NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a normal year, winning the U.S. Open would be a big enough carrot in itself to encourage the world’s best to give everything for the title.
But there is little normal about this year’s U.S. Open, with eight women going into the final grand slam of the year with a chance to come out the other side as the world number one.
Top-ranked Karolina Pliskova has to at least reach the final to have a chance of staying number one while Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams are all in with a chance.
It makes for an intriguing sub-plot but Pliskova is trying to put it out of her mind as she focuses on going one better than last year, when she reached her first grand slam final. “I don’t want to put any extra pressure (on myself),” the Czech told a news conference. “I have enough pressure.”
“But I think it’s a little bit difficult with the way that I got to world number one and I‘m defending now every week quite a lot of points.
“So it’s a little bit of a different situation. I will just try to handle it. I will try to take it as a positive that I was playing so well here last year.”
Pliskova, a French Open semi-finalist and quarter-finalist in Australia this year, became number one for the first time when Halep lost at Wimbledon, replacing Angelique Kerber. Being the hunted instead of the hunter brings its own pressures but Pliskova is determined to stay on top.
“I know it’s going to be very difficult, with obviously so many girls playing for this position,” she said.
“But I think I have a good chance to stay there if I play well these two weeks.”
The absence of Serena Williams, who is about to have her first child, has given everyone an added spring in their step, renewed belief they can win a grand slam.
But though the vacuum at the top means eight players have a chance, Pliskova does not think the title winner will come from further down the rankings.
“Every tournament is almost a different winner,” Pliskova said. “But it’s still between those eight. I would not say it’s that open.
“Between us, the eight, we have almost similar points and there is just a little bit of difference between us. That’s why I think it’s open for us eight.”
Editing by Ed Osmond