S. remains an open question. Armed with that big serve and flat, penetrating ground strokes, Safarova has the prerequisites to succeed on the North American hard courts – her four WTA singles titles all are on cement, including the biggest title of her career, won earlier this year in Doha – but she has never cracked the Top 5 in the Series standings or advanced past the fourth round at the US Open. Still, given her current form and growing confidence, a title or two this summer would hardly come as a surprise.