Osaka seeks to defend crown, World No. 1 Barty stands in her way
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic will try to complete the first calendar-year men’s singles Grand Slam in 52 years and become the all-time men’s leader in Slam titles by capturing the US Open.
Not since Rod Laver in 1969 has the feat been achieved and the chance at tennis history has fuelled Djokovic’s fire.
“I know how big of an opportunity is in front of me,” the Serbian star said. “I’m very motivated to play my best tennis. I’m hugely inspired and motivated by that, no doubt.”
Five past champions won’t be in the field when the showdown begins on Monday at Flushing Meadows, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro and 2020 winner Dominic Thiem absent due to injuries.
That leaves the main obstacles in Djokovic’s path to a 21st career Slam crown as a set of rising 20-something talents trying to build their trophy hauls — Russia’s second-ranked Daniil Medvedev, Greece’s third-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas and fourth-ranked Olympic champion Alexander Zverev of Germany.
After opening against a qualifier, Djokovic could face sixth seed Matteo Berrettini in a quarterfinal, Zverev in a semifinal and Medvedev or Tsitsipas in the final.
US Open 2019 runner-up Medvedev, who won a tune-up title at Toronto, sees Djokovic as a clear favourite.
Tsitsipas is proud of his ranking and his Roland Garros finals run. “Three is a number that’s very significant,” Tsitsipas said. “It pushes me so much to sustain that, to want to go the extra mile.”
Zverev, last year’s US Open runner-up, won the Cincinnati title and beat Djokovic in the Olympic semifinals. He’s on a 12-match win streak.
Eyes on Osaka
Meanwhile, women’s defending champion Naomi Osaka seeks her third US Open title in four tries. What’s uncertain is whether New York will see Osaka rediscover her dominant form.
The 23-year-old Japanese star lit the flame in the Olympic cauldron at the Tokyo Games and lost in the third round. Since Japan she has played only two matches ahead of the Open.
Osaka had earlier pulled out of the French Open then skipped Wimbledon.
Ashleigh Barty, in her 83rd consecutive week atop the world rankings, has rolled to wins at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, putting her on best form entering the Flushing Meadows fortnight.
The 25-year-old Australian’s 2021 titles also include Miami, Melbourne and Stuttgart and boosted her career total to 13.
Serena Williams, who hasn’t played a competitive hardcourt match since losing to Osaka in February, will not play in New York due to a torn right hamstring suffered in a first-round match at Wimbledon.
An impressive collection of 20-something rivals among the world’s top 10 will take aim at the trophy.
The group includes Czech Barbora Krejcikova, the French Open champion; second-ranked Wimbledon semifinalist Sabalenka; Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic; Sofia Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open winner; Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open winner who skipped last year’s event; 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek of Poland and Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Svitolina.
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