-- NEW YORK -- Admittedly, this was not the women's final most of tennis was hoping for.
No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber held up her part of the bargain, blowing into the championship match without the loss of a set. But No. 1 Serena Williams was upset Thursday night by Karolina Pliskova, the rising Czech Republic player with a scintillating serve.
There won't be quite the buzz at Arthur Ashe Stadium without Serena, but consider this reading of the final: These could be the players, along with Garbine Muguruza, who pose the greatest threat to Serena's ability to win Grand Slams over the next several years.
How to watch all the action Saturday
Saturday's women's final breakdown
No. 2 Angelique Kerber vs. No. 10 Karolina Pliskova, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN
Case for Kerber: The 28-year-old German, playing the best tennis of her career, can finish the season as the only woman with two 2016 Grand Slam singles titles -- and she played for a third, losing the Wimbledon final to Williams. That's essentially how she swiped Serena's No. 1 ranking. Kerber holds a 4-3 head-to-head edge over Pliskova, but they've never met in a major. Don't underestimate the fact that Pliskova, until this fortnight, had never been past the third round of a Grand Slam. Pliskova was able to exploit Williams' nerves and her lack of mobility caused by a knee injury. She shouldn't be able to do that to Kerber, who is one of the game's best defenders. Kerber is seasoned, and, with that life-changing No. 1 ranking, she has to believe this is her title to win or lose.
Case for Pliskova: The Czech Republic player has three things that can trump experience: some serious momentum, a huge serve and unswerving nerve. How's that for a trifecta? She's won 11 straight matches, including a straight-sets victory over Kerber in the Cincinnati final. The serve? She out-aced Serena in that surprising semifinal. Pliskova, 24, is already projected to be ranked No. 6 among WTA players, and that would rise to No. 5 with a win in the final. She's shown a blatant disregard for the hierarchical order this year, beating six top-10 players already this year: Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Serena and? Venus Williams. And there is also the Rio effect: Kerber is the only one of four players who advanced to a gold-medal match to still be alive. Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Monica Puig all exited looking fatigued.
Prediction: The oddsmakers, perhaps thinking of that 6-3, 6-1 Cincinnati result three weeks ago, have installed Pliskova as a slight favorite in this one. Yes, she's four rounds further than she's ever been at a Slam, but, if she suddenly was going to feel the pressure, it would have happened against Williams. It didn't. Pliskova in three.