NEW YORK • Eight women begin the US Open with their eyes on the world No. 1 ranking but of all those contenders it is Garbine Muguruza on whose head the crown could sit most comfortably.
With Serena Williams absent as she prepares for motherhood, women's tennis has been crying out for a player capable of taking a long-term lease at the summit and Spaniard Muguruza has the power and personality to oblige.
After beating Williams to win the French Open last year, Muguruza struggled to adapt to her new-found status, but this year's Wimbledon triumph over Venus Williams has been taken smoothly in her long stride.
A 6-1, 6-0 thrashing of world No. 2 Simona Halep in the Cincinnati final last week sent an ominous message to the women's field at Flushing Meadows and installed the 23-year-old as favourite for the title despite her having won only two matches in four US Open appearances.
"If you were going to push me, I might go with Garbine Muguruza. She seems to be in a very good place after winning her second Major in her career at Wimbledon," two-time winner Tracy Austin was quoted on the WTA's website.
"She finished up winning in Cincinnati last week, which is a huge hard-court lead-up tournament for the US Open. She seems much more comfortable with the expectation."
- Women who are in contention for the No. 1 crown at the US Open.
Muguruza's record at the US Open is a surprise, given her attacking style of play and ability to dominate from the baseline. When she is on form she is hard to stop.
Romanian Halep will start the tournament as the "virtual" No. 1 when "year-on-year" ranking points coming off are taken into account and she would be guaranteed making that a reality were she to win the title.
Czech Karolina Pliskova, who lost to Angelique Kerber in last year's final, took over as world No. 1 almost by default when Halep lost in the Wimbledon quarter-finals - a week after Pliskova had bowed out in round two.
Strangely, by virtue of the points system, she could lose the top spot even if she won the US Open and landed a first Grand Slam - a sacrifice she would happily sign for.
"I would prefer to have a little bit more of a lead. But, you know, whatever comes I will just take it," she said in Cincinnati where she lost to Muguruza.
Elina Svitolina, Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Johanna Konta and Venus are the other players who could theoretically take over at the top, but there are other title contenders lurking further down the ranking list.
Former world No. 1 Kerber knows only too well the pitfalls that can come with the top ranking, having looked uncomfortable with the tag ever since taking over from Serena.
The German will hope the return to New York will spark a revival in fortunes after slipping to world No. 6.
"I'm thinking that my fighting spirit is of course back and I'm feeling that it's getting better and better," the 29-year-old said looking ahead to the defence of her one remaining Major title.