Week 2 US Open predictions: Get ready for a Serena-Sharapova final ... or not

NEW YORK -- Down the stretch they come. Who will win, who will flop? Our intrepid crew on the grounds unveils its Week 2 US Open predictions:

Get your popcorn ready: The return of the Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova rivalry will happen in the women's final.

Peter Bodo: I doubt that. But only because I don't see No. 22 seed Sharapova making it that far. Her serve is just too much of an adventure and the rate of unforced errors too high. She has been playing poorly for a long time now. Serena, though, was in the Wimbledon final and is looking very strong again after a few missteps in her previous hard-court outings.

Aishwarya Kumar: True. Sharapova has an easier route to this final compared to Williams. Sure, Williams is the more accomplished player, but she has a huge hurdle in defending champ Sloane Stephens. If Stephens rips backhand winners like she did in her past two matches (and does well on her first serves), Serena will have to bring her A-game. Meanwhile, Sharapova will likely face Madison Keys and Naomi Osaka, and it's really hard to bet on either of them considering how much experience the 2006 US Open champion has.

D'Arcy Maine: I'm probably going to regret saying this, but true. It's obviously too early to be seriously thinking about this, and with Serena holding a 19-2 career record over Sharapova, this isn't exactly the greatest rivalry in the classic sense, but still. For very different reasons, both players are working to return to their previous championship form, so how fun would it be to see them do just that as they meet, yet again, on the sport's biggest stage? Serena had a tough test on Sunday against Kaia Kanepi but proved that time away from the game did not diminish her mental resolve. Serena will need to do that against former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the quarters and potentially defending champion Stephens in the semis. Sharapova, for her part, was completely dominant against the No. 10 seed and former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on Saturday and looked more than capable in beating some of the game's best. Sign me up for this collision course.

Alyssa Roenigk: False. As fun as the possibility of this matchup might be to talk about, and as tantalizing as it is for Serena and Sharapova fans to anticipate, on paper, it reads like fantasy. Sharapova hasn't made it past the quarters of a Slam since 2015, and she has made the final only once in New York, when she won in 2006. And let's not forget Serena still has a defending champ in her path.

Get your popcorn ready: We're going to have a repeat of last year's all-American women's final between Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys.

Bodo: Put it down as Plan B, should Serena falter, and there's a chance of that happening given her recent history. Stephens, the No. 3 seed, is playing great tennis. Keys, the No. 14 seed, is well-positioned to make the final given that her half of the draw has been blown to smithereens.

Kumar: False. Madison Keys is not getting past Maria Sharapova. Sharapova dominated No. 11 seed Ostapenko. The fight Sharapova showed in a 12-minute first game during that match was enough for me to realize she was going to take it in straight sets. Also, Sharapova's service game has gotten much better. Meanwhile, Keys is struggling, and for the first hour of her third-round match against Aleksandra Krunic, she was not moving well. It took six games in the final set for Keys to win a game on her serve. SIX. Sharapova is not going to let Keys get away with that.

Maine: Well, that would be a great story, but it's not going to happen this year. Please see Question 1.

Roenigk: False. Both women have said their appearance in the US Open final last year was as big a surprise to them as to anyone. They were playing loose, nothing-to-lose tennis. Now they're playing defense with targets on their back. And considering the past eight Slams have been won by different women -- and three of those eight were first-time winners -- I predict at least one finalist who makes us all say, "Wow. Didn't see that coming."

Roger Federer, not Novak Djokovic, is the favorite to escape the bottom half of the men's draw.

Bodo: You bet. As well as Djokovic has been playing, he hasn't yet recovered his pre-slump consistency, while Federer has sustained a superb level ever since taking off the second half of 2016. Djokovic has looked terrific at times, but his concentration has lapsed in some odd moments. Federer has had smooth sailing. He has earned favorite status.

Kumar: I wish. The past three times these two met, Djokovic has beaten Federer. Djokovic is coming back after an elbow injury, but that didn't stop the two-time US Open winner from beating Federer in straight sets at Cincinnati. This match will be much closer, but I don't see Djokovic losing. He takes it in five.

Maine: False? Normally, Federer should always be considered the favorite for such things (that's what winning 20 Grand Slam titles will do for you), but it's really hard to pick against Djokovic right now. He's playing some of his best tennis in years and has renewed confidence after winning titles at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, where he beat Federer 6-4, 6-4 in the final just a few weeks ago.

Roenigk: True. Picking Federer to escape anything -- including Nick Kyrgios' impossible-to-return crosscourt beauties with Houdini-like ease (you saw that, right!?) -- needs no defense.

Dominic Thiem will upset Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.

Bodo: Why not? Nadal has been taking a beating, and there's some concern that his right knee is damaged. Thiem, who turns 25 Monday, is the No. 9 seed and a big, strong kid who's 3-7 against Nadal. Thiem is coming off a big win over last year's runner-up, Kevin Anderson. Thiem will emulate Nadal in receiving serve way behind the baseline and challenge Nadal to test that lashing, one-handed backhand.

Kumar: This is a joke, right? Thiem has played one Grand Slam quarterfinal in his life (2018 French Open). Nadal has won 17 Grand Slams. Thiem has never beaten Nadal in a Grand Slam. They met in Roland Garros in 2017 and 2018 -- and if their overall head-to-head is any indication (7-3 Nadal), Thiem will be happy to have made the quarterfinals. He wins a set, at most.

Maine: Nah. I sat in the stands at Arthur Ashe for Nadal's entire 4-hour, 23-minute victory over Karen Khachanov on Friday, so therefore Nadal has my complete confidence right now. It was an incredible display of perseverance and grit and all that good stuff, so I have to think he'll be able to pull that out again if he needs to. Thiem beat Nadal on the clay of Madrid this year (but then lost to him in straight sets in the French Open final). Thiem knows what it takes to beat the 17-time Grand Slam champion, but I just don't see it this week.

Roenigk: True. Thiem's already done the unexpected: He'd previously lost all six matches against Kevin Anderson on hard courts but looked brilliant against him Sunday. And he's into the quarters of a Grand Slam other than the French Open for the first time in his career. Nadal isn't 100 percent, and Thiem has the sting of that French Open final to keep his spark lit.

The one player we really need to pay attention to down the stretch is 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.

Bodo: No, but this is a trick answer. Delpo is but one of a select number of male players we need to pay attention to down the stretch. The group also includes Thiem, Marin Cilic and John Isner. Clay expert Thiem is finding his hard-court game, while Cilic is a former US Open champ and recent finalist at two other majors. Isner continues to play confident, commanding tennis.

Kumar: True. Now, here's a man who has the potential to upset Nadal. While the whole world is watching Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, Delpo is quietly doing his thing. He comes in for his late-night matches and wins them with ease. He has yet to lose a set in the tournament. What a comeback story it would be if he somehow ends up beating Nadal and Djokovic to win the US Open nine years after his maiden win.

Maine: True. He hasn't had much of a test so far and is flying under the radar. Now a career-best No. 3 in the world, he'll next face Isner in the quarters. Del Potro owns a 7-4 career record over the American, and while the two have split their series this year, del Potro's experience in Queens should help carry him into the semis for a potential clash with Nadal. Don't forget: Del Potro was the spoiler during last year's US Open, knocking off Federer in the quarters, so he's more than able to beat just about anyone here.

Roenigk: True. Delpo! Delpo! Now, this assumes we're talking about the one player to watch other than the men already mentioned above. Then absolutely ... if for no other reason than a desire to hear Delpo fans rock the rafters at Ashe like they did during his semifinal run here last year and like they have during this season's run.